“How are you enjoying your time in Morocco?” Olhour asked, bringing our conversation back to life. As he awaited my response, the elderly man took a slow sip of his coffee, his eyes wandering across Marrakech’s legendary plaza, Jamaa el Fna.
An hour previously, shortly after I had sat down at the café, the Moroccan man had appeared beside me, dressed in a yellow polo shirt and a straw hat. He had commented on the wind –– a simple remark that catalyzed a polite conversation about such topics as religion and travel. So by that point, I figured Olhour could handle my honest sentiments.
“To be frank,” I responded, “It’s been challenging.” I explained the failure of my attempted volunteer venture. My intent wasn’t to complain, but rather to determine whether he had any insights about my difficulties or to see if he could lift, ever so slightly, the veil off Moroccan culture, to offer a glimpse of something I had overlooked or simply not seen in the first place.
Olhour sat silently for a moment, rubbing a wrinkled hand over his clean-shaven chin.
“We are in the Coca-Cola epoch,” he stated, nodding his head in agreement with himself. At first I assumed that he was referencing the westernization of the world, of international mega-corporations and perhaps even the irreversible decline of centuries of indigenous wisdom. And, to a certain degree, perhaps he was.
“You know how when you take a sip of cola, you become energized? The sugar and caffeine does magic in our bodies and, for a while after, you feel euphoric.” Olhour lifted a hand to illustrate his analogy. “But what happens after that? We crash. We enter a valley that is lower than where we began.” He let his hand fall, smacking the bistro table between us. “Well, right now, as a global community and here in Morocco, we are at the end of our peak, and a crash is imminent. It has happened to each civilization before us.”
This was really not the response I had anticipated.
His anecdote politely dismissed my own ant-sized, self-centred woes by placing them next to a planet-sized predicament. In no uncertain terms stating, “Of course you’re going to feel dissatisfied! Look at the world around you!”
And so I took a moment to do just that. The first thing I saw was across the plaza: Café Argana. The renowned restaurant was concealed in scaffolding, hiding the damaged remnants of a terrorist’s bomb that had exploded just a few weeks previously.
Olhour was silent for another moment, potentially to let his final words accumulate potency. And then he spoke.
“My only hope is that we can fall gracefully . . . Insha'Allah.”