Wow was I unprepared. Because Becca had already visited Morrocco, she had the distinct advantage of knowing what to expect. As for me, it was baptism by fire.
My first indoctrination happened the instant we stepped foot outside the Marrakech train station. Aggressive, in your face taxi drivers and other opportunistic help swarmed the area. The moment we looked unsure, they pounced, eager to advise us, drive us, or direct us. Apparently, this place for any vulnerable newcomer with his fresh blood, is the hotbed for scams. Our first mistake…was to forgo making any transportation arrangements in advance. Instead we had to pretend to know what we were doing and where we were going.
Becca, God bless her, looked at her phone said, our Riad is 2.3 miles… let’s walk. Even though oppressively hot, and not conducive to a roller piece of luggage, walking was the least risky option. The first mile and a half was outside the Medina and the only portion accessible by car anyway. Whatever you do, Becca advised, pretend you know where you’re going. Oh geez… I’m lost in Albuquerque, so this required some acting of epic proportions.
Morocco’s culture, especially prominent in Marrakech, one of the larger cities, provided a sharp contrast from any place I’ve experienced. Unlike a typical modern city with its office buildings and stores, the Medina is where tradition continues every day. The old town Medina is the epicenter of life and mostly closed to cars which does NOT seem to lessen the craziness. The moment you enter the labyrinth of narrow, unmarked streets, you’re blasted with a cacophony of sights, smells and sounds, transported to another world.
I couldn’t help myself. At the Medina entrance, with a jaw-dropping sense of awe I could no longer mask, I paused to take it all in. Scooters honked as they whizzed past filling the stifling air with exhaust. Awnings of all varieties draped overhead. While they provided welcomed shade, they also added an uncomfortable sense of closeness. The vibrant colors magnetically drew your eye to the beautiful pottery, the weaving, the spices. But allow your gaze to linger for more than a second and you’d be heckled to come and see and try and buy. The heat and filth, added to the smell of fresh butchered meat and fish and donkey dung and demanded your notice. Lamb heads, really? My stomach lurched from their sight.
It seemed as if every person in this densely populated area, hustled and bustled, and had some place to be. This, our walk with luggage through the Medina, was not a casual Sunday stroll. We were on an important mission, a mission to find our Riad, our bed for the night.
Riad Rabah Sadia
I reserved a room at a Riad in the old Medina. The term ‘riad’ means garden and is a hotel like facility that is built around a central courtyard. By the nature of its construction riads are generally smaller and intimate spaces with limited privacy, but promise a unique and authentic experience.
During our travels, we relied on an app called maps.me because it worked without the need for wifi. But, in a place like the Medina in Marrakech, even maps.me was totally stumped. How we found our Riad remains a mystery.
Where is this place?
Just beyond the freshly beheaded chickens, we turned down an alley. A break in the wall revealed where the pungent stench was coming from — a garbage pile where a dozen mangy cats were scavenging. We pressed on. A left, a left, and a right. Then past a secluded mosque and just beyond several shirtless and shoeless kids playing in the dirt, there it was — a large heavy windowless door, with a tiny innocuous sign.
Riad Rabah Sadia. Could this be it ? No neon lights, no welcoming advertisement, no hours of operation, only a simple door knocker. I knocked. My anxiety was instantly relieved when Rashid warmly greeted us. “Come in,” he said, in excellent English, “I’ve been expecting you. Let me take your bags.” He smiled and led us into what seemed like a mirage. In the understatement of the century, this sanctuary on the inside did not match the outside.
In stark contrast, the inside was cool and inviting and a welcome respite from the stress just outside its door. To help replenish us from our intense journey, Rashid served us mint tea, gave us the wifi code and invited us to rest and enjoy the serenity.
Dipping my tired dirty feet in the cool pool, my entire body relaxed. As the tension slowly dissipated for the first time that day, I felt safe and secure. No pretending. No striving. And no effort. I soaked it in. With gratitude, I accepted this gift. I eagerly received this welcome hospitality.
The days experience made me think of God’s grace. It is only by His Grace I’m safe and secure. No pretending. No striving. And no effort. Instead, I’m asked to simply receive it. The fact that I was relishing Gods grace during Ramadan in a country where almost everyone practices Islam was not lost on me.
Matthew 7:7 (NLT) “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. And keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
The fact is, we humans all hustle and bustle. Like an innocuous sign for a Riad, Gods grace is easy to miss, to overlook. And yet, He invites us all. As if each and every one of us has a reservation, He urges us to knock for the door WILL be opened.
Grace makes no worldly sense
Effort comes naturally and effort is what we know. With great effort we strive, we work, we do. We’re good people. And we strive, and work, and do some more. Effort makes it about us. We’ve got this.
In contrast, His free gift of grace makes no worldly sense. Receiving His gift of grace makes it about Him. Accepting His grace requires humility to admit, I don’t got this. And in the end this simple admission becomes our greatest challenge. How utterly nonsensical.
Ephesians 2:4-9 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
And yet…Grace makes all the difference. Because of grace we have…
- hope when life is overwhelming.
- sufficiency when I’m just not enough.
- confidence in what makes no earthly sense except that the full weight of God is steadfastly behind it.
- eternal security because my efforts will fail.
After a shower and several hours of much needed refreshment, Becca and I ventured back out into the Medina for some dinner. Feeling less burdened without our luggage, and now accurate expectations, and a bed to retreat to, I enjoyed it this time. With a fresh sense of gratitude to see and experience this vastly different culture, I especially noticed the people. Generally, I observed, Moroccans are hard-working, faithful people.
The Call to Prayer
Soon…over the intercom, the low monotone chant began, heard all throughout the Medina and beyond. In Arabic, the Islamic call to prayer sounded. Now it seemed as if the hustle and bustle had purpose and direction. Everyone headed toward a mosque. Men, bowed their heads, removed their shoes and entered. Women and children filed to the back to pray in their section. Like sheep being corralled, almost everyone participated.
Mesmerized with curiosity, I watched the faithful obedience of the masses. The hypnotic chant gave me chills. Chills as I wondered how I could be so fortunate to know God’s grace. His grace that says He loves me without praying to Mecca five times a day. His grace that says He loves me even when I don’t fast. God’s grace that says He’s got this. He’s got me, for ever and ever. Humbled. Grateful. His Grace makes all the difference. You can be so fortunate and know His grace too. Don’t miss it.
For His Glory,