An unlikely encounter in Fes that became a surprisingly hilarious antidote to homesickness
Does it have caffeine? Does anyone know if the tea has CAFFEINE?
Isn’t it herbal?
No! It’s black tea with mint leaves.
Does it have caffeine?!
Jesus, Kathy. It has caffeine.
Soft Moroccan accent with masked exasperation: Excuse me ladies. Again, how many would like the mint tea? Please.
Does anyone know if it has caffeine?
Do you have CAW-FEE?
What about decaf?
Does anyone know if the mint tea has caffeine?
Multiple voices: Yes!!
I said, does it have caffeine?
This is the scene we walked into on a rooftop in the middle of the dusty ancient Fes medina. There, in the midst of the tapestries, in all their postmenopausal glory, was a group of about 15 American women, all over the age of 60. Shuffling between the tables, bickering across the terrace at one another, and wondering if anyone in the area sells decaffeinated iced tea. Spoiler: no one does. An unlucky young Moroccan man was doing his best to hold his own, trying to get a simple count of how many coffees, how many teas.
As we stumbled in on the chaos, we exchanged worried looks. It was already a tough day: the heat, the sensory overload and the nagging homesickness had worn us down before noon. The last thing we thought we wanted was to be in the middle of a gaggle of accidentally caffeinated AARP members. But once we had stepped out of the stairwell and onto the rooftop, we had committed to at least a cup of tea or a bottle of Fanta, so we sat in the corner planning to talk quietly amongst ourselves.
Fortunately, our fellow customers had other plans. Within a minute flat we were being peppered with questions by 3 of the closest ladies, reminding each of them of various children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces... that is, after we clarified a time or two that Kolt was not, indeed, Moroccan. They were thrilled that we had taken this trip at our age, excited for how many opportunities we had ahead of us. One by one our conversation grew until the whole rooftop was offering unsolicited encouragement our direction.
Then they told us about their travels. They were a group of senior citizen women who did not know each other before the trip, but had all signed up for a 2 week excursion from various parts of the US to Morocco. Some were novice travelers while others had seen the world. Some had lived abroad for years. Some had barely left the US before. We were thrilled by their boldness. The enthusiasm for life that can coax a 75 year old retiree onto a 12+ hour plane ride across multiple time zones and into a foreign culture: I can only hope to keep that much zest as I age. Then to hear them be impressed with us, wishing they had taken this time when they were young, it was a fresh wind in our sails. Their responses were so unlike other travelers we had met, bringing a maternal element that flooded us with a familiar and nostalgic sense of support.
As their group leader arrived and started rounding them up (as Kolt put it: like herding cats), we smiled at the predictably mad scramble for the toilets. One woman cleaned some overlooked food off her friend’s cheek. Another helped someone button a pair of tight-fitting high waisted jeans. The final woman made her way slowly down the narrow stairwell, bending arthritic knees with care and calling back to us in a teasing voice, “Do I look like an old lady?” before breaking into a fit of giggles.
Then the rooftop was restored to silence with only the exhausted waiter picking up lipstick stained napkins. We sipped our caffeinated tea with lighter hearts and fixed smiles as we laughed about the improbability of meeting such a group in Fes, of all places. The silver haired beauties not only gave us goals for our later years, but also did some instinctual mothering which was exactly the medicine we didn’t know we needed. Cheers to the Morocco Mamas.