“Do something that scares you everyday.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Even after a drunk crazy man confessing his preferance for George Bush in Frankfurt, an eerie fog greeting us in Casablanca and a hotel mix up in Rabat, honestly I felt most scared waiting for my luggage after the plane ride into Morocco.
I stood there staring at the conveyor belt, my stomach on the verge of an anxiety ulcer. My travel companion, Rose, got her travel backpack pretty quickly, which was worrisome as she had an extra flight before me. Mine, however, was still MIA. I thought back to the Lufthansa agent telling me I had to check my carry-on because it was too heavy. 'If I don't get my luggage for the next three months, I am so blaming her!' I internally seethed.
More bags, more backpacks that were not mine. I cracked my knuckles. Rationalized that there were still people left waiting for their baggage around me. 'We had made it this far,' I thought. 'Please do not tell me that I lose my luggage on my first ever international flight.'
Finally, my former carry on bag emerged. Soon after, the backpack also came through. The relief of knowing I was in the country I needed to be in with everything I need was one of the best feelings I have had in awhile. That terrified feeling actually made me appreciate Africa all the more.
Here are a few other of my scares and appreciations.
After meeting up with fellow abroad-er Rose in Chicago, we flew to Frankfurt and were lucky enough to have a nine-hour layover in Germany after a seven-hour overnight flight. The combination of having a normal-ish sleep schedule (I think we basically just slept through the time change) and the thrill of being in a new country had us ready to explore. We wandered around the Frankfurt airport for a bit getting generally unhelpful directions from the otherwise very kind German people (one woman told us to go upstairs “make a couple turns” and then go down the stairs to exit), we made it out to a fifteen minute train ride to Frankfurt Hbf.
On this perfect afternoon, we bopped around the storybook land of Frankfurt—how American do I sound if I say it reminded me of Disneyland’s Epcot? Winding cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes serving hearty mugs of beer and beautiful people that looked like they had been plucked from the pages of an Ikea catalogue (okay, you won’t see people like that at Disneyland). We sat in the café at the Goethe Haus (as in the childhood home of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) and drank a latte, browsed the Leica gallery across the street then wandered to a rooftop café that overlooked the city. While taking in the views, our conversation turned to Chicago and a man turned around and asked in a heavy German accent, “Chicago? Chicago?!” As it turns out he is a Frankfurt native, but studied at University of Illinois-Chicago for a year and loved it.
With our Chicago connection made, he recommended we check out the Apfelwein (apple wine) at a local market down the street that was closing soon. We hurried down the boulevard, managed to get a tall glass of apple wine and hang out with some local Frankfurters (Frankfurtians?). One very inebriated man told us about his love for George Bush, Al Capone and Clint Eastwood, complete with gun hand gestures and thumbs down when we talked about Obama. A local told us he was happy we made it to the market, as most tourists don’t venture that far into the city. We also talked with two Tunisian men who told us a bit about their experience living in Germany and North Africa. They left Tunisia ten years ago due to lack of jobs, but said Frankfurt is a place you have to work a lot to enjoy. This didn’t surprise me due to the amount of designer stores and chic cafes that lined the streets. They also told us they wanted to visit America and go to Miami, which the one man said with a grin and fist pump. We assured him there are far better places to visit.
We ended our stay with a giant pretzel apiece and a walk around the Romer (pictured above), which actually looked like the village setting of a Brothers Grimm tale. Overall, Frankfurt convinced me the key to happiness might simply be a pair of colored skinny jeans and Apfelwein from a market. Not a bad equation.
Flying into Casablanca was surreal. I am used to seeing a skyline and rows of houses when flying into a city, but the night and a thick fog hid the landscape; only the headlights of cars on the highway shone through the mist like fireflies in the vast African land below. After said luggage scare, I was ready to grab a taxi and inconspicuously (it was midnight, we were two blonde foreign girls) be on our way. However, when we exited the airport, people were crowded against metal barricades waiting anxiously for loved one, giving our exit the fishbowl effect of a red carpet, sans the cheering and friendly faces (though people are rarely happy to be picking someone up from an airport at midnight on a Saturday). A man quickly hustled us to a cab, and we headed on a 40 minute ride to Casa in that thick mysterious midnight fog. We arrived at the hostel and immediately went to sleep until…
RING RING we had slept an hour past our check out time. Though the front desk threatened to charge us for an extra night for staying late as of now (fingers crossed, credit card bill pending), we only paid for a night. We had an extra few hours before we needed to head to Rabat, so we decided to venture into Casa for our first real steps in a Moroccan city.
The neighborhood around our hotel reminded me of Queens or Brooklyn: a lot of garage door storefronts, and no-frills multilingual signs advertising phone cards and videos. We stopped in a café and had our first Moroccan café au lait. Quite tasty. We wandered for a bit to the verdant Parc de Ligue Arab and a pedestrian (and occasional motorbike) outdoor mall lined with gelato stands and makeshift toy stands. I wish we could have made it to the Hassan II mosque, which is out on the ocean, or the Quartier Habous, their nouvelle medina, but we were a bit too far and are coming back to Casablanca with our program. Honestly, I was ready to be headed to Rabat as well—carrying travel packs is not an easy task. Though the section we saw of Casa was a bit dirty and busy, the people there were quite friendly and helpful, which was nice when we navigated illogical streets toward the train station, which was conveniently hidden behind a construction site.
Arriving in Rabat was a breath of fresh air, literally. We exited the train station to a calming ocean breeze, gorgeous fountains and people relaxing on palm tree lined boulevards. Though this was a welcome site, Rabat turned out to be just as difficult to navigate as Casablanca. For whatever reason, there are not too many street signs or numbers on buildings in addition to a twisting urban design. We walked for about a half hour to find our hotel, which as it turns out was not the correct hotel at all. Which, in all transparency, was my fault due to not double-checking my email to be sure I had the right place after the location of our meet up was changed in the days before we left. That was a moment of panic—we had made it so far, were in the right city, yet were phoneless, internet-less and unsure of where to go. Thankfully, the front desk let us use their phone and we were able to make contact with our program director Badr. We took a taxi to the address, which was a bit intimidating because we were simply brought to a side entrance of the medina, but luckily Badr was strolling toward us just as we were about to enter, a wide smile on his face. As we walked toward our school (the Center for Cross Cultural Learning—CCCL), two local little girls waved to Badr then motioned us over for a friendly kiss on the cheek. I almost melted from the adorableness of the moment.
We met up with the other students from the three SIT Morocco programs on the rooftop terrace of the CCCL. People who know me know how roof-obsessed I am (I think it has to do with me being 5’2 and loving any height I can get), and this roof tops them all: literally 360-degree views of the Medina, city and ocean. After a tasty dinner of eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, beef and bread, we headed back to the hotel. Our group headed out to a café for a beer, then wandered around the medina for a bit. At night, the medina is absolutely insane. Packed, loud and vibrant in every sense of the word. I can’t wait to explore more.
For now, I am heading off to my first last day of school (yay senior year), and though it is a couple thousand miles from the usual location the excited anticipation of a new year and new challenges is no different.
I’m ready to see what scary things lie ahead.