It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.
—Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940)
The thing about Morocco is that it feels so ancient. Even with a smear of modernity across its surface, the landscape and the culture feel timeless, like a place where one might search for the answers to life’s questions. I didn’t come to this country looking for anything in particular; I had hoped only to be open to what it might show me.
Now that our tour was coming to an end, I stared out the car window at the goats in the argan trees and reflected on all that I’d seen in such a short amount of time. In my mind I ran over the highlights of the past eight days: the meaning of Ramadan, the effect of extreme heat and thirst on the body, the quirkiness of the camel, the country’s long and complicated history, the jinns and the evil eye, the henna witch, the shady traffic cop, the price of spice, and, through it all, Boujeema’s authoritative guidance.
What life lessons had I learned while here? It was too soon to tell. I knew it would take weeks, months, maybe even years to absorb all that I’d experienced in this mysterious country.
But the one realization already spinning in my mind was this: Muslims aren’t scary. At least not the ones I’d met on this trip. They aren’t a bunch of American-hating terrorists or faceless emigrants or humans somehow devoid of recognizable souls.
They are Boujeema and Abraham and JJ and the many other people I’d met along the way, including Abdul, a short, round man who showed us around Bahia Palace in Marrakech and exclaimed, “I hate politics!” After which we spent the afternoon gushing about better things, like our love of books. We talked not only about our favorite poets and novelists but also about why we like to read and where we like to read and how we own too many books and that we might try making furniture with them because we’ve run out of shelves. And then we laughed in an embarrassed kind of way when Chris yawned and said his ADD had kicked in long ago.
Kabir, a 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint, once wrote, “If you have not experienced something for yourself, then it is not real to you.” Now that I’ve met all these friendly, fascinating, wily, and even grumpy Muslims of Morocco, I feel a little bit bigger inside. It’s as if my heart and mind have been broadened by a demographic I’d heretofore been conditioned to see not only as “Other,” but as a terrorizing, virgin-seeking Other. A bunch of “crazies.”
This isn’t a line of thinking I’d ever consciously bought into. But I admit that before this trip I hadn’t considered how an everyday, non-radical Muslim must feel about having his or her religion so egregiously twisted and misunderstood. How does it feel when much of the Western world looks at you and your beliefs askance?
In the palace gardens that day with Abdul, standing over the unmarked graves of his fellow countrymen, he had broached the subject of terrorism and suicide bombers, saying, “Murder is a sin in our religion, just as it is in yours. We want peace too.”
I am not a scholar of religion or politics, but the more I travel around this shrinking blue planet of ours, the more I understand that “the Other” is an illusion that only impedes our progress. We are, each of us, meaning-seeking creatures who hope to love and be loved by someone else.
Thank you, Morocco, for reminding me of that.