By Daud Shad
Our travels thus far have taken us to a cozy riad in Salé, a blue and white walled neighborhood in Rabat, a seaward mosque in Casablanca, an ancient leather shop in Fez, and a bustling city square in Marrakech. Stray cats guard the streets, fresh breads commence every meal. The muezzins from minarets in every direction call worshippers in distinct, powerful voices that linger through the air. Palm trees make up much of the skyline, silhouetting at sunset against sandy buildings glowing orange. Tajines with lamb and prunes have become one of my favorite dishes. The busy intersections with speedy motorcycles, the little convenience stores with spicy chips and chocolate biscuits, and the jumble of legendary imperial remnants with modern developments remind me of Pakistan. Not knowing Arabic or French makes it difficult to travel around Morocco. But as in all places on Earth, humans can convey more with shared sentiments than with shared words.
Jumping up and down with arms wrapped around each other. Loud singing and screaming and drum bashing in a sea of red jerseys. I had no clue what they were saying, but I felt compelled to join along once the man standing behind me grabbed my shoulder for support. It was the most intense sports game I had ever been to, as I ended up entering the Casablanca football stadium in the super fan section behind the home goal. Moroccan flags waved all above the huge mass of energized, pre-Ramadan fans. Some men lit sparklers, some teenagers bitterly fought. A few moments of unity occurred when the chanting and flags switched from Moroccan to Palestinian – a powerful display of solidarity. Trying to keep up with all the la-la-la-las and clapping of anthems and cries made it hard to focus on the actual game. The opposing club from Togo seemed irrelevant as the crowd entertained itself.
As the days blended into one, I had forgotten that it was Friday. The loud khutbah on the street perpendicular to Salé medina reminded me that it was important to join the congregation for the first Jumma of Ramadan. The mosque was large and it seemed as if the whole city was joining in. Fruit vendors covered their carts with sheets, taxi drivers quickly parked, families found an open spot to pray. I couldn’t see inside the mosque – the entire structure and adjacent courtyard were filled with worshippers. Rows of makeshift prayer rugs extended onto the busy street. I found a place in the very last line of men lined up to pray. A neighbor spread his personal prayer rug in front of us. That was my first time praying on the street. It was a moment of calm, a short prayer with strangers. All grouped together, no worries about the material world around.
A long ride from Salé to Marrakech awaited. We had barely made the train and I’d just begun to get used to the twin cities of Salé and Rabat. For the five-hour ride, we had packed some bananas and water. As we left the station in the evening, I planned to break my fast on the train. The landscape changed as we went inland from the coast. I sat next to a middle-aged man, a tour guide who commuted the eight-hour ride from Fez to Marrakesh, where his family lived, every weekend. His return was extra special this time as his wife had just given birth to their third child. He proudly showed me a photo, just like a police officer had on a previous train ride from Fez to Salé, as he too was celebrating the arrival of a daughter. When it was time to break the fast, I offered my seatmate a banana and some water, but he was far more prepared than me. As he and another neighbor realized I hadn’t brought much, they offered dates, bread, and milk.
Maybe the same cool breezes that once sent Ibn Battuta drifting away are also telling me to never stop wandering.
Daud Shad is a rising sophomore in Berkeley College. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org