I was, ostensibly, in Morocco to “cover” Earth Day-related subjects. My expectation was that I would be ferried around to see…environmental things like houses sporting solar panels or backyard windmills or community gardens irrigated by rain barrels. I expected that my mode of transportation would be biofuel-powered buses or maybe a camel.
Instead I spent a lot of time in the back seats of top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz sedans (though there was one trip in a tour bus). Which was fine with me—I like life’s luxuries and embrace them with enthusiasm whenever I get the chance—though it was also a little befuddling, because the things I saw were fascinating, but not directly related to, you know, “the environment.” (Again, this is not a complaint, I’m just sayin’.)
For instance, at one point I piled into a car with two of my new friends, The Famous Guy and The Diplomat. Of course, these people have names, but that doesn’t really matter—trust me when I say The Famous Guy was famous and The Diplomat was just that; both are delightful and I count myself lucky to have made their acquaintance. We were heading to “see the horses.” I had no idea why the horses were worth seeing but, what the hell, I was in Morocco, The Diplomat said this would be interesting and life’s an adventure, right?
As soon as we got in the car, the driver reached over to turn down the stereo. The Famous Guy told him that wasn’t necessary. “Play your music,” he said. And so the CD spun as we drove through city streets which gave way, almost immediately, to posh suburbs and then even more posh “country” homes. Our soundtrack? The Dixie Chicks “Taking the Long Way.”
There’s a kind of vertigo that takes over when one is in a completely foreign place. In Morocco I often felt invisible, without language, without connection, without the ease of knowing how to proceed.
When I needed a lighter, for instance, I wandered through the lobby of the hotel looking for the usual little shop where one buys such things. Finding it, I used a kind of sign language to communicate my need to the proprietor—I pulled a cigarette out of my pack and mimed lighting it. He pulled out a case of Bic lighters (Bic lighters?), I chose one and he said, “10.”I retrieved a bill from my stash of Moroccan money. He looked at it and said, “All you have, Madame?”
Was it not enough? Too much? The denomination meant nothing to me. But I dug out the coins I’d been given, offered them up. He moved them around and pulled out one clearly marked with a 10. “Merci, Madame.”
Now here I was in this car with three people I didn’t really know, heading for a destination unknown to me, in a country where I didn’t know the language. This situation felt familiar, though not in that comforting way familiarity ideally works.
Except here were the Dixie Chicks singing songs I knew and the scenery slipping by looked sort of like parts of California and The Famous Guy and The Diplomat were funny and sweet and kind and I thought, “Well, now. Here I am.”
“The horses,” by the way, were amazing.