Rabat: Day 1

By Elyse Whitehead

Before I set foot in Morocco to kick off the WVN Global Tour 2013, my adventure began in Ben Gurion Airport, with two hours of Israeli security checks and fourteen hours of travel from Tel Aviv, to Istanbul, and finally to Casablanca. After a red-eye arrival in Istanbul, I boarded the final leg of my journey and passed out immediately upon finding my seat. I was gently woken by two beautiful faces offering me pillows. The two women smiled warmly from beneath their hijabs.

Arriving at my Mama Souad's house in Salé

Souad and Khadijah became my newest Moroccan mothers. Through a mess of Arabic, Moroccan Darija, and French, we laughed and talked about their travels that week together on a ladies trip to Istanbul. Upon receiving our meals, I was given a piece of Kabab from Souad’s tray as she demanded “Kouli!” Eat!

Arriving in Casablanca airport train station

Arriving in Mohamed VI Airport, my new mamas took me by the arm and accompanied me every inch of the way. At baggage claim, a package I had been forced to check did not come. Souad came to my rescue, and at best, the package shall arrive in Fez in a day or so, Inshallah. Souad insisted I stay the night with her family, as heading to Meknes after nearly 20 hours of traveling was not acceptable. I called Leslie, who informed me that our friend Cassie had also found her own Moroccan Mama en route from France, and would stay with her near where I would be with my Mamas in Rabat. So the plans changed another time, and we would all meet in the morning.

Souad lives in Salé, part of the old city in Rabat. After taking two trains, the three of us arrived in the Salè train station, and were met by two smiling women who kissed my cheeks fervently and told me how zweena(pretty) I am.

First meal at Souad's

Souad’s house is nestled along one of the narrow side streets of the old city. Through an old door and up a narrow flight of stairs, I emerged into a tiled entry room with the sun peering through the sides of the covered riad roof where Souad’s two boys, Riyadh and Ayman, were playing soccer. Their home, part of an old riad, is exquisite. Souad laughed at me amicably as I stared at my surroundings and complimented her home. She ushered me to meet a few more lovely ladies who kissed my cheeks and sandwiched me between them to prepare to eat. Beets and Moroccan salad were served, followed by a steaming tagine of kafteh, and fresh hobz. Everything was beyond delicious and the ladies spoke with me, following our ever more comprehensive Fra-Arab-ija. It was lovely, and as exhausted as I was, I felt giddy in the company of such loving faces.

Souad’s boys emerged from their game and she kissed their cheeks red. Ayman, about 12, and Riyadh, about 7, politely kissed my cheeks and greeted me along with her husband who shook my hand and welcomed me warmly. After thanking the ladies for the delightful meal, I was shown to the shower, sufficiently tea and cookied, and then shown where to take a nap. Amidst all of the laughter outside my room and my own excitement, I did not sleep a bit!

Tea and cookies

After about an hour, I was awoken to meet Souad’s sister-in-law, her little boy, Omar, 3, and mother-in-law, who had a faded tattoo down the middle of her chin. We had more tea, cookies, and laughed as Omar ran around the room with a little girl, Souduk. I went up to watch the boys playing soccer on the terrace and to take a moment to realize my surroundings. The sun was setting over the rooftops, and the air was growing cool. A perfect day.

The terrace of her house

Through the evening, I was guided through the streets, market, shown Souad’s storefront for her wedding catering business, and the bakery where Khadijah and her sons and daughter prepare sweet delicacies for parties. We all laughed at my attempt to create a Ramadan sweet. With their guidance, I got better!

Evening cake and milloui (a flaky bread)

We drove to meet a family friend who had recently had a baby, and having been sick, my voice was virtually gone. Souad took me to buy a new SIM card for my phone and change money (she would not allow me previously to get ripped off at the airport and insisted on paying my way to Rabat and buying my SIM card. Arriving home around 11pm, my mind and body were numb and a smile stretched across my face. All tucked into bed, I immediately fell asleep. Morocco, I have really arrived! How fitting that here I am, representing Women’s Voices Now, and with the strength and kindness of women, my rather hectic arrival became a memory of hospitality and goodness that I won’t forget!

Souad's living room

Me trying to make a Ramadan pastry with Mama Khadijah's daughter

Khadijah making the sweets

Bowl of sweets in her bakery

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