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Current Impressions

The adage, "You have only one chance to make a first impression," is true for countries too, I suppose.  One arrives the first time, only one time.  Since Denise and I have arrived in Morocco nearly 20 different times, we have already received a lot of different impressions about what the country is and has to offer; but, reflecting on the current situation can provide some insight as to what has changed over the years, and help us to view with more clarity what is on the horizon.

Ironically, the week before we left Denise and I both received similar questions from colleagues that created a bit of anxiety as we thought about an honest response.  The question: "Why do you keep going back over there year after year"?  The answer is bound up, I think, in some of the current impressions made on us as we entered the country Saturday morning, and made our way by train to Fes, our former hometown.

We left Birmingham before noon on Friday, made our connection in Cincinnati with no trouble, and seemed to be right on schedule for our arrival at JFK when the pilot made an announcement.  Due to an air show in the New York City area, air traffic had been slowed down and we would be entering a holding pattern for some time.   About 45 minutes later, from somewhere over Canada, the pilot announced we were cleared to proceed, and we managed to arrive just one hour past schedule.  That presented no real problem since we had built in plenty of free time to make our connection.

A thunderstorm caused our flight on Royal Air Maroc to be held up for a little over an hour past its 7:40 departure time.  That meant we arrived in Casablanca about 8:00 a.m. rather than 6:30 a.m.  I am uncertain why all the infants on the plane decided to cry ensemble while we were waiting to depart, but they did, and that certainly did not help me formulate a good reason why, given the expenditure of time, money and energy, we should be making the trip.

The four hour train trip to Fes began at 10:15 a.m., meaning that it was 5:15 in Birmingham, and hence we had been up only about 24 hours or so when we left.  Along the journey, events occurred and memories were stirred that caused us to overlook the fatigue and discomfort, in favor of the positive aspects of what we have come to appreciate about life here.

The journey through the capital city of Rabat, then through Meknes, the sister city of Fes, and then on to our destination passes through some stunning natural scenery.  First there is the Atlantic coast from Casablanca to Rabat, then soon afterward the foothills of the Middle Atlas mountains begin south of Meknes, and the mountains are visible for the last 60 or 70 miles of the trip.  Though the landscape is not as green as it was last March when we were here, the mountainside vistas present a marvelous patchwork of greens and golds, the result of the early winter wheat being harvested.  Olive groves were sprinkled throughout, and sufficient bougainvillea and oleander are in bloom to mix in brilliant purple and pink shading.  I know similar scenery exists all over the world, but each trip here reminds us that Morocco has been particularly blessed with natural beauty.

A couple we had seen on the train entered our compartment just before we departed Casablanca and introduced themselves.  They are a couple from Washington, D.C. and are on their honeymoon.  As we talked and they discovered facts about our history in Morocco, they were eager to hear all that we could tell them.  In any "learner-knower" relationship, I suppose a certain amount of pride creeps into the knower's consciousness.   We were delighted to share our excitement about being back in the country, and passed along some information that should help them enjoy their trip.   We managed to refrain from providing any marriage counseling, though we shall celebrate our 38th anniversary this coming Friday.  We plan to have dinner at Le Mama's restaurant in Rabat, the first restaurant we visited in Morocco in 1971.  It still looks much the same, though sadly, we do not!

Arriving at the hotel we always frequent in Fes, the clerk and staff welcomed us like family home for a visit.   That's another indicator of why we are here.  We are too connected to too many people to allow those relationships to die.  I have no insight as to why that is important, and perhaps, it is meaningful only to us.  I cannot point to any life-changing experiences in the lives of these people, except perhaps for those we have helped come to the U.S. to study, but the simple joy of being together again and catching up on the news of mutual concerns, advocates strongly for the value of what we do.

We have expressed in the past a sense of "call" to Morocco, and I think that is very much alive.  Though our experiences here and the continuity of our presence has been very different from the initial scenario we envisioned, in many ways what has happened has been better.  Here's one more piece of evidence.

As soon as the clerk welcomed at the hotel, he motioned to an outside door.  About that time Jamey walked in.  Since his Spring Semester at Penn State ended three weeks ago, he has been in Fes studying Arabic.  The chance to be here with him for a few days, revisiting together some of the important places in our family history, and interacting with people we have known for over 20 years, seals the deal.  We know why we are here, and it is worth all that it cost.


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