By Katherine Lochery
December 30, 2009 – I stare with wonder at the henna that covers my hands. So intricate and elegant, this work of art was presented as a farewell gift from my host family. For over an hour, Sefaa, a female family member, pored over my hands, as though lost in her seemingly unbreakable concentration. As I sat on the couch in her house, it felt like only a few days had passed since she was creating a similar masterpiece in celebration of the end of Ramadan. This time, as the cold henna paste formed patterns on my palms, I let my mind sift through memories made across these past three and a half months. Honing in on particular days and moments, I tried to transport myself back, to recall the faces and the places.
While my mind had no trouble conjuring up visions of anxious introductions, momentous Moroccan celebrations, and casual family dinners, my heart quickly became overwhelmed as I navigated through this sea of memories. As I watched myself meeting my host family or nervously taking part in the first of many couscous Fridays, it felt as if I was watching someone else. Unsure of her new surroundings, this other version of me looked so out of place; her face always betraying the inner belief that she was a true foreigner in an undiscovered land. Although I found myself smiling in sympathy at her, I also grew envious of her as I knew she still had so much time to experience the many marvels of Morocco and its people.
Traveling further along the timeline of my stay, I found myself traversing the dunes of the Sahara from atop a camel. An excursion throughout which I remember questioning whether or not I was dreaming, my trip into the desert stands as a surreal yet revealing experience that turned my attention inwards. With nothing but silky sand and a calming silence surrounding me, I lingered on ideas and questions that are prone to get smothered in the context of life back at school. How vast the world felt in that instance and how small, yet vital did my existence seem. I can recall how I likened myself to a grain of sand, so incredibly tiny in the midst of the endless dunes, yet just as significant as every other grain of sand. The lessons of the desert and its caravanning nomads were shrouded in humility and on a deeper level, offered encouragement to those like myself, who sometimes fear insignificance in a world that often feels so very big.
As I looked back on the last month of my Moroccan adventure, I was surprised to see how differently I appeared. Having shrugged off the trappings of the nervous, young foreigner, I looked like a cheerful young woman at home in the medina. I watched myself stopping in the street to embrace friends of my Moroccan family and offer a friendly wave to my favorite shopkeepers. Exchanging greetings and news in the Moroccan dialect, this new version of me made it seem like years had passed since those first few days in Rabat. How strange it felt to realize that this individual standing before me in my mind would soon be returning to another home in another country on the other side of the world.
Before I had time to dwell on my imminent return to America, I felt my little sister tapping me on my shoulder and directing my eyes towards the finished henna design that now stretched across my hands and up my wrists. Jostled out of my imagined journey back across time, I marveled at the beautiful sight before me. I thanked dear Sefaa and walked home from her house with my sister for the last time. Back at my house, after exclaiming how beautiful the henna looked, Mama Hafida explained that for her, the gift of henna was meant to be a reminder of a place that not only desired, but expected my eventual return. The next day, as I said goodbye and placed the front door key in her hand, she reminded me that Morocco would be here forever, always waiting to welcome me back with open arms and of course, lots of couscous. I can only hope that I make it back to see that remarkable woman and her beautiful family.
On the plane ride home, within the dainty henna flowers and their petals, I saw Morocco in all its charm and complexity; I saw scenes from Marrakesh, Fez, and my beloved medina in Rabat. I recall the faces of my family, my teachers, and the many friends I have made. I saw women working to change stale perceptions and I watched young university graduates search for much needed employment. I observed the people of urban Morocco struggling to understand their rural compatriots and overcome differences in heritage and language. I saw a country on a journey much like my own; a journey of discovery, self-awareness, and hopeful progress. I drew comfort from the fresh understanding that just as I had witnessed Morocco’s quest for positive growth and development, Morocco had observed me as I sought to experience its diverse culture and discover my own place in the society that surrounded me. Even when the henna fades and time places me further and further from my experience in Morocco, the lessons and memories I received will live on within me, urging me to continue to work for cross-cultural awareness and celebrate the many gifts it can bestow on all of us, as citizens of this diverse and ever-changing world.
Top photo: My host family! From left to right: Aunt Fatima, Mama Hafida, me, my sister Souad, my cousin Fatima Zahra, and my sister Aziza.
Editor’s note: A junior at Boston University, Katherine Lochery spent her fall semester in Morocco, studying Arabic; Women, Islam, and Politics; and Post-Colonial Aesthetics and Politics. Born in Britain, raised in the U.S. and in possession of a passport that has seen more action than most anyone of any age, she is consumed with a desire to leave the world a better place than she found it. This is her sixth and final entry in her chronicle for Where2Now of her experiences during the course of her semester. Click on a number to read her previous entries. 1 2 3 4 5