Listen to this Episode of Let the Verse Flow on Your Podcast Player of Choice
Heading to Morocco
Late last summer I was gifted an invitation to visit a country I longed to see. Morocco. Why was North Africa on my bucket list? When I was in my 20s, I decided that right after college, I’d take my fresh bachelor’s degree in broadcasting and film and pair it with a master’s degree in history. I was going to be a documentary researcher and scriptwriter, modeled after my favorite film professor, a kind British soul who saw the world with fresh, brilliant eyes and impressed me immensely in college. I was, and still do have an air of naivete about me. And no, it’s not something I want to get rid of. I like my naivete and impressionable soul. It keeps me in touch with dreaming and hope.
Anyway, while working on my master’s degree, I decided that I would major in European History and write my master’s thesis on the role of Algerian women in the War of Independence. I was fascinated by North Africa (another incredible professor taught African Studies) and it was one of the few history topics at the time where I could consider the role of women in a war. This was before women’s studies was an option. Even years later, I would read with interest when I found an article on Algerian culture, mosaic art, the food, the landscape, and the music. This history and cultural exploration left an impression that I carried with me for years. I never forgot it. I tucked my image of these things in the back of mind and told myself that I might get to this part of the world when I got older.
Well last year, some 35 years later, my wish came true. My best friend, who had family living in Morocco, invited me to go along with her on a trip. Of course, I said yes instantly and then frantically tried to figure out caregiving for my family members. I knew I needed this trip and that they wanted me to go, but the logistics of it were stressful. There was never a thought that I wouldn’t go, because I believe down to my bones that when you get offered these types of treats in life, you don’t question them, you don’t pick them apart with worry, you don’t overthink things, you take a leap of faith and plunge in. I believe they are callings that we need to listen to because these types of experiences are what life is. Life is living, and living while traveling to a foreign land is one of the best ways to know yourself, affirm yourself, and recapture any bits of yourself that you’ve lost along the way.
Everywhere You Go, There You Are
Morocco lived up to my expectations and then some, but the greatest takeaway was that everywhere I went, everything I saw and all my reflections on the sights, sounds, people, and landscapes of Morocco, returned me to my core beliefs. My experiences reinforced strongly held beliefs and ways of navigating the world that I hadn’t anticipated reviewing.
There’s a saying “Everywhere you go, there you are.” and it’s so true because many of my experiences caused reactions that were in line with my perspective (and highlighted that perspective in contrast, sometimes it challenged that perspective too). The contrast amplified my thoughts and gave me a strange sense of confidence that over the years I was becoming the person I most wanted to become. A particular person with a particular viewpoint that impacted the world in a particular way. I felt like I was taking in so much, synthesizing it, and then returning to an inner knowing that was now richer and deeper but still very much me.
The best way I can explain it is this way...
One of the most visceral ways to get to know the Moroccan people is to visit the old Medinas and visit them we did. My best friend is a shopping wizard with an incredible eye for beautiful things. She can cherish beautiful things and share them, instead of coveting them. She looks for things to bestow on others and has a gift-giving spirit that is hopeful and loving. We did a lot of shopping.
The Art of Haggling in Morocco's Medinas
One of the expected practices when shopping in the Medinas is to haggle on the price. The shop owners, mostly men, size you up as a tourist and give you an outlandish first price and then you spend time negotiating (in what sometimes turns into a heated debate) until you agree on a price. One of you sometimes pouts afterward that you didn’t get the best deal you wanted, but you generally do this dance and come to a resolution that you can both live with.
Am I a haggler? No. I am the opposite of a haggler. I’m a dreamer. When I see an object that I want I start dreaming about how it fits into my life. I’m annoyed when I have to add crude considerations about how much it costs into my mind and heart, and so debating (and some of these debates almost turned into fights with our translator friends who were helping us with these delicate negotiations) is not what I’ve signed up for in my dream.
In general, the communication style of these interactions is not my preferred way to communicate. It put me off and made me feel off-kilter. Another issue was that as a feminist, I found it difficult to consider taking a demure posture with these men. At times I felt confined by a perceived set of rules about my conduct. It was brushing up against my belief that no matter what country I’m in, I have to be a strong woman. At least the vision of myself as strong that I believe in. I’m always respectful but I’ll only bow down so far.
Some of the vendors thought I was Moroccan. When you are biracial, the world can sometimes see many identities in your face and features, something that I don’t take offense to. I like having an “every woman” face. Am I Spanish, am I black, am I white, am I Greek, am I Moroccan? It helps me weave and dart into new cultures more easily. But in this case, I sometimes felt like there was an assumption that I would behave in a certain way, and when I stepped outside that boundary, there were slight perceived affronts that were made. I don’t apologize for them, that’s the price of doing business with me.
So after a few days of this haggling, I grew weary of it, and that’s when the interesting part of the story happened. I started to really look around.
Sensory Delights & Community
Instead of spending time focusing on the wares of the stalls, I looked at the intricate wood doors to the shops, the patterns of tile on display, the street art, the cobblestone streets, and the smells and smiles. I captured the nighttime sounds at the Marrakesh Medina, including incredible live Berber music, so check out the podcast episode to hear this beautiful music.
You'll hear people laughing, talking, and singing. I captured this audio to bring home as a reminder of my favorite parts of the trips. The sounds of community.
I found a few female shop owners, in particular a smiling beauty who sold oils and fragrances. Together we pieced my horrible, few pitiful words of Arabic with her acceptable English into a conversation that felt complete. It felt like a meeting of the minds. We fused our words with smiles and gestures. I would see her later a few times when I returned to the medina and was always greeted with a smile and a greeting. “Salam” Turning away from the male shop owners and the haggling let me turn into something else. To turn towards someone new.
I journeyed past those situations to find small interactions with Moroccans: eating figs with a farmer in Meknes, staying up late in marble-floored hotels to talk about life with my friend, watching stray cats on the edge of the cliffs in Tangier and sweating in the desert among the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Each memory now reminds me that one of the gifts of the trip was the way it allowed me to return to myself. Not my day-to-day self that goes to work, cares for others, parents, and cleans, but the internal version of myself that I’ve built over time. The me who dreams and settles into quiet to take in the beauty around her. The me who records sounds in the medinas at night so I can share them with my partner back in NYC. The me who dips her toes in the sea off the coast of Tangier to savor the moment so she can carry it with her for the rest of her life.
Yes, I brought home trinkets and have stories to tell, but I also reaffirmed myself, and that’s much harder to do in my day-to-day life.
Here’s a poem I wrote about the sensory delights of the trip, inspired by the sounds of Moroccans enjoying a warm, festive night in a Medina. I call this poem I’ve Seen the Palace in Rabat.
I've Seen the Palace in Rabat
By Jill Hodge
The King’s town, draped in black and red
Driving in circles, a stranger trying to right myself
And then I look out
Fushia flowers dance and graze mud brick
Stucco yields patterns, relief and
Water springs from mosaic stories
The smell, it’s earth and sweetness
Orange and honey
The sound, it’s prayers as
Motorcycles stop and start
As families settle on grass lawns near palaces and mosques
They laugh and smile and tell their stories
Pink marble and grand wood doors chiseled by hand
Tunnel and groove
Awash in detail, first in then out, then all around
Under a three-quarters moon, a cat prowls for a juicy chicken bone
A scrap of fish wedged in ancient cobblestone
He’ll have to bend and lick and paw
His work, not mine, cause I’m on holiday
The next corner beckons with cobalt blue and succulent views
I caress the golden thread that’s woven by hand,
Nurtured by patience, held tight by title and land
I dream of flowing skirts, sweet dates and
Bees that circle nougat as a man looks up to smile
While in Morocco I visited Rabat, Marrakesh, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, and Meknes. It was a complete itinerary. Each town left its impression through the sensory bath it provided. The teal river water against the hot, dry summer slopes of the Atlas mountains, the Moroccan flags everywhere in Rabat. The honey bees encircling nougat in Marrakesh, the sea foam green tile work at the top of the grand mosque in Casablanca, and the caves letting in ocean spray in Tangier.
I took it all in as my senses, especially smell, are strong. The smell of jasmine and orange was the through thread of the trip. And the energetic people, who laugh and smile in great family groups to listen to Berber music at night or catch a picnic near the King’s palace reminded me that at any particular moment in any particular place, our souls are alive in their own particular way. May we be mindful of our unique perspectives and find travel to reenergize and reinforce how our life is our own.
Journal Prompts to Reorient You to Self
Here are some journal prompts to consider how a place can reenergize and reorient you back to self.
Traveling, especially with a friend who shares your dreams and values, can enrich our lives by bringing us to new lands. Interacting in these new ways can spark both new ideas and perspectives, but also serve to contrast with our deeply held core beliefs. Once out in the light of day, we can explore these beliefs and either reaffirm them or revise them. We have a choice and as our senses tingle with new insights, new twists and turns of meaning, we find that wherever we are physically, we are still always home in ourselves.
Until next time, I hope you travel to find yourself on the bright side of the beat. 🌞
Podcast Music: My thanks to all the musicians who make incredible music and have the courage to put it out into the world. All music for my podcast is sourced and licensed for use via Soundstripe.
Songs in this podcast episode:
Sahara by Brion James; Slide by GEMM; original soundscapes from medinas in Marrakesh and Rabat recorded by Jill Hodge; Pyaar Kee Seemaen by Cast of Characters
LTVF Season Two Music Playlist: Check out the songs that inspire me, and connect with artists from many genres who add to our collective, human soundtrack.
Listen to Let the Verse Flow on Your Podcast Player of Choice
Check out the resources on this website (and subscribe) to get podcast episodes, poems, articles, music playlists, and journal prompts delivered to your inbox.
Then, connect with me on Instagram. Let me know you hear me out there!
Let the Verse Flow is an independent publication launched in June 2023 by Jill Hodge. If you subscribe today, you'll get full access to the website and newsletters. Members are vital to building a rich community of diverse voices. Join us by subscribing today; consider a paid subscription to support the community if possible. Thank you!