They are twenty-two,
white American women overseas,
drawn to Morocco,
a land of cities adorned
in tile and brick, clay and stone, metal and wood.
A land of cities painted,
doors of forest green
walls of sun-faded red
window shutters of royal azure blue.
The air thick with aroma…
fallen, rotting figs,
dried cinnamon, saffron, coriander, cumin and ginger,
baking nan and frying fish.
Language forms a discordant song.
Children sell chick peas by the gram,
calling out in French, then Spanish, sometimes English.
Men fill cafes, their dialogue in Arabic spilling out into the streets.
Waves of drums and voices lift, resonate,
hands clap and castanets clack.
They feel the thrill of anonymity
coupled with the terror of estrangement.
They are willful others, foreign tourists,
naive to their privilege,
hearts and minds tender and budding.
Two among hundreds of thousands navigating crowded streets.
They are wanderers seeking the unknown.
A man brushes against her shoulder,
He leans in close, utters words meant for her, for them,
“…catastrophe à La Maison-Blanche!”
Suddenly she feels caught by eyes searching.
She bows her head, clenches stiff white cotton.
They move swift and bewildered,
through a labyrinth of doorways, side streets and tunnels,
passing women who silently carry baskets of goods,
men who gut tilapia in fish markets,
Emerging into the medina,
relieved to return to this new familiar center.
They enter a small cafe, tiled in red and pink.
The owner, Raashid, sits beside them,
pointing to the television in the corner
where an image replays–
airplanes crashing into tall towers,
smoke and ash billowing…
time escapes them.
They have been crying.
Raashid offers his compassionate gaze, his smile warm.
They talk of fear, of shock, of shame, of death and loss.
They contemplate the future–how it could be shaped by tyrants.
They hold hands, praying in silence.
They part at nightfall.
He hails them a taxi to the train station,
to their next destination–south and westward,
as westerners never stop moving.
Essaouira via Marrakesh.
Young beckoning men of the Sahara sell jewelry,
silver, lapis, amber, jade, moonstone.
Aziz, the rider of waves,
Mohammed, the philosopher,
Mustafa, the flamboyant.
Shots of rum are offered behind closed doors.
They talk of life and love,
of politics and marriage,
of the beauty of the desert and the mountains.
They share stories, jokes, and the tonic of laughter.
They extend an invitation for dinner.
At home, they are greeted by mothers, sisters, cousin, aunt and uncle.
They say she has the eyes of a Berber.
They ask, what are they doing, two women, far from home, traveling alone?
They express heartfelt condolences for American lives lost.
They ask, do they support the president?
They ask, what will the U.S. do now?
They sit in a circle, eating quietly,
tajine and couscous, Coca-Cola and nan.
They watch a broadcast of Gnaoua musicians on a glowing screen.
Aziz and Mohammed walk them to the hotel,
the cobbled streets quiet,
the earth beneath compact and cool.
They linger in shadow, whispering of simplicity,
exchanging kisses and caresses,
outlining the shapes of their bodies.
They invite them to forget what they know–
to miss the next bus, the next train and ferry,
to spend winter in the desert.
To inhabit another life…
rising at dawn with birdsong,
walking two miles to fetch water,
being shaped and sifted by wind,
cooking meals with family extended,
gazing outward into the galaxy and beyond,
unleashing from western notions of time,
experiencing the opening of eternity…
maybe then, they would know peace,
maybe then, they would feel whole.