I sought adventure and some trace of my old recklessness. For two weeks, I had holed myself up in a hotel in Tangier. I had completed the writing of the first section of my book. Done.
Other projects required attention, and my list of “should-s” was two-pages long.
I “should” find out if the microfilm machine is working at the Tangier American Legation Museum and look at early-twentieth century issues of The Tangier Gazette. I “should” prepare a class for the English Department at the University of Abdelmalek Essaadi in Tetouan. I “should” start the part of my book on Fez as seen through the eyes of my Gilded Age doppelganger.
But I am in Morocco to complete my memoir, one that engages the travels of Edith Wharton 100 years ago. And so, I must live my life story, acknowledging that I am lucky that I get to choose how this next little bit unfolds. I do not want to write about my diligence and dedication to historical process right now. Instead, I book a flight for Agadir, a resort town in the south.
My plane left at 6 am the next day!
For two days, the synapses in my brain crackled and snapped. I saw unfamiliar landscapes and connected with new people. Over dinner at a Lebanese place, I learned about the cultivation of Argan trees. Endemic to this Souss region, the hard nuts of this tree produce oil or beauty products. As I talked with an anthropologist researching the economic institutions facilitating Argan distribution, the sun set over the Atlantic in the same neon pinks and blues of an old Miami Vice episode.
I had coffee the next day with an American professor of English at Ibn Zohr University. Two Tashilhit-speaking Gadiris, or residents of Agadir, joined us. L’Hassan was my driver from the airport, an engaged interlocutor and a font of local lore.
Our discussion drove home Morocco’s multi-cultural population as well as contemporary challenges. We spoke of Arab and Amazight identity in Morocco as well as the country’s Muslim and Jewish heritage. Over a milky nus-nus coffee, we debated how young urban Moroccans could hold onto their Amazight identity, which many conceptualized as hinging on rural lifestyles of the past.
As we left the marina, our van passed by a hill. The ruins of the Casbah are on top of it. In February 1960, an earthquake destroyed this quarter and most of the city below. One-third of Agadir’s residents died, and photos from the time showed rescue workers wearing scarves to protect themselves from the stench of decaying corpses. Other Gadiris—like my friend Mina and her family—were homeless, living in a tent for years afterward.
The relics of the Casbah remain on that hill. Foreign tourists, unaware perhaps of the sites death and devastation, go there seeking the pretty view from that hill, and local hucksters offer them camel rides and sell them trinkets.
For Gadiris, however, the site gives evidence to that awful day.
The ruins of the Casbah preside over the newly constructed marina and the modern city. In doing so, the trauma of the past converses with a tenacious will to overcome and rebuild.
We returned to the hotel along Avenue Mohamed V, which follows the beach. Everyone in the car—the local residents as well as the US professor who had lived in the city for six months—pointed to the Sept Etages (7 Floors) building when we passed it. It is the only structure to have survived the earthquake.
And so, if the Casbah reflects the collective trauma of that day, Sept Etage signals the tenacity of Agadir’s will to thrive.
Sometimes, setting aside “should-s” is the exact right thing to do.
I am now on a plane headed back to my hotel room in Tangier, refreshed and ready for the next push. I feel alert to my surroundings in ways that I did not three days ago. Sometimes, setting aside “should-s” is the exact right thing to do.