17 January 2011

Marraketchup Sauce

I arrived in Marrakech by myself on a balmy evening, after delays caused by severe snowstorms in London. The taxi drivers at the airport colluded against me, setting the price to my hostel at six times the amount I should have paid. I should have bargained but I was too exhausted.

Despite my protests to the taxi driver, he dropped me off in a seemingly shady car park where people were loitering about. A teenage boy collected me, promising to guide me to my hostel for some money. We weaved through several dark, tiny, deserted alleyways, before three other young men appeared from nowhere to accompany him. It was at this point that I thought I was going to be cornered, beaten up, and robbed. They insisted that the wooden door to my right, with no sign, was my hostel. I was nervous and suspicious. Fortunately, they were correct. Ali, one of the staff at the hostel, welcomed me with a Moroccan whisky. He told me to relax. Moments later, my friend Ed found me in a fragile and shaken state in the lounge area.

As I had learnt from this first night, walking through the unlit alleyways of Marrakech at night can be terrifying. Later that evening, Ed and I walked through some alleyways after dropping our friends off at their hostel. A man, who had been lying on the street, woke up then walked in circles before us. We were convinced he was wielding a knife and going to attack us. We managed to walk past him and sighed in relief. Then, another man followed us closely for a while. Another man awkwardly walked backwards and forwards near us, chanting strange things to himself. This was a rather confronting first night in Morocco, and what a first impression it caused!

Fortunately, our Moroccan adventure unfolded in a way that turned our first impressions completely upside down. One night, Abdou, a shop owner, invited us into his parent’s riad (an old, converted mansion) for dinner. He cooked us a delicious chicken tagine and we effortlessly entertained each other late into the evening. (I know my mum would be reading this now, disappointed in me for walking into a stranger’s house!). Abdou, while strumming some sweet tunes on his guitar, expressed his frustrations to us about the pre-conceived notions that foreigners have about Moroccans. There is no need for fear, like Ed and I experienced on our first night. He also explained to us the effect of Western influence on Moroccan culture. This has led to the division of Marrakech into two parts; Old Marrakech and New Marrakech. It is rare to see a Moroccan woman in Old Marrakech without a headscarf. It is the other way round in New Marrakech. Abdou put the icing on the cake that night by arranging one of his riad’s guests, a magician from Casablanca, to perform a show for us!

Marrakech is an exciting place. In the centre of the medina is the Djemaa El-Fna, a square filled with over a hundred restaurants and stalls. Until the early hours of the morning, the square is also filled with entertainers; from snake charmers and prophets, to musicians and dancers, all surrounded my large swarms of people. The atmosphere in this square is like nothing I have ever seen. There is something for everyone and anyone here. In this square we met some fantastic locals who entertained us all night with their Moroccan hospitality and humour. Ed was fed a lamb’s head, Hannah was a favourite when it came to photos with the chefs, whilst I was convinced that I was the son of Bruce Lee after several kung fu challenges.

Outside the square, it is easy to get lost in Marrakech’s numerous souks, each comprised of a maze of alleyways. These alleyways are lined with shops primarily selling herbs and spices, leather products, metal ornaments, and counterfeit bags and shoes. It is not the most pleasant nor peaceful place to shop as motorbikes and donkeys attempt to squeeze past you in these already narrow lanes.

Other landmarks we visited in Marrakech include the Koutoubia Mosque (the tallest building in the city, although off-limits to non-muslims) and the Dar Si Saïd Museum.


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