By Meghana Mysore
The Jemma el-Fnaa square of Marrakech outside Hotel Cecil is alive with the sights of tourists and monkeys, the smells of orange juice, meat skewers, and leather shoes, and the sounds of horses trotting and teapots clinking together. As soon as we walked out of our riad, strangers would point to me repeatedly, identifying me as “India” or “Indian.” The chaos of the square seemed to seep into my skin; the vibrant colors and distinct chatter of people coalesced into a rhythm that I came to learn and know.
Marrakech struck me as different from Rabat and Salé primarily because of the enlarged scope of the city. By this I mean that everything felt more pronounced—the sounds were louder, the number of tourists was greater, the broader population felt larger. While I enjoyed seeing people’s experiences come together in the Jemma el-Fnaa square, the experience of living in the central square of Marrakech also became overwhelming. I missed the forlorn streets of Salé and Rabat. Far from deserted, they held an unfound luster, something that I could grasp onto in moments of quiet joy or sorrow.
I sought out moments of quiet in the bustle of Marrakech. In a pocket of the overpopulated Jemma el-Fnaa square, there sits a small cafe called Cafe Dabachi. One afternoon, I stumbled upon the cafe. As I drank a banana smoothie, I noticed a Bollywood song playing on the television; I watched and reveled in the colorful scenes of dance. I recognized some of the Bollywood actors from movies I’d watched with my mother and sister in my childhood. Their faces lit up in the calm, fluorescent buzzing of the television.
I realized that in the overwhelming chaos of Jemma el-Fnaa square, I could not remember. I couldn’t think about the moments that had shaped my past, because I was experiencing the world in a sensory, visceral way. I couldn’t think about anything except for what I saw right there in front of me. Sitting in the cafe, I thought about how during the whole time in Marrakech, I hadn’t been able to write a word. I’d been experiencing the world, but wasn’t able to process my experiences enough to write about them.
Sometimes, I think of moments as paintings. I think of lives told from others’ perspectives. In the cafe, I stared out at the woman buying a green and blue patterned scarf and wondered how she would’ve painted me, tucked away in this cafe. What details would she notice of me? What would she choose to keep and to exclude in the painting, in her rendition of my life? And what would I choose to paint of her, eyeing the scarf, her hand arched over the fabric, eyes pale and gray?
I ached then to remember the images of my past, and yet to make the world still in that moment, to paint the people around me in oil on a canvas. I knew that I would miss crucial details, and that I would distort people’s lives in my vision of them. Still, I hungered to paint something before the chaos of another moment washed this one away.
I don’t want to remember only the picturesque or beautiful sights when I look back on our time in Morocco—this isn’t the painting that I want to compose. I want to remember the dog pulsing on the streets, how it passed away quietly as our train to Casablanca fled past, how the train turned the dying dog to a blur, something that bled into the trees and bushes and periphery. I want to remember the boy in Ourika Valley who brought me a poppy and smiled at me, revealing his two broken front teeth. I want to remember how he hugged us without knowing any of us, simply loving us all. I want to be able to love as freely as him. When our bus drove away, I knew that I wouldn’t see him again, and I felt a pang of hurt in my chest.
As our plane descended into New York, I stared down at the geometrical pattern of land, wondering how from a certain height, the whole world could look merely like a jigsaw puzzle. It seemed so simple. The entirety of our problems, our pain and joy and the individual burdens we carry, existed there, in the jigsaw puzzle. The cars below resembled toy cars, and every limb of the picture, every bone and muscle, seemed easily detachable, a world that a child could create and destroy and put back together again.
I still feel like there is something I want to write that I haven’t yet. I don’t know if it’s about this trip, or something before, but it gnaws at my chest. For the past few months, I’ve been angry at myself for not being able to write it, but now, I no longer am. For now, I am just experiencing, experiencing everything I can, until I can stop and revisit the blurring landscapes I’ve moved past, and that have moved past me.
Meghana is a rising junior in Davenport College. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.