Life Lessons from the Medina to the Atlas Mountains – Morocco

medina

Ever since I was little my heart was drawn to visit Morocco. I think a large part of it was the chaos and liveliness of the medinas, but also the allure of the beautiful colors, textiles and escape into the exotic riads. I will say that Morocco certainly did not disappoint! We visited Marrakesh and haggled with the local merchants, visited the spice bazaar, and got into a spat with the local snake charmers. We visited a beautiful seaside beach town called Essaouira, filled with charm, kitty cats, and a cool breeze. Lastly, we took planes, trains, and automobiles up north to visit Chefchaouen, deemed the Blue City since it’s so high up in the mountains that it’s painted to match the sky. Below are some of my highlights/takeaways from this exquisite country. Hopefully, it will entice you to visit or at least pique your interest in learning more about this incredible culture of people.

The meaning of life is universal. Marissa and I took a cab ride after spending the day chasing waterfalls. We were exhausted and were looking forward to just kicking back, rolling down the windows and breathing in the fresh air of the Atlas Mountains. However, our taxi driver wanted to practice his English, as he spoke into his translator over his phone. Hands holding a heartWe spoke with him about what village he was from, his culture, and overall life spent in Chefchaouen (a tiny remote village up in Northern Africa). A life that neither one of us could fully comprehend, so far removed from our reality in the states. We maneuvered between serious questions and moments of laughter. I decided to throw him a curve ball, seriously interested in his response. Over Google translate, I stated: ”what is the meaning of life?” His smile became serious and he immediately wrote out the word love. A few moments later, he asked for the translator back and typed out two more words… sincerity and cooperation. Our eyes met with warmth in our hearts and suddenly there was no longer a need to translate. We both understood that love is the universal language.

There’s a famous saying in Morocco: “If you stay home you die.” How many times have we witnessed our loved ones doing just that? Retiring early. Watching reruns of the same old TV shows or being put into nursing homes to ultimately be forgotten? One thing that I really admired about Morocco was how they embodied showing up fully to life. Everywhere we turned there were elderly people out working the markets, making their handicrafts, bargaining with local merchants, and all in all still participating in life to the fullest. Merchant in MedinaTheir dedication made me think of my own father who, for many years, still put on his business suit and sat in his office shuffling papers because he still needed to be part of something larger than himself. At 80 years old he found that no one would hire him and without his mind being stimulated creatively, the light of his memory slowly began to fade away. The beauty of Morocco was that the community helps enable their continued participation by making them feel like they are still part of a community. Ultimately, it’s all about continuing to make people feel worthy and important – which is of course so tide to our human experience.

“Don’t judge the smell of all fish, based on one fish.” Another famous Moroccan saying that held true to my heart. Since my last relationship, I’ve been leery about putting myself out there with men. I don’t have much trust in them, I don’t find them emotionally present, and it’s hard to find the deep connection that I’m yearning for. Long story short…I had energetically sworn off men, at least for the near (let’s be honest…long future). However, life lessons can sometimes come in the most surprising packages.Mostopha Before I came on this trip, I had gone out of my way to research the Muslim culture and how to “protect” myself from the patriarchal oppressive Muslim men. If I’m being honest, the armor that I had energetically put on for the “aggressive.” “sexist, ” and “toxic masculinity,” was quickly dissolved by some of the most lovely men I’ve ever encountered. They came in the forms of taxi drivers, shop owners in the markets, and fellow travelers along the way. Time and time again, I was taken back by their vulnerability, softness, honesty, and presence. I was very surprised that I found this in the place I would have last looked for.

Devotion and a monthly practice of gratitude. Marissa and I didn’t think to check any Muslim holidays before we booked our tickets to Marrakesh. A couple of days before touching down, I found out it was Ramadan, the holiest month out of the year according to Muslim culture where they fast from sun up till sundown. RamadanBeing self-absorbed tourists, we were concerned that most of the restaurants and sites would be closed during this time. What would we do for food and activities?!  However, we quickly realized how lucky we were to experience this ritual. We marveled at how much self-control they had going about their days with little to no food. We were so moved when the sun went down and you could hear all the men chanting and praying in the mosques. It was wildly eerie and beautiful at the same time. The most beautiful of all was the fact that a large reason they celebrate this tradition is to empathize with the poor and to feel gratitude for the gifts that they are given in their lives. THIS IS WHY I TRAVEL. I have so much respect for Muslim culture and people…such gentle, loving souls, who are so misunderstood in our culture. I wish everyone could travel the world to realize how interconnected we all are.

Friendship. I personally saved this lesson till the last because it was by far my most important. Most international trips are about diving into new cultures, Marissa funnybut this one was more about exploring how I show up in my relationships to the people I care most about. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous going on a two week trip to a third world country with my best friend who I held in such high esteem. What if she couldn’t hack it?! How would she react to a different kind of trip that would challenge her boundaries in such different ways? What if we got in a terrible fight and couldn’t bounce back from it? Traveling together can be a completely different beast and I had been bitten by her before. However, my intuition told me that I had so much to gain from traveling with my “Man in the Mirror” as we affectionately call one another. So here it goes….

  • Trying on a new pair of lenses. One of my favorite parts about traveling throughout Morocco was experiencing Marissa’s wonder. I loved witnessing her expressions, fear, sadness, and tender heart towards the people, poverty, beauty and everything else that we came across. A part of me had been hardened after traveling to other places like India, where I’d become numb to how different this world can be for newcomers. It was beautiful to be reminded of this through her eyes.
  • Dazzle Spray. I instantly became so impressed with how quickly Marissa assumed roles that I typically struggle with while on my adventures. I think secretly we both worried if she would be able to hack it on this trip and she went above and beyond!Marissa best pic I joked with her that I would douse her in dazzle spray because she was blowing my mind! This running joke soon became our life motto on this trip, encouraging one another and lifting one another up.
  • Stating Needs and Having Tough Conversations. In the two weeks we were together we only had one difficult conversation. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of what happened, I think that it is pretty incredible that by the end of the trip we both agreed that this talk was the highlight of our adventure together. It blessed me with an entirely new belief system and I am so grateful for Marissa for giving me this gift. The right people will listen to and respect your needs/boundaries. Tough conversations can be beautiful when you are having them with the right people.
  • Life of an Empath. I feel everyone’s energy and automatically take it on as my own. Not taking people’s moods personally is something that I’m really working on. So asking Marissa directly what was on her mind and if it had to do with me was life-changing. What a crazy concept! haha. However, there really were never any dramatic mood swings and the conversations flowed effortlessly. We enjoyed the long car rides with no music and complete silence, but then laughed the last night when we continued to talk about everything and nothing. At one point Marissa explained “How are we still talking? Do we ever shut up!” lol.
  • Support in Different Ways. It was beautiful to witness how our sisterhood supported one another in completely opposite ways. In the medinas and all the chaos, Marissa leaned on me to make her fear and anxiety subside. marissa waterOut in nature, her natural habitat, Marissa was there to lend a helping hand and to respect my limitations, while also encouraging to push my limits. My total trust in her became apparent to me when I had pushed myself too far and could not hike another 45 minutes up the hill to see this incredible waterfall. It was a highlight that she had been looking forward to on her trip but instead chose to stay with me and offered no guilt trip. I will always remember that.

Thank you Marissa, the Tacky Traveling Nemos, and Morocco for your true beauty, lessons, and laughter. I am so grateful for my time well spent in your presence.