“You should come visit,” I remember him saying, the night of his farewell party. “Better to make plans now before too much time goes by.” This must have been in response to my saying how I would like to go to Morocco. “Okay,” I answered. “I will try my best.”
Seven years passed. Finally, I decided, this year will be THE year! “Hey, I’m coming!” I wrote. “Is that okay?” “You are welcome anytime!” came the reply. But, I wondered, did he really mean it? I should find a tour that goes through his town and then visit just for a few hours or so with him and his family. After all, they never even met me! In my world, it seemed highly unlikely that in such a scenario, a family would welcome me with open arms. Would they?! I also was nervous about going to a Middle Eastern country. Would I be safe as a single woman? After a few reassuring messages from Abdellah and a former college classmate (thanks Jennifer Jones!), I jumped into the unknown.
At the airport, I found out I would be sitting in the middle seat. “Ugh! This is gonna be a long flight!” I was already overwhelmed at the crowded gate full of families with crying babies and small children, as well as an African woman near me talking and laughing loudly. But once I got on board, a stranger helped store my unwieldy backpack and the man I sat next to, was very warm and friendly, even reminding me of my Uncle Tom, a laid-back hippie in his day. This man was born in Morocco but had lived the last 40 years in the United States. We had a nice long talk, and even watched the same movie. The third person never appeared, so I had the window seat to prop my head up against and sleep. I was staring out over the wing and the narrow fin looked like a scimitar, reflecting the region’s design, I thought. It turned out the windows were hi-tech as well – instead of window covers, the window tinted to dark for night and in the full sun of the morning, muted the light too. Very cool!
In Casablanca, I wished my seatmate well on his epic home visit and found my way through in-country transfers, turning the wrong way at one point, as I didn’t see the door to go through. My connecting flight was delayed a bit and I was rather reluctant to explore or even order something at the cafe as I didn’t have any Moroccan money yet, nor could I spot an ATM or an exchange booth. But I did admire some rather dramatic architecture on my way to my gate.
We finally boarded the bus to our airplane just as we had taken a bus from our landed aircraft. On that initial descent down the stairs and stepping onto the ground, I thought “I’m in Africa!” and felt the solidity of earth under my feet. Our flight to Marrakech was only an hour and after going through passport control and passing my bags through an x-ray, I was out in the main hall. It didn’t take long to spot Abdellah. I gave him a big hug and then he took me to meet his family. His wife, daughter, and son were all smiling and greeted me very warmly. I had arrived and everything was fine! Whew!