Another Morocco Moment

A spice, a local, and a magical moment in the Rif Mountains. 

The sky was starting to blush with early afternoon when I reached Tangier’s largest indoor market at the Grand Socco. I heard about the infamous roundabout that separated old from new. Modern high-rises congregated at the coast to my left, sunlight reflecting off their shiny exteriors. To my right, the old stone buildings of the Medina stood proud with character.

a morocco moment
Café’s lining part of the Grand Socco. PHOTO GEORGE HASHEMI

Scanning the plaza, I found pockets of Spanish architecture like the terracotta tiles of one building and the textured stucco of another. I’d spent the last four weeks studying abroad in Madrid, and those small details were a tether of familiarity that I appreciated while surrounded by unfamiliar faces.

I emerged through draped curtains into a long, narrow corridor lined with stands. The light was dim, the air thick with dust and aroma. I weaved through buzzing crowds, scents coming and going.

A wave of citrus and sugar wafted from the rows of oranges, grapes, and apricots beside me. Sweetness dissolved into salt as the olive stand grew near, pungent like the sea just blocks away.

Within moments, I was before mounds and mounds of olives slick with marinades. Some were black as night, while others held various shades of that traditional yellowish-green olive color. I would later learn that olives are a staple in Moroccan diets, explaining the stand’s diversity and volume.

a morocco moment
Red and green olives are most commonly used in Moroccan cooking. PHOTO GEORGE HASHEMI

I eventually stumbled into a stand of spices, massive burlap bags brimming with powders I didn’t recognize. The odor was overwhelming. Whiffs of what I assumed to be cardamom, cumin, and maybe cinnamon wrested in my nose.

I walked closer to the bags and stopped in front of a sack filled with a rust orange substance. Familiarity flooded my veins, and when I glanced at the label which read “Turmeric,” I was ripped back to Mufasa.

Steep, jagged walls of rock surrounded us as we hiked to God’s Bridge through the Rif

Mountains of Akchour. We were just one of the many small groups making their way through the gorge peppered with greenery, all making a valiant effort not to twist an ankle on the uneven rocks.

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A narrow channel within the Rif Mountains. PHOTO GEORGE HASHEMI

We continued with the peaking sun that watched us trek through a twisting, made-up path. After an hour passed, we stopped to swim in the river rushing next to us, carving through the canyon. Its crystal water beckoned us to refresh our sweat-slick bodies and fatigued muscles.

Stripping down to my shorts, I made my way to the water, a warm breeze stroking my chest and shoulders. The river shocked my body like mint gum, a pleasing coolness. Gently, I slid across moss-blanked rocks, creeping deeper in, until a stabbing pain in my right foot forced me to stop. The numbing water quickly muted the stinging, and within seconds others from my group were splashing into the stream, and the pain was forgotten altogether.

It wasn’t until I got out of the water a few minutes later that I noticed the small, semi-translucent crimson stream trickling from the ball of my foot. I raised my foot to find an inch cut sliced through my heel. It wasn’t worryingly deep, but enough that blood continued to stream out steadily.

a morocco moment
The Rif Mountains contain a variety of minerals within its peaks, yet only iron ore is predominantly mined. PHOTO GEORGE HASHEMI

As I studied the injury at the water’s edge, a dark shadow came over me, blocking the sun. I peered up to a tanned face creased with age. Kindness sparked in his eyes; a soft smile spread across his lips. He glanced at my foot before reaching out and uncurling his fingers to reveal a small mound of rust orange powder. It was turmeric. I cocked my head in confusion and his smile widened as he crouched down next to me.

“Francis? … Española? … English?” he said.

I blinked.

“Francis? Española? English?” he repeated. His words were precise with the rasp of a dry throat.

“English,” I responded.

I… Help,” the stranger said and pointed to the powder in his palm and then back to my foot.

I nodded, accepting his offer. My shoulders did not tense inwards from hesitation as he went to grab my foot. There was something in his grandfatherly gaze and impassive crouch that calmed me. He began packing the spice on my cut, and within seconds my blood seeped into the Turmeric, crumpling into a clay-like consistency that clotted the wound. I stared at the amber paste and smiled.

“Thank you,” I said, and he bared his own teeth.

“Mufasa,” he said and pointed at himself.

I smiled again. “George,” I responded and pointed at myself.

By the time the bleeding had stopped, and my shoes and socks were back on, I found out that Mufasa lived in a house above the canyon and worked at one of the small food stands that were scattered around the hiking path where the bends of the gorges widened, and people could stop and eat. He placed a gentle hand on my shoulder and nodded once, that same kindness glinting in the amber of his eyes before I turned away and continued the hike to God’s Bridge.

I will forever remember this exchange and the help Mufasa extended out of pure generosity. These words are my best attempt to express the humility and humanity of this experience. It is moments like these, with people like Mufasa, that remind me why I travel.

It was a privilege to have this Morocco Moment. It was an honor to meet Mufasa. And I hope to anyone reading that this short anecdote might inspire you to find small moments of magic during the times you least expect them.

George Hashemi

Content Editor Associate

George admires the power of the written word and its ability to communicate different cultures and destinations to others. He is an avid reader, foodie and voyager. You will probably find him on a food-tour in Madrid, or curled up with a book in the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco.

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