What Can I Do?

It seems like I’ve always had at least one dog in my life. Dog People believe (I’m an omnianimal lover, but I agree) that dogs are superior in their ability to connect with their humans. Despite our shortcomings, dogs accept and, without complaint, endure whatever is right, or wrong with us. Yesterday morning I took my two ‘senior’ dogs out for their daily walk – a slow process, with several rest stops.

Walking older pets becomes a Zen experience (patience, primarily), with unexpected rewards. Had they not slowed my pace, I would’ve missed seeing a neighbor I always enjoy talking to, walking to his mailbox. He’s from Paris originally, and still travels there once or twice a year. A cheerful guy; always ready with an update on one of my favorite cities. He also tolerates my own version of the French language, for which I’m grateful.

Paris Skyline

As my pups enjoyed another rest, we discussed Paris, both agreeing that our experiences there have changed. Not just a flood of more people seeking-out the city’s charms, but the locals seeming more ‘frayed’. Anxious. Irritable. Not only by the overwhelming tide of tourists, but by circumstances in their own lives. Economic struggles; political struggles. Life. Too often, I’ve realized lately, when I travel to a new country I’m way-focused on my own experience and agenda. Especially with a shorter trip or stay in a city: I feel anxious, trying to pack too much in. And so I miss an important gift of travel.

A recent experience in Marrakech drove the point home. I was in the main medina (a city square of commerce, food and diversions like monkeys and cobra-charmers), Dar Jemaa el-Finaa. It was a little before noon, and I was in one of many crowded souks. Getting lost in a souk is easy to do, and can be a hazard.

Picture so many visuals, each more captivating than the next. Aromas of spices, fruits, and oils; piles of dates, nuts and raw sugar (swarming with bees). The locals of Maroc shop here too, so clothing, shoes, backpacks, dishes, light fixtures, knives and apothecary products (argan and saffron-infused) are out, and being haggled-over. The scene is hypnotic.

Marrakech is a glittering jewel to be admired, but also respected. Tourism is a huge part of the economy, and, just as with any large city (as my Parisian friend and I agreed), its people have mixed feelings about their dependence on foreigners.

A souk moves constantly, like a river; if you step out of the flow and your friends keep moving, you hope that at some point they step out too, and wait for you. Having found myself alone, my senses were heightened. Alerted to shouting (“Move!”, in Arabic, was typical souk noise) behind me, I turned just as a motorized scooter shot past, followed by a donkey at a brisk trot.

The driver/rider of the animal was perched high on cloth bags of something. His foot grazed my arm as he propelled his donkey around me. But the shouting continued. After the donkeys and the scooters came a very tall, very weather-beaten man, moving briskly toward me, his mouth working.

He was in traditional garb for a Moroccan male (btw, caftans and headwear can be very different, depending on the region). The man was looking straight at me, soon looming over me (I’m tall, at 5’10” – he was at least 6’4”) speaking rapid-fire French. He must’ve assumed that I was either Canadian or American: he clearly wanted me to know how he was feeling that day, about either or both nationalities.

I remained motionless, listening to the man vent, taking in as much French as my ears could decipher. Like most frustrated people, he eventually ran out of anger and insults. For a beat, he just looked at me; waiting for a rebuttal? I didn’t offer one. It wouldn’t have been helpful.

I’ve remembered, and continue to reflect on the content and emotion in that confrontation: an angst I’d heard before, in France; in Egypt; in my own country. It was an important reminder of what I want Travel to include: not just scenery, but moments that open my eyes and prompt me to ask, What Can I Do?

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