I wrote this a few days into a trip through Morocco. It was a poor choice of destination for me at the time. I was in the wrong mental space which coloured my experience. It now has the dubious honour (alongside Indonesia) of being a country I didn’t enjoy travelling through. The “It’s not you, it’s me” argument would apply here, so this really is a partisan piece.
Whitewashed walls rise up against a crisp blue sky, standing bright against the aqua marine Ocean Atlantique.
I sit on a roof terrace four floors above a medina. Far below fishing vessels throng the harbour, seagulls swoop, their cries punctuate the roar of the ocean as an infinity of waves crash against bedrock.
Today is the fifth day of my arrival in Morocco, and the first day I’ve felt relaxed/at peace. I am in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast – three hours due west of Marrakech. This place is chilled, both in temperament and temperature. I’m going to stay a while.
Being here brings back memories of Pushkar in India (Rajasthan). The curious mix of local tourists and backpackers. Crowded alleyways, shops and shacks filled with bright cloth, colourful shoes, rings, necklaces, bracelets, leather bags and wooden objects polished to perfection.
A handshake – hands remain held. “Bonjour, ca va”? Followed by “where you from?” and the beginnings of a soft sales patter in perfect English. “La, shukran” my final reply…a warm smile and the touch of palm to heart as we part. When I speak, almost all are unsure of where to peg me – Israel, Pakistan, India, Spain. When I tell them India, they invariably reply “But living in London?” Before trotting out famous Bollywood actors names, “Ah, Amitabh Bacha, Aamir Khan” etc. Bollywood beats Hollywood hands down in Morocco, and it feels good.
I’m reticent to generalise from my experience thus far, I’ve had some bad ones in the medina in Marrakech. At times I’ve felt like little more than a conduit for an exchange of wealth – a human money bag with the concomitant sense of entitlement in others expectations. Being told to “F*ck off” by a young teen unhappy with your tip after he guides you to your guesthouse is a surprise no matter what the country. But I sense these are issues wherever hordes of tourists with the trappings of wealth meet locals with exponentially less.
I’ve also sensed a pure hearted innocence and experienced hospitality from Moroccans a world away from any encounter back home in the UK. You see it in peoples eyes. And experience it through their hearts. An enveloping warmth.
And my most notable experience to date, the main square in the Medina in Marrakech (the D’jemma el-Fnaa). I went there a couple of hours after I arrived from the UK. I’ve no frame of reference to compare the experience, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before – like a chaotic carnival. Snake charmers, African mystics, (Henna) tattoo artists, a man with a pet (dancing) monkey, another man proudly displaying a hedgehog and some hamsters/gerbils, a group of singers, next to them a group of transvestite dancers, women selling giant balloons, children throwing and selling neon elastic band propelled plastic sky rocket toys ad infinitum, and an orderly arranged, crazily experienced bunch of street vendors, who push, pull, hustle you onto their benches as if their very lives depended on it. And pretty much all of this exists for the benefit of Moroccans not tourists.
So that’s it for now. I’m looking forward to relaxing in Essaouira. Of lounging, basking, slouching, chilling, and generally doing nothing.