My parents flew back to Canada today. They left Morocco over a month ago, but had been hanging out at Bruno’s house in southern France for the past 5 weeks. It was nice to know they were close-ish and that they were still on holiday.
I know my parents’ time in Morocco has been all over my blog lately, but I can’t help but write just one more post about them. Perhaps, as their plane soars over the Atlantic, I’m already feeling nostalgic about our trip. Travel does that to you – it gets under your skin and totally invades your headspace.
I think Morocco had that effect on my dad.
When I was growing up, my dad considered Florida an exotic destination. Only seven years ago, he refused to join my mom in Thailand because it was too far from his comfort zone. I’d never traveled to such a foreign country with my father – in fact, besides Ecuador, he’d never traveled to such a foreign country. Most of his travel consisted of business trips and typical North American sea-sand-sun destinations.
And here he was in Morocco, dancing in the center of drum circles on Marrakech’s Djemaa, riding a camel with Berber nomads, and eating tagine with truck drivers at a rest stop. Here he was joking around with shop-keepers like they were old pals, learning how to wrap a turban around his head, and driving a massive camper van around as though he were on Canadian roads.
The first morning my dad awoke in Morocco, he admitted that he’d experienced intense culture shock the night before while driving into Marrakech’s medina for the first time. I hadn’t noticed, as he’d been busy joking around with our taxi driver. If my dad experienced culture shock again throughout his six-week stay in Morocco, he never showed it – what he did do, instead, was note aloud the differences he observed between Morocco and his home country of Canada as a way of making sense of his sense-impressions.
Eventually, dad developed a sort of list – a list of differences between Morocco and Canada. He wrote this list without judgment or disdain, but instead, with enthusiasm and awe for this interesting and exotic culture he was experiencing. I thought it might be fun to share it here:
My Dad’s List of Interesting Differences Between Morocco and Canada (excluding the obvious ones like language, clothing, religion, etc.)
- Sharing (very sweet mint) tea before important business is done
- Chaotic traffic and little regard for traffic lanes or rules
- Sale of alcohol is limited and when available is often out-of-sight in back rooms
- Men are huddled together in cafes or other public places – cafés are men-only zones
- Unrestrained animals (cats and dogs, but also goats and donkeys) in city and countryside
- Goat, sheep, and camels are watched by a shepherd
- Medinas, or old towns, with narrow alleys and high walls around the perimeter
- Souks where begging and high-pressure selling is common
- Negotiating price of merchandise is an acceptable, and indeed encouraged, transaction method – very few stores have fixed prices
- Manual labour and antiquated tools and trades are common (leather, pottery, rug-making, agriculture)
- Animals are used for transportation (mules, donkeys and camels)
- Women carry heavy loads on heads or backs
- Babies are held in blankets on women’s backs
- Education costs money even for elementary schools
- Turkish toilets (squat toilets) are most common (except in touristy hotels and restaurants)
- Men walk arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand
- Public display of affection between sexes are very rare
- People squat when waiting or passing time or relaxing
- Greetings are done with complex hand gestures or kissing on cheeks (as well as words)
- Extended greetings are necessary before asking for a service
- Dating culture is taboo and parents involved in arranging marriage (though this is changing in some cities)
- Hammams, or public baths, are still used for many families who don’t have running hot water in their homes
- Poor dental hygiene, especially among the working class, is common – many children, even of educated families, have rotten baby teeth
- Police wait at exits and entrances of towns checking traffic
- Plastic is everywhere and there is little regard where garbage is left
- Dust and dirt are everywhere
- Merchants spread watering front of building to keep dust from blowing everywhere
- Musical instruments are often hand-made and rudimentary
- Flexible schedules for many things (buses and planes – flight left 20 minutes early in Marrakech and original flight to Morocco from France cancelled) – “Moroccan time” is totally different than real-time
- Very little wildlife exists in the countryside (other than dirks and birds)
- Dim lighting inside riads and homes – very few windows, natural light (if any) comes from inner courtyard
- Ceramic tiles are a prized decorative element in homes
- Much-loved and well-respected king of the country who enacts many policies and laws
When I met up with my parents in Marrakech for their final night in Morocco, my dad walked up to us with an air of pure confidence and comfort. If we hadn’t been surrounded by mosques and Senegalese watch vendors and women wearing the hijab, I’d have placed him in his hometown.
“Back in Marrakech at last,” he announced. “I feel as though I’ve come home.” His words echoed his body language.
I could relate to my dad’s feeling of homecoming. Driving into Marrakech’s medina the first time had felt uncomfortable and disorienting; now, after experiencing and learning all that he had, he was returning to Marrakech as a “seasoned pro” of sorts.
It was amazing for me to watch this evolution in my father. It was less notable in mom because she and I have traveled a lot together (Thailand and London), so I already know she travels well. Heck, she also comes from a family of very seasoned travelers (a sister who worked for Frommers and a brother who overlanded his way around North America – no wonder I caught the disease!). All I could think in Marrakech that night – as dad uttered over and over again how much he loved Morocco and didn’t want to leave – was what his siblings would think if they could see him now!
It was incredibly special to have my parents travel with me in Morocco. Travel is such a huge part of my life, and to finally share a trip with my dad made me feel like I was giving him a glimpse of what makes me tick. It strengthened our bond and created lifelong memories that I will cherish forever. One of the best ones was the surprise of discovering how much travel behoves my dad. Who knew?