There are times when the heart speaks so loud it beats the sounds of the train pulling out of Tottenham Hale station in London. Today is such a day. I sit in the carriage buzzing and bewildered- I am going, again, following the rhythms of the train, this gentle but consistent beat, like my heart, always beating for something new. This time I planned a month in the grandest car free zone in the world, UNESCO World Heritage site, Fez, Morocco.
Women travel for reasons of sanity and I am joining women of the past who have dared the road in their quest to find ways to connect. To find their way to connect to the bigger-than -shopping-and routine- existence -kind- of things in life. It is used to be called unladylike to travel alone when family routine and comfortable homes were a sign of a woman’s dedication to her…well, being a woman. I get that. I love that. I love traditions, old and new, that heals the divide between men and women. I love challenging the static notion of womanhood. I resist pre-fabricated roles that is told it must suit all people in all circumstances. I love being the mother of my children and a wife.
And here is when it gets to me- I cannot be just that. My whole being spins on its own tail when I think of secret lands, the mysteries of the soul and the hours of darkness when a life affirming truth settles in my heart. When that happens, I am always alone and for that I need to be away from my routine and ladylike organized life. This time instead of battling the guilt of dreaming of secret lands (which never stops even when I am ridden with things to do) I have decided to dare the road to the mysterious city while I work on my next book.
The transformative power of traveling is painfully addictive, the obsession I find hard to get rid of. As I age, so I change the way I inhabit new places. No longer ticking locations off the world map, I travel less but go deeper into a new place. I itch to crawl right into the middle of it all, as if it is my unavoidable option, to live like a local.
Each travel we undertake turns into a truth of our life- the life we leave behind while we head towards a faraway land we know we can no longer conquer. Almost everything has been conquered, except ourselves and as long a human exists, we will be travelling to find the secret of unraveling ourselves.
My symbol for this trip is Simplicity. I have given myself the challenge to live around five simple but essential facilities – the bakery, the hammam, the mosque, the madrasa (school), and the fountain. I am dedicating my month to live around them soulfully. Simply.
The bakery is my symbol communal connection and I intend to go deep into the Moroccan vibe. Connecting through food has given me friends from many parts of the world so I am trusting it will do the same.
The hammam is the symbol of stripping myself (pun intended) of inhibitions, fears and thoughts that have had way too much power over me. It is time to let them go.
The mosque is where I renew my faith, ask questions, bargain and beg.Daily. Even if it turns out that I might need to skip a day or two.
The school is a universal symbol of orientating myself towards wisdom. It is everything I believe will change how the world turns out to be in the next century.
The fountain is where I can wash off the dust of life, things that have stuck with me and keep being unnecessary company.
Too serious, you think? Maybe. But surrounded by these five facilities there lies the possibility to a new way of seeing this city. The cacophony of this dehydrated, golden sand city represents everything I think of life- mysterious, chaotic and deeply magnetic. A breeding ground for scholars, saints, artisans and imams, I remember from my first visit a self-assured, supremely confident city where the market is a symbol of life- Do not plan anything! Embrace that you cannot plan and surrendering to the chaos is the only way to experience the flow of it.
So I was heading to the CHAOS….
I knew I was heading to IT but it is always harder to DO chaos than talking about it. Today was a day of learning to BE chaos, not talking about it.
I set off this morning fully armed with confidence that I would find what I planned even though I allowed the space for spontaneous getting lost. It started well, a little stroll for coffee before I hit the laptop to start my first chapter of my book when a lady cleaning the street approached me. She smiled sweetly and said come Madam, this way. I smiled back and followed her politely through smelly alleyways, passing cat families and donkey dung. When the smell became unbearable, I realized what happened- she took me to the tannery, the famous place where they work on the goat, camel or cow skin, men of all ages standing in limescale acid 14 hours a day. By the time I blinked, Mohammed was telling me all about the leather industry in Fes. What I was really curious, though, was not that- I planned visiting this site next week with some mint leaves under my nose- I wanted to know about what keeps people in Fes. There is some poverty, full swing reliance on tourists and it all just seemed futile to ask. Because Mohammed answered- I love it here because I feel peaceful inside. My boys go to school and some of their old teachers teach them discipline that modern teachers cannot teach any more. Phew…no, not the smell that bothered me, the thought of such clarity. To stay in this city because you feel peaceful inside.
I strolled along the narrow streets and without planning I ended up in the most exquisite caravanserai, the Musee Nejjarine . These buildings stood as symbols of hospitality. If you were a merchant, you could find yourself a bed and food while your stock was looked after. The building itself is lush in its architecture but I just sat there for 45 minutes not really wanting to move, it was so peaceful.
My belly was calling so I set off to find Cafe Fez I wanted to eat. No, it did not go well, I circled around the city for over an hour, kept missing it until I ended up in a cafe I was hoping to see another time for lunch. The idea of planning really made me laugh by then, so I headed to my apartment to reset my brain. Later in the afternoon I walked into one of the local restaurants to get my first tagine which finally satisfied me. That was my happiness for today for £2.00.
After the afternoon prayers I headed to the local market to stock up on fresh dates and as if miracle, the shops I was chasing in the morning turned up right under my nose, the fruit stalls were doing great sales so I ended up having my breakfast secured fresh from the oven and I found my way around just fine. You see, people here navigate not with their brain. they have the map of the city in them like a compass, engraved in their soul, their inner map they follow without looking up. For me, that is a good sign of a good life.
So you ask what I learnt about planning? I think this is how it works in life:
The more you are wanting to find something to fill your life, the harder is becomes to get to it.
The more desperate you become to find it, the further away you float from it.
Really, do not look. Let life be part of your inner guide. Have your inner navigation system, have a few ideas in your head but do not despair. Things will come to you without you moving a limb.