Essaouira had become my home!

by Olivia Segal, 2019-2020 Fulbright ETA

August 25th, 2019 — I stepped off the plane in Rabat, breathing in dry, warm, Moroccan air for the first time. The several weeks following my arrival passed in a haze, from Rabat to Meknes, hotels to Moroccan homes.

September 14th, 2019 — A 3-hour train ride to Marrakech, and I stepped onto the bus heading to Essaouira. The mind too tired for more questions, the body processing the new sounds and sights at every turn on the road to my new home. The haze began to settle, and I felt at peace in Morocco for the first time as we entered Essaouira, a small, bustling city through my right window, a gorgeous sun setting over the Atlantic through my left.

Essaouira is known as the windy city. There is something magical about the wind, you always feel it yet never see it. You know it’s there, throwing up waves of sand on the beach or knocking over the chairs on café terraces. Maybe that is why nearly every person I met who travelled to Essaouira, intending a short stay, and had never left, was unable to explain why. You can’t see it, but you can feel it, the magic in this city.

Over the next several months I spent many days in taxis, commuting to and from the village where I gave classes to small groups of students at the local university. I spent many evenings in the medina, teaching English and learning more about Moroccan culture. In Essaouira, the fatalist aspect of Islam, the acceptance that all events are predetermined, mirrors the invisible force of the wind. We hear it, we feel its force, but to question the meteorological laws behind its presence is a pointless pursuit to explain and understand what need not be explained or understood. When the world began changing in the Spring, I knew I couldn’t leave. It’s a feeling that, again, seems futile to explain or try to understand. At the time I made the decision to stay in Essaouira, when my colleagues were grappling with the same questions, I knew I had to be here. I tried to untangle the invisible forces pulling me to stay, and then I stopped trying. I’ve learned that not everything can be explained or justified, some
things need only be felt.We often respond to uncertainty by rationalizing plausible explanations. Once we are satisfied with these invented rationalities, we consider that they have an intrinsic value of their own and abandon the search for deeper understanding. I can say that Essaouira had become my home, my friends had become family. The two intertwined, the concepts of
home and family fused, and I stayed. This is the best and only explanation I can offer, because beyond that I see no need for one.

Essaouira has lived many transformations since I arrived last September. The tourists that filled the winding streets of the medina have gone, and the waters are calmer than they were a year ago, void of the hundreds or surfers waiting to catch the next wave. But the city feels far from empty. In many ways, tourism is the lifeblood of this city, the major economic drive that supports the local
community. A community that now finds itself in standstill, holding its breath. Every day I am moved by my neighbors and friends, who, despite the difficulty of this moment, find ways to enjoy their time together, to exhale. Maybe it’s the wind that helps us all breathe.