Magical Mystical Marrakech
Contrary to my expectations,
Morocco wasn’t the African country I expected to see, but a very
Arabic country with all of their customs and traditions. And staying
with a Muslim family in Marrakech was both welcoming and enlightening.
And instantly recognizable in any photos.
You see, all the
buildings in Marrakech were a unique puke (vomit) colour. The sort of
colour you used to get in art class when you mixed all the colours on
your pallet together. But as you saw more of it, you realized that it
was actually a natural red earth colour. And the window shutters were
an unflattering bright blue. But again, they were only imitating the
colours of nature. So the buildings blended perfectly with their natural
surroundings … the red earth and the bright blue skies. And the
green trees (mostly palm trees) blended beautifully too, and they were
the capital of Morocco (27 million pop’n), thats Rabat. And Marrakech
isn’t the largest city in Morocco, thats Casablanca. But Marrakech
is definitely the most mesmerizing city in Morocco.
A visit to Jamafna,
the city’s central square, was like taking a trip back in time,
to the ancient days of Baghdad with the hustle and bustle that normally
accompanied the antics of traders, mystics and performers.
As we approached
the overcrowded square, my host said, “This is where the snacks
But as I wasn’t
hungry at the time, I didn’t pay too much attention to that comment.
But within seconds I was standing in front of an amazing sight.
I exclaimed, “You mean snakes!”
This was a cobra.
I made sure to keep my distance from this fella.
The official language
of the Moroccan people is Arabic, but most of them also speak French.
So English isn’t one of their more popular languages and gets
grouped up with Spanish and German in order of priority.
So there in front
of me were some snake charmers, just like I’d seen so many times
on TV. But I thought they only did that in India!
Sitting under a
very large umbrella to keep the hot sun off themselves and their snakes,
these snake charmers sat cross-legged and began their music playing
and swaying motions, more for my benefit than that of the 3 coiled up
cobras in front of them.
And within seconds
a couple of their snake handlers had wrapped 2 snakes around my neck.
I did see them coming, and I wasn’t too worried because …
1) I could tell
those snakes weren’t cobras, and
2) I knew they wouldn’t
be dangerous or poisonous, because it would be hard to collect money
off a dead body.
So with those reassuring
thoughts going through my mind, I happily posed for a couple of ‘snakes-around-my-neck’
photos using my own camera.
“Give me 100
dihrams,” one of them said.
Now, 100 dihrams
is about AUD$17, or for a more accurate comparison, about half a days
wages for the average Moroccan worker, so I didn’t think that
was justified by my one minute snake experience. So I confidently told
him he was only getting 5 dihrams.
“Give me 50
dihrams,” he said, realizing that he’d finally come across
a cheap-skate foreigner.
only getting 5 dihrams,” I said, realizing that he didn’t
have anything to bargain with. But when I reached into my pocket I pulled
out a 10 dihram coin by mistake, which I gave him anyway.
“Give me another
one,” he said hopefully. But by then I was already walking away.
“Give me my
snakes back!” he said frantically.
In my haste to leave
I’d forgotten all about them!
But they were all
like this. As soon as I looked at someone, they’d start performing
for me, then 3 seconds later the hat would come out eagerly waiting
for a charitable donation from a rich and warm-hearted foreigner. At
times I may be warm-hearted, but I’m definitely not rich, and
now wasn’t the time to ask if they’d accept LETS points
The palm readers
eyed me and gestured that I have my future revealed. The baboon handlers
also looked on hopefully. The young castanet dancers pranced about and
asked to be rewarded for their efforts. I watched a veiled belly-dancer
dancing in front of a large crowd of onlookers. But in Morocco it is
forbidden for women to perform in the open like this, so this was actually
a man! And after the regulatory 3 second viewing period, an old guy
came over to collect a donation from me. But when I refused, he began
muttering something which I’m sure wasn’t very complimentary.
Needless to say, I moved on very quickly.
And then there were
the Water-Carriers. These men were dressed in bright red clothing, somewhat
like an ancient warrior, and hung about 8 brass bowls around their necks.
They also carried a bucket of water and a long-handled brass ladle.
I didn’t really want a drink of water. Just a photo would be nice.
And because of all my previous experiences, I thought I’d negotiate
a price for taking a picture with them first. But no matter how much
I tried, I couldn’t get a price from them. Maybe they would’ve
accepted anything. Maybe I could’ve even taken a photo and refused
to give them anything. After all, I was taking photos in a public place.
But the more I got asked for unreasonable donations and the more I got
cursed by thankless performers, the more I became uncomfortable with
the whole scene. So I ceased negotiations with the water-carriers and
moved on to the popular market place.
The ancient atmosphere
continued into the market which was full of tiny stalls crammed neatly
with their wares of shoes, teapots, clothes, lanterns, material, daggers,
etc. Skilled tradesmen worked at their crafts oblivious to the crowds
walking past them. I was particularly impressed by the wood lathe craftsmen
who kept their wood spinning with their hands, while they carved the
turning wood with tools held between their 2 larger toes! Exotic caged
animals were also for sale. Small tortoises (not turtles), squirrels,
dragon lizards and even chameleons!
Earlier that day,
I’d almost bought a black belt from a street-seller in the city,
but even though he dropped his price down from 20 dihrams to 15, the
size was too big for me and so I’d need to take it to someone
to have it shortened, and I didn’t really want the hassle. So
when I was checking the prices of belts in the market, I was justifiably
unimpressed with the price of 60 dihrams for a plain black belt.
But as I walked
away the young merchant followed me and insisted I make him an offer.
I said, and waited for the shocked look on his face.
But he agreed! So
I returned to the stall with him and selected a belt which fitted me
perfectly. But when I offered him the money, he looked at me blankly.
“I think he’s
expecting fifty dihrams, not fifteen,” my host explained. So another
misunderstanding with the English language!
Then he said, “Give
me 20 dihrams, so I only make 5 dihrams profit.”
But as I gave him
the belt back (you didn’t think I’d yield, do you?), and
just like I’d experienced on countless occasions before, he cried
out, “OK, OK,” and took the 15 dihrams from my hand. So
maybe there was a larger profit margin in it after all!
By the time the
evening came about, I began to feel a little peckish (hungry). And when
I walked out of the market, I noticed that most of the street performers
had moved on and were replaced by dozens of food stalls.
you like to eat,” my host said.
heads look tasty,” I said.
So we ordered half
a sheep’s head. But whereas in South Africa my sheep’s head
came on a plate, bones and all, this one was being carved up and the
bones discarded. How considerate, I thought. But then he gave part of
our meat to another customer so that the portion left for us barely
filled a small saucer.
not half a sheep’s head,” I said. Then I quickly got up
and walked away.
Several other stalls
were offering the same foods at the same prices, so soon we were sitting
in front of another sheep’s head, but this time with bones attached,
as per my instructions. Needless to say, I enjoyed my meal immensely.
2. The Art
Of Morocco Tea
In Morocco, tea
isn’t just a beverage, it’s an art.
Even though alcohol
wasn’t banned in Morocco, I didn’t see anyone drinking it
during any of the 2 weeks I was there. But when it came to drinking,
Morocco Mint Tea was always their first choice.
Sure I’d had
Mint Tea before, or more specifically, I’ve had Peppermint Tea
(it said so on the teabag). But I wasn’t prepared for the fanfare
and grace that accompanied the preparation and presentation of Morocco
First of all, there
were no teacups. They used small and slender ornate drinking glasses,
somewhat like liqueur glasses. I was sure it was for visual effect,
because when it came to pouring a cuppa, the experience most closely
resembled that of pouring a glass of creamy headed black Guinness.
A silver teapot
came to the table on a silver tray with several tea glasses. But it
had already gone through a long process before getting to that stage.
In Australia, I’d just boil the water, pour it into a mug and
add my teabag. Fifteen jiggles later (yes, I count them!) and bingo!
One cup of piping hot Peppermint Tea.
But in Morocco they
1) Bought loads
of fresh mint leaves from the local market or from the door-to-door
mint salesman. (The mint got used up very quickly.)
2) Stuffed the teapot
full of mint so that they were sticking out of the top.
3) Filled the teapot
with boiling water.
4) Added 3 large
slabs of sugar. (I’d never seen sugar in slabs before. They didn’t
muck around with one or two teaspoons of sugar there. The quantity of
sugar placed in the teapot took up nearly half the pot! No wonder there
were dentists on nearly every corner in Marrakech.)
So now we were back
at the table with the tea …
1) After the tea
had settled a bit, a glass of tea was poured from the teapot. Then placed
back into the teapot! This was done several times so that the sugar
was mixed into the tea and to see whether the tea was strong enough
2) Then came the
art! As each glass was filled, the server started pouring from several
inches above the glass and peaked at about 18 inches above it before
coming quickly back to a lower level and ending the pour somewhat like
a waiter pouring a glass of expensive wine. Pouring from such a height
created a ‘head’ not unlike that of a well-poured beer,
which stayed up for quite a while.
3) As you can imagine,
the tea tasted very sweet and minty. And because they were in such small
glasses, they were drunk very quickly, and no sooner was your glass
empty, than it was immediately refilled with the same finesse as the
Other eating habits
which intrigued me were …
ritual. Moroccans didn’t use forks at the table (just knives and
spoons), so they were understandably fussed about hand-cleanliness at
meal times. But rather than just go to the bathroom, they brought a
silver hand-washing bowl to the table which had a bar of soap and kettle
of warm water sitting on top of it. So everyone washed their hands carefully
and dried them with a hand towel afterwards.
The communal platter.
Moroccans didn’t use plates at the table either. Even though several
small saucers of food (containing oil, butter, jam, honey, dates, cheese,
olives plus an assortment of vegetables from time to time) were placed
around the table, the main meal came out in a large platter which was
placed in the center of the table. Bread was freely distributed around
the table and then everyone, using a piece of bread, proceeded to dunk
their bread into the section of the platter directly in front of them.
Portions of meat and vegetables were skillfully broken off using the
bread as a pick-up tool, until everyone had had their fill. I wasn’t
so skillful with my bread (chopsticks are so much easier to handle)
so my hosts thoughtfully supplied me with a fork so I’d manage
to eat more than just the gravy.
Ramadan. Every year
there’s a religious Muslim period called Ramadan which forbids
their followers from eating or drinking during daylight hours. But what
they missed out on during the day, they more than made up for during
the night. My last 3 days in Marrakech were Ramadan days. I’m
not a Muslim, so I didn’t have to follow this diet, nor do Muslim
children up to about 14, but I was keen to see what it was like. And
I’m pleased to say that I handled it very well and survived to
tell the story (slight exaggeration). Ramadan started at 5am, just as
the Koran could be heard being broadcast from the nearby mosque, and
ended at 6pm. So at one second past six in the evening (can you blame
them?) they began eating their ‘breakfast’ (called breakfast
because it was breaking their fast!) which had been prepared and served
earlier on. Then at 10.30pm they had dinner, which was typical of their
normal evening meals (at least in this family). But then they had a
special meal called ‘sohor’ which they served at around
4.30am. By this time you were so full you would just look at the food
and try to motivate yourself to eat it. After all, you still had dinner
sitting in your stomach which hadn’t had any time to digest because
you’d been fast asleep. Nevertheless, just knowing that there
would be total abstaining from food and drink for the next 13 hours
was usually enough motivation to dig in just a little more.
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
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