For me, this post marks three milestones. Milestone one: I am spending my last night in Morocco. Milestone two: I am posting a conventional blog post, not a poem or a rant or a story - a simple descriptive post. Milestone three: I am actually posting. This is cause for celebration in and of itself. I'm not used to this kind of writing, but I might as well give it a try. The following post is a combination of my first impressions on Tetouan and my thoughts on the impending end of the journey.
We traveled to Tetouan via grand taxi from Chefchaouen, driving through the same dreary rain which has plagued us since we arrived in the Rif. Piled into the ancient Mercedes with our ever-swelling amount of baggage, we were entirely at the mercy of a questionably stable old man with a severe lazy eye and bizarre laugh. In my position in the back, pinned between my bone-crushing backpack, which probably weighs somewhere north of 65 lbs., and a frosted window, I wasn't able to see much of the road. The nervous gasps and incessant argument of my fellow travelers over safe speeds on windy mountain roads made me somewhat glad for that. The rush of a passing bus and blaring horns made me even more glad. After cracking the window for some fresh air, the glass cleared and I could see the magnificent scenery of rugged mountains towering over lush green fields. Our driver informed us they were campos de marijuana, hash fields. Long grown locally, the Rif enriched itself in the last century by expanding marijuana production to a level capable of export. For those of us tourists not here for that reason and wish to remember our trip, this can be somewhat frustrating, as we (particularly in Chefchaouen, where walking alone I would get hassled every 50 yards by a new drug dealer) are often hounded by strange men selling marijuana, and, in some places, this even becomes a safety concern. In fact, one major consideration in choosing the location of our student-led portion was that we were forbidden to travel through Ketama, the junction of marijuana smugglers preparing their product for export to Europe. Even with the backdrop of illicit agriculture, the scenery was still beautiful.
Tetouan is so far entirely unalike any Moroccan city I have visited so far. Large portions of both the medina and new city are filled with colonial Spanish architecture, and there is little which would make it counterintuitive to hear it was where Franco announced his rebellion to begin the Spanish Civil War. The remains of this influence can still be seen in gated and boarded old buildings, although I have been told Tetouan is nowhere near as dilapidated as Tangier. The landscape around Tetouan also separates it from the major other cities we have visited. Marrakesh, Rabat, and Meknes are flat, or at the very most, hilly. Fes is nestled in the foothills, and has considerable inclines throughout the city. Tetouan is built-up, and a modern city in contrast to Chefchaouen, but all around us the imposing and harsh Rif mountains tower over the valley.
Tangier was the great International City of artists and degenerate laissez-faire, but Tetouan was the Spanish colonial capital, and still feels just as appropriate as a bridge between Morocco and Europe. This time of year, most of the beachcombing tourists who visit in the summer are absent, and almost everyone we see around us is Moroccan. In the conservative north, most of the women wear headscarves, and the traditional jellaba is even more common here than in Fes. Yet surrounding us, nearly every building around our hotel in the new city, or as we walk blocks of the medina near the royal palace and the mellah, we find the tired vestiges of fallen colonial empires, formerly stately rows of conventional European designs, now in varying states of mild disrepair, although much of the city is indeed quite nice.
Tetouan changed tremendously over the last century. In the last hundred years, it has witnessed the rise and fall of the Protectorate of Morocco, been a colonial capital and reduced to something approaching a regional administrative hub, and seen nearly its entire Jewish population, which once was among the most populous in Morocco, leave not long after the Europeans.
In Tangier, I sat in a cafe frequented by such luminaries (although some may argue they would be more analogous to a blacklight) as William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Tennessee Williams, and saw at the American Legation a letter written by the hand of Abraham Lincoln, and the so-called pervasive atmosphere of the decay of the City that Once Was is nowhere near what I had been led to believe. Tangier, so maligned by unwitting tourists, truly does not seem so intimidating; Tangier, so mourned by the doddering relics of the Beat and hippie generations, truly does not seem so faded. Maybe I've become desensitized to the nuances of Morocco after having been submerged in them for nearly three months.
So here we are, six days to the finish. What have I learned from Morocco? How have I changed? We leave for Spain tomorrow, and some patterns haven't changed at all. I probably, almost assuredly, haven't always made the most of my time. I will leave with things I wanted to do in Morocco and didn't, I suppose leaving an excuse to return. Like the ends of so many marking periods at school, procrastinated work comes to a head, and I here I am, completing five blog posts in one night to try to meet my quota. As I have said before and reiterated many times, I try not to judge the present, and wait for a less emotionally charged future where I can more acutely assess the results of my journey, but I can say now that I feel lighter, and not at all in the physical sense, to which can attest three months of delicious Moroccan food, but more energetic, and if not necessarily any more flexible, more aware of my recurring inflexibility, but, most of all, ready to see home. Morocco has been great, and I have no regrets about coming here; far from that, I now have memories I will cherish for the rest of my life, and I am unshakably certain that, whatever my final assessment will be and whatever details it will hold, I will have a greatly positive impression of both the country and my time here, and I absolutely intend to return. Nonetheless, there's something to be said for the familiar, and though I know when I return home I will miss this country, what that means most is that the Atlantic Ocean is one giant, insolvable dilemma - would only that America could be separated from here by some distance so minimal as the Mediterranean. Even so, the full impact of leaving really hasn't hit me yet - I've packed, and have only a little typing to go before I sleep (for however short a time). Maybe in waking again the crisis of moving out will settle in.