Thursday, March 6, 2014
no hashuma - morocco, part one
hello again, friends!
i know it’s been a while… lots to catch you up on! i didn’t mention it at the end of my last blog, but i had another break for the second half of february (life is tough here) – hence, the radio silence. buckle in for a fun recap of the last three weeks!
but first, a little back story. last november, i did something slightly outside of my normal comfort zone; i bought a ticket to africa, to go visit a friend i’d never met in person, who is living and teaching in morocco as a fulbright fellow. sounds like the perfect setting for one of those internet catfishing horror stories, but we had been chatting on facebook for months, and had even started talking on skype at that point…. plus, i really wanted to go to morocco! besides, this year is all about challenging myself and stepping outside of my little glass box. so, i took that leap of faith while the tickets were still cheap! fast-forward three months, and my friend and i were skyping almost daily, thus alleviating basically all of my albeit-slight discomfort about flying to a different continent to stay with a stranger. another contributing factor was the fact that another assistant in my region, lauren, saw my post about going to morocco and asked if i wanted to travel together. we skyped a few times and organized ourselves on a googledoc… in fairness, she took an even greater leap of faith, considering the fact that she’d never spoken to connor and we’d only talked a few times! but, it was another situation of starting out as strangers and ending up feeling like life-long friends!
by the time my departure rolled around, i was absolutely beside myself with excitement. i couldn’t wait to add another country (and continent!) to my growing list – especially one with such a vibrant culture as morocco. i also couldn’t wait to get to hang out with my new friends in person, as opposed to seeing them on my computer screen! getting to morocco was no mean feat – i took the train on a thursday afternoon up to paris, slept in the charles de gaulle airport, and then caught a 6am flight to agadir. staying overnight in an airport is a very interesting experience... you definitely get a whole new level of people watching. in retrospect, i should have gone through security when i got there at 10pm, because there were couches at the gates! i spent the night curled awkwardly between two metal arm rests, dozing in between the rounds of floor buffing / waxing that were happening around me. le sigh. but, i fell asleep almost instantly on the plane (even before the takeoff – unheard of, for me!) and slept for nearly the entire flight. so, all in all… a free night in paris! arriving in morocco was magical, because it was SUNNY! i hadn’t seen the sun in weeks, due to the incessant rain in central france. i immediately felt my vitamin d count start to rise, and with it, my spirits. i spent the rest of the trip trying my hardest to soak up as much sun as possible, and i have the freckles to show for it now!
my first stop was agadir, a southern city on the coast. connor is living there for the school year, teaching in the university. it was so fun to finally meet in person – one of those surreal “i don’t know you, but i do” kind of feelings. a few quick games of bananagrams quickly dispelled any potential awkwardness, followed by a warm nap on the rooftop terrace. the first afternoon, two of connor’s friends took us up to a surf town about thirty minutes away called taghazout, where i got to try surfing for the second time in my life. it’s still really hard, but so invigorating! we had a wonderful time exploring the beaches and enjoying my first (but certainly not last) glass of fresh mint tea. we didn’t do much “tourism” in agadir, as there is not too much to do (unless you’re staying at one of the several beach resorts). mainly, i just got to hang out with connor and his housemates and enjoy having new friends. when lauren arrived two days later, we cooked a big mexican fajita feast for the house and sat up talking late into the night. it was a great way to ease back into social interaction, after the isolation of my normal life!
monday morning, lauren, connor, and i piled onto a big bus and headed up the coast, to a town called essaouira. we only stayed for a few days, but it ended up being one of my favourite places in morocco – a little oceanside town with a fun souk (market) and incredibly nice people. everyone from the hostel workers to the people next to us at our breakfast café seemed eager to welcome us to their country and make us feel at home. i fell in love with the textures and colours on constant display in the souk stalls: rugs, ceramics, leather goods, metal work, fresh food… you name it. even the physical buildings contributed to the aesthetic, with the warm oranges and browns standing in contrast to the brightly coloured doors and the crisp whitewash, all backed by an endless blue sky. while in essaouira, we met a moroccan student from marrakech named zakaria, who ended up being one of the highlights of our trip! we shared a fun afternoon together, jamming on a rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean, with a few other café friends – it was the first of many opportunities for philosophical discussion of culture and humanity, and i certainly cherish that memory already! in the souk, lauren and i had our first real introduction to bargaining, and got some pretty sweet deals on a few souvenirs and gifts (mainly thanks to connor, let’s be honest). the downside of the souk wandering is definitely all the catcalling – as foreign women, we had quite the array of phrases thrown our way, from “ohh beautiful!” to “hey, harry potter!” (my glasses) and “hannah montana!” (no clue). there were others that were much more unpleasant. honestly, though, with a decent sense of humour and a thick skin, it is not intolerable. you just have to write it off as part of the culture and let it slide off your back… and also, keeping a list of the best lines and laughing over it later doesn’t hurt!
another three hour bus ride brought us inland to what could arguably be morocco’s biggest party city. true to its reputation, marrakech was decidedly more tourist-oriented; certainly a big change from little essaouira. thankfully, we had zakaria as the best tour guide imaginable, so we got to experience the souk and surrounding area in a slightly more authentic way (read: we didn’t get harassed or ripped off, because we were with a moroccan). the enormous main plaza, place jema al fnae, is known as one of the biggest night-time spots in europe, and i can attest to that. it was absolutely teeming with people – eating at the food stalls, watching street performers, selling various trinkets, generally loitering… the introvert in me was definitely overwhelmed with the sheer number of people, but it was fascinating to see. despite the inundation of foreigners and locals alike, i did love walking around the twisty medina streets and simply taking photos; i have never been so visually inspired in my life! the catcalling was much worse in marrakech, and much worse when it was just me and lauren, without the boys. we got a couple marriage proposals (one including camels!), several creepy “oh wow/nice/beautiful/spicy” murmurs, and countless “hello/bonjour/hola” greetings (i suppose i could pass for spanish). thankfully, morocco still uses french as the language of tourism (thanks, french protectorat!), so we got by just fine, but picking up a few words in the local dialect, darija, made our experience much more comfortable! once you learn how to say “no, thank you” in arabic to the men trying to direct you into their stalls to view their purses/lamps/shoes/scarves/etc, it becomes easier to just keep on walking…
i actually think i’ll cut myself off here, because i’m only halfway through and already waaaay over my average word count… so, installment two should be up soon! in the meantime, here are the pictures from my trip, starting at photo 19! :)