My Tuesday started out rough. After barely sleeping the previous night, feeling sad to leave my Rabat friends and internship, and giving up my Embassy-issued phone, I spent an hour at the train station waiting for No. 117 to Fes.
Once it arrives, I cram my two suitcases and a backpack full of pantry food into a six-person compartment.
The people in the cabin, three Moroccans and two Danish, seem exasperated, and rightfully so, considering the space I take up. We ignore each other for the first hour, and I look out the window.
I don’t notice the train’s speed until I look at the buildings outside. They look like they’re retreating, or shrinking in a very Alice-in-Wonderland sort of way.
Soon, I start talking to a nice young Moroccan who works as a chef. He’s on vacation as well, and helps me move my bags into a better configuration. The Danish couple jumps into the conversation, as well. The man’s nostrils flare when he speaks English. The couple pores over tour books. Moroccan passengers coming in and out of the cabin all tell them they should go to the desert, and they take this repetition well.
Slowly, the landscape changes from dusty buildings and flat fields to craggy mountains and patchwork farms. I eat the apples I’ve thoughtfully cut up for myself, and my pessimistic morning shifts into a hopeful afternoon.
I arrive at the train station, and have no idea where to meet chauffeur from Al Akhawayn.
Luckily there’s a girl at the station’s info desk who speaks English well and goes out of her way to help me. We find out that a student ambassador is coming. I’m hungry, and decide to get juice and a pastry from a place called Smoothie Rail. Smoothie Rail is a bright, orange-hued place, with named like Vamos a la Playa and Guava Passion for its juices. I pick an option called Halloween. When I ask why it’s called that, the man preparing my juice says it’s because it contains vegetables. Of course, so do the other juices: there’s even a poster proclaiming “Orange Carrot Ginger Goodness” above his head. I take my juice pensively.
(I know this isn’t a good shot, but you had to see the juice’s color. Not even black or orange)
After the student ambassador collects me, I meet two internationals and another ambassador, and we pile into a large, empty bus.
The bus takes us to the Fes airport, where we meet a huge crowd of international students. Most are Americans, though some are Lithuanian, Finnish, or Italian. The hour-long drive to Al Akhawayn is like the first semester of college: everyone is eager to make friends, and so incredibly excited to be in a new place.
As we drive up the mountain, I’m very surprised: the place looks just like Lebanon’s Koura region, or its Shouf. There are olive trees and goats everywhere, the views are breathtaking and the air feels cold and clean.
Arriving, we meet the first thunderstorm I’ve experienced in Morocco. I put on a jacket, and get the same excited, carefree feeling I often experienced during my incredible high school year in Germany. In a very schmaltzy, idealistic way, I know: this is going to be a great year.
… And then I go to dinner, where I spray ketchup all over myself, just like in an old vampire movie where the monsters get stabbed with cross-shaped stakes. Nevertheless, Ifrane’s mystique hasn’t broken for me yet. Not yet.