Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hospitality and Marrakesh

We had another great cultural exchange day on our last in Rabat. I'd contacted a guy (Fadel) in southern Morocco (actually Western Sahara) earlier and he told me he was actually visiting a friend in Sale, the city across the river from Rabat, and that we should arrange a meeting. Jake and I met Fadel and his friend (Abdullah) while coming back from picking up our passports at the Mali embassy (yes, we are on our way to Timbuktu but that is a future story). Having Jake around is awesome. Not only is he my equal/superior in travelling and we can converse for ever on random topics, but his being a Muslim gets us all sorts of different reactions from locals. It is still tough for him for sure, and there is still a lot of racism in their accepting, or rather, questioning of his conversion but there are definitely a lot of advantages as well. They are not as quick to rip him off, generally show him more respect and some are outright amazingly friendly. If I stand next to him I can bask in his glory and generally have a better experience here too! Case in point, the guys we met in Rabat. I had lined the meeting up but I think it was Jake that got the whole lot of us invited for the following day to go Abdullah's place for a traditional lunch and possible place to stay. Sweet!
The following day we checked out of Rabat and all met up with the 2 guys. It turns out that Abdullah actually lives with his sister and her husband and I think the mother. First we went to an exotic garden a little out of town to kill some time. Not actually the best way to meet a group and get to know each other as this is not a highly socializing activity. Things weren't going too well and I started getting a little worried when they started talking about a possible rail strike the following day (we were continuing to Marrakesh) and maybe we should leave that night. That sounded like a very convenient lie to get rid of unwanted guests but we still had a lunch to go to. I am not saying this to tell you we are bad guests but merely to remind you that while we have had so many amazing hosting experiences, it is totally awkward all the time trying to meet people of different backgrounds and through language barriers when it is not necessary for the local person to really have to deal with you at all if they don't feel like it. It takes time to connect (not something you generally have a lot of) and be comfortable with each other and we are a huge group now which is automatically intimidating. It's hard and I am surprised to think of how often it has worked for us and in so many places too. I kept my doubts mostly to myself and wouldn't make a call on anything until after the lunch and a little more time had passed. Good thing I did. The lunch was amazing. Home-cooked couscous tastes so much better than the stuff we'd tried in the cheap restaurants throughout the country. We were also able to meet the rest of the family and to be honest I can't keep them all straight. I'm not sure I personally met everyone. I met the mother, sister, her husband and an uncle and his wife(?) I think too. There may have been more. Abdullah's english is limited and Fadel's is good but that was it. We spent all the time in the living room area which occupied most of a floor of their 2 floor apartment. The area was subdivided into two parts by a low wall and around the room perimeter were "couches" to sit on. Men ate together on one side and the women on the other, each group from one large plate in which to attack with their spoon (or hands).
I think it was the girls that did them in. The women in these countries absolutely love the girls and it was obvious there was some feminine bonding going on on the other side and there was no question as to whether or not we were staying there. They wanted the girls to stay for ever. On our side Jake was getting all the attention (and respect) from the man of the house to also help our team. It's a bit weird to be the guy in the background now as I am not the "boss" either as that title automatically belongs to dad as the oldest male. I had a great time though. The girls even got up into the kitchen to help cook dinner. It was a three-course meal with the main being a tajine. It was even better than the couscous. It was beef cooked with prunes and spices. Wow! Oddly enough, I feel that I can now leave Morocco and not feel to bad about missing out on other areas I might've wanted to go to because I have had a proper traditional meal and felt the real hospitality here.
The following morning we took the train to Marrakesh (there was no strike of course) and check in to a hotel right on the main square. Marrakesh is the tourist capital of Morocco and was also the capital centuries ago. The old town has a huge square called Djenne el Fna in the middle and this is the highlight and main attraction. Sure, there are palaces and markets and all that to see as well but it is the square which sets it apart from the rest of Morocco. We couldn't had a better location to stay since we had a terrace on our rooftop overlooking all the action and we spent quite a bit of time the first day just looking over it all and watching tourists overpay for everything and get constantly harrassed. There are so many tourists here, and a lot of dumb ones that really don't belong in this kind of culture (you know, the ones with dreadlocks and the party crowd) now that it is possible to fly here for only a few cents from Europe on the budget airlines. Tragic and yet someone (the scammers) is set to profit a ton from all the influx of tourism here. It's possible to see the High Atlas mountains a little further to the east and it is a lot colder here as well. The second day it was horrible rainy weather, just like being in Vancouver at this time of year and we ended up hiding in our rooms playing cards all day.
Today the weather was beautiful and we were able to run around and check things out. The markets and general life remind us a lot of Egypt or any other middle east country we've been to lately with a lot of the same objects for sell (no water pipes though) and lots of scooters zooming by. Again, it is the square that makes the difference. During the day it is not quite as busy as at night. It is mostly fruit stands, snake charmers, touts and empty space with shops lining the sides but at night it turns into a major spectacle as the musicians, storytellers, snake oil salesmen, and food stalls come out in full force. Being such a touristy thing, I am surprised to find that the majority of people in the square at night are the locals. They all form tight circles around the storytellers (from one to several people) listening or laughing at whatever they have to say. We have no idea since it is all in arabic. The little restaurants wheel in their tables and benches just before sunset and again, most of the people eating there are locals. Some sell soup, some sell tea, some the typical little restaurant menu of couscous, kebabs and tajines, others specialize in snails (only Sky, Bre and Jake had a go at those, I'm not going near them), while the most disgusting are the ones with the sheep heads. The sheep head guys don't seem to suffer in their choice of a menu because there are always locals there feasting on everything but the eyes apparently. I didn't stick around to watch it all go down :)
Jake and I have spent a lot of time today wandering around on our own, trying to find interesting things and harrassing random people. Because of our beards we both get called "Ali Baba", which Jake finds offensive and reason enough to hassle them back. It's been great though. Tomorrow we will begin the journey south to Mauritania but it will probably take a couple days. It is over 24 hours direct so we will break it up in Western Sahara on the way down.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 12:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

-Sounds incredible...
Darrin

 

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