The Kindness of Strangers

Since my eventual departure from Morocco was scheduled for Casablanca, I made the train journey there with three friends I met in my Marrakech hostel. Özlem – a Turkish woman born and raised in Germany – had no definite travel plans for the rest of her time in the country, so she decided to tag along with me to Morocco’s largest city. Monika and Matea – two Croatian girls from our hostel – were scheduled to begin volunteer work there and coincidentally booked the same train as us. After parting ways with the Croatian girls at the Casablanca train station, Ozzy and I were picked up by Salah, Matt, and Louis – our Couchsurfing host and our two French Canadian friends from Hostel Waka Waka who had left Marrakech a couple days before to visit Essaouira on the coast. (Couchsurfing is an organization where people set up online profiles to either offer a spare bed/couch to travelers for free and for travelers to request a place to stay). While in Marrakech, the four of us had figured out that all our paths would once again cross in Casablanca and had arranged to stay together.


Since it was such a beautiful day, the five of us went to the beach for the afternoon before settling in at Salah’s house in a suburb of Casablanca called Bouskoura. The family – Salah’s parents, brother, and himself – had just recently moved in, so most rooms of the three-story dwelling were vacant of furniture. With their spotless stone floors and tall ceilings, they resembled grand ballrooms rather than living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. We were invited to break the Ramadan fast with family and were therefore treated to an impressive spread of homemade Moroccan dishes. Salah translated for us here and there, but all we could say over and over to his parents was the one Arabic word we had learned: shukran (thank you). After a wonderful meal, post-dinner soup and dessert, and endless cups of traditional mint tea, I did what I do best when bestowed with the hospitality of others – helped clean up. Ozzy, Salah’s mother, and I worked together to wash and dry the dishes, which were then put away with a big smile by Salah’s young niece (who was obviously very excited to spend time with us).


The next morning Salah showed us around Casablanca for a bit before dropping off Matt, Louis, and Ozzy at the train station so they could continue their journey up to Fez. Since my flight wasn’t until the next day, the two of us then took a day trip up to the capital city of Rabat. We spent the morning wandering through the markets, discovering colorful neighborhoods, and touring the waterfront.


Eventually we made our way to the main reason for our visit – the Musée Archéologique (the National Archaeology Museum of Morocco). Though the addition of Morocco to my itinerary occurred too late to obtain a local research connection, I still wanted to tour at least one museum to get a sense of what Moroccan institutions were like. I left the building a few hours later with the biggest smile on my face, because while inside the tiny museum I befriended one of the curators, was given a private tour of the exhibits, and with Salah there to translate between English, Arabic, and French, the curator answered all of my research questions and agreed to let me include the museum in my study. I was able to collect some incredibly fascinating data and was additionally offered an internship right there on the spot. Transatlantic relocation to Africa? Fine by me!


Later that evening we returned to Salah’s house where I taught his niece how to play the simple card game “war” using the deck I had packed in my backpack. Since we didn’t speak any of the same languages, it was a great way for us to spend time together – she absolutely loved the game and wanted to play again and again and again. I only used the cards that one time throughout the summer, but it was well worth it to carry them around the world with me just to have played that one evening with her.