Here's the third post on my spring-break trip to Morocco.
Here I am, looking out the window of a room at the Ben Youssef Medersa in Marrakech
John and I are making our way through a maze of narrow, crowded alleyways angling off in all directions, crammed with tiny, nearly identical shops. All the shops selling pointy leather slippers look the same, as do all the shops selling dangly silver earrings, all the shops selling hanging lamps, all the shops selling pashmina shawls and harem pants. It is nearly impossible to tell one from the next, to distinguish the different alleyways, or to remember which way you turned where.
A street vendor roasts snails at the El Fna Square
A typical street in the Marrakech medina
An innkeeper serves mint tea.
"Isn't this the way to our hotel?" John asks, stopping at a tiny passage under an arch.
"No," I say. "We go left here. Then right at the next fork. Then two more lefts. Then across the square." I forge ahead with utter certainty. He trails after me, baffled and unconvinced.
"See?" I say. "There's the herb shop we passed on the way."
"We passed dozens of herb shops," he says.
"Yes, but this is the one where we turned. And there—that’s the arch with the bricks missing on top. And there's the store with the pink slippers. Come on. We turn right here." And, to John's amazement, I get us back to our hotel without a hitch.
What makes this scene remarkable is that it is a 180-degree role reversal. At home, I am the one lost and confused, while John confidently and accurately guides us through the streets. We come out of theaters and supermarkets, and I look around vacantly and say, "Where did we park?" I say this even when we're standing right in front of our car because another thing I can't do is identify cars. I can’t even tell my own car, which I have driven for 8 years, unless I look at the bumper stickers. It’s the whole reason I have bumper stickers.
But that is in Minneapolis.Here, in Marrakech, I suddenly turn into a navigator. I become expert at identifying and remembering landmarks. I steer by the stars, or at least by the lamps that hang outside the shops.
There is one reason for my sudden, amazing ability to orient myself: Here, I'm paying attention. At home, my head is constantly somewhere other than where I am. As I walk across campus or through a store, I’m always composing a blog post, writing a scene for my novel, planning a lesson, singing a song in my head, thinking about ostriches or the Black Death or a friend of mine who is going through a divorce. I'm seldom paying attention to where I am or where I’m going. I’m never memorizing landmarks.
But here in exotic Marrakech, I am watching, observing, noticing. I know where my body is in space, and what that space looks, sounds, and smells like. I’m seeing things—really seeing them. And I’m remembering.
This is what travel does for me. It brings me to the place where I am and makes me pay attention. When I’m in a foreign landscape, I observe details.I actually experience my surroundings, instead of simply disregarding them.
I wish I could bring this vivid attention to my daily life, but I’ve never found a way to do it. At home, familiarity dulls my senses and sends my mind off to more interesting, internal territory.
I have said before that travel is a spiritual experience for me, and this is one reason why: It pricks my senses and sharpens my awareness, makes me look and makes me listen. Travel forces me to be present. It makes me mindful.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...