Subtour 1: Mexico 0577 Facing the Past (Mor 208—new)

Sidi Mohamed Rahal Travel Blog

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Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico

Since I started this “Play Music in every Town all Around the Globe” project 5 semesters ago, I’ve had two themes to my journeys:  One, is to discover new places and blaze a trail into new territory.  The other is to go back to places that have been meaningful in the past… try to reconnect with those past experiences somehow and of course create some new memories in those locations.

 

In my first semester, 2007B, I visited towns right nearby my home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania… In my second semester of travels 2008A, I went back to cities like Algeciras, Spain and Agadir, Morocco where I spent some of the most important years of my life.  In 2008B, after having moved back to Morocco, I revisited a couple more memorable cities in Morocco--  but most of the semester was spent blazing new territory…


In 2009A, I retraced my steps all the way across the Sahara through Mauritania and down to Senegal and Gambia.

Old photos from Navojoa, Mexico
  Although I will admit my journey wasn’t quite as exciting as my original Morocco to Gambia trek in 2004, having the guitar with me added a whole new dimension to the trip and allowed for some really cool encounters…

 

In 2009B, I did my whopping 17 country, 201 town tour of Europe.  Most of these were new discoveries, but I did revisit a lot of cities from previous journeys… Budapest, Vienna, and Brno from 2006…London, Dublin, Amsterdam and Brussels from 2005… And of course Berlin, which was my home for a month back in 2000 when I was penniless and at a very pivotal point in my life…

 

Now I’m starting out the new decade with a “memory lane” journey of even greater significance:  I’m going back to Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico,  where I spent 8 years of my youth.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  8 years of my life which I look back on with both loathing and wistfulness.  8 years that were in some ways the best and in some ways the worst of my life.

 

Since then I’ve managed to pretty much reinvent myself completely, and put a million miles between my present life and the life I lived walking those dusty canal roads in Navojoa.  I’ve started a new life that I’m proud of and happy with, and I’ve never looked back.

 

At the same time, I’m always had this feeling that there’s something missing, some piece of my identity that I left behind, that I might want to go back and unearth once again.   After all, it was 8 years of my youth that I spent there… so surely, no matter how much I try to deny it, there is a thread that still links me to that place…

 

So I’m pretty excited about this trip.  It seems to be the right time--  right now with this “global music project” I have to say I’m feeling pretty good about my life… it’s a good time to face the past with my head held high.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico

 

And so, here is the tale of that journey…

 

An Unpretentious Start to a Long Journey

 

It’s Monday morning, December 21, 2009.  In 3 days I fly across the Atlantic to the New World (which is actually the Old World for me…) on my journey of reconnecting with my roots.

 

But my “starting point” is Morocco.  So I need to “discover” a new town here in Morocco, so that can be my first entry in this journey from my adoptive home to my boyhood home.

 

I’ve only got one day free, so I’m still going to make the best of it.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  I’ve got to escape from this sprawling city that has held me a willing prisoner for the last 10 weeks.  

 

I head out first thing in to morning off towards the collective taxi station to see what I can find.  The streets are still rather quiet as dawn breaks on a chilly winter morning as I scurry through the dingy side streets of Derb Omar, Casablanca’s gritty wholesale sector.  This neighbourhood would give me the willies back in the days, but now the peeling paint, the crumbling buildings and trash strewn streets seem to have a homey feel…

 

And then I have the first memorable experience of this Great Journey.  An intriguing experience to say the least…

A girl standing at a bus stop suddenly stands right in front of me and asks in English,

 

“Are you Phil?”

 

I’m a bit taken aback.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  It’s extremely rare for a young woman to start up a conversation with a young man on the street here in Morocco--  especially in a neighbourhood like Derb Omar.  The streets are men’s territory here in Morocco.  Men are the ones who do all the harassing, soliciting, or taking initiative in talking to strangers here…

 

I quickly assess the situation.  She looks respectable… I don’t sense anything fishy going on…

 

“Yes, I’m Phil… how did you know?” I ask.

 

“Oh, I saw your video on youtube--  and saw you with the guitar and figured it must be you…”

 

Now I was really intrigued “did someone tell you about my video? Are you friends with one of my students?”


“No… I was just surfing the net and found your video by chance…”

 

And so, for just a few split seconds, I feel like a celebrity.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  For a moment there I can imagine what it must be like to walk the streets anywhere in the world and be recognized by strangers… It’s a pretty cool feeling…

 

But then again, if this were to happen 100 times a day, I think I would probably get tired of it really, really quick…

 

And that was that… we talked for a little bit and then I continued on my way… soaking in that momentary illusion of being a famous musician… wondering if that might, just might be a sign of things to come…

 

The Ride to Sidi Mohammed Rahal

 

I reach the collective taxi station and catch a taxi to Settat.  There are still a couple of little villages in that area that I haven’t “discovered” yet, so I figure that can be my launchpad.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  There I grab a quick glass of fresh raib (yoghurt--  they don’t make good raib in Casablanca for some reason) and head down to catch another taxi to Mechra ben Abbou

 

Mechra ben Abbou is the next town on the map on the highway to Marrakech--  but it doesn’t seem like there’s anyone heading that direction.  That usually is a warning sign that that town is a dud… If nobody’s going there, then it must be not a whole lot of people live there…

 

But I don’t have a lot of options, so I climb aboard a taxi and wait for other passengers to show up.  But it soon becomes obvious that the driver is hoping to sucker me into paying the full fare myself…

 

I’m told that I can grab a cab to Sidi Mhammed Rahal, and then catch another bush taxi from there… the town isn’t on the map but I figure I’ll give that a shot anyways….

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico

 

And so I’m off… on my One Day Adventure to kick off my new Journey/Year/Decade…


…to the scrappiest, muddiest little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village I’ve ever been to…

 

Sidi Mhammed Rahal has all the element that typically would irritate me:  no transport to the town I want to go to? Check. Tiny village with absolutely no place to sit down and play my guitar and take a video clip? Check. The feeling that I have absolutely no logical explanation for wandering around this village with a guitar slung over my shoulder? Check. Pouring rain? Wind that breaks my umbrella?  Check, check…

 

And yet, I don’t feel the least bit frustrated or irritated.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  I’m less worried about my comfort and dignity and I’m more and more interested in the people, culture and environment around me.

 

I look at the school kids who make the long hike on the road across windswept fields in the rain and scorching sun 4 times a day, stopping to buy a 2 dirham bean sandwich which will probably be their only lunch… I think about the little restaurant owners who are still struggling to survive, even though the new freeway diverted all their customers elsewhere years ago… I think of the endless rolling hills soaking in the moisture and I wonder if there will be enough rain this year for a decent harvest in this unpredictable part of the world… And yet, the somber realization that even with a good harvest every single year, these folks will still continue to live in poverty… I think of all the gnarly looking fellows huddled in the village’s only café, talking, joking, fighting, and I wonder what tales they might have to tell…

 

“I wonder if any of them have seen my youtube videos” I think to myself.  I almost laugh out loud at the thought.  These guys have a lot more important matters weighing on their minds… Like, staying alive and somehow managing to feed their families and raise their children…

In villages like Sidi Mhammed Rahal, I’ll always be anonymous.

Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
  People are too burdened down with the hardships of life to be curious about a white guy wandering around with a guitar.

 

Here is where life is put back into perspective.  Here is where I can get back in touch with the raw, timeless reality of human existence.  Here all the artificial and temporary trappings of modern civilization are stripped away…

 

I don’t feel like pulling out my guitar in the midst of this crowd.  Instead I order a tagine and just sit there, soaking in the atmosphere. 

 

When the rain takes a pause, I hike a little ways down the road where I find a concrete block in the middle of a field where I can sit and play a few songs and take a quick videoclip. 


And just like that, the tour of my First Town of the Decade is over…

SmileyGirl says:
Nice job and congrats on the feature! But your blogs are always good :)
Posted on: Jun 04, 2010
anupa_rk says:
Congrats on the feature! This is a pretty amazing project you have going :) Good luck for future destinations!
Posted on: Jun 04, 2010
Dr_Seuss says:
Congrats on the feature Nathan, and for the directions to Chechnya :O ;)
Posted on: Jun 04, 2010
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Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photos from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photos from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Old photo from Navojoa, Mexico
Sidi Mhammed Rahal, right before i…
Sidi Mhammed Rahal, right before …
Sidi Mohamed Rahal
photo by: nathanphil