If you’re Spanish, it’s Ceuta. If you’re Moroccan, it’s Sebta. If you’re Spanish, it’s a Spanish exclave in North Africa. If you’re Moroccan, it’s an anachronistic attempt by Spain at holding on to a city that is really part of Morocco, a last vestige of colonialism.
It’s a half-hour drive from Tétouan to Ceuta, and grand taxis travel back and forth frequently between the two. We went through a border crossing that felt like crossing from the U.S. into Canada, i.e. you know you’re technically entering a different country, but you don’t really feel like you are. The border guards stamped each of our passports with a Moroccan exit stamp.
We stopped at an ATM to withdraw some euros, found a small cafeteria for lunch and made absolute fools of ourselves trying to order in Spanish. How does this work? There’s no menu anywhere. Do we just point at what we want? This is tapas, right? What’s the Spanish word for menu? Menu? No, it’s not that. Carta, right? Carta? No, they don’t have a carta. I think we just pick out a bunch of these little sandwich things and tell him which ones we want. And then we go sit down? What’s that- potatoes? Scalloped potatoes? Let’s get some of those, too. It took us forever to figure out the system and order, but the food was cheap and delicious, and our waiter was patient with our cluelessness and even gave us a plate of paella on the house.
Ceuta felt to me like a cross between Madrid and Tétouan. It felt strange. I wasn’t quite sure how to process it. The biggest difference was the inconspicuousness. There were so many people who looked like me! It felt weird! But weird in a good way. Freeing. I took off my jacket and walked around in a sleeveless top all afternoon and no one bothered me. I walked by a cafe without feeling twenty men’s eyes on me, following me. What a glorious feeling of blending in.
Before heading home, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up a motley assortment of things hard to find in Tétouan. Fresh spinach, mushrooms, a candle, tortillas and salsa, wine, guiness, tampons.
I’ve heard of other Americans having problems at the Morocco-Ceuta border. But we walked right by four chatting border guards on our way back into Morocco, until one of them realized and called after us, “Hey, wait! Come back!” A Moroccan entrance stamp in each of our passports, and we were on our way home in a grand taxi a few minutes later.