After being separated by two months and one time zone Austin was on a plane bound for Morocco. Her flight was scheduled to arrive in Casablanca a few Fridays ago at 7:15 AM. David set his alarm the night before for 6 AM, but awoke in the morning to bright light and waves of panic. The clock displayed 7 AM and the airport was an hour away. Austin would be waiting alone at the airport. He rushed out of the language academy where he lives, closed the self-locking front door and in a sleepy stupor walked out of the school toward the security gate that requires a key to open – the very key he had just left inside the school behind the self-locking door. He was trapped in the courtyard between the academy and the security gate, unable to get out to the street and unable to get back inside the school to get the key for the gate. He stood there for a minute unable to find a solution to his captivity. Inspiration struck and he realized that he could probably scale the 10-foot courtyard wall. He was suddenly starring in his own action film. He climbed the wall and leapt down the other side onto the street, barely defying death. He ran to the main road and hitchhiked at top speed to the airport, worrying that Austin would be there waiting for him with the sour face of a weary traveler who thinks her boyfriend has forgotten her. (Note: It wouldn’t necessarily have been so bad if David wasn’t at the airport to collect Austin, except that he’s already left her stranded at an airport in the middle of the night once before and he’s on thin ice.) Once he got to the airport the fog was so thick he walked around in circles for 10 minutes even though the terminal was only 20 feet from him. Luckily for David, Austin’s flight was delayed and customs took longer than usual and he ended up being early after all. The reunion was a joyous occasion complete with the most romantic airport kiss where the rest of the scene blurs into the background and the camera revolves in slo-mo around the embracing couple. This did not really happen, and in fact we only shared a brief hug because public hetero affections are not generally acceptable in Moroccan culture.
Arriving in Morocco was relatively easy for Austin since David has already become accustomed to being there and knows all the little things that make daily life happen in Berrechid like where to buy eggs, how to get around and where to find the best coffee in town. We used the British Language Academy as our home base and Austin volunteered in the English classes as well, enjoying the novelty of being on the other side of the student-teacher dynamic in a language class.
Being in Morocco is so different from life in Berlin. Austin found it a fascinating change of place and she quickly became accustomed to it as a new normal. The first and most obvious difference she noticed is the cleanliness: trash sometimes fills the streets, rubble and apparently unfinished structures are common sights. Establishments like cafes are generally only occupied by men and have very minimal bathroom facilities, occasionally hosting a western toilet, rarely offering toilet paper and you can forget ever finding soap in there. In hotels amenities like hot water and privacy are often only available on a limited basis. She also noticed a general state of disrepair, like taxi cabs with missing window cranks or bedroom doors with broken door knobs or exposed cables where a light fixture might otherwise belong. These details don’t really feel inconvenient, but just require a tweaking of expectations or standards.
It did require some adjustment for Austin to get used to being in a Muslim nation. Although as a westerner she isn’t expected to conform to social customs like wearing a head scarf, she did feel some pressure to behave in certain ways to avoid drawing unwanted attention. It’s not such a sacrifice to wear long sleeves and pants despite the hot temperatures. But what was most difficult for her was her newly acquired invisibility. When walking together children sometimes called out to David, asking his name and welcoming him to Morocco. Generally Austin didn’t seem to be noticed. At the grocery store she even had the experience of feeling completely invisible when the cashier man was so interested in talking with David that he wouldn’t make eye contact with her or even place the change into her hand, attempting to give it to David instead. She doesn’t like this feeling of nonexistence, especially when David gets to have some kind of sweet or interesting interaction immediately beside her.
Now back in Berlin, Austin is making the most of her final weeks there. She’ll be tying up loose ends and extricating herself from the supportive yet finicky bureaucratic clutches of the government. But it’s not all tedium and she is excited about several food/art events she’s helping to coordinate. On May 18 she’ll fly to Spain to be once again united with David at Los Gázquez, our very first volunteer gig from last spring. There we will anticipate the arrival of Austin’s father and his partner for a weeklong hang-out in early June while we catch up with our hosts/friends there and get reacquainted with the beautiful surroundings of the land.