There was a café we always went to on Rue Mohammed Cinq—at least for the first few weeks. The dessert cases of the café were full of French pastries and the atmosphere was steeped in Western undertones. It wasn’t quite to the level of ex-pat haven as the café at the French Institute, but it wasn’t a place that would take an American student out of her comfort zone.
I can’t, for the life of me, remember its name. I can see it— visualize it. I can taste its banana juice on my tongue and hear the swirling mix of Darija and French. I can smell that comforting combination of cigarette smoke and mint tea.
But I can’t remember its name.
To get to the café, we used to walk up Mohammed Cinq from our homes or school in Rabat’s old medina. This path visibly traces the complicated convergence of pre-and-post-colonial Morocco.
The medina is very much a place of traditional Moroccan life. It’s a small, walled section of the city. It’s surrounded by the sprawling ville nouvelle, the section of town that was created with the onset of French colonial rule in Morocco. In the winding alleys of the medina and the expansive boulevards of the ville nouvelle, old and new weave complicated, brilliant tales.
On this path, in the newer section, you pass a dress shop. During the day, its door is wide open and the most beautiful caftans hang from its windows. One day, as I walked past, the caftan on the shop’s door was a beautiful turquoise color. It was trimmed in gold sequins. Its material was so light that it danced in the breeze.
I grabbed my friend Ruqayyah’s arm and dragged her into the shop. “Beshhal hetha?” How much is this? I asked, pointing at the caftan on the door.
I sighed and shook my head. As beautiful as it was, I couldn’t afford to spend over $50 on it. I started to walk away, but Ruqs held back.
“She’s just a student,” she bargained, “and look how it matches her eyes.”
The shopkeeper laughed and the two bantered back and forth until the price was lowered to just over $20.
He wrapped the caftan up in tissue paper and presented it to me. Throughout the rest of my time in Morocco, I wore that caftan countless times. I swirled around in it at parties, let it catch in the wind on walks along the sea, and—though terrified that I would stain it—ate in it at dinners with dear friends.
Since my return to the US, it has mostly hung in my closet. It seems lonely sometimes. But other times, the sunlight hits it perfectly and the gold trim glitters. The nostalgia in those moments is indescribable.
The moments when everything is golden.
forever in darkness
"Water does not dissipate, water just takes you and goes."
Love on the defensive.
Afraid of the dark
This was Lopevi Island, Republic of Vanuatu, in 1999.
Reading on a rainy day: Days of Dust by Halim Barakat
Missing waking up to Moroccan moon-sets.