Unexpected tortoise welcomes you to Rabat

You find me sitting at a patio table outside in our garden, MB at my feet. It is a little cooler today, the fierce sun hidden behind gray clouds, patches of blue sky along the horizon in the direction of the ocean. A sudden cool breeze rises up every few minutes, rustling in the hibiscus and bougainvillea that line the walls in the neighborhood. The tall palm tree in our yard waves its fronds and a pair of small butterflies chase each other around the greenery. What we think are figs, shriveled and dried in the late summer heat, occasionally drop to the ground in a shady corner.

On our first day in Rabat, we sat out in the garden, admiring our new home and noticed movement in the patchy grass. A tortoise made its way slowly along the ground to MB’s consternation and our delight. I have already made a routine of bringing out small offerings of fruit and lettuce and dug a hole to install a small, plastic water bowl under the fig tree for our unexpected tortoise.

No matter how much planning or preparation, the week of an international move is always fraught with stress and frantic activity, as so much can only be done at the last minute. I joked often over these past weeks that I felt like I was flying for the first time, because arranging MB’s travel and our various COVID-19 requirements added so much more complexity to our international flights. Amaury said we had “leveled up,” as we had so much more to do this time with pet travel, shipping a car, and multiple shipments of our belongings held in the U.S. and overseas.

Over and over I visualized us all in Rabat, all that worry and organizing over and done with, but it often seemed so far away. I felt overwhelmed and stretched thin with packing, paperwork, last appointments, and full-time work. I’ve been so ready for a change of scene, a reset, and most of all, to be done with all the rushing around so I can just be and find myself again.

Thankfully, everything went as smoothly as it could with our trip over here. MB was a perfect angel in her travel bag. We were able to let her out in the Dulles and Charles de Gaulle airports and even for a sneaky hour or so under a blanket on the flight to Paris. After all the stress of arranging her paperwork, we only needed it to board the first flight and then were never asked for it again, not even when we entered Morocco. Upon exiting the airport, she took one sniff at the grass and blessed it with a good long, puppy pee. She has been fine ever since, adjusting to her new home with resilience and quite a bit of frolicking around the garden.

Our new home is in a quiet neighborhood and not much is far by car. We’ve particularly enjoyed exploring Mahaj Riad, a large, pedestrian-only area with shops and, mainly international, restaurants. We’ve seen several dogs MB’s size out walking or sitting under tables at a couple of the cafes.

Morocco enacted new COVID-19 restrictions while we were en route, including a 9pm curfew and mask mandate. Several tourist attractions and certain businesses like spas and hammams are closed, but we’ve been able to get around quite a bit and try some restaurants, which are open with good social distancing measures in place. We’re appropriately cautious but being fully vaccinated gives us peace of mind to get out and explore a little. We also signed up for Glovo, the equivalent of UberEats/Postmates, which we’ve used a couple times to order in food.

Couscous aisle at the grocery store

On Friday, we tried Careem for the first time, a local Uber equivalent, and whizzed off across the city to the Old Town in Quartier Hassan. The old market, or medina, is located where the river Bou Regreg meets the ocean, with views out over the water and port to crowded buildings in the distance. It was the first real tourism we’ve done since the pandemic started, and it felt surreal to walk the winding, narrow streets taking pictures.

It wasn’t busy, and there were very few tourists. There were a few street food vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice, Moroccan pancakes, and freshly fried donuts filling the air with a sweet, sticky smell. Some stalls had big grinders outside to crush and mix herbs, roots, and nuts into thick, colorful pastes. Bespoke cosmetics, creams, and salves made to order.

In the Medina
Down a side street

We wandered up to the Kasbah d’Oudayas, and A spotted a narrow alley winding into it. Expecting just a view of the water and beach below, we followed the road and found ourselves in a maze of winding, narrow streets with white and blue painted walls. Every turn was a picture of ornate doors, trailing flowers, and sleepy cats basking in the late afternoon sun.

Making our way past small shops and galleries, we eventually came to a large patio overlooking the beach and boats. We sat down at a small table and a server came by to take our order. He ignored my French and carefully explained in English all the different cookies and cakes he had on a large, round plate. We ordered two Moroccan mint teas, of course, and three different treats, sugary and perfumed.

People definitely speak Darija, the local Arabic dialect, much more in Hassan, but French is ubiquitous in our neighborhood, Hay Riad. Even when we speak English, people often respond in French. My brain feels squishy as it switches back over to a language I haven’t really used in a few years. Meanwhile, A picks out words here and there in Darija and readies himself to start learning this complex language that mixes up Arabic, French, and Spanish.

Time moves slowly the first week in any new place. It feels like we’ve lived here forever and as if it’s all going to vanish like a dream. I’m excited to call this beautiful place my new home.

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