1. You hear the first words of the call to prayer.
And you were mesmerised, at least for that first week. Now, you don’t even hear it anymore — even though it’s there five times a day. The minaret calls the faithful to visit the mosque and pray to Allah. At times depending on the town you are in, there are several callings at the same time, filling the blue skies with different sounds that were once alien to you. The radios and televisions are switched off, the street musician stops playing and men casually place their praying mats outside their small, family-owned shops, kneel down and pray. And when a newly arrived asks you, “What is that?” You answer in auto-pilot, “What is what?”
2. You get used to animals roaming around freely.
Ah! You are still fond of those memories, the very first moment you laughed because two goats were on top of an old blue car chewing an antenna, or when you saw a mutton sitting on a motorbike being driven to the next village. But now, they are all just part of your day. Donkeys race each other, checking out the neighbour’s caravan leaning forward on their front hoofs and cats stand proud as kings of their corners. This is how life was like before someone invented leashes and other nuisance tools to control animals. In Morocco, it’s back to basics, freedom of movement for all.
3. You get sick of explaining what it means to be single.
You have sexual freedom in your culture back home. And you know that means that a single person (or even a married person) can choose who they want to have sex with and how often. So that’s what you’re used to doing, choosing. But in Morocco it seems hard for some to digest that explanation, so you’ve resorted to: “Yes, I am married. Excuse me, I have to go and cook him dinner.”
4. You stop being able to speak your native language.
Even when you have an opportunity to speak to someone from your home country. It started when your Moroccan Arabic was virtually non-existent and your friend’s mother tried to ask you questions that you didn’t understand. When you finally understood them, you didn’t know how to answer. But now, “Yes. Life in my country is kif-kif. Tea? Safi, chroukrane. Am I very tired? No, not really, chouia, chouia. Thank you for asking. Ça va? Hamdullah!”
5. You start eating olive oil for breakfast.
It felt a little bit alien to dip pieces of round bread in olive oil at 9am, especially in the first few days, but now you add a small plate of olives and another with Amlou to your breakfast table every morning. Your next challenge will be tricking yourself into eating a plate of snails first thing in the morning.
6. You only get cravings for one kind of cheese.
And that’s “Le Vache que rit.” In the beginning, every time one of your Moroccan friends pulled out a triangle of soft cheese from the round box, they asked you if you wanted some and you felt like the cow was laughing at you. Now you’ve learned to make omelettes with olive oil, succulent tomatoes, black olives, cheese triangles and those Moroccan-style herbs. Now it’s you who asks the packet, “There you go cow, who is laughing now?”
7. If you’re a woman, you find salvation in the word ‘family.’
Nothing seemed to work in the first weeks here, but now when a Moroccan stud comes and asks you, “Do you like my car?” You’ve found the obvious answer to be, “Yes, it is just like my father’s, green and everything.”
Or maybe he says, “You are beautiful.” And you very naturally respond, “Thank you, I will let my mother know.”
Then, as he looks at you surprised, confused and dazed, and tries to calculate his next move, you laugh inside and keep a straight face. And if it doesn’t make him move along, you know you can always add, “You want my phone number? Not a problem, I can give you my husband’s.”
8. You stop using the petit-taxi.
You’d much rather sit in a grand-taxi squished in with five other people and the driver. Why would you pay more for a taxi that is the same size? To sit down comfortably with another two people? Space is a thing of the past, long live the cheap sardine-style of travel.
9. You stop taking showers for granted.
And you surely do not assume everyone has a shower at home because now you know that many don’t. This why Hammams exist. Not for fancy massages, but for basic hygiene. At first, you were a little scared of the concept of paying someone some Dirhams to wash you. And hell, as a woman, being manhandled felt totally out of bonds. But now, a Hammam is a place where you go to have your soul and body scrubbed. You don’t care if it’s by someone else.
10. You feel couscous has let you down.
Now that you’ve had the real Moroccan couscous, covering the bottoms of big tagines with boiled vegetables, and a couple of pieces of meat or chicken piled carefully on top, you’re almost offended that you ever even ate couscous back home at all. They’re labeling that stuff ‘Moroccan’? Don’t they know, you’ve been south, north, east and west on a Couscous search and all you’ve learned is that no Moroccan would ever eat that on a Friday! Or any day of the week, for that matter.
11. But tagines surpassed your expectations.
You went from thinking, “OMG, how exciting it is to eat a tagine?!” To, “Really? Can we get something new on the menu!” Now, the big pyramidal clay pots have turned into something else. You just love the way everyone sits around them with bits of bread on their right hand pushing bits of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and meat towards them. In some countries, eating is an individual daily moment to satisfy a basic need, in others, eating is about sharing with family. But in Morocco, eating is a one single-plate-community-feast that you share with others, and their hands.
12. You realize covered faces are no longer a bomb threat.
It was strange when you were back home watching TV or even seeing people in the airport with covered faces, but now that you’ve slept in Moroccan-style living rooms, walked down a mountain and brought the sheep back to a Berber home, hung out at the Sahara, and made your way through a sand storm — your skin dry and your hair turning into some lifeless form of curls — you understand it all. It doesn’t matter how much water you drink and lip balm you apply, the elements are still there, attacking you more realistically than the paranoia of a bomb threat.
13. You live in permanent fear of having diabetes.
You’ve learned to truly appreciate ginger and cumin — you couldn’t live here if you didn’t. But having “tea on your sugar” daily, it’s something you try very hard to politely avoid whenever possible. When a Moroccan pours a cup of tea, the teapot soaring above the small glass, examining the amount of bubbles, you analyse the quantity of sugar about to enter your blood stream. While you might certainly be scared of taking insulin for the rest of your life, there is a certain level of Moroccan sweetness you enjoy — a kind you can only find between the green Mediterranean shores and the dry vastness of the Western Sahara, balanced on the edge of the spicy lessons and the sweet doors those lessons may unfold.