In Morocco I spoke more Spanish then I ever did on any of my countless trips to Mexico. For some reason it felt easier. I’m not fluent, but I’ve also never allowed myself to really dig into practicing the language because conversations with native speakers make me nervous. But with Moroccans I found myself willing to dive in. I remembered conjugations I hadn’t thought of since 1988 when I took Mrs. Allen’s Advanced Spanish class at Marina High. The “Preterite Polka,” one of her brilliant mnemonic devices came in handy.
After four days of backpacking, I took a grand taxi from Ackhour back to Chefchaouen. Habte sat in the front seat and chatted with the driver in, Darija, a variety of Modern Standard Arabic but different enough to be its own language. I watched through the window at the passing Rif Mountains. The whole landscape was glowing green from the recent, record-breaking rain. Occasionally, Habte would turn around and include me in the conversation, switching into Spanish so the driver could also understand. But these moments passed quickly which was fine because I wanted to relax with my own thoughts. The driver fussed with the crunchy radio until he picked up a good station. When I heard The Who, I asked him to turn it up. The Seeker.
Back at the hotel, I lounged next to a space heater in the reception area. I rubbed my frozen hands together as I ordered a “café américain,” which is basically an extra-large cup of espresso. I noticed that menu items prefaced with the French, “américain,” were simply larger versions of the original. As a man made my drink, I shivered and watched a black and white cat sleep with its eyes half-open atop the espresso machine. When I asked what the cat’s name was, the man said, “It’s Cat.” Then I wondered, did it answer to “Cat” in Spanish, English, or Darija? I tried all three and none worked. But who could blame it? It was probably sitting in the warmest spot in the entire place.