Letter to a Young Nephew

Dear James,

Happy half-birthday! I can’t believe that it’s already been six months since you came into this world. I have been apart from you for over three months now, and I’ve missed being around you for every second of it. Despite being over 3,000 miles away in North Africa, I still feel as though I’ve been right there with you—living vicariously through Aunt Margo’s constant Snapchat selfies with you and Gramber’s notoriously poor-quality photos of you playing with the dogs.

As a way to help satisfy my godfatherly desire for interaction with you, I have taken to volunteering some of my free time at a local orphanage, where I can hold and play with little boys and girls your age. Whenever I’m brought into the small sunlit room—furnished only with twelve full cribs, a large red carpet, and a small arrangement of used toys—I remember how fortunate we are to have been born into such a caring and loving family. My time away from you and our family has changed me as a person, opening my eyes to the realities of the world and the different cultures that it contains. Now, as you pass the first milestone of your life and quickly approach the next (one year old), I want to pass along some lessons that I’ve learned during my time in Morocco!

photo by Paxton Arsenault

photo by Paxton Arsenault

1. Be Adventurous. As you will hear your grandpa say countless times in your lifetime, “Maine is a small state that contains only a small fragment of the world.” Advice that I never truly heeded until I decided to venture across the world for a semester. During my time in Morocco, I have hiked a windy mountain trail leading to the mystical Akchour waterfall, wondered along the rolling seaside in Rabat, and explored a few of Europe’s most famous cities. Cappy is right: the world is full of amazing places and unique people—all you have to do is look. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and explore the unknown!

2. Be Grateful. It is easy to take everything around you for granted, as it can be hard to recognize how fortunate you are to have something until it’s gone—something that I have learned first-hand during my time living in a developing country, submerged in a foreign culture. The streets of Tangier are full of young children who have dropped out of school because their families need them to help keep food on the table by begging. I can remember a specific time when a young boy—who wore tattered forest-green shorts and a dirty brown shirt that appeared as though it were originally light blue—approached me asking for food because he was hungry. Luckily I had just purchased a small bag of tangerines and was able to give him a few pieces. Wake up grateful to be born into a family that loves you unconditionally, in a place of opportunity where you can become whatever you want.

photo by Paxton Arsenault

photo by Paxton Arsenault

3. Be Open Minded. When I first left the United States, I brought with me a narrow-minded attitude that nothing in Africa could ever compare to my homeland. However, now as I prepare to leave, I return with the realization that being different doesn’t make something bad or lesser in any way. Rather, it is better to welcome differences with open arms and a willingness to learn. Everything about Moroccan culture—whether it is the weekly consumption of freshly prepared couscous or waking up early every morning to the call to prayer—has surprised me in new and enjoyable ways, helping me become more self-aware and accepting of other cultures. Living life with an open-minded mentality will allow you to better understand and interact with any person or culture you come into contact with, making your horizons endless.

Morocco has forever changed me as a person, and I hope these three pieces of advice will someday prove to be helpful. Have a happy half-birthday Babyman, I’ll see you soon!

Love you lots,
Uncle Aidan

Sushi in Tangier?

Dear Dad,

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here in Morocco for four months, but it’s even harder to believe that you haven’t been here with me. This is the first time that you and Kayla have not accompanied me on a significant trip. When I miss you, I think back to all our other adventures: clutching a cup of Timmy’s hot chocolate while blazing our way through the icy Montréal wind; exploring the vast Jasper Mountains by horseback; walking through the thick mist of Niagara Falls; cracking freshly cooked lobsters on the beaches of Shediac. Thinking back to all of these adventures makes me wish you were here even more.

One of the things that I’ve missed most while going new places without you is sushi. I’m disappointed that you can’t make it out to Tangier, and that we can’t continue our tradition of trying sushi in whatever new place we’re in, but I understand that work is an obligation. So I decided to carry on and try sushi here.

On Sunday—with a recommendation from UNE’s area coordinator, Doua—Aidan, Ashley, Hannah, and I went to one of the few sushi restaurants in Tangier for lunch. Otori Sushi was set off the busy roads of town. Soft music played inside, and if you had dropped a loonie on the hardwood floor, it would have been heard on the other side of the room; we were the only customers. The modern dining room contained mahogany tables and chairs that were lined with purple velvet. It was so clean and chic I forgot I was in Morocco—until I went to the washroom to wash my hands. The sink inside sputtered with great effort—a characteristic of Tangier’s sometimes unreliable plumbing.

The menu included a salmon cream-cheese roll, which reminded me of the first time we tried this type of roll, at Sense of Tokyo in Saint John (I think they called it a Philadelphia roll there). I remember taking shelter in that restaurant from the bitter winter, sipping our steaming hot bowls of miso soup while reading the menu. We both spotted the Philadelphia roll because it looked unique, yet we both questioned the combination of salmon and cheese. Once we tried it, however, we fell in love with the complementary tastes of the creamy mild cheese and the tender smoky salmon. I contemplated ordering Otori Sushi’s version, but decided to hold off because the only cream cheese I have seen in Morocco is the Laughing Cow triangles.

I ordered my usual—something with salmon—but instead of cream cheese as an accompaniment, I opted for smooth thick avocado. For my second roll I decided to try something new, as you always do. I was worried about getting food poisoning, so I stuck with something that sounded safe: a crab and avocado roll.

photo by Alyssa White

photo by Alyssa White

When our sushi was finally brought out, I was taken aback. I didn’t realize that my “safe choice” would be topped with tobiko, which is flying fish roe. Instead of scraping it off like I usually would, I decided to try it. The best part? I liked it—you would have been so proud. The sushi itself was impeccably made; there was ginger and wasabi—although the wasabi was not as strong as I would have liked—and the fish tasted fresh. It wasn’t the best sushi I have ever had, but it was definitely not the worst. I don’t really know why I had been so skeptical; after all, we’re right next to the ocean.

I walked away satisfied with the sushi, and satisfied with continuing our tradition of trying sushi in new places—even though this time it was just me. Despite enjoying my meal, I think I am going to wait until we are reunited to eat more sushi, because it is 100 times more special with you.

There are only a few weeks left Daddio, and I can’t wait.

Miss and love you lots, Lyss