At Home Abroad: Finding the Familiar in Morocco

I grew up in a tiny community in Mississippi where hardly anyone I knew had a passport. It was a bubble of comfort and safety, but as an unfortunate consequence, it was also an exclusive and distrustful place where most people were suspicious of anyone who looked different, sounded different, or believed different things than they did. The only vacations I knew anyone to take were a half-day’s drive to the same beach town or mountain town where everyone else from the community vacationed. My perception of international travel was that it required a level of wealth that would never be accessible to me. And yet, no matter how far outside my reality international travel was, I spent a considerable percentage of my waking hours as a kid imagining traveling the world. I collected maps and memorized them. I read every book I could find that featured a character exploring places I taught myself how to pronounce. I obsessively watched the Travel Channel. There was nothing I could imagine wanting more.

The first time travel began to feel possible to me was when I moved across the country to go to college. I was suddenly surrounded by peers who had travelled extensively and who opened my eyes to the fact that being wealthy wasn’t a prerequisite for international travel. In the decade since making that first cross-country move, I’ve lived and worked in 11 different cities. But instead of satisfying my hunger for travel, this has only increased my appetite for it. I’d never done a big international trip alone, so a couple of years ago, I started saving and planning and deliberating about the right destination.

I picked Morocco because I wanted a different experience than I’d ever had before. I’d never been to Africa and had never been to a Muslim country. I wanted the culture shock I felt when I left Mississippi for the first time and to be out of my comfort zone in every way. So I booked Travel Talk Tours’ Exotic Morocco tour so I could see as much of the country as possible.

Morocco did not disappoint. Things were unfamiliar in exactly the way I hoped they’d be—the smell of spices I couldn’t name, the stunning and contrasting landscapes, the vastness of the Sahara dunes, the rock of a camel’s gait. I sat in stunned silence in the desert under the most stars I’d ever seen in the night sky and wondered at the mystery and beauty of the daily call to prayer. But the things that felt familiar to me were things I hadn’t expected.

Social issues like the complexity of race relations, economic disparity, and inequity in the healthcare system. Small details like the pastries at breakfast, the supermarket checkout lines, jokes and laughter that translated across language and culture, and impromptu dance parties after late-night meals. I used to only notice the differences between home and the places I travelled, but I’ve begun to notice the similarities more and more.

On my last day in Morocco, I went to the Medina in Marrakesh in search of the Marrakech Henna Art Cafe. Months before my trip, I’d spent hours searching online for the best place to get a henna tattoo, and the cafe had the best reviews by far for both the henna and the food. (Cliche? Sure, but a beautiful and easy-to-transport momento that I highly recommend to anyone!)

In my ten days in Morocco, I hadn’t encountered a single American living or working anywhere in the country, so I was surprised to hear an American accent from the woman managing the front desk. I asked where she was from, and we both grew more and more stunned as we narrowed down the specific tiny town we’d both called home—it turns out she spent a few years living about five miles away from me in my hometown before visiting Morocco and deciding she wanted to move there. My hometown has a population of about 2,000 people, so with something like 7.9 billion people in the world, there was a .000025% chance I’d run into someone from home anywhere I visited.

It’s an improbability I never would have believed possible before I started traveling, but a world that felt entirely inaccessible and too large to comprehend when I was young has started to feel smaller, stranger, more familiar, and more beautiful. (And yes, the henna, food, ambiance, and company in the café surpassed even my highest expectations. Lori, artist and co-founder of the café, and I are still in touch today.) The more I travel, the more I find connections to all the places I’ve ever called home. And home has become a feeling that I can catch traces of anywhere.

Take yourself outside of your comfort zone and book your next adventure to Morocco! Check out our Morocco tours here.

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