Finding Myself in Morocco

casablanca long poster


Up until a few weeks before landing, my knowledge of Morocco was limited to two old movies and a cartoon character. From Humphrey Bogart’s Korean-drama style longing for his first love, I assumed Moroccans were passionate people. After watching Our Man in Marrakesh, I was relieved to learn Royal Air Morac airlines have been flying from NYC to Casablanca for 67 years, (I refrained from researching their crash stats.) and from Pepe Le Pew the cartoon skunk who mistakenly wooed a black and white striped cat, I thought I knew what a Kasbah was—I didn’t.

So along with copious amounts of SPF 50-BB cream, Teva sandals, (I couldn’t afford Birkenstocks and an eleven-day trip) and a half dozen long sleeved shirts and calf-length slacks (there’s a Muslim dress-code in this kingdom), I was off on the road to Morocco—not with Bob Hope or Bing Crosby but my extremely wise and detail-oriented friend, HJ.

We arrived in Casablanca during Eid. I asked our driver what Eid signified by offering an example, “… like Christmas marks the birth of Christ…”

He understood. “Eid just means feast. When Ramadan is over, we eat--like at a party… to celebrate.”  Sounded good to us. HJ and I tossed our luggage into our rooms and headed for the bright lights of Casablanca. Our first stop was a busy bistro where we ate crepes covered in caramel sauce. We quickly removed the filled ashtray from our table and stifled our coughs from the wafting cigarette smoke exhaled by other diners. After an Arabic-French-English negotiation over our bill, we walked along a crowded boulevard enticed by the scent of fresh-made potato chips (delicious) and kiosks selling snail soup. While I’ve eaten escargot profusely smothered in butter and garlic, sucking the little buggers out of their shells in fishy broth was beyond my adventurousness.

The sights were familiar; crowds, traffic and two policemen handcuffing a driver amid gaggles of on-lookers. The scene didn’t scare me, but it certainly put me on alert. I noticed a wiry-built teen in tight T-shirt and tighter jeans, stare in our direction. My NYC brain immediately clocked him as he pushed through the crowd to reach us. Why didn’t I learn to say “Help, police!” in Arabic?

He signaled his friends with a smirk, then turned to face HJ. “Ching Chang Chung,” he spat out his racial slur before slithering back to his friends. I was, as my English grandma would say, gob-smacked. *  

HJ graciously shrugged off his display. I and my insomnia recalled the incident all night long.

Ishmael, our driver, guide and BFF for 12 days explained that while there were some Chinese tourists, their numbers were few and Koreans were a rarity. He further explained, “Moroccans are tri-racial. “We are white skinned from Europe, tan from the Arabs and black from Africa. The best is white skinned. The blacks are the lowest… because they are the descendants of slaves.”

I clenched my teeth to prevent my jaw from dropping. Ishmael drove deftly through the crowded avenues until we reached open road, heading south to Marrakesh. It wouldn’t be the last time Moroccan prejudices would proudly declare themselves.

*Gob-smacked is an English expression meaning awestruck. I was so stunned, it was like I was smacked in my gob (mouth).