Travel Journal: June 2008. Hay Riad, Rabat, Sale.
People smile at me as I walk with my daughter through the medina, my thumb and index finger wrapped around her billowy wrist. These standing witnesses seem like the collective soul of the world, yawning, like a baby awakened with a gentle rub on the back. When my daughter and I are together playful and chatty, we become a catalyst that causes a deep, dear memory to show itself as a smile on the face of strangers. This floating memory is so primal that it cannot enter the conscious mind as a coherent thought. Instead, it enters the semi-toothless mouth of a fruit seller who, in broken English, asks my daughter if she wants some melon. His words are difficult to understand. She appears confused when I tell her what he’s offering. I think she is more suprised that I understand him than she is put-off by him. His eyes shine upon her in search of the smile that decorates his face; a reflection of youth.
In the parking garage below the grocery store Aswak Aslam, I wander the lot with a cart full of bags and my daughter sitting in the fold-out shopping cart seat. A man wearing an orange vest showing him to be a parking attendant of sorts speaks to me something I don’t understand. He knows where my car is, but I doubt it. He takes the cart to push it in the right direction. I follow closely. He finds the truck where I left it. He talks in words I don’t understand as he unloads the bags from the cart and lifts my daughter from the seat. We both recoil at his familiarity and she grabs my legs once her feet hit the ground. Perhaps she is perceived as a sort of cargo and he is being chivalrous towards me, but I don’t think so. At Pizza Hut, the waitress kissed my daughter’s cheek as she greeted our table. A security guard in customs kissed her head, and a man in a café kissed his fingers and put them to the crown of her head as he walked past our table. She is something new here, something different than a toddler in America. She is a memory and a promise of life’s continued flow.
Moroccans love children: a love like warm sand at dusk. It is a love for the temporary nature of youth. In it is an awareness of youth as a precious gift that we all once had and that we all must eventually give away. But there is no glorification of youth. There is no equivalent to an American pop culture icon or the corresponding obsession with youthful sexuality. Beyond the radiant smile on the face of strangers, the kisses and candies, lies all the pain of an ordinary adulthood.
At Magic Park, an amusement park in Sale, I hold my daughter’s hand, anxiously trying to keep her from sitting on the dirty pavement while we wait impatiently in line to ride the Dragon Adventure. Children turn back and forth, calling to each other. Their smiles reveal rotting teeth; one’s happy eye is made heavy by a cyst. They push their way forcefully to the front of the line. I do not smile at them. Poverty has made them old by ten.
Leaving the park, our car is stopped by a traffic light. Music plays on the car radio. I encourage her to dance by bobbing my head and wiggling my elbows. She reluctantly complies. The men in the next truck smile widely at her and honk their horn and wave when the light turns green.
I found a park near my in-laws house in Hay Riad, an upper-middle class section surrounded by villas. It is a small structure holding two slides. It is secured in a pile of dirt that hides pieces of glass, used batteries, rusty bottle caps, and an ant colony. The park is frequented families that don’t look as if they live in the neighborhood; the adults are too comfortable sitting in the grass and the girls too happy playing simple games: making a candy wrapper jump on the cement by thumping their hand.
Each slide has a crack in it and the metal work that holds it has become rusty and jagged. I wonder, if I lived here, what part of the park I would work to fix first, or if I would instead build a private playground behind villa walls. A girl stands on the top of the slide, she stands out to an observer because she is older than the others and she wears a clean white party dress decorated with a large print of red flowers. She has taken her hair ribbon out and watches it blow in the wind. Her eyes have a melancholy look.
I don’t have the words to talk to her. I want to ask her what it is that she sees so far away. Somehow, it seems like a private moment for her. She is alone among us. I think of home. Perhaps there is still a reason to build your house in the fashion of a riad with the windows facing inward. More than the privacy it provides women, but for the privacy of family and the sanctuary of a child.
Can you see her?