Caravane du Livre 2012
My path to this journey began in 2004. I was on my way to work in San Diego, California on a commuter train “The Coaster”. I had noticed a girl sitting in the same car as I normally sit, and as many of us do, we smile hello each afternoon at each other. On this day, it was crowded, and I selected a seat across from this girl. She told me her name was Jamila, and she was a traveling bookseller from Marrakech. She was here studying English, and today was her final day before she returned home. She told me about her book project, and as she departed the train she handed me her name on a piece of paper and said “Google me”.
In the days or months ahead, I did just that. I found many articles about her in many languages. I looked at her website, I told my friends about my encounter with a girl from Morocco. I had lived in Sydney Australia from 89-94. One of my boyfriends during this period was a Moroccan man named Omar who was a wonderful cook. He was from a village outside of Casablanca, his father a Berber and his mother from Persia. Omar’s business partner was a man named Henri, also from Casablanca, but a French man. Omar used to create dinner parties every Sunday afternoon where we and all of our friends feasted on his Moroccan concoctions and tea.
In 2010 I made a decision to take a cruise in the Mediterranean out of Barcelona. I figured it was time for me to travel in a herd, so that if I go missing, someone might notice. When looking at the cruise route on the Internet, I saw that Morocco was very close, and very cheap to fly to, from Barcelona. I managed to find the email for Jamila, and sent her a note asking her if she remembered me, from that one conversation years ago, and told her I was considering coming to Marrakech for a few days after my cruise. She responded quickly, and said “come on down”. I booked my airfare from Barcelona to Madrid to Casablanca to Marrakech. I think I had only 5 days left of vacation.
I was very happy to escape the cruise and fly to Morocco. Jamila had assisted in finding accommodation at a riad near her home for me at a very reasonable price, operated by a couple from France. I used my iPhone translator to communicate with this couple and book. The woman and her friend picked me up from the airport and drove me to the riad. It was after dark, and I was amazed at the wide streets, and modern looking hotels and fountains on the way. The riad was very beautiful with tiled walls, built around a central courtyard and a terraced roof for lounging and breakfast, which at night was covered by a canvas roof.
I discovered that the caravane du livre for 2010 was beginning the day after I had to return home, but that many of the participants were staying at the same riad. Jamila’s friend Francoise, who spoke some English, was arriving on my second or third day. The others spoke only French or Italian, so I looked forward to her arrival. I hung out with Jamila, went to the library (bookstore), and to a clothing designer who did custom djellebah including very elaborate gowns for weddings and formal dress. Jamila also found a driver for me who drove me out to Imlil, a Berber village in the Atlas Mountains for a day so I could wander around. I spend another day with her friend Malika, a French/Arabic language teacher, and we shopped and made a tagine at her apartment and became friends. I had a magical few days before returning to Barcelona to fly home. In Barcelona, I discovered that the volcano had erupted in Greenland and CNN was reporting all airports in Europe were closed down. I wished I could accompany them on the caravane, but my vacation time was over, and my money was gone.
I decided I would return in 2011 and participate in the Caravane. On my 60th birthday in 2010, I set a box in the corner of my party, asking my friends to contribute to my voyage, if they wished. I had printed out copies of the Reflections article written by Francoise and people at my party were reading it. When the party was over, I discovered that my friends had donated almost $800 US dollars towards my trip. I had told them that I would use ½ for my airfare, and the other ½ I would give to Jamila for her use in operating the caravane.
As the year progressed, I began having pain in my right hip, and was afraid I would not be able to physically take part in the Caravane. I got an email from Jamila that her sister Bouchara was coming to visit their childhood friend near my home. On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I went to meet her and their friend Souda, and gave her the money intended for Jamila so that she would still have it for the 2011 Caravane as I planned. At the beginning of 2010 my hip was not getting better and I decided that I should not make the trip that year. After medical advice, it was determined that this pain was something that I would have to live with and tolerate—I could not have surgery, but could take shots or pain medication to relieve the symptoms- which I chose not to do. I was happy that Bouchara had visited so I had fulfilled my plan to help with funding.
I began to focus on the Caravane for 2012. For the first time I began contributing to a retirement fund out of my paycheck, and tried to live on less money and a budget for the first time in my life. I was afraid that I would not be able to afford to go back to Morocco. At the beginning of the year, I decided I was definitely going to go no matter what, and booked and paid for almost everything I could control, outside of food and some ground transportation. I told Jamila via email that I was coming. In February I wired the money for the Caravane to Francoise, and began planning my trip.
I arrived on 20 April 2012 and had arranged for a driver to deliver me to the riad I had found online, Dar Atta. As we drove into the old city, I saw the artist’s cooperative where I had bought hand cream for Jamila’s mother on my last visit. The driver turned left into the next street, and there was my home base for this trip. I knew where I was, it was the perfect location for me.
I got settled in my room and called Jamila. She had invited me to her parents’ home at 8:00pm and it was now about 7:30pm Marrakech time. She asked me to meet her at Café Malizia which was in the same building as her apartment, and near her parents’ home. With the help of the riad manager, I got a cab and negotiated the fare to the café. I stood on the corner, and called Jamila to let her know I arrived. In just a few minutes I heard “Sharon!” and was greeted by my friend.
We got into the car and drove to her parents’ home. We entered the front door, and I was greeted by her mother, all three of her sisters, her three nieces, and Francoise. Our meal tonight was prepared by the nieces, all youngsters (I know Ghita was 10, but am not sure of other ages). We had two types of soup, pasta, bruschetta with tomato and garlic and lots of bread – and wonderful mint tea. Jamila and I tried to figure out applications on the iPhone while we waited for dinner to be served. We had a lovely meal with all the ladies, and then Jamila drove Francoise and I back to our accommodations, which by coincidence were on the same street.
I went straight to bed, it was around midnight, and slept in the next morning. I walked up two levels to the breakfast room in the riad, and had my first breakfast. Great strong espresso coffee, Moroccan bread, some sort of muffin, some sort of pastry, a crepe, orange juice and three kinds of jam (orange, apricot and strawberry). I knew that Francoise and Houda were going to a jewelry exhibition, so I tried to text Francoise to join them, but knew I was probably too late. I finished breakfast and walked over to the Katoubia mosque and past the tombs, the long way into the souks. I stopped at one of the hotels with the covered patio and had a coffee for an hour or so, just watching the world go by. Snake charmers, men with monkeys, henna tattoo ladies, young men doing acrobatic tricks, the orange juice sellers, the guys with the traditional outfits, musicians, and the horse drawn carriages lined up outside the Club Med (yes- right in the entrance to the djema al fna- I refreshed my memory of my location and wandered through the souks reminding myself of the different sections, leather, babouche, textiles, carpets, ironwork, jewelry, spices, nuts and everything imaginable. I headed back out of the square and had lunch at the same restaurant I had in 2010, and had a coffee and a margarita pizza flatbread.
It was hot and muggy and dusty and crowded. I walked back towards the riad, making a stop at the artist’s cooperative and buying a tunic and a striped djellabah. I returned to the riad and checked on messages and email in the central patio before taking a quick nap, and catching the cab to café malizia again. Tonight I would meet the 3 ladies from Milan who were also joining us for dinner at Jamila’s parents home.
Jamila picked me up and dropped me off at the home, where we were shortly joined by the rest of the women. We had another wonderful meal of the coated chicken that I was too full to eat when it was served in 2010, that is one of the best meals I have had in my life. You soak up the paste and the juice as you rip off pieces of chicken with a piece of bread. This is a communal feast and this time I was ready, and soon my fingers were coated with the yummy, oily, paste. I listened to everyone speaking the Italian/French/Arabic combo language, and then jamila took the ladies home to their riad, while Francoise and Bouchara talked upstairs,
I sat with her mother, and sisters, and niece and watched the Moroccan version of American Idol. All the ladies were enthusiastic with the traditional singers, but bored when one younger girl tried to sing in western fashion. I was very tired and ready for sleep, and eventually Francoise came back down, we said out goodbyes, and Houda and her husband and the youngest niece Sarah drove us back to our riads. I played peek a boo with Sarah on the 15 minute drive. At the last roundabout prior to entering the old city, we got stopped by the police who checked the car registration and indicated we had made a rolling stop. The policeman was quite amiable, and we soon were dropped off. Francoise told me they would pick me up the following morning at 9:00am.
I told the riad manager I would be leaving at 9:00. There were many more guests now and the patio area was full, and the hamman area on the top floor had many people, looked like a party going on. They departed pretty quickly, and I repacked for the caravane and went to sleep. I awoke and went up the two flights for my breakfast, and saw many French families with lots of young children. I sat at the bar area and finished up my breakfast, and returned to my room, and hauled all my luggage downstairs. I paid for my two nights and dropped off one suitcase in the manager’s office for my return on the 26th. The door rang and I ran up the flight of stairs to ground level and the beginning of our journey.