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What time is it?

A traveler’s most important possession, besides a valid passport, is her watch.

A watch is a vital guide when it comes to meeting fellow travelers at the right time and place. It can help you get to the plane on time, and is, indeed, often the only indication or reminder of the actual, real-world date.

So why, I wondered, had I just traded mine for a carpet?

It started quite innocently, with a conversation. Abdullah was sitting on a stool outside one of the blue-painted buildings in Chefchaoun’s medina when I complimented his American flag T-shirt. We spoke briefly in Arabic, and he invited Josh and me into his home for tea. There, we met much of his extended family and discussed European football—beamed in on satellite TV—and Middle East politics. (He admired both Israel and Iran, for their strength).

Mint tea led to an invitation for lunch the next day. Only after the lengthy meal, and still more football, did Abdullah mention he was a carpet salesman.

“A rug is a gift for a lifetime,” he said. “Come downstairs and I’ll show you a Berber Picasso—it’s gonna blow your mind.”

While he was showing us the rugs (“Close your eyes. When you open, you’ll see the color of Islam. Open!”) Mahmoud, Abdullah’s brother, asked if he could see my watch. I joked that he could have it in exchange for a rug. He took it away.

And that is how I ended up lugging a prayer rug around Morocco, and asking strangers for the time.

Luckily, time seems to exist in diminished capacity on the rooftop terraces of the world. Now I was drinking mint tea on a terrace in Fes—the only place more difficult to find a beer on a Friday night than near East Campus—and I could see far into the city sprawl. Bab Boujloud, the huge, meticulously tiled arch between the old and new medinas, rose grandly to the right. And to the left, hundreds of red mud-hued walls and roofs stretched into the distance, distinguished from each other only by separate satellite dishes angled toward the hidden moon.

Talk turned to the rest of the trip. The next day, there would be an overnight train to Marrakech, on which one of the English girls in our compartment would inadvertently make off with one of Josh’s shoes and I would get heat exhaustion. We’d explore Djemaa el Fnaa, the giant central square, and then move on to Essaouira, Morocco’s windsurfing paradise. Then we’d have a hellish 12-hour bus ride back to Tangier. There would be a ferry trip to Spain and a plane trip home, to London. Josh leaned in to be heard over the Gnaoua drumming taking place below to ask, “So, are you excited to go to Florence?”

Nothing seemed more out of place. Well, yeah, I’m looking forward to beginning my Official Duke-Approved Semester Abroad in Florence. But “excited,” I feel, suggests a shift from one state of waiting to another of heightened enjoyment. A person can be “excited” about fireworks as they wait under a dark sky or “excited” to go on a Bahamas vacation after that one last week of work shuffling papers at Dad’s law firm.

My summer has been full and surprising. In London, I did the tourist standards: rode the London Eye, sang along at Live 8 and roamed the grounds at Wimbledon. Beyond that, my journalism internship sent me to cover court cases and press conferences throughout the city. One day, I covered the announcement of the Olympic city; the next day, July 7, I found myself in the emergency medical command center where victims of the Edgware Road tube bombing were receiving initial treatment. The scene in the triage center was one of controlled mayhem—medics and police officers in neon vests did their work while ruffled hotel employees politely urged press to stay in the café area. I eventually made it back to the newsroom, where I stayed monitoring the number of casualties until 3 a.m.

I am leaving London with fond memories for the rituals I created to make myself feel more at home: the Sunday morning farmers’ markets and brunches in Marylebone, tea at the top of the National Portrait Gallery and sunny afternoons reading in Russell Square. And I’ve learned far more about football (erm, soccer) than I care to admit.

So as I sit here sipping my Pimm’s—a sort of British sangria, with its namesake spirit, lemonade and lots of little floaty bits of lemon, orange, apple, strawberry, mint and cucumber—I think, when livin’ is this good, how could a girl waste it watching the clock and thinking about what’s next?

What comes next will be good for a story or two. Nothing I write about could ever be the Most Important Thing, and as such, I won’t pretend it is. All I hope is that you enjoy the sometimes witty, sometimes wicked stories and observations I bring from this other world of Abroad.

My watch is still off. Bottoms up.

Emily Rotberg is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Monday.


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