I recently returned from an eight-day solo trip to Morocco, or al-Maghrib as it’s called in Arabic, meaning the place-where-the-sun-sets. Morocco is a country I have wanted to visit for most of my life. Or since I was eight years old, to be precise.
There are many wonderful reasons a person would want to explore Morocco, such as to do any of the following:
- Trek across Morocco’s diverse countryside, climb its craggy mountains, or meander through one of its sun-kissed beach towns
- Join a camel caravan making its way through sandy Saharan dunes
- Experience the famed imperial cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, or Rabat
- Partake of delicious cuisine while sipping on Moroccan mint tea
- Marvel at the existence of tree goats and snap their pictures
- Or, perhaps, simply to rock the Kasbah, rock the Kasbah
Another compelling reason for visiting would be to experience Morocco’s rich culture, which has been influenced by so many peoples: the Arabs, Sub-Saharans, Romans, Andalusians, and originally, the Amazighs (also known as Berbers), who are the indigenous people of North Africa.
These are all pretty dang good reasons to go.
And they all sound very appealing to me too, now that I’ve written them down! But they’re not why I went. They’re not why I’ve spent thirty-two years thinking about going to Morocco.
Before I talk about my recent experiences in Morocco, I figured I should first explain my reason for going. That’s what this blog post is about.
So let’s get the flux capacitor in gear and head back to 1984 — a great year for music! “When Doves Cry” was number one on Billboard’s top 100 that year. “Footloose,” “Karma Chameleon,” and “99 Luftballons” were regulars on the radio. We lived in Munich, Germany, at the time, so it was the German version of Nena’s hit that we were singing to.
As mentioned, I was just eight years old, and what started out as an average day became a pivitol moment in my life, that also brought with it my keen interest in Morocco. Perhaps it was after school, or on a weekend, I’m not sure.
I know that I was sitting on a couch in the living room with my mom and my little sister, Anne-Marie. We were looking through old photo albums. We flipped through some images of when mom and dad were newly married in Germany and also some of when they were living in Hawaii. They were a very good-looking couple. And Hawaii also happens to be where Mom learned English.
Mom is German, and I always like to tell the story of how Dad (who’s from Hawaii) joined the army when he turned 18 and was stationed in Germany, where he met Mom. He didn’t speak German, and she didn’t speak English, and six months later they were married.
They just celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary last April, and now they’re headed for their 53rd!
But let’s get back to 1984. Anne-Marie, Mom, and I continued looking through albums and came upon a picture of Mom where she was pregnant. Mom turned to Anne-Marie lovingly and said, “I remember when you used to kick when you were in my belly!”
So, naturally, I turned to Mom and asked, “Did I kick when I was in your belly, Mom?”
Mom started crying, and she went and got Dad. That’s when they told me that I’m adopted and explained the story to me.
Mom had had an older sister named Hilde, and Hilde was my birth mother. While Hilde was pregnant with me, she got very sick with cancer. Hilde had been in and out of the hospital in Mainz, Germany, where she was being treated, and that’s where I came into the world.
Hilde was dying, so Dad flew to Germany to bring Annette (my older half-sister) and me back to the States, to San Francisco, where Mom and Dad were living at that time. Annette was about three-and-a-half years old and I was three-weeks old the last time Hilde could hold us in her arms before we left Germany for America in May of 1976. Hilde passed away almost eleven months later in March of 1977, at the age of 37.
Sadly, I don’t have any memories of my birth mother. I feel lucky to have many pictures of her though. And it has been good to hear stories about her from my mom (Hilde’s little sister).
I know much less about my birth father, though.
I know that he was Moroccan, and that he died in Germany when I was three years old. He was tall, slim, and handsome with dark skin and thick dark hair. I only have a few pictures of him. In some of the pictures, it looks like he had an Afro, which I always thought was really cool. At any rate, I get my lean frame, sinewy biceps, my olive skin, and my curly dark hair from my birth father, Said.
After I asked Mom if I kicked when I was in her stomach, she brought out a very special album. It was a photo album that Hilde had made for me before she died, and it’s one of my most-prized possessions.
Mom brought the album out then to help explain what had happened, and to tell me that she had been keeping it safe for me. The album was a gift from Hilde to her baby, Miriam. (My birth name was Miriam Stefanie Nickel, which was later changed to Stefanie Miriam Elizabeth Octavio once I was adopted.)
Below are some pictures from the photo album. (Sorry about the blurry quality of some of the pictures, though. When I took these pictures, I didn’t have in mind that I’d be publishing them in a blog post. The album is currently with my parents in Arizona, so I’ll try to take some better-quality pictures when I’m down there later this month.)
Some people have asked me why she wrote in the album in English, and not in her mother tongue, German. Hilde had actually lived in the US for some years before eventually returning to Germany, so she did speak English. I suppose she knew that I would be raised speaking English, so it made sense for her to write her messages to me in English.
On the very first page of the album is this inscription:
This hand-written address of where my birth father, Said, once lived in Morocco over forty years ago, has been my Mecca, in the sense that I had always hoped one day to make the pilgrimage to this place, to see what I might find. Mom and I had always talked about how we would go to Morocco together one day. And dad had jokingly said, “don’t go by yourself, they’re going to want to keep you!”
I wasn’t sure when it would happen, but I had always thought to myself that I wanted to do the trip properly. I wanted to do it when I had enough time to stay and to explore. Perhaps that’s why, after turning forty last year, I still had never made it to Morocco. I had managed to visit 75 other countries around the world (most of them while working on cruise ships), but never Morocco.
Sometimes, when something’s very important to us, we really want to do it properly, so we put it off. If we make something so big in our minds, then there’s the danger that it will never get done. When I finally bought my ticket to Fez in the end of November 2016, it came about quite spontaneously.
And I’m really glad that it happened the way that it did.
I’ll be continuing the story of my journey to Fez in the next blog post. Thanks for coming along with me on this personal pilgrimage!
Is there a place that you’ve always wanted to go for a very special reason? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section.