I glanced down at my shirt. The only part that was not a dark, sweat-drenched green was the bottom hem. This two-toned t-shirt was the result of a Friday night spent kickboxing with locals who can single-handedly kick anyone’s butt and some of the other students studying abroad in Morocco. Hearing laughter up ahead, I looked up to see three young boys with scooters skating out front of a large gray building with smooth marble tiles on the entryway, a perfect spot for skating of any kind. My group of eight just so happened to be using the ATM next to where the boys were. It intrigued me that such young kids would be out in the city at 10:30 p.m., but I had come to learn that the nightlife in Tangier was something you had to witness. The laughter, I realized, was because one of the boys had handed his scooter to a male student, who was taking it for a spin. I smiled as I saw that only one of his feet could fit on the base of the kid’s sized toy. More laughter erupted from our impromptu group. It was amazing how welcoming even the children are to people they don’t know and even sometimes can’t even speak to. I’ve found it’s one of the most beautiful things about the people of Morocco.
The walk back to campus was full of jokes and all of us just taking in the city at night. It was beautiful. There was a slight breeze and the city lights were shining from small shops and bustling streets. Families were out with their children, buying street food on a Friday night. I was, of course, sweating again by the time we arrived at campus despite the nice temperature, and couldn’t wait to head upstairs, take a shower, and promptly pass out from exhaustion. Realizing I hadn’t talked to my mom that day, I fulfilled a promise I made to her before I left the US: I would text her every day. Before I left, she would jokingly remind me that they were her “proof of life” while I was gone.
Sending a quick account of the day’s events and telling my mom goodnight, I shut off my phone and headed to bed. It wouldn’t be until the next morning that I would look at that text chain and realize the significance of my timing. My message was sent at 11:02 p.m. Our conversation ended at 11:12 p.m. The date: September 8th, 2023. While texting my mom, a devastating 6.8 earthquake was happening 400 miles away. I went to bed not realizing that for thousands of Moroccans, their lives would never be the same. I didn’t sleep well that night, tossing and turning, never getting comfortable.
The next morning, I awoke to a world of sorrow, of unimaginable pain and loss. The difference between the laughter of that night and the silence of the morning was stark. As the hours passed and more updates came in, I realized how lucky we all were that night. How fast all of our lives could have changed–from the boys on the scooters to the kickboxing locals I had just begun to get to know to my classmates as we walked home. I sent my mom another text. An actual proof of life, of me being unhurt physically, but reeling emotionally. Processing. Grieving.
The calls to pray sounded different after that. Mournful, more haunting in their tone. Recently, I find myself stopping and listening more intensely than I had before. I don’t usually pray because I’m not religious, but in a matter of months, I found myself praying twice. The first, at my grandmother’s funeral. I remember clutching her prayer card in my hands and praying for her as rain fell. And now, not even two months later, I listened to the daily prayers ring throughout Morocco the day following the earthquake, and I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and prayed with the entire country for its people.