KCM Morocco Tea“Yum, yum, yum,” we responded like 5-year olds, rubbing our stomachs. My husband and I were smiling at each other while drinking Moroccan mint tea as our tour guide’s mother, who didn’t speak English, pushed cookies and nuts towards us, gesturing to eat more. There was that awkward silence with occasional laughter, which continues for what seems like an eternity. Finally our tour guide, Hassan, returns to tell us that our tour vehicle had been fixed. Our car had broken down nearby and after a jump start we drove to Efroud to get the car repaired, and have a couscous lunch with Hassan and his Berber family.

The lunch consisted of a huge bowl of couscous with carrots and other vegetables, and a large piece of beef in the center. It was a work of art. We were all given spoons and dug in. Hassan’s father had a twinkle in his eye and continued to playfully push more food towards me and my husband saying, “encore, encore.” This delightful lunch was topped off with the juiciest oranges for dessert. The Moroccan family’s generosity caught me by surprise and warmed my heart.

I hadn’t wanted to go on this trip. My father died four weeks earlier, due to complications from a car accident. I simply wanted to lie on a beach in Miami and drink cocktails, but no, we ended up booking a real adventure. Grieving takes up energy and I thought ugh… however, I was finding being in a new country and culture invigorating. We hired a private guide through Tenere Tours (see review on TripAdvisor), which made me feel safe; we had very few decisions, such as how long to nap in the afternoon.

We left Efroud to ride camels in the Sahara desert. Riding a camel is one of those experiences that you only want to do once—your screaming inner thighs beg you to never go again. However, I was taken aback by the peace and beauty of the Sahara. The desert colors change with the sun—from very light brown to almost reddish brown at dusk. It took my breath away.

Once we arrived at the desert camp, I relaxed, realizing we were “glamping” in luxurious white tents with bathrooms and showers, but no heat. The temperature at night was in the 30s, so we ate our dinner in a large, heated tent. After dinner, we went out to look at the stars illuminating the night sky. You could see the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and falling stars.

Then we sang songs around a big bonfire. A small group of musicians led the singing of traditional Berber music accompanied by drums and a percussion instrument that resembled handcuffs that you clack together. After the group finished playing, the local musicians showed us how to play their instruments. I played a large kettle-like drum, the smaller drums, and the clackers. My husband laughed at me and had to occasionally cover his ears because I am not the most musical person. It was a great way to warm up: huddling around the campfire, beating the drums, and laughing out loud. Later, we slept in every piece of clothing we brought, and did a lot of snuggling. This was how my Christmas day ended, truly the most memorable one of my life.

We had begun our trip in Casablanca, traveled to Rabat (the capital), and Fez, before arriving at the desert mid-way through our 11-day journey. Being a city dweller, my surprise was that the cities were not all that interesting. Our first riad, the Moroccan version of a bed and breakfast, was a former mansion with a fountain and/or pool in the middle of the house. We walked into this welcoming oasis and the staff brought us our first Moroccan tea and cookies which we enjoyed immensely.

The fun came from wandering around the ancient cities, including the medina quarter. One of our favorites was Chaouen, called “the blue city” as many of the buildings are awash in Moroccan blue. Being a New Yorker who lives in black most of the year, this cheerful blue started to awaken my senses. I became enthralled with looking at the blue doors. Who knew various shades of blue could be so entrancing?

KCM MarketIn Fez, the cultural capital of Morocco, we were met by a city guide and began the tour of the medina and looked at the area where leather goods were made. The various stages of leather making were explained while we watched young men soaking five foot long leather hides in various bright shades of blue, yellow, green, brown, red, white, and black. The bright indigo blue color really caught my eye. I thought, “I want a BRIGHT blue leather jacket!”

Negotiating with sellers in these markets is an age-old tradition. My husband is one of the best negotiators I know, so I let him have a go. The salesperson assured us that he will give us a good price. He smiled and explained how special this leather is and that you can’t find it anywhere else. He started the process with a price of 7000 DH (100 Dirham or DH equals 10 dollars). My husband laughs and says, “No, no, no…. way too high… We would like it much better at 3000 DH…” The negotiation goes back and forth, with all kinds of hilarious comments, ending with our salesperson agreeing to 3500… quipping that my husband “could make an onion cry.”

We all hugged one another, and all enjoyed the process. Who knew negotiating could be such fun? I was thrilled by this new way of living.

I wanted to try my hand at bargaining. I couldn’t resist a pair of indigo blue Moroccan slippers—the traditional slippers with pointed toes and an open back, with no heel so you just awkwardly slide or shuffle along. My husband rolled his eyes. He shared his strategy: go way low after they offer their price, then determine what you want to pay. The proprietor began his sales pitch with how the slippers are handmade, then asked how many I wanted. When I said, “one,” and he offered 7000 DH. I countered with 3000 DH, and he offered 5000 DH. I then tried 3500 DH, and he offered 4000 DH, to which I said my husband would kill me if I pay more than 3500 DH, and we shook on that. I don’t know if I got a good deal but it was fun and empowering. It was possibly the best negotiating training I have ever had.

After our memorable evening in the desert, we traveled through the Dades Valley, the valley of roses, and Skoura palms, passing through Ouarzazate where we see the famous kasbah in which Oscar-winning movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia” were shot, and ended up in Marrakesh.

We enjoyed our final three nights at a charming riad with a roof-top lounge where we ate breakfast and afternoon tea. My confidence as a negotiator improved as I practiced bargaining for a Berber necklace and a teapot. After all, I had to continue this tradition of having and offering Moroccan tea to our guests! I relaxed into the customs of this country that now felt much more comfortable. It was amazing to me how quickly I had adapted to the Moroccan way of life. It made me realize that the quicker one accepts the rules or ways of doing things, the more enjoyment you have.

Upon returning to NYC, I feel empowered as I walk into my shoe repair guy and hand him the filthy boots that I wore during our trip. He says $12 to clean and shine and I say $10 and he agrees. The speed and confidence of my reply startled me. We smile at each other, with me understanding that something is different within me. I hang up my bright indigo blue leather jacket in my closet full of black, brown, and grey… noting that my wardrobe needs a color lift.

Lastly, as I face the new reality of my life without my parents, I realize that this trip had strengthened my adaptive learning muscle to accept things which I can’t control with openness, curiosity, and grace. Sure it is easy to accept the daily Moroccan mint tea habit and more difficult to accept untimely deaths. Resisting the urge to go inward for too long and avoid contact with people, I spent my first Saturday at home waiting for over an hour on a cold wet day to see the Klimt exhibit at the Neue Gallery in NYC. Despite being jet lagged, I felt renewed by breaking my routine to take it easy and instead, followed my urge to see some beautiful and colorful art. The next Saturday, I waited in another line to see an underwear chandelier… What will I do next? Maybe buy some new colorful clothes, make a new friend, or buy some Moroccan mint tea cups!

What small tweaks can you make in your life to help you feel revitalized? Why not start now?

 

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