The coconut trees.
A stewardess asks me if I want water in French.
My eyes reluctantly look away, my head motioning no.
She smiles and pushes her cart down the aisle.
When I peer out the window again, I see that I have left press marks of my face.
But I don’t care.
I’m finally in Africa.
My journey to Rabat, Morocco in January was the second time I have ever traveled out of the United States. It was also my first time going somewhere where I did not speak any of the languages. I felt some linguistic frustration when repeatedly approached in French and Arabic, natives mistaking me for Moroccan or French. I felt like a child, the words fumbling like marbles around my tongue, spilling out of my mouth in heavy sounds.
Costa Rica, my first international experience, had been the same. I was a Tica, walking invisibly among others, blending in perfectly. But Costa Rica had also been different. I was able to speak the language. The culture and food were familiar.
In Morocco, I blended in…that is until I spoke. I tried speaking French until one of my Moroccan friends laughed at me (I have a Spanish accent whenever I try). Rather than appear annoyed, I set my French aside for listening and reading and began working on polishing up on my Arabic.
Much to my surprise, I found the language (a hybrid of French and Arabic) to be easier than French. I quickly grasped the words: “La” (no), “Ahh” (yes), “Shookaran” (thank you), “Saafi” (deal/clear), “Salaam” (hello), “Afakee” (please), “Kinbrick” (sit down/pressure), “Habibtee” (my loved one), “Malki” (what’s wrong?), “La bus” (I’m fine), “Fea Zood” (There is food/Is there food?).
My journey to Morocco was truly amazing. Since I first saw The Lion King as a child, I always dreamed of one day traveling to Africa. The chance finally came as a participant in Elevating Women’s Voices conference hosted by KU’s Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute (KWLI), and I was overwhelmed with excitement. The conference was spectacular with a gorgeous view of the ocean and city from the Terminus Grand Hotel. In addition, the price of goods compared to the U.S. dollars is extremely cheap. Ten dirhams are about the equivalent of one U.S. dollar. Imagine my shock when I purchased a pizza and soda all for under four dollars!
Rabat is also diverse in the sense that there are people of all colors walking the city. I had the chance to travel to Casablanca, but Rabat is much better in my opinion.
The trip was more than just a conference and travel experience. It was filled with symbolism. It was a way of traveling back through time to my original ancestors’ land. I kept a copy of my novel, Eliza: A Generational Journey, with me everywhere I went, carrying my x5 great grandmother back to the land of our ancestors.
A special thank you to Ayah Wakkad for assistance with the Arabic translations in the post.