I spent May in Morocco. It was beautiful, and it made me think and dream and smile from the pit of my stomach.
It started as it always does, the sand coloured road from the airport flanked by matching hills, and the rattling of the car competing with our conversation as we caught up on days and months of news. Then, a late lunch on the sea front with handfuls of chips burning our fingers and hungry cats winding themselves around the table's legs, and ours.
In the forest the next day, we drove through villages, or walked when the path got lost in stones and mud, and talked to people about their dogs; about the fear of rabies and lives lost before. The oak trees painted the hills in swathes of brown, brittle and dry with their leaves lost too soon. We walked amongst them and saw their trunks transformed, more animal than plant under a mass of writhing moss. When we fell quiet to watch the caterpillars suspended above us on fragile silks that danced in the breeze, we could hear them slicing the leaves with their jaws, a ripple of sound that hovered on the edges of our consciousness, perfectly pitched like a horror film in sunlight. At the house in Lahcen, the dogs darted back and forth around our feet, too excited to know what to do or who to go to first, and as night fell and draped the mountains in silence, their barks still carried on the inky air.
Another day, we went to Tangiers to meet important people and tell them our ideas. On our way back, we stopped at Assilah and walked the warren of streets, spotting flowers and graffiti, stark and pretty against endless eggshell-coloured walls. Tiny kittens caught our attention, all sticky eyes and dirty fur and thin, scratchy cries, in contrast to market stalls piled high with nuts and sweets and jewellery. Curled as if against the cold on a day bright with brassy sunshine, they staggered towards our legs as we crouched to see them closer. A man outside his house called inside for help; his daughter brought them food as we turned reluctantly away.
On our way back to Tétouan we stopped by the sea, wetting our feet and running away laughing when the water felt too cold. The wind lent venom to the sand as it whipped against our legs and battled against the beach, lifting and stirring it into ribbons that caught shadows as they fell, and drawing shifting patterns from the sea to the road.
The month went on and the days took on happy patterns. In town, we woke up to swifts and the sea and worked quietly in pale light that hung with the dust brought back on our boots from days in the mountains. When we left the flat - to go to the forest or the calcareous mountains; for trips to the pottery market piled like magic on the road to M'diq; or to see the fishermen in their dark, cheerful office by the sea - the scenery painted itself around us with a beauty never worn by familiarity. Sherbet coloured houses perched shyly against the land, trying not to detract from the patchwork of brown and green, and the ever present mountains, dressed in different colours with the changing weather, towered stately and reassuring in the background.
In the forest, we woke up to cockerels and dogs, strong coffee, and breakfast spiced with cumin. We counted turtles in the chill before the sun pulled itself over the tree tops and observed the monkeys as they crossed the road, turned up the leaf litter, played with their babies and fell asleep on precarious branches in the dappled light before lunch time. Sometimes we stopped to break rocks and place them across mud-soaked tracks, ignored by steadfast grazing mules who, tails swishing, acknowledged only the flies gathering at their flanks. At other times, we stood shin-deep in impossibly sweet daisies by the foundations of our centre and talked about the future, or climbed on to the roof and watched the sunset streak the sky.
There were days when we thought we would run out of money and days where the car broke down and days where there was too much to achieve and too little time to do it, but every day we laughed, and when the sun said goodnight to the trees, grazing their leaves with gentle orange fingers that reached glowing to the ground, we felt happiness place a calming hand on our chests and smooth the creases in our minds.
When it came time to go, there were new leaves on the oaks, bright and hopeful, shaking off Miss Havisham as the grey curtains of old silk fell away. There were baby macaques - some brand new and tiny, and some that wobbled bravely through their giant forest on their own. There were friends who felt like family and work that felt, in the sadness of goodbye, like love.
I spent May in Morocco, and it was beautiful, and it made me think and dream and smile from the pit of my stomach. I spent May in Morocco, and now it feels like home.