There we were, huddled over a map of Morocco in Akiko’s cozy apartment in Toronto.
“So, we’re thinking of departing for Marrakesh from El Jadida, Safi, or Essaouira. Which route do you recommend, Akiko?” It was Kristina’s voice, via Skype.
I cradled a cup of warm green tea in the palms of my hands as Akiko peered closely at the illustration before us of the cities, roads, and hills belonging to the country in which she had lived and worked for two years, a place she still refers to, with great affection, as home. When she showed me around her apartment she pointed out several colourful hand-crafted artifacts on proud display on the walls of her bedroom. It was clear to me that Morocco had won her love and wasn’t relinquishing it any time soon.
I met Akiko through another friend, Rahat, a PhD candidate at OISE and member of our education team, who’s been assisting Nic and Kristina with finding contacts in Central Asia. When Rahat mentioned having a good friend in Toronto with several friends in Morocco, I jumped at the opportunity to meet her. I met Akiko last week at a University of Toronto coffee hub, and left her company with a sense of the country that I could never have gathered from a map alone. Her enthusiasm for the World By Cycle project was plenty energizing. I was looking forward to introducing her to Nic and Kristina.
Fast forward again to yesterday evening and an internet conference call that had Nic, Kristina, Akiko, and me (warm introductions aside) discussing the exciting next steps of the cycling adventure. For those of you who tuned in for Nic’s last blog, the explorers ended up deciding to fly out of Nouakchott for Casablanca, determined (Kristina most particularly) to attempt the Western Saharan desert by cycle another time (“Would you ladies like to cycle it together next year?” she asked us)–and next time, in a direction more readily navigable by bike.
Their short time in Casablanca had been most encouraging, they told us: the people in that city extended heartfelt gestures of welcome at every turn, with many people approaching them directly on the streets, showing keen interest in both the cyclists and their eco-friendly gear. When Akiko heard Nic and Kristina describe the generously friendly welcome they received, she nodded and smiled. “Yes, it is their way.”
Kristina planned the route around Akiko’s suggestions. From Casablanca they are en route to El Jadida, from which they will cycle to Marrakesh, and from Marrakesh to Erfoud. Akiko has a good friend in Marrakesh who will guide them through that city to meet local artisans, and a few teacher contacts around Erfoud, where Nic and Kristina will spend a couple of days with high school and primary school students to find out from them what is special about their home. The interviews will provide content for our seventh unit, “What’s Your Story?”, a collection of stories about young people’s feelings and thoughts about the places they call home.
“Be careful through the mountains!” Akiko told Nic and Kristina, referring to the stretch of mountainous terrain between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate. “There are no guard rails, and it’s steep!” This was our moment to discover just how fearless our explorers can be. “Nic is looking forward to those mountains!” Kristina answered. We didn’t register even a hint of apprehension in their voices. “Nic likes to ride fast when he rides downhill.” I shivered a little imagining it, my eyes and mouth open in disbelief.
“But the scenery is magnificent,” Akiko added, noting that she wants to cycle that route some day.
Nic and Kristina say they took more photos that day in Casablanca than they did in all their time previous on the continent–so stay tuned for those!
As we bid goodbye to Mauritania–with pleasant memories of the awesome couch surfers in Nouakchott who made their homes available to Nic and Kristina (despite the fact that in the end the timing didn’t work out); of the security officers at the airport who let Nic and Kristina camp out in the parking lot the night before their morning flight; and of the airline officials who were persuaded to let penniless Nic and Kristina transport their bikes gratis–we are grateful that the cyclists have received a warm welcome in Morocco and are on their way to some wonderful young people who can teach us, as Akiko has already begun to, about what makes this country such a cherished home.