Morocco -your baby will be kissed
Traveling in Morocco with a little one? Plan extra transit time for all the kisses. Don’t believe me? Watch this quick video of Viggo making friends on the streets of Esssaouira.
Viggo, our third child and the only one we took on our trip to Morocco in January, is actually, objectively cute. We know this because we can’t stop kissing him and his grandmother also confirms it. He bounces when he runs and says cute things like “doggy barggin” when he hears a dog bark and “pitty pie-eee?” when he’s trying to say pretty please.
But we all know that most kids are cute to their parents and less so to the rest of the world. Most babies look like little old men, wrinkled and cranky. Here in Seattle, even our champion of cuteness Viggo draws little attention, as if he were a normal toddler!
From the first moment in Morocco it was obvious that these people LOVE kids. Babies are held with care, snuggled close and given enough sweets to knock the teeth out of a donkey. (Typical Moroccan mint tea recipe is equal parts hot water, mint and sugar. They understand they’re way over the line here, so will often offer you the “European version”!)
Viggo rides in an Ergo carrier when we’re wandering about. Worn on the back and out of site you have no idea that, as you walk the streets of the medina he’s getting waves and coos from old ladies and young men, people are sneaking kisses and handing him little fried doughnuts. You don’t know it, but you’re leaving a wake of smiles and chuckles, hidden behind headscarves and latticed windows.
For us, arriving from our soggy, green island home in the Pacific Northwest, Morocco is truly exotic. Walking through the medina is like stepping into a painting rich in colour and texture, the North African sun filtering through blue smoke from the charcoal grills, the sounds of work being done by hand, stones moved, metal hammered, wood sawn and planed, the trickling stream of people shuffling steadily forward in coloured babouches and pointy-hooded djellabas, splitting at the last moment for grandma on her scooter, sputtering and spewing smoke.
I was here ten years ago and it seems nothing has changed. More scooters, perhaps, plus Google Maps.
Sitting here on the surface of the pond it’s easy to think it looks, sounds and smells as it has for hundreds of years. As if we’ve dropped from the sky into the sketchbook of some Victorian-era traveler. But then a wizened old woman behind a headscarf grabs your baby, pulls him close and kisses him right on the lips, the waters part and you sink into a richer, more complex, truer version of life. And Edward Said boxes your ears on the way down because, duh, no place is ever a painting, and no place is defined by the gaze of a foreigner.
Of COURSE Morocco has changed. Ask anybody there and they’ll tell you so. Ask the old lady about her growing kids and grandkids or the new nightclubs on the edge of town. The neighbours will tell you about the tension between democracy and monarchy, the Arab Spring, which simmered but never boiled, the role Morocco plays as a frontier between Europe and Africa. The arts scene here is growing and culture is shifting (check out the amazing work of this fascinating young artist who met us for tea). This place is dynamic and bursting with life and energy.
And it is also shockingly different from the calm, green softness of our island home. And that can be overwhelming, even scary. But as out of place as you may feel, when another parent walks over to you, gently takes your own baby in her arms, holds him and speaks softly to him, kisses his nose and hands him back, the differences fade and the similarities become obvious. No matter where you go, people just want the same things; to love and to be loved, to watch their children grow in health and peace, to laugh together, work hard and eat good food, to watch tomorrow become a tiny bit better than today. Viggo, with his happy smile and ready wave is too young to find this at all surprising. He’s ready to love anyone, especially if they’re carrying sweets. And in Morocco, that’s everybody.