The bright colours, hoards of people from all nationalities, and buzz of activity at Charles de Gaulle Airport’s Terminal Two are very much reminiscent of nights spent in the streets of Marrakesh and Mexico City. Waiting in the queue for passport control, I could very much be in line for a Saturday night at Departmento, my favourite Mexico City Club. Children encircling the luggage conveyors bring me back to the streets of Marrakesh, life in flux all around me, busy merchants trying to sell spices and beautiful handcrafted ceramics. Habibi, something for you. As I walk out of the terminal, immensely impatient to move ahead and re-join my friends in Paris before the start of an intense SciencesPo semester, the excitement of that experience I just lived during two thrilling weeks in Morocco is still with me as I feel the cold January air welcoming me back to the Capital.
Morocco was my first foray into Africa. In it, I sought not just to discover a culture radically different to our own but also an adventure, a different set of rules and a whole different game. I wanted to feel, feel the richness of humanity and the completeness of life, feel how East and West collide into one, discover the land of Waugh’s Jenny Abdul Akbar and the region in which Sebastian Flyte took refuge in that other masterpiece of his. More than anything, I needed a reminder of the endless possibilities that life offers.
In Morocco I found it. From the very first moment, as my friend Franklin (who in many ways is just like myself and made a perfect companion for this quest) and I stepped off the plane, we were fully immersed. We had trekked all over the world, spoke four languages between us, and both had that raging desire to explore all that life had to offer. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop us from losing every cent we owned when we invertedly found ourselves ripped by a taxi driver when he declared that the (already overpriced) fee of 150 dirhams we had agreed for a 15-minute ride to our Riad would be per passenger. They do things differently here, he declared in approximative French. ~£30 down the drain and he still asked for a tip! Given that we had given him every sous that we had, that was firmly out of the question. Bienvenidos a Marruecos, the city’s buzzing air declared.
Morocco is an acutely multi-cultural place. Having been occupied by the Arabs, French, Spanish and (in the north) the British, the country has retained its cosmopolitan charm, echoed in its multilingual citizens and rich architecture. Despite this, there is certainly a sense of distinction between visitors and locals reflected in a further incident that occurred when, stepping out of the cab, we were swayed by the apparent hospitality of a local youth who had shown us the way to our hotel only to demand a large sum in exchange for his ‘services!’ Something for me. Something for me, he declared. A long session of haggling enabled us to shake him off, though he was clearly unconvinced that as mere college students, it was us who were in need of a tip. This madness was accentuated when, after having replenished our supply of liquid funds and having given him twenty dirhams, roughly £2, to leave us alone, his friend approached us saying that he too needed a tip! He would have to do without.
What followed were two vigorous weeks living under the Moroccan sun. From Marrakesh’s boundless souks, delightful tajines, and thrilling nights out, the city had a lot to offer. In parallel to my experiences in Mexico, it is a land of people desperate to move on up and build better lives for themselves. Its denizens are entrepreneurial and one can, if you haggle hard enough, find great deals on everything. I miss that when, offering to negotiate with a French taxi-driver the other day, he sharply declared that the price was fixed, and that negotiation was off the table. But Morocco is far more than a place to obtain good deals — the Berber rugs and handcrafted ceramics are a symbol of craftsmanship, of a long tradition and a line of work passed on through generations — they are a way of life. Later, when touring Fes’ thousand-year-old tanneries, I had the sensation of witnessing something far greater than any single individual.
Far from being put-off by the tricks and scams of a small minority, navigating them became a game, and it was pretty amusing seeing them haggle and double down after we switched to speaking Italian, Spanish and French to confuse them. What I loved most was the sense that anything was possible in that beautiful city.
A week had come by and Franklin had returned to the UK for exams, but I journeyed on and hitched a train ride to Rabat. It was there that I discovered another world, that of Royal Palaces, unfinished mosques, and a fusion of modernity and Arab tradition. Rabat stood out for the deep hospitality of its people (not once was I asked something for me), its beautiful and clean streets, and the melding together of the old and new. After Rabat was Fes, where I stayed in a gorgeous palace from the 1800s, my host being a charming Moroccan lady who spoke perfect French and reminded me very much of my grandmother. People in Fes are certainly more entrepreneurial than in Rabat and, much like in Marrakesh, will try to sell you anything. Again, a select few will try to scam you by telling you ‘street is closed’ and that you must follow them, only to demand an extortionate sum. I never really felt scared, but it was sometimes frustrating. Adding to this were the winding streets and the fact that Google Maps rarely worked due to the chaotic layout of the thousand-year-old Medinas.
My final stop was Tangier, spent walking down the coastline at night and taking in the sights of that city which, for thirty-three years (from 1923–1956), had defined demands to integrate into a nation proper and was designated as an International City. Even today it has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel, echoed in its architecture, dress styles, and people. Stood on the beach at one a.m. in the city nicknamed the ‘Door to Africa,’ I reflected on my life and all the opportunities that would follow. One question, highly relevant to that time and place, came up over and over again in my mind: what does it actually mean to be a global citizen?
I saw the answer pretty clearly at that moment. To be a global citizen is to see past the arbitrary distinctions that men have created to separate one another. Being a global citizen means having an openness to exploring new cultures and new peoples; it means having a willingness to understand others and learn from them; it means wanting to fall in love with distant people and places and not confining oneself to the small geographic area one happened to be born in. The beauty of being a global citizen is that we all have it in us to be global citizens.
It was a beautiful moment, stood under the stars and reflecting on my place within the wider world. The flight back to Paris later that day was a mad rush to the airport then jetting across the Strait of Gibraltar back to Europe. What I felt in Morocco, more than anything, was a sense of exhilaration; I was so excited to be alive.