Last Updated: 2021-06-25
The author of today’s post is Sara from Mon déjà vu, another blog about Marrakesh and Morocco in general, focused on discovering the essence of the places that have inspired her. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have.
My name is Sara, by the way, and I’m from Madrid, Spain. They say that we all have a story to tell, something that marks us, that transforms us as people. Today I want to tell you the special story of how Morocco changed my life.
I have always been attracted to all things Arab. When I was a little girl, it was the mysterious, magical world of Aladdin. Perhaps that was the first symptom of my destiny. They call it maktub, a foreshadowing of a person’s future life course.
In 2010, I decided to put the brakes on the Spanish Philology degree that I had started, and made a decision that would change my life completely. I switched my major to something that would make me happy, something that would fill me, that would be worth getting up early for in the cold Madrid mornings: Arabic Philology.
Of course, it wasn’t the most popular major at my university. Some people had no idea what Arabic Philology was, but I digress. It was starting my degree, learning my first words in Arabic, and loving it. I was thrilled at the idea of being able to communicate with a culture that I loved, but which was still a mystery to me in many ways.
Although I had some Arabic-speaking friends before, learning their language really opened the door to understanding their culture and religion. At university, I had the opportunity to make friends with a few girls from Morocco who helped me to better understand their world.
I still remember the moment when I first picked up a Koran in the library out of curiosity perhaps. I wanted to know what was on those pages. Weeks of reading went by, and long conversations with myself to try to figure out what was happening to me. It was something that satisfied me, that made me feel happy and content. In the end, as we Muslims say, “I was guided”, and one rainy morning in January 2011, I said the shahada, thus beginning a new life.
A few months later, the university organized a trip to Marrakech for Arabic majors. It was my first trip to Morocco, a dream come true. It feels like I’m living that moment over again now, walking down the stairs off the plane with a mixture of fear, expectation, thrill, and curiosity.
I remember my first taxi ride in Marrakech. I soaked it all in: the old cars, donkeys walking down the street, the mosques, the unique reddish color of the city. It was love at first sight.
I just had to return. My first Ramadan in Morocco was when I truly realized that I was born again in that place, that I had found myself and that there was no going back. It was a magical experience being surrounded by so many devoted people, listening to the call to pray and closing my eyes so I could really feel it. I felt like that moment would never end, like it was somehow eternal. The greatest privilege was being able to pray in the Koutoubia Mosque and imagining centuries of others before me doing the same. This symbol of Marrakech appears on thousands of postcards and has been photographed ad nauseam from every angle, along with the impressive Djemaa el-Fna Square just a few meters away.
Djema el-Fna, The plaza of Marrakech, of the world, of the curious, of hustlers and of dreamers. I like to sit in a cafe and watch what happens down there. I’m mesmerized at how the Plaza constantly teems with life. Sometimes I think that the Plaza is a huge, living theater, a metaphor for life and we are part of it. Try to understand its magic and delve into its essence: the reward is well worth it.
The sunsets are magical. When I am in the middle of the Plaza, I like to watch how the sun’s rays accentuate the reddish color of the buildings that surround it, and how that reddish light is reflected on the faces of the people, of those walking souls. It’s the most magical moment of the day, when the sun begins to fall, and the orange sky gives way to the darkness of the night.
Djema el-Fna is the heart of Marrakech, its nerve center. But there’s magic too in the “arteries” of this city in monuments like the Madrasa ben Youssef, one of the most beautiful Koranic schools in Morocco, in the Bahia Palace and Dar si Said, in the Museum of Marrakech, with that giant lamp in the center of the room, and its interesting exhibitions of ceramics, paintings, jewelry, and other traditional objects. The Majorelle Gardens are an authentic oasis on the outskirts of the medina, with their blue walls. The Bab Agnaou gate is a true gem of Almohad architecture, my favorite place to enter the Kasbah. Last but not least, the Menara pond is a place where you can completely disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the medina for a few hours.
In Morocco, I learned the true meaning of hospitality, and enjoyed meals from a shared plate in the center of the table, making you feel like you’re part of the family. I learned that poor people are sometimes the most generous. I learned to appreciate the small details in life that we sometimes overlook. I learned that you’re happiest when you’re doing something you really love. I learned that although we try to stay in our safety zone, life is a true struggle for survival. I rediscovered the precious gift of the sense of smell with the array of aromas in the souk. The medina has made me wish I had a better sense of direction, but that doesn’t matter. I like to get lost in its nooks and crannies, to discover another place in the world where there is still something improvised, something not perfectly squared, something natural like life itself.
I found the desire to keep dreaming, dreaming to live there in the not too distant future, if God wills it, to be part of that life that permeates its streets and alleys with ancient conversations in the medina… a life that fills me and wells up from within.
The saying is true that, “Sometimes you can’t reach your destination, because it’s where you’ve always been”.