Week 18: Africa

Several years ago I visited Moscow, a city on the cusp of east and west, its buildings a blend of two continents, a European capital from which a thin yet continuous metal thread stretches all the way to the heart of China. It is a city therefore singularly evocative not for what it contains within but for what lies without, a realisation which led me to the following till now unshaken belief: it is the potency of the human imagination that caters half the excitement and a good deal of the motivation of travel. It is not being dropped into the heart of a place, but just on its edge that tingles the senses; it is not being given a bellyful of new culture but a tantalising taste that animates the feet to keep carrying us forward.

Last week, I travelled to Morocco: a new country for me and a new continent. Perhaps it is because my imagination had not yet spun a vision of Morocco – beyond warrens of dark oppressive markets, where according to the hyperbolic testimony of previous visitors the virtue of every foreign female is tested – that my first thought as I disembarked the plane and stepped on to the sun-baked tarmac was not “I’m in Morocco” but simply: “I’m in Africa”.

And then the next thought: the ground beneath me stretches out from this small extreme corner and expands into a vast continent of sand and jungle and  ancient culture and poverty and beauty, of dripping heat and cracked dry soil, and above all, of bright, burning, blinding sunshine.

100_8488Whether this simplistic and naïve vision of Africa beyond Morocco in any way relates to the truth of the land, I must discover on future journeys. But as for Morocco itself, in one, all-too-brief week’s visit it surpassed all expectations, and any wild and exotic fancies I could have formed. In fact, the only preconception I had – of bumping, bustling markets teeming with wandering hands – proved false. I found the men of the Marrakesh souks to be as they were everywhere we went: indomitably friendly and helpful. From soaring mountain ranges to lush palm-filled valleys, from holding snakes in ancient mud-walled villages to star-spotting from Saharan sands, Morocco blessed me with one of the happiest holidays I have ever enjoyed. And in doing so it confounded my Moscow-born beliefs: Morocco may be the slender edge of a large continent, but it holds a continent’s worth of treasures.

My first venture into Africa was therefore more than I ever hoped for; I now only hope my next will not be too far in the future.

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About georgina2013

I work in digital humanities publishing and when not setting myself silly challenges am the sort of person who loves good books, good coffee, new places, historic places, old comedy, jazz & Radio 4.
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