Chefchaouen- A Story of People

‘Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises: “Beware too much ecstasy,” whereas love says, “Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!” Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.’

-“Shams of Tabriz’s 40 Rules of Love”

The first time I fell in love while traveling was in Nepal.

I went to Nepal alone, on a stroke of fate. There, I simultaneously fell in love and out-of-love. The experience was so powerful, I wrote a book about it. But what I found in Nepal wasn’t a romantic sort of love. It was an open-hearted love of the Nepali people, a love of the attitude which allowed them to enjoy the present, despite massive hurdles in their communal past and future.

I left Nepal a changed person.

I left my intellect in the high Himalaya. It’s come back, from time to regrettable time. But mostly, since leaving that special place, I’ve tried to live with my heart.

Which brings me to Chefchaouen, Morocco.

“East, west, south or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole world and beyond.”

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I have been in Chefchaouen for two months now. I am earning a traveler’s badge of merit: passing some time working in a hostel.

Things are tranquil here. People are nice. Day to day, time flows quickly, easily. Here in Chefchaouen, one day flows into another, like a tributary joining a river. The passage of time seems like the most natural, normal thing in the world. It brings with it no stress, no dread; none of the accouterments of Western life.

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Here, I measure time not in days, but in people.

My story of Chefchaouen is not a story of blue walls, of gender, of farmers, or any of the other topics I could conceivably choose to write about in this place.

It’s a story of people.

It’s a story of mountains. Happy peaks of meetings, connection and growth, followed by deep valleys of partings, feelings you shouldn’t act on, and the inescapable feeling of déjà vu. People are always coming to the hostel. Siempre, siempre.

It’s a story that resets, day after day, week after week.

But here in Chaouen, the present is always beautiful.

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“The past is an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from past to future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.”

This is working at a hostel.

You may have heard a different story on this topic: a story of partying and drudgery and stretching your money as long as it can last. Those are true as well. But for me, working in a hostel, these months I spent in the beautiful Moroccan mountains will always be a story of people.

Here, were this my journal, I would write the names; the memories. Men. Women. Couples. Friends. Lovers. Teachers. All sorts of people. All sorts of memories.

Many good days, spent in sun-bleached bliss. ‘Siempre con la sonrisa’ — always with the smile.

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Some things, I think I will remember forever: buying succulents; swarmed by screaming children in an alleyway; bubblegum ice cream; yerba mate; sun-drenched mornings, sitting in the door. Idle time passed at reception with my sister; the sort of unprogrammed time one really needs to savour in a relationship.

Many other things, good things, important things, will probably blend into the pastiche of Chaouen. Months passed in a blue blur; a feeling — a sensation. A hazy patch of pleasant memories.

But who can say how time will unfold?

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Normally, when we travel, it is a list of places: countries, cities, towns. Or maybe for the more culinary-minded, it is a list of foods; repasts shared over wine in fancy restaurants; dingy street stalls; the home-cooked meal of extended hospitality. For the young backpackers coming to Morocco from Europe, it is a story of bars: long nights drinking; early mornings hurting; snatched sex in hostel showers.

For me, Morocco has all of these things. But the thing it has most of all is people. My time, two months spent stationary here in Chaoen, has been more a tourism of people, than places.

How I should feel about that seems to be a hotly debated topic.

Everyone asks, of course. How does it feel to meet so many interesting people, and let them all go? This essay, I suppose, is my complicated way of answering.

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“Most problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstanding. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can be grasped only through silence.”

I carry a book of memories, which I invite people to write in from time to time. In eight weeks, five people have earned the right to write in my book. Others, I have artifacts of, mentions, glimpses…

One page I’m saving, because I hope I am not done with this person yet.

They will probably never fill it in. But in my heart, all I can do is be true and honest with myself. There is a door open there. I’d love to walk through it.

Why live your life closed off from sensation?

I had this conversation with my sister, the day after a woman I liked very much had, once again, left me behind.

“Doesn’t it get tiring, connecting with someone and then letting them go?”

Of course it does.

But it beats not forming that connection. Beats it handily.

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The future looms over everyone I meet in Chaoen. Of course it does. But impending storms don’t make the sunshine worthless; they make you want to treasure it all the more. Here in Chaoen, the present is always beautiful.

This is the lesson I have taken from this place.

Although it has been broken a half-dozen times within the past two months, my heart feels more open than ever before.

It’s been two months here, and it will be a little more. I’ve met many beautiful people. I’ve had many a sad parting; and and some bitter ones. But nonetheless, I’m happy to report, every night, I’m still curious to see who’s going to walk in through that door.

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I’m still ready to be amazed.

***

The quotes were, of course, recommended by someone I met in Chaoen. You can buy the whole book here, if the selections caught your interest.

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