Three weeks ago I left Berlin early in the morning to volunteer for 3 months at a language school in Berrechid, Morocco. Austin was sweet enough to come with me to the airport at 6 in the morning. We hugged and kissed goodbye and I stood in line until it was time to board my Easyjet to Milan for a 1-day layover. My first time setting foot in Italy. Everything went smoothly as I arrived to the airport, booked a bus to the central train station and then managed to navigate the subway to Duomo Square (a giant paved park, meeting place and church yard). I had a delicious cappuccino in the central train station. That was my main goal in Italy: to drink as many cappuccinos in a day as I could manage. I met up with a couchsurfer in Duomo Square and we got a sandwich and espresso before he had to go back to work. I decided to walk over to a castle and lay on a stone bench in the sun. I hadn’t slept much the night before and the weight of my body and backpack pulled me into the bench. I found my way to another couchsurfer who I stayed with for the night and we had a fun evening talking about the Camino and his travels in Iran. I somehow managed to stay up until midnight even though my brain was falling asleep periodically until then. I set my alarm for 4:45 the next morning to give me time to pack up my stuff and walk to the central station from my host’s house to catch a 5:30 bus back to the airport.
I arrived in Morocco tired, but excited. I had a few hours to relax until my host, Harim, was scheduled to arrive to pick me up. I drank cafe au lait in the airport until Harim arrived with two friendly Lithuanian volunteers and we went straight for a roadside lunch of tagine and garbanzo beans sopped up with bread. We ate together from the same dish with our right hands. Harim seemed very kind and self assured as we ate and talked.
For the next three days the Lithuanian couple, Greta and Edwines, and I spent all our time together eating, talking, sharing stories, drinking coffee, watching movies, hitchhiking and taxiing between where Harim was hosting us and the school where I volunteer. I became very taken with the Lithuanians (as I am at least 1 quarter Lithuanian myself). They are both students and were here in Africa traveling and learning for their experiential program in pedagogy. They spend their time doing projects that their school calls “investigations”. They have options to choose a topic, a group of people, a subculture and a way to interact, interview, film, photograph, record audio. Then they commence the investigation as participants in whatever their subjects are doing. For example: they had ridden along on a train that miners take to work and squeezed in next to the miners to talk with them about their work and lives. This is a train that is without tourists and is only inhabited by those going to and from the mines. The ride takes all night and is possibly the longest train ride in Africa. (Edwines and Greta, if you are reading this and I’m getting it wrong please correct me in the comments section). After a few days I said goodbye to the Lithuanians who were on their way back to Europe after 4 months in Africa, but not before I had been fully inspired by them to document Africa in a different way and to plan to give back more to the people and places I go. Not with money or even my time necessarily, but my care and a well thought intentional effort.
My buddy Mattias, another volunteer at the language school (who is headed to Turkey to volunteer with Erdem) and I set out with 6 other volunteers to hitchhike (or auto-stop as it’s called in this part of Africa) our way to Chefchaouen in Northern Morocco to see the village that has a reputation for being the hashish capital of the world. Mattias and I were partners and were walking at the head of the group along a toll road until we got to a good place for us all to thumb our way towards the north. We looked behind us to see if our group agreed on our spot to start hitching and to our surprise we found we were the only two people standing there. The rest of the group had already gotten picked up and we were dead last for the Chefchaouen hitchhiking championship race. But as Moroccan culture has a reputation for helping guests of the country, we were picked up almost immediately by a friendly semi truck driver. He took us towards Casablanca and dropped us in a nice spot so we could get a ride heading north. Within a few minutes another semi truck picked us up and we were again motoring down the highway. After 13 hours and eight or nine rides we pulled into Chefchaouen at 7 pm. The experience was mind blowing for me. For the most part the people who picked us up were very kind and I felt like I was really traveling. I was a genuine tramp for a day. The highlight for me was getting picked up in a cement mixer by a guy who was learning English because he loved American action movies and he thought English sounded tough. He would say, “This is my truck. This is my house” in his best Robert Dinero impression and tough guy face.
Unfortunately the lack of sleep before and in Milan and then in Casablanca followed by 13 hours of hitchhiking hit me as I arrived at the hostel in Chefchaouen and it was time for me to be sick. I ended up spending most of our two days there in bed or running to the bathroom from my bed. I did make it above the village for a walk and some photos and I ate a few meals with my fellow volunteers. Two of the hitchhikers got picked up by the police on the way to Chefchaouen and on the way back. I however made the journey without incident and with a head full of newfound traveling ideas.
I am now settling into Berrechid, the village where the language school is located. I arrived still sick and have mainly been resting, but I hope to start tomorrow (I actually wrote this post last week), healthy and ready to make more sense of why I am here and how I can contribute. We get to have interesting discussions with the students about Morocco and Islam and I hope to learn a lot about both. I will ship out again with the volunteers and the students next week for another adventure. This time our destination is the Sahara desert where we will ride some camels and see the sunset and the sunrise from the red sand dunes. The trip is likely a little set up and arranged. I’ve been thinking of it as a Disneyland type of desert safari. Not exactly like meeting some random Berber people and accompanying them across the desert on my own camel, but it will be an experience nonetheless.