The Stranger

Fellow UNE student Emma Chabot
Fellow UNE student Emma Chabot pictured above

The brisk, crisp morning air left me seeking warmth and comfort as we stepped off the train and into our new adventure.  I didn’t know what the weekend would bring or what I was really hoping to accomplish; all I knew, from the adrenaline coursing through my body, was that I had big plans.

I was at once mesmerized by the symphony of honking cabs, the music blaring from all directions, and the ongoing precession of people in the Medina. Etched on my brain, as I clung to my purse for safety, were the cramped alleys filled with dozens of vendors; the carefree motorcyclists’ expert weaving through pedestrians; and the poor, helpless monkeys and their gloomy faces. Their trainers had tied them up for our pleasure and a few dirhams.

As someone used to the easy-going pace of life in Tangier, where I could take a stroll during the early morning hours without a care in the world, Marrakech was a circus of movement and confusion. The yells of the hagglers and the never-ending persuasion tactics of the juice vendors left me yearning for a pause from this glorious and chaotic city.

Later that night, I found my refuge sitting alone in our lavish hotel lobby. Looking around, I took in the beauty surrounding me.  Marble pillars rose in every direction.  Exquisite deep red curtains hung over the solid wood door frames. Through the windows I noticed the pool painted a dark ocean blue with the palm trees swaying in the background. Could there be a more gorgeous setting for a hotel?

Moroccans say for good reason that the four colors of Marrakech are the true wonders of the world. I began to fall in love with this mysterious city when I took in the soft muddy reds of the building, the vibrant greens of the gardens, the endless blue horizon, and the white snowy mountaintops of the Atlas in the distance.

From where I was snuggled up on the couch, I heard a deep, commanding, but inviting “Salam” pull me out of my daydream of lust and awe.

Knowing very few words in Arabic, just enough to get by, I responded with a Salam to the tousled, curly haired, well-dressed young man with a polo shirt and brightly shined shoes.  He gave me an inviting smile and said he was impressed by me, an American, attempting to speak his native language.

“I’m Abdul,” he said.

Minutes turned to hours as I learned a lot about Abdul. His crystalline green eyes reflected the heat of the sun, which matched the warmth in his wry smile.

I am usually wary of strangers, especially being a foreigner in a new country, but everything about Abdul made me lower my guard. I learned from the way he spoke that he must be brilliantly educated.  His perfectly structured English sentences and vocabulary almost put me, a native English speaker, to shame. I also learned he was aspiring to be a writer and was actually working on his first book. He had traveled all the way from Casablanca, hoping for true inspiration to strike.

Being on the chatty side, I told him about myself, what I was doing in Morocco, and where I come from back home. Abdul clung to the edge of his seat with my every word, even the ones I thought were trivial and irrelevant. He was intrigued by Americans and our way of life. Of course, I had to disabuse him of a few stereotypes. No, I told him, not every American is rich and lives a lavish lifestyle.

Not once did I detect a hint of jealousy or envy when I told him of my travels throughout Europe and now Africa—visas are not easy to come by here. He told me one has to know somebody who knows somebody to be granted such a luxury. I noticed, rather, nothing but unalloyed fascination and even happiness for me. Because he is a writer, he found inspiration in what he called my “courage and tenacity” to pick up from my modest life and explore a foreign country on my own. Perhaps Abdul, even if just for the moment, was living vicariously through me. I let him pick my brain about all my travels so that he could feel as if he, too, had taken an adventure, even if only in his mind.

“A sense of adventure,” he said, “is a rare thing to come across. You must always keep that, my friend; in everything you do in life, always cling to that.”  As I slowly turned toward my new friend, I realized he was pushing me to rush head-on into a lifetime of adventures. I felt a confidence wash over me. Yes, I thought, I must continue this journey I’m on.

After we said our goodbyes, I was struck by the miracle of a perfect stranger, knowing no more than a few blurbs of my story line but reminding me of who I am and encouraging my journey of growth.

Taylor Gallant is a Health, Wellness and Occupational Studies major at the University of New England.

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