In Morocco, a new take on working vacations

“Welcome to Dar Naima,” I exclaimed, as I ushered two Spanish tourists into the opulent parlor of a Moroccan guesthouse in Fez. The visitors looked slightly

perplexed — not because an American was greeting them, an origin story I would later share, but because of the man lurking in the doorway, his face several shades of agitation.

“He wants us to pay him, but we didn’t ask him to carry our luggage,” said one of the sisters, who were traveling around Morocco together. I explained that

porters linger in the parking areas outside the medina and will cart bags through the car-free zone, sometimes without asking first. To defuse the situation, I reached into my

wallet, pulled out a 10-dirham coin and paid the man. He asked for 20, but I firmly shook my head, as I had seen my host do. He departed with a huff, and our guests sank into the

cushioned couch with relief. Less than 24 hours on the job — and in the country — I was already fulfilling several of my responsibilities as a work exchange volunteer. (I

presumed paying off the disgruntled porter fell under “guest assistance.”) I had flown a red-eye from Washington to Casablanca and caught about a four-hour train to Fez for the

primary purpose of helping out at the hostel — plus several fringe benefits. In return for pitching in wherever and whenever, I received free accommodations, daily breakfast and a

sense of contentment knowing that, in some small way, I was alleviating the pain caused by the pandemic. “We had to close for two years,” said Hannan Diab, the

42-year-old owner who, until several months ago, had been running the property single-handedly. “It has been so hard. We need more people to come.”