Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A glimpse of Morocco (pictures part 1)

There were few moments in Morocco when I wasn't overwhelmed, confused, or slightly uncomfortable; more than that, I was deliciously excited and intrigued by everything about the place. The colors of Morocco literally had my knees wobbling at times. There were moments when I stood still in delirium, laughing at the absurdity of the beauty. The contradictions. The brightest yellow flowers popping out from the lushest green hills, encompassed by blue mountains. Women dressed in the boldest, most vibrant colors, washing their laundry in the middle of an open field. Men and boys of all ages herding cows, sheep (with long tails!), and goats up and down the hillside. Amidst all of the colors, deteriorating homes speckle the landscape, and piles of trash litter the yards and the roadside. Yet these ramshackle homes and plastic bottles add significant character and beauty to the scene. It is always easier to recognize the drastic gap between those with money and those living far below the poverty line when you are in a new place; the difference in housing and lifestyle between the sophisticated and wealthy areas of Rabat and its outskirts are glaring.

The rough and tumble taxi ride from the center of Tanger to the train station was just long enough for me to chew off all of my fingernails in amused terror. Did we just drive head-on into traffic? Complete absence of control can be quite enjoyable if you give in to it. That whole first day in Morocco was a blur that had every one of my senses dumbfounded. On the train from Tanger to Rabat it first started to hit me how very out of place we were. I cannot explain why, but I suddenly became very aware of every feminine aspect of my physical self. From my hands to my hair to the expression I was making with my face, and even the way I move, these attributes that I never give a second thought to became strikingly obvious to me. Something about the sun going down, the lurching train, occasional stares, and the obvious ratio imbalance of men to women around me made me glad I wasn't traveling on my own. This feeling came and went throughout the week.

Our first experience in Fes was pure chaos. I mean knock you over with a cow carcass, dodging mules as they run through narrow winding streets, a man covered in blood casually wandering by, chaos. The medina in Fes is supposedly one of the largest in the world, which is not hard to believe. Its maze-like, narrow, and constantly bustling streets make it impossible not to get lost around every corner. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong entrance to this enormous walled-in market, leaving us to navigate our way through the locura to our hostel without the slightest sense of direction. We laced up our bad-ass-bitch boots and managed to find it eventually without falling prey to the haggling or the constant offers from "guides." We were tormented for being the Spice Girls on more than one occasion and laughed at for being noticeably taken aback by normalcies such as giant hanging testicles, and live, clucking chickens that were chillin' next to those that had already been butchered, plucked, and cleaned. Oh, and if you've ever lost your iPhone, or any phone for that matter, you can be certain it is in a tiny shop in Fes along with every other lost or stolen phone in the world. The good news? You can buy it back for a cost comparable to a subway sandwich in the U.S.

I had a lot of trouble separating the men who were sincerely wonderful, helpful people, (and there were many) from those who would screw us over for a few cents and leave us in vulnerable situations. I say men because we encountered very few Moroccan women. During the day there are many women out and about in the streets, although from what I saw they were always outnumbered by men. The women we asked for directions from, or more often collided with in the crowded streets, either completely ignored us or were astoundingly kind. The camaraderie among the women in Morocco was very obvious, they take care of each other and seem to be particularly genuine. It is clear that the younger generations of women are becoming increasingly liberal, but the Patriarchal atmosphere of the place is unlike any I've experienced thus far.

The two hour bus ride from Fes to Chefchaouen had me fidgeting in my seat and almost peeing my pants, partially because I'd had too many coffees that morning but mostly because driving through the mountains just made me that excited. This was my favorite part of Morocco that we saw. A quaint little mountain town, Chefchaouen charmed the hell out of me. We asked for directions from a man sitting outside of a bar who's eyes and scruffy beard reminded me of my father. He spent twenty minutes drawing a complicated map of the town for us, switching between French, Arabic, and Spanish. On the way up to our hostel we made many "friends" offering to show us the way there (aka trying to sell us hash). "Hash? Hash? I have hashhh," they would whisper with their finger gesturing for us to speak quietly. The colors of the djellabas (long robes with a pointed hood) that most older men and women wear, compliment the little town perfectly (and also looked just so cozy! ...kind of like a Snuggie...)

Being there during Semaña Santa, we found many Spanish families in Chefchaouen on vacation. During the Inquisition both Jews and Muslims, expelled from Southern Spain in the early 1500's, took refuge in the town and constructed homes in typical Andalucían style. Later, when the Spaniards arrived to colonize the region, they found people speaking Old Spanish. The town was originally painted green to represent the Muslim religion, but was repainted blue in the 1930's to welcome the Jews who were seeking refuge there. (This is what I understood from a history book in Spanish so I wouldn't suggest quoting me on it). Aside from the interesting history, the light blue color gives the streets of the medina a magical and cozy feel; waking up early and losing myself in the little neighborhoods could never get old. The shades of blue changed constantly with the sun. Locals generally thought we were French or Spanish, as American tourists were few and far between. Upon recognition that we were from the United States we consistently received the same reaction of a smile and nod followed up by "Obamaland!" I can't tell you how much better that reaction feels than the ones I received in 2008 when Ecuadorians found out I was American.

The contradictions of Morocco continually surprised me and cracked me up on multiple occasions. Pre-marital sex is illegal and almost all of the women dressed very conservatively even if they weren't wearing a Burka, yet I noticed more than a few promiscuous dress and lingerie stores. My favorite was walking by houses or burka shops and hearing 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" casually playing on radios.

On the bus from Chefchaouen back to Tanger there was only one seat left which was covered in someone's old puke...which I ended up sitting in. yay :) It was pretty amusing because all of the Moroccans on the bus were horrified by it. I couldn't help but think about the amount of dirty trash in the streets, the absence of soap, and the raw meat that hung from ceilings covered in flies on a hot day. But sitting next to someone's dried puke for an hour? That would be absurd. I took it as a sign that it was finally time to wash my jeans.

We made it on to a ferry departing to Algeciras, Spain from Tanger at around 10pm. Just like the titanic minus Leonardo Dicaprio. Más o menos. I could go on and on forever, but I will spare you all. I have found it frustratingly difficult to describe my feelings and experiences in Morocco. My opinions on what I saw and experienced are constantly fluctuating, and I am still in the reflecting and processing stage of it all. More than anything I wish I was able to grasp the culture and the religion on a deeper level, which was difficult to do as a tourist.

1 comment:

  1. Sophie, your photos are amazing! Wow! And your descriptions of Morocco are so very interesting, so vivid. It makes me want to go there and not want to!

    Love, mum