“My first love… I saw her in the [city’s] quarter…” – Song Lyric from Ya Chefchaouen
Trekking up the hilly path towards the Spanish mosque, I pause to rest on a flat dirt outcropping. Turning around, I can oversee the entire city of Chefchaouen nestled at the base of the mountains. Shades of blue pepper the cityscape, with the darker shades seeming to have a stronger concentration at the center of the medina. Having spent the afternoon there, I can attest to Chefchaouen’s reputation as the “Blue City.” I’m left breathless (though whether that can be attributed to the city’s beauty or my lack of physical fitness is up for debate).
“Ya Chefchaouen, ya nouara!”
Jake and Ishaq join in with a booming, “Ya habiba, ya minara!” Mary gives us an exasperated look as we continue to sing Nouamane Lahlou’s Ya Chefchaouen. Luckily for her, we have been training for this moment for the past two weeks. Melodies about first love and Moulay Ali Ben Rachid (the city’s founder) flow from our practiced lips. Mary disappears over the hill’s ridge, most likely overwhelmed by our beauteous harmony.
Songs are one of the best parts of our Moroccan Colloquial Arabic class. Our teacher, a grey-haired, yet exuberant lady, mixes different jokes and dialogues in between lessons of vocabulary and grammar. But the songs are the highlight of the course. Most classes begin or end with a resounding chorus of our favorite tunes: Allo Feenik (Hello, Where Are You?), Ya Bint al-Biladi (Girl of My Country) or Habib al-Qalb (Girl of My Heart). One of my friends in another room tells me they use the sound of our singing to indicate to their professor when class is over.
Singing with my classmates is one of the activities that helps bring us together as a group. We’ve grown close after these past months, and with only two weeks left, it’s almost time for us to say goodbye. I’ve formed some close friendships, both with AMIDEAST students and members of my host family, which I hope continue long after this program is over.
But my love for Morocco has been sealed. It’s a love that comes with all the foibles and triumphs of real love. During my time here, I’ve marveled at madrassas and squished into overcrowded and sweaty train compartments. I’ve climbed Portuguese ramparts and smelled pungent city alleyways. I received a free hat from a man in Zawiyat Ahansal and foiled an attempted pickpocket in Tetouan. Morocco is a seething, bubbling, lively cauldron of different smells, sights and sounds. It’s a country full of fears and hopes, dreams and tragedies, happening right before your eyes. In a way, it’s just like every other place in the world where people live. This is just one that I happened to fall in love with.
We reach the end of our hike to the Spanish Mosque. Most of us sit on a ledge, overlooking the city for a while. I walk around and stare at a herd of goats grazing on the mountainside. Morocco isn’t my first love, but it’ll certainly be an unforgettable one.