Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hanging On to the Past

It was kind of sad to say goodbye to everybody in our group in Morocco. I didn’t love everyone on the trip, but there were some I did, and it was so nice to hang out with new people. I wish I’d had the chance to make a meaningful connection with someone as I did in Death Valley, but maybe that would have happened had I been traveling alone. And maybe that’ll happen if I maintain correspondence with some of them after we’ve all returned to our respective homes.

The loneliness wasn’t terrible in Morocco. I had plenty of attention from men everywhere, both the good and the bad kind, and I was so far from my own life that I could be distracted for a while from the NYC pressures of dating and being alone. Of course, I couldn’t get away from my life completely. As much as Morocco was an escape, seeing it reminded me that things aren’t always so different elsewhere, even on a different continent, across an ocean, and on land that used to be under the Mediterranean Sea (well, at least in the Devonian period). Occasionally I would stumble across something so unforeign to me it would throw me for a loop. I still remember vividly hearing the chorus of the cicadas at one of our coffee stops, baffling me with a sound that was so familiar from my childhood in Upstate New York, in a setting that looked something like Southern California or the Mexican border, mixed with the sound of sheep bahhh-ing in the distance and tons of birds chirping everywhere. I was equally baffled to see and hear so many familiar birds, including egrets and tons of storks with their huge nests occupying chimneys and turrets unapologetically.

And there were cats everywhere - skinny, underfed cats who meowed for food, rubbed against your legs and then bit them, in case there were some meat to spare. I think they were all strays, but as one of our local guides said, "they belong to everyone." There are lots of dogs, too, but they are all wild and remain untouched by the locals as they are seen as dirty and too much maintenance. We saw a cute one and almost reached down to pet it, until it sat down and began to claw at itself, stirring up an entire swarm of huge bugs living in its fur. It was one of the few times I wanted to cry during my trip.

I hope I can hold a piece of this trip with me for a while, now that I’m back. My health problems have already returned with a vengeance after subsiding nearly entirely in the desert. While perched on top of a sand dune waiting for the sun to set, our camel man brushed away the grains beneath me to make me a nice little seat, and then started tossing the brick-colored sand on top of my feet, ankles, shins and up to my knees till I pointed at my skinned knee, still open and aching from my fall off a curb our first day in Rabat. Stopping just short of my wound, he said, “We call this ‘sandshower,’ very good for reumatique,” and I wondered if he knew how much pain I’m always in. In hot desert temperatures in excess of 48ºC (over 115ºF!), with my legs packed in an even hotter sand pack, I felt magically recovered and cocooned. I think the only way I can keep that feeling is to pick another desert to visit.

So my skinned knee will eventually heal (though it’s taking a long time), but I think the one thing I’ll definitely retain is my French, which now I’ve got back after having studied it for five years, twenty years ago. I’d forgotten how much I’d loved it, and now I wonder why I never continued it in college, why I never hung out at La Maison on campus and only spoke French on a weekend in Montreal (poorly) and when trying to seduce Kevin Reynolds on a night out at the Hour Glass.

People keep asking me if I had fun on my trip, and the truth is, I wasn’t trying to have fun – I was trying to have a thought-provoking, mind-opening escapist experience – but speaking French was fun. And taking pictures was fun. And riding a camel in the desert was fun. And now I think I may have missed my calling.