Salam from Essaouira | An American Girl in Morocco | by SaraJane

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Where to begin? 2 1/2 weeks in and it still doesn’t feel real at times. Arrived in Essaouira via bus yesterday evening, (Thursday) a town on the coast that is lovely. Will spend a few days here. Moroccans very rarely make concrete plans, about anything, so we will stay as long as we feel. Issmail returned from the mountains last Friday, and was officially finished with the job on Saturday morning so we heading back to the suburbs to be reunited with Lala Zaha. We’ve spent several days relaxing super hard… cooking and eating and resting and reading and walking.

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We’ve had lots of family time as well of course, we went to his brother Abdula’s on Saturday where I got to meet his beloved 3 year old niece Asia (ah-see-ya) who was very shy at first but came around and after an hour or so thought I was the bees knees, playing with my hair and climbing all over me as I laid on the couch. A quick stop at his other brother Jamal’s before going home to watch tv and read The Alchemist on he couch. I read it before leaving after a recommendation from a friend and it was so good and seemed quite fitting for my journey that I decided to bring it so we could read it together. When he was in the gite (like a hostel, for hikers) in he mountains he started reading another Paulo Coelho that was there, The Valkyries, so he asked if he could borrow it and I’m reading that too.

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On Sunday, his nephew Mohamed came for lunch with his wife and son, who was the little boy I am greeting in that picture from the village. Its so lovely to see familiar faces and to see their delight and surprise to see me too, although I truly have no idea what anyone thinks, about anything, just that I am quite happy to be here and feel overwhelmingly grateful to be welcomed so openly amd warmly. Isma’s brother Abdula stopped by after lunch with his wife and Asia, the men went out for a bit and the women walked through he neighborhood with the children. Asia would reach for my hand, not letting go of her mother’s, but wanting to hold mine as well, not an easy task in the crowded streets  but precious nonetheless. She is cheeky and sassy and she knows it, my kinda girl. Later on, she would not let Issmail take her from my arms as the 3 of us walked home through the alley from the bodega. “La!” No! she said with her arms around my neck. It was fascinating to see her realize that I don’t speak Berber or Arabic, and they way that how she attempted to communicate with me changed with this realization.

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Helping him/watching him prepare food in his tiny kitchen is my favorite, especially when there is a bag of the most delicious olives there for me (we all know this is my weakness). He cooks the most incredible food y’all, quite unusual in this culture where the women are solely in charge in the kitchen. I’m happy. The best lunch yet, and also one of the most simple: a tagine of chicken, onions, garlic, herbs and olives plus a plate of green beans, a tomato and pepper salad and more olives. Divine. I am in awe at how thankful I am to be here. I also have to remember to thank myself, when I am in those moments of how is this happening, for listening to myself, and taking the risk, for working hard, and being willing to wade through the swamp of despair and uncertainty and guilt to get here. It feels unbelievably good to just be. To passively let my thoughts come and simply observe is the greatest gift this place gave me. And to have grace with myself, no matter what those thoughts may be, to welcome them without judgement is the greatest gift I can give myself.

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After sunset we went out for a walk and talked about societal vs religious traditions and expectations. Morocco is a fascinating conglomeration of cultures, religions, and in such an interesting location. The intersections of old and new, east and west, tradition and progress are literally EVERYWHERE. Even in Issmail, a devout Muslim, but who lives comfortably in his own skin in the modern world, speaking 5 languages, having an American woman guest, but at the same time housing his mother, taking care of her every need with pleasure, and singing ancient Berber songs while preparing a tea with each integral step every single time (even if it’s the 5th time that day), never skimping. The conversations have been rich, sometimes there are few words spoken, and we are both free and content to be lost in our own thoughts, but when the conversation begins it goes on and on and on. His English is great, and he soaks up new words like a sponge, and repeats them daily: “snore, plug, light bulb, chin, booger”. Yes, he is putting me to shame, but soon enough I will be participating in our philosophical conversations in French… hopefully ;).

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He asked the French family he has booked for a week in the desert in February if they would mind if I tagged along and they said absolutely not, how incredibly nice of him to even ask and just amazing that they so graciously said yes. So into the desert I get to go, to walk and take in the subliminal landscape; I cannot wait.

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On Tuesday morning, Lala Zaha and I cracked almonds and walnuts on the floor as Issmail prepared our picnic lunch that we took to Minera Gardens. We (the 3 of us) enjoyed our amazing spread amongst the huge olive trees and lounged and listened to music for what felt like hours. It was heavenly. Then we saw the pavilion and admired the beautiful space and views and sat by the reservoir and watched an incredible sunset. Home for crepes and tea and French lessons, a walk to get tea and jam. He goes out to see a friend so I make myself a thyme tea (just steeped thyme, so spicy and warming) and a plate of dates, walnuts, and almonds. Watching a bird soar on the TV and my heart swelling thinking how incredible that must feel, but also knowing that I do feel that way. The gratitude, to Issmail and his family, to the universe, and to myself for getting here is  overflowing. But most of all to him, although just like before, it’s hard to get it across to him, “it’s normal” he says…

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I started this on Thursday, and now it’s Monday. We will head back to Marrakech today to be reunited with Zahara and to plan our trip to he village, like I said before, no plans are ever made but that is perfectly fine with me. Our days here on the coast have consisted of walking, walking, sitting in the porugese fortresses listening the waves crash on he rocks below, him eating lots of fresh seafood in hidden markets and me lots of fresh veggies as per usual. It’s a wonderful experience to get to follow him around, the places we eat are tucked down the labyrinth alleyways and there isn’t a foreigner in sight, quite the insider experience if you will, I’m just delighted. And the way he ensures I get to eat what I’d prefer, plant based, is very kind and thoughtful as well. Being a fishing port on the sea, seafood is the specialty here, and so yesterday (Saturday) we walked to a small fish market and he bought some shrimp and a fish, passed it to a man 10 ft away who cut it in half and I guess took the guts out but in about 5 seconds, and then maybe 20 feet away we walked to a small smokey cafe if you can even call it that, they would but to me it was tarps and beams but so beautifully Moroccan, where he passed off his purchases and they were whisked away to be freshly grilled. He then walked just outside the market to a produce stand where he bought a small head of cabbage, a pepper (a cubanelle maybe?) an onion a cucumber and a tomato, took it back to the cafe and asked the woman to prepare a salad for me because I don’t eat fish. Be still my heart. So there we sat, amongst the locals, sharing a plate of olives and a tomatoe-y peppery garlicky lemony dip of sorts that was very similar to bruschetta with fresh bread and it was soooo delicious. (Uncle Bob you would be in HEAVEN!)

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Yesterday we took a VERY crowded (but not miserable) bus ride, I was snuggled in next to a voluptuous middle aged woman who pulled me by the hips down into the seat with her so I wasn’t squished in with the standing men, to a small surf town called Sidi Kaouki where we had lunch in a cafe right on the beach and then walked and walked and walked. The weather was dreamy and we passed camels and horses basking in late afternoon haze with Moroccan tourists on their backs. We taxied it home, 7 people in a 1980s Mercedes, it’s a hoot, the driver going 90 kph in a 60 zone, a pit stop when we pass another cabbie to grab some groceries he must have picked up for him, never a dull moment.

Bslama “see you” 🙂

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SaraJane is from Myrtle Beach, SC, spent the last 9 years in Charleston, SC and is currently traveling in Morocco. She holds a degree in Philosophy and Studio Art with a focus in Photography from College of Charleston. She loves travel, vintage treasures and olives. Follow her on Instagram.

The Olive Shoe | Paperie & Design | Celebrating Creativity and Creatively Celebrating is designed and run by Lauren {LAC} James © 2015 LAC James All Rights Reserved.

Lauren {LAC} James is a Sr. Designer of Product Graphics for an international manufacturing company by day and a creativity crusader, designer, planner extraordinaire, artist and blogger in her “free” time. Follow her and The Olive Shoe on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram! Please subscribe to receive emails, of course, come back and visit again soon!

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