The land of Marhaba
This post is a continuation of the author’s previous blog. Find it here:
When I arrived at the bus station, the man behind the window took my 70 dirhams and urged me out towards the buses. Glancing at the clock, mine was scheduled to leave two minutes ago. Ticket in hand, I half-sprinted past the bread salesmen and snack stands to the first bus driver I saw. “Benni Mellal?!” I cried. He pointed me to the next bus over and I boarded, breathlessly and thankfully. I made it.
I looked around the bus. Not a single soul besides the driver and luggage-handler. As I handed over my ticket, confused, they could barely hold in their laughter over my distressed state. This is Moroccan Time, I remembered, laughing and taking a seat. I was still running on American.
An hour and half later, the bus having been slowly filled, and, every once in a while, solicited to with chocolates, chips, or religious reading material, we took off. After about six hours on the bus, we arrived at Benni Mellal at around nine o’clock. I was here to stay with my friend Adil for the weekend, and when I hailed a taxi I phoned him to give the driver directions in Darija. When we pulled up to his house, he was standing outside in a djellaba and a wool cap.
“ Ey Gra-hmm !”
“What’s up, Adil? I barely recognize you in that thing.” The last time I had seen him he’d worn jeans and a hoody.
He led me upstairs to his family’s flat. In the doorway stood his son Taha with a smile on his face. I wasn’t sure if he’d even remember me, but when I got close enough he exclaimed, “I MISSED YOU!” and jumped to give me a hug.
I was led into the larger room, where I was greeted by Adil’s family, a few friends, and his extended family, who were over to celebrate “Aeed Kabeer,” the Profit’s birthday. I was showered
with welcome (“ Marhaba! Marhaba! ”), kissed on both cheeks by the lot them, and I attempted to use my limited Arabic to communicate. At least it made them smile. Then we ate the biggest meal I’d had in ages.
I was ordered to eat. And when I took a break to breathe between bites, I was ordered to eat more. When I finally insisted that I was full, it turned out there was an entire other course yet be eaten. Some sort of roast. Delicious. Full beyond belief.
I spent a lot of time in Benni Mellal doing the following things:
1. Walking (Benni Mallal is similar to Grand Rapids in that the countryside is never far from the urban feel)
2. Playing soccer (especially with Taha and some other Moroccan kids)
3. Learning Darija (though most of the time I was silent in groups, just listening to the others talk, all that listening proved helpful. When hanging out with Adil and one of his best friends from the city, I was given private lessons. At the end of my stay I felt like my Arabic was completely inadequate, but when I returned to Meknes I would realize how much I had learned—dozens of basic words and phrases that would make everyday interactions so much easier.)
4. Eating. And eating some more.
The weekend went by all too quickly. What a blur, yet one of my most memorable experiences in Morocco. On my last full day, a group of us went up to a place called Ain As-Sardon (The Donkey’s Eye), then to the Castle of Benni Mellal.
The next morning, Adil’s brother handed me a bus ticket for he refused money. He sent me off in a taxi for which he stubbornly paid. There’s no arguing with Moroccans. Their hospitality puts mi casa es su casa to shame.