Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Sunday, September 4, 2011

9/4/11: Marrakesh, Morocco

Well, that 'eye-opening' was actually two days ago, and I think we've only now maybe started to learn those life skills come today, after experiencing the medina in Marrakech. Wow. And I do mean, WOW!


Before I get into it, I did observe a couple of interesting things about Moroccan culture during the three hour bus ride. As two tour buses descended upon this one small gas station convenience store, we quickly discovered that there were two checkout lines. One for Moroccans, one for everyone else. The latter was quite long; the former was as short as it needed to be to get oneself immediately to the head of the line. This scenario would repeat itself whether we were first in line to buy water in a souk, or 10 people back to check out at the 7-11 equivalent. Another interesting observation is that mostly the men are out in the mornings, many of whom can be found sipping coffee at sidewalk cafes. Around noon you start to see women, often in groups of three or four, out and about doing errands and whatnot. By afternoon and early evening, complete families are added into the mix, and kids of all ages are out until far beyond our kids’ western bedtimes.

Making necklaces for the kids, holding and manipulating the blade by foot.
Ceramic 'tajine' pots, used to cook.

Anyway, after the bus ride with a couple of stops that I won't elaborate upon for fear of losing you to mundane details, we arrived in Marrakesh and our tour guide walked us through some of the old medina souks, after which we stopped for a couscous and tajine lunch (it was good, but I won't digress into culinary details). 

A 'magic' box.

We sat through a medicinal healing schpeel, bought a few spices, etc.

We did a short tour of the Bahia Palace (not Bahai), which was very beautiful in both a simple yet very ornate sort of way. As we were walking, the call to prayer could be heard over some random loudspeaker nearby, every bit as haunting and foreign a picture as CNN has painted for us on the news, post-9/11. The call to prayer occurs five times daily, to the accompaniment of these loudspeakers strewn throughout communities of all sizes. 

Bahia Palace rooflines.

Our intrepid guide, Mohamed.

Quite the skylight!

Before lunch we didn't get messed with too much due to the ever-presence of our guide, Mohamed, but after lunch it was a completely different story. He set us free to wander for a couple of hours, and I think it may have been the longest 120 minutes of Reade and Tate's lives. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, tries to get your attention! You're trying to look at stuff without getting caught looking for fear of being accosted, all the while trying to become aware of the whine of the scooters approaching from all directions so that you don't get taken out in what would be a yard sale of epic U.S. vs. Peugeot/Honda/Cat Daddy proportion (some of the scooters have very funny names).

Djemaa el-Fnaa (deemed by UNESCO a Masterpiece of World Heritage in 2001) is Marrakesh's main square and open-air market, surrounded by the souks of the medina. Imagine much of Berkeley (or Pearl St. in Boulder) on steroids, twenty times bigger, but in a different language, one that virtually everyone (save you) can speak. 10,000 people can be out here on busy days (Fri and Sat the busiest), but they're out every day of the week, until the wee hours of the morning, this Sunday no exception. A site of public executions back around 1000 AD, it is still an assault on the senses, mostly visual and aural, sometimes olfactory, both good and bad. BBQs, snake charmers, monkey tenders, water men, hawkers, fortune tellers, you name it, it's all coming at you from myriad directions. In this square, many kids are out and about, either outwardly asking for handouts or trying to sell trinket jewelry. Some of the younger kids speak fairly good English, but most do not. Few adults were begging outright, it was only kids or the very old/infirm who did. We also saw the occasional woman with small child sleeping on either back or lap, at first appearance seeming sick, upon further inspection looking healthy but sleeping very, very deeply. This scenario is apparently more commonplace in India, where kids can even be 'lent out' and lightly drugged to appear sick, for begging purposes. Hard for us Westerners to comprehend, to be sure.

Anyway, within the first five minutes of our being on our own, Heidi had been peed upon by a monkey, we'd argued over the rather inflated price of said monkey pictures, and we'd retreated to the relative quiescence of the surrounding souks with our respective tails between our legs. Trying to avoid having some dude wrap a scarf around your head seemed benign compared to public monkey urination, and plus, somewhere in the souks Heidi had earlier seen some shoes she actually might wear! The problem was that we hadn't the foggiest where those shoes might be, and trying to casually 'window shop' for a similar pair seemed a sure ticket for absolute disaster.


Oh yeah, I forgot about Lesson Learned #9: If some dude offers you 20,000 camels for your wife, just smile and nod, keep on moving…

Although nothing concrete really happened to shake up Reade and Tate (aside from some old crazy guy trying to spit on our feet, Reade unfortunately getting caught in the crossfire), the boys clearly needed a break from the chaos, so we went to the cafe where we were to meet up with the group 30 minutes later. There were a couple of SAS kids there, and we found some solace on this little island of respite, as for some reason the locals seemed not to be bugging us here (even though we were a mere dozen feet from the start of the action). I know that probably sounds bad, but these Moroccan vendors can be very, very aggressive, and it's clear that not all of them are as taken with Americans (understandably) as in some other parts of the world, despite how good U.S.-Moroccan relations are. Morocco was the first country in the world to formally recognize the U.S. as a sovereign nation, and our country's longest-standing treaty is with Morocco. But, anti-U.S. sentiment among any Islamic population is certainly prevalent (tragically understated, me thinks?), though most people seemed friendly, not automatically linking us with the policies of politicians of the last decade. Notably, I didn’t see a single t-shirt, nor did a single person ever say anything to me or ask me about President Obama. For some reason I had expected this, but it’s only one country down, and it’s been awhile since the election.

We were finally taken to the hotel at 7 to freshen up before dinner. A very nice hotel, and a big hooray for the western toilets, with western prices to match. Dinner was at a Moroccan restaurant on the edge of the square, and the chaos of the day had erupted into a smoky, fiery cacophony that fascinated in a mystical, eery sort of way. Kids shooting glow helicopters in the air ("Tate, don't pick that up or you'll own it!"), families with little kids, high-speed scooters, and, of course, the snakes and urinating monkeys were all still there, in all their glory.

Traditional Moroccan couscous.

Yes, Reade and Tate belly-danced (sort of).

After dinner, a gaggle of 20 or so college students headed into the melee, looking for the kind of fun I'm now far too old to even want to imagine. People on the ship keep wondering if Heidi is a student, and I keep getting asked if I'm a Lifelong Learner (the several dozen 50+ year old people joining the voyage to both learn, and to interact with the younger people on board). Harumph!!!

1 comment:

  1. Sorry, I can't help but chuckle at so many images. Talk about throwing you into the melee right off the bat! Hugs to my fearless nephews!


You must have something to say after reading all that, eh? Please leave a comment! :)