International love stories! Who doesn't love them?
During the summer of 2016, I spent 2 weeks in Marrakech, Morocco. My original stay was to be for one week, but I ended up extending it to two weeks for good reason. I met someone.
Note: If you have been following me on my social media accounts then you know that all of my trips are solo trips. Not only is it a strong preference for me, it is a way of life. What I love most about solo traveling is not being at the mercy of anyone else where it concerns the exploration of life. In traveling solo, YOU are the only person that you have to consider. Waking up and randomly booking a ticket to another country, having no agenda, and being able to extend or shorten a stay without a moment’s notice are all perks of being the CEO of your own travel pursuits.
For most, the virgin trip to Marrakech is as confusing as it is overwhelming. After my plane landed in the arid climate of Marrakech, I took a 15 minute taxi to Jemaa El Fna Square and upon exiting the taxi stepped into the day from hell. People were bustling about in the medina, while various others would approach and aggressively attempt to sell their products, men would offer to carry my bags and then aggressively request payment for their kindness, and to add insult to injury I was LOST for 3 hours in 105 degree heat. It was a true cacophony of movement, noise, and confusion that required 3 days to figure out. After being rescued by my host who was originally from England and recounting my story to her she laughed and suggested that we go have an early dinner—by early, I mean 3 p.m.--in an inexpensive yet wonderful café. And that, my friends, is where the story begins……
I sat eating and chatting with my host about life in our respective home countries. During the course of the conversation, I kept catching the eye of the guy who sat 10 feet away with a book and small coffee on the table that he shared with no one. Each time I observantly glanced in his direction, his eyes would meet mine. “Who is he?” I asked. My host responded saying, “That’s Wadoud. He’s really smart and sweet and is always here reading. Why?” “He keeps looking this way but by now I am quite accustomed to being on the receiving end of stares,” I retorted. “If he looks over here again, go talk to him. He never looks at anyone,” She replied. “Noooo, I’m much to shy,” I sarcastically responded.
20 minutes later I found myself in need of relief, and so, went to the ladies’ restroom. As I passed the staring stranger’s table, I smiled and greeted him with my signature bubbly “hello”. He returned my smile, cocked his head to the side, and said “helloooo” in a sarcastic mockery of my sing-song voice. He was undeniably handsome with olive skin, a head full of raven black hair, and a full facial beard with connecting sideburns that matched the thickness of the hair atop his head. Quite frankly, it looked as though he had fallen from Mt. Olympus—ya know, where the Greek gods reside.
I accepted his offer and joined him which turned into 10 minutes, which then turned into 20 minutes, which later turned into 7 hours of just sitting and talking. I learned that he was a Moroccan Physicist whose 5th language was English. Even though we sometimes struggled to understand each other and used a combination of hand gestures and google translate to convey our thoughts, we talked about life in our countries, differences, childhood, politics, religion, wars, astronomy, space, space exploration, aaaaannnnd the fact that he had never before in his life seen a deer. It was an evening riddled with laughter. We instantly connected. (Yes, if you’re wondering, my host would periodically text me to ensure that all was well)
At the night’s end, I bade him goodnight but not before he asked me for my contact information and advised that he would be in touch.
The next day he inquired of my plans and after telling him that it would be a day of exploration for me, he asked if I would be free the following day. After advising that I would, he requested that I meet him in the grand lobby of Hotel Tazi at 9 a.m. I obliged and let my host know that I would be meeting him. After meeting at Hotel Tazi, he said, “Come on. There’s something I want to show you!” We left the lobby and were off for a day of exploration. He smiled saying, “In America, you would call this a date?” That entire day was one filled with laughter, adventure, surprises, wonders, and continued conversations. At one point during our walk to an excursion, I briefly commented on a bush of beautiful flowers and before I knew it he was over in the bushes picking two. He came back and placed them in my hair saying, “They look much better there, Princess.” He ended up taking me to several sights that were not commonly known to tourists. We then ended the day by watching the sun set from high above Marrakech in New City with gelato. He's Aladdin.
As Morocco is a largely conservative Muslim country, their laws regarding a number of things are what we in the west would consider “strict”. By law, unmarried couples are not permitted to occupy the same bedrooms, engage in premarital sex, or visit each other’s abodes after unreasonable hours and to do so would be punishable by the law. In short, this meant that my suitor was not supposed to walk me home at the night’s end, but he did. (I favor Morocco’s views of what shouldn’t take place before marriage. Frankly, I feel it enforces decency regarding getting to know people with your clothes on) He walked me through the darkness of the unmarked medina, to my riad, rang the bell, and waited until my host opened the door before bidding me goodnight and leaving. I later texted two American friends to say, “ALADDIN HE BROKE THE LAW FOR ME!!!!!” LOL!
IT'S GETTING SERIOUS.
After our extensive conversations and three dates, I realized that I really liked him but was also well aware of the plots some foreign men employ as a means to gain entry into the states, i.e. marrying American women. Additionally, because I work with visa cases and am quite knowledgeable I knew first hand of what visa fraud looked like. Although he had shown no signs of ill-intent, I still wanted to test him to see if there was an ulterior motive behind his fairytale pursuit of me. When we next met for dinner I told him that I needed to talk to him about a rather serious matter. “I can help you get your visa for the states.” When the last word came out of my mouth, his entire face reddened with anger and he choked on his water. “I don’t know what they tell you in America, but we do not need handouts here. We may not have much but we are proud. We know the truth about America. It is not the place of dreams as they say. They murder their people. I would never use anyone for a visa.” As much as I hated to test him in that way, he gave me the reaction I hoped for. A week later, I explained why I asked and he was more than understanding.
The day before I was to depart Morocco, we spent nearly all of that day and that same evening in each other’s company. He asked me, “The concept of girlfriend does not exist in my culture. It is a very strange thing but would you be my girlfriend?” That next morning he saw me to the airport and waved goodbye from the tarmac as my plane departed. From that day forward, we dated long distance. Each day despite the time 6 hour time difference we talked and messaged throughout the day and at nights he would awake at 3 a.m. his time to talk to me for 2 – 3 hours in my time. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. without fail. We never Face-Timed since that is banned in his country. We relied on WhatsApp, Voice Calls, and Facebook Messenger.
Internationally dating wasn’t the hard part (truthfully, I’d do it again). His culture and beliefs about relationships is what made it easy as they aligned with mine. To string women along in his culture is dishonorable and the reason why the concept of “girlfriend” doesn’t exist in his culture is because they pursue with the intent to marry within 6 months to a year’s time. No shacking. No prolonged engagements. You’re pursued, you’re courted, you’re introduced to family, and you’re married in a week-long celebration of your new union. What made the process difficult is that we had the onus of proving to our governments that our relationship was authentic.
Securing visitor’s visas or any other visa is not easy, especially when you are from a Muslim country. Nothing was private. All of our messages had to be saved. All messages, all texts, all birthday cards, all flight tickets for visits, all dinner receipts, all date receipts, all gift receipts, and we actually had to print out our photos with time stamps included. It wasn’t our choice to do so, but our respective governments’ requirements. When applying for visitor’s visas or any other sort of serious visa, you are interviewed about each other and MUST know every detail about each other’s lives. The scrutiny is both stressful and invasive.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
I would later go on to return to Morocco twice and was told that I would be introduced to his family in December of 2016, which meant that a marriage proposal was soon to follow. I’ll spare you my reasons for not wanting to marry so soon. *insert smile here* I, indeed, returned to Morocco in December but it wasn’t to meet his parents. After 6 months, I chose to end to the relationship. As beautiful as it was, our ambitions—at the time—didn’t match. To this day it is a relationship that I am thankful for; from it came a beautiful friendship and people who now regard me as both family and friend. Seriously. Whenever I go to Marrakech I want for nothing. I’m invited to family dinners, outings, gatherings, festivities, etc. As friends who still share laughs and stories about life, he doesn’t mind me sharing this story. *insert laughter here*
All in all, I’d say the experience of loving someone who doesn’t look like me, share my same religion, or speak the same language as me was quite surreal. To this Jasmine, it really was as though I were experiencing a whole new world.
Go. See. Do. Love. Live.