the Parents (in Morocco)
By Sarah Moukhliss
Click Here for Photos )
Abdel and I decided to watch the
new Bridget Jones Diary movie today. The only thing more exciting
than going to the movies is getting there early to watch the previews.
I’m a big fan of “Meet the Parents”; therefore
I was excited to see that they were coming out with a sequel,
“Meet the Fockers”! For those of you haven’t
watched the first movie about meeting potential in-laws for the
first time… now it is time for the potential in-laws to
meet your own family! AARRGH! I have to admit that I can relate.
I met Abdel’s parents for the very first time last summer.
Although we had been married for a year, I still had butterflies
in my stomach. My in-laws were not living a city way from me,
nor a state away from me… they were living a continent away
from me in Morocco, Africa! I am unable to speak Arabic, French,
or Berber, and they were unable to speak English. Trying to communicate
was an adventure in itself! Needless to say, despite a few hiccups
I had a marvelous time in Morocco. I even renewed my vows with
a second wedding at my mother and father in law’s house,
Zaharra and El-Houcine, respectively in Marrakech. Abdel and I
glowed months after we got back. We showed our marvelous photos
of family, Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat, and Fez to everyone including
my own parents, Wayne and Kerry. Seeing their enthusiasm, Abdel
and I extended an invitation for our next visit & as you are
about to see they took us up on the offer.
I could not ask for better parents. They accepted Abdel immediately,
without question or reservations. However, on the flipside, I
haven’t spent more than 48 hours with my parents since high
school. Thus, as time approached I was a nervous wreck. A million
questions went through my head. Will my parents like Abdel’s
family? Will Abdel’s family like my parents? Will I like
my parents after this vacation? Will Abdel like me after this
trip? I knew that this trip will be different from last. Last
year, I traveled like a native—in trains, petite taxis,
etc. This year my parents offered to rent a car. Last year we
stayed with the family. This year my parents left the option open
to us, but they opted to stay in a hotel. I loved our previous
trip to Morocco. I didn’t want to change anything, darn
it! However, looking back I am very thankful that my parents chose
to come and opt to do things differently because we had entirely
different experiences this time.
Our plane landed in Casablanca on Wednesday. We spent a day and
a half in Casablanca recovering from jet lag. On Friday, we hired
a taxi driver to take us to Marrakech—a 6 hour drive from
Casablanca. We stopped only once for dinner and treated our driver.
The closer we inched towards Marrakech, the hotter it became.
However, September was a nice time to visit because it only peaked
to ninety degrees.
After we arrived to Marrakech, we
looked for a hotel for my parents. Abdel and I decided to stay
with his family. My first fears were relieved when the driver
dropped us at my in-law’s apartment complex in Marrakech.
I could hear the family cheering and singing. They threw flower
petals in the air and stood at the door with the new babies in
their arms. Khadija, Abdel’s cousin, and Rashida, Abdel’s
older sister offered us dates and milk—a symbol of hospitality
and celebration. Mother Zahra and Father El-Houcine embraced Abdel
and I and my parents.
Abdel’s family loved my parents. My sisters in law loved
my mother. They didn’t want her to leave. My mother and
father loved Abdel’s big family. Although we were unable
to speak to most of the members in a common tongue, we communicated
easily with lots of hand gestures and of course with the help
of Abdel’s translating.
Our three days with them were great.
Food was always plentiful. Our first day consisted of sitting
with the family and relaxing. We passed out small American souvenirs
to everyone. The economy size of Doritos and potato chips that
my mom brought were a big hit. The babies, (little) Mohammed and
(a little bigger) Mohammed, and Kholoud liked their outfits Abdel
and I gave them. After the presents, we ate dinner. My mother
in law, Zahra, prepared a fabulous dinner of roasted chickens,
Moroccan Salad, beef with prunes, fresh fruit, and mint tea.
Marrakech is a fascinating city.
It is my most favorite of the seven cities I have visited. Despite
it being incredibly hot in summer and fall, the people are warm
and hospitable. Marrakech is also the home of El Jemaa-El-Fanaa,
which is the largest market place in Morocco. At the market, one
can buy spices, dried fruit, fresh orange juice, jewelry, pottery,
lamps, and Morocco’s famous leather goods. In the evening,
the marketplace transforms into a smoky haze of small food stands.
El Jemaa-El-Fanna becomes so crowded that one can barely move.
Moroccans and tourists venture out to eat, get their hands and
feet painted by local henna artists, listen to Berber music, and
to be entertained by fortune tellers and snake charmers.
We spent each morning with Abdel’s
mother and father and later caught up with my parents to go shopping
in El Jemaa-El-Fanna. Having experienced the marketplace in the
past, I knew to keep my mouth shut. If I wanted something, I asked
Abdel to request to make a purchase. Moroccans barter. There are
three different prices in Morocco: “the dumb tourist price”,
“the bartering tourist price”, and the “Moroccan
price.” I am lucky to have features that confuse Moroccans.
Many of them think I am Moroccan. However, my parents are distinctively
not Moroccan. Thus, this became interesting at the marketplace.
Although they were happy with their prices on lamps and pottery,
it should have been a little less. It took a while for my mother
to get the hang of shopping. I tend to mind my own business and
talk if I am serious. My mother prefers to try to talk to everyone,
which was o.k. but meant that you were stuck in one stand forever!
Some sellers tend to run to another stand if they don’t
have what you are looking for, which takes up too much time when
there are thousands of little stands that wind and turn. It is
a very easy place to get lost—even for a native!
On our last day in Marrakech, my
parents offered to take Abdel’s parents out for a special
lunch. Abdel offered to get Dad El-Houcine, spaghetti. After contemplation,
we decided to go to McDonald’s. Everyone laughs about this.
My father rolled his eyes and said, “I can’t believe
we are going to McDonald’s when we are in Africa.”
However, it is a very big deal if someone goes to a McDonald’s
in Morocco. I thought mom Zahra would especially like it since
it would offer her some good conversation to tell her friends
and neighbors. McDonald’s is definitely a once in a lifetime
experience. It would be like someone going to the Refectory or
Mitchell’s Steak House in Columbus, Ohio. Abdel’s
father especially loved the hamburgers. He ate his so fast that
Abdel bought him another one! Later he confided that he was unable
to eat the following day because he was still so full!
It was very difficult to say goodbye
to family in Marrakech. I am particularly fond of Abdel’s
mom, father, nephew Aziz, and sister-in-law Amina. However we
were also excited to drive the coast of Morocco. After a lot of
hugging and tears, we left to seek out a rental car. We decided
on a Fiat stick shift. Our goal was to take a week and a half
to leisurely drive up the coast of Morocco to return to Casablanca
to catch our flight. The car trip was amazing and at times scary!
People tend to drive rather recklessly on a two-lane highway.
Abdel was a bit rusty driving a stick shift. My mother offered
suggestions throughout the two week trips although she’s
never driven one. Abdel was a good sport. Much of Morocco’s
land is un-disturbed and in its natural state. As we drove the
coast line we saw beautiful, untouched beaches where giant waves
would crash upon the rugged rocks.
Our first stop was Agadir. Agadir
is a beautiful beach city that reminded us a lot like San Francisco.
We stayed at a fantastic hotel where we met an American man, who
worked for Merck. He had been in Agadir for three months and was
excited to here someone else in the hotel speaking English! He
sat down and told us how they were hoping to find oil off the
coast. We also visited Agadir’s numerous ports where Abdel
and my parents feasted on Sardines. I preferred feeding the Sardines
to the local cats and saving my appetite for Moroccan pizza. In
the evening, we walked along the beach and contemplated over riding
a camel along the coast. Although I now wish I rode one, at the
time I found it too touristy and tacky.
After two days in Agadir we drove
to Essaouira—a four hour drive from Agadir. Along the drive,
we spotted numerous goats foraging in the trees. I’ve never
seen such a site! They were literally clinging to branches—and
there were twenty to thirty in each tree. We also saw herds of
sheep, donkeys, and camels. We passed many people riding donkeys.
Many walked, while others preferred to hitchhike. Along the highways
were people who stretched their hands into the air displaying
cans of Argan oil and Argan crème. Argan comes from a nut
from the Argan tree. This tree exists only in the region that
surrounds Agadir. Although the Argan crème of Argan nut,
almonds, and honey is delicious—the Argan nut itself is
Essaouira is an amazing city which
like all Moroccan cities encompasses an old fortified city and
a new city. Essaouria is a city of art, music, and inspiration.
It is a breathtaking city by the port. The buildings are all whitewashed
with blue doors and windows. While walking through the ports,
we saw a sailboat with an Australian flag. Abdel struck up a conversation
with the woman on the boat. We learned that she and her husband
along with their two small children were traveling the world.
They have been sailing for three years and plan to hurry back
which will take another two! The most fabulous thing about traveling
is the people who you meet along the way. I bought a painting
from a local artist and a small postcard from a young boy who
was confined to a wheelchair and could only paint with his mouth.
We were reluctant to leave Essaouria.
It was truly a fantastic city. However we decided to head off
to Safi, a city known for its pottery and Sardines. Safi is not
a beautiful city, nor is it a touristy area. However, it does
house some of the world’s most beautiful pottery. My parents
and I splurged. We purchased tagines, plates, bowls, and salt
and pepper shakers that ranged from sea foam green, mustard, to
Moroccan blue. El Jadida was next. We decided to visit some of
Abdel’s old school friends. El Jadida is also an industrial
city. My eyes burned from the chemicals and air pollution. At
this point, I was becoming weary of all of the curious stares.
These two cities do not receive many tourists, thus my mother,
father, and I were looked at as if we had three heads! While visiting
at El Jadida, we stayed at an old, beautiful, but slightly rundown
hotel. Although the stay was enjoyable, the next morning was a
bit uncomfortable. I was accused of stealing a bath towel after
we had our luggage packed and loaded. In the street, we unloaded
our luggage and allowed the receptionist to methodically go over
everything. Quite embarrassing! And no, they never found the towel.
After El-Jadida, we spent several more days in Casablanca where
we shopped for clothes and jewelry. We enjoyed one last evening
along the beach, knowing our trip was nearing the end.
The next day it was time to go home.
The flight went by fast. We looked at postcards pictures, and
swapped stories. My father never let me forget about the towel
“that I had stashed in my suitcase.” Although, it
was at times trying and occasionally challenging, all in all Abdel
and I had a great time with the parents… and perhaps we
may even go again with them… to celebrate a family reunion
and explore western Morocco.