Back in Morocco: a new perspective

So it’s my last full day on the continent; I fly out tomorrow for London.

It’s been a hell of a trip. “Trip of a lifetime,” as many people have said, though it never felt like it at the time. While I was in it, it just felt… hard.

And it was. It was challenging in so many ways, and infinitely rewarding because of that (which is, of course, very easy to say now, from the comfort of Morocco). But now I can definitely see the validity in the statement.

Of course, coming back to Morocco itself has been giving me a lot to think about; it’s like stepping into another world. It’s magical here, really; I can see why there are so many tourists. It’s like Aladdin, Arabian nights; all that. Though as I always said, so much of it is completely fabricated.

But some of it’s real. Like the old men. Tons of them, huddled up in the cafés, in their djellabas, with their tea and their banter. Extremely dignified, even without many teeth to speak of. Classically Arabic, Berber; something from the desert, a nomadic heritage, whatever you want to call it.

But I struggled again to fully define how things work here and what this place is all about. A bizarre mix of tradition and modernization. And it’s amazing how much a place can change once you see it with fresh eyes. I feel almost as if they were closed the first time; but I realize you can only absorb so much at a time, and I was working on other things then.

I still see many things the same, but also notice new things now that I contrast it directly from 7 months in west Africa.

That said, the process of identifying these differences and similarities is not a simple task. As I walk down the street, I notice a thing here and a thing there (we’re in a medina: obvious difference #1. There are real shops to buy your souvenirs, where you can browse at your relative leisure, but you will pay for that convenience: thing #2), but I find it difficult to nail the less obvious things down. Everything blends together and I have a hard time separating things out. Especially the deeper and more meaningful things; the things about culture. The things about how tourism has changed, both corrupted and benefitted the country. How to measure these differences in development? How to compare and contrast these two regions of the same continent, which look and feel like they couldn’t be farther apart?

To find out, I’d have to go out. I’d have to wander, in and out of the medina, meet people, be vulnerable, to figure out how this place works. But I haven’t really had the energy for that. I didn’t go out much.

Partly I’m just done, but partly it’s because Essaouira is totally overrun with tourists right now. A lot of them are European vacationers, and I feel completely out of place. I’m lost here because I have no one who I can relate to. Sure, other backpackers have been few and far between, but when I meet them in Mali or Burkina, we can talk about the border between Mauritania and Maroc or Senegal, and know the things we’ve been through. We can laugh about so many different, challenging situations we’ve navigated. We can reminisce about the sept-places, and swap mini-bus horror stories. We can connect.

But that’s just not something I can get here. Travelling morocco is so easy, and I fight with myself constantly not to judge other people for their concerns. And feel sort of how I imagine the elderly might feel; with so much experience but no one who will appreciate your stories. So instead I just haven’t really said much.

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Before yoga on the beach

I read on the roof, did yoga, and went to the beach, but that’s about it. Not the beach everyone else goes to, either, but the one you find only by leaving the medina and traipsing though garbage first. Because that’s my style.

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After yoga on the beach

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Ommm…

Though it’s not all bad. I am blessed to still have a best friend whom I have known my entire life, and she has the honour of hearing all of my bitching, whining, and complaining. All my rambling, wandering thoughts pass by her first. Thank god for Whatsapp.

And the last few weeks months, she’s been getting a lot of me saying how ready I was to go home. It comes in waves; the worst when I am sick (and damn, was I ever sick my last week in Burkina). But the closer I get, the more ready I become. When I was in Bamako, I was frustrated, sitting idle. And here I was again, stalling, waiting for time to pass, until I could be home. I felt like with all the luxuries of morocco, if I’m going to be somewhere so comfortable, I would rather just be home.

But now I’m almost there!

And despite these feelings of boredom and alienation, I’ve also had many things to enjoy (which Emily was relieved finally to hear). Though almost all of these things are centred around food…

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For example, in the morning lately I’ve been having this bread, which is grilled and served drizzled with olive oil and honey. It burns my fingers and my mouth in the first few bites, but it’s so good. And I’ve no idea what it’s called.

And then it was Couscous Friday. And ya’ll know how I feel about Couscous Fridays. It was everything I wanted. And I’m very sad that my poor planning did not allow me a second opportunity. I will fly out too early to find any!

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50 cents, people. 50 cents.

Then, there are the pastries. If I have lost any weight in WA, it will be returned to me 100% and more in these 10 days.

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The cafés are pretty adorable, too

Love these guys at Cloud9!

Love these guys at Cloud9!

The tajines are fantastic, and I’ve been treated like family back at the hostel, so I got the communal meals that I always love (and other benefits, like snuggles!)

Finally, I do have a couple more things that I’ve found very enjoyable, which are not food-related (well one kinda is): the hammam, and wandering the back-streets of essaouira. The medina itself is very straightforward, and I can get wherever I need to without much trouble. But it’s still a huge maze with a lot to discover when you’re not looking for anything in particular.

Such as, the boulangerie (back to food). I found it the other day while trying to find a shortcut back to the hostel. I absolutely love the old-school way of doing it. And nearby are some artisinal shops, where blankets are made by looms, and embroidery and woodworking are done by hand. Absolutely stunning.

My only complaint in the food-and-beverage realm is that I used to love the tea, but now I judge that too. It’s the same tea (green tea from china, oddly enough) as in WA, but a different preparation.

I’ve loved to watch how the tea culture changed along the way; as you move south, it gets stronger, and less sweet (though still plenty of sugar, just with diminished effect due to the strength of the tea itself), and there’s more work involved.

In Morocco, the tea is prepared with gas, on a stove-top or a fixture attached to the top of a propane tank. It’s heated, sugar and mint is added, then it’s heated again, and then poured back and forth to achieve the desired amount of “turban”. After it’s poured into glasses, you sip it by the tiniest increments, sort of slurping it, the way your mother always taught you not to, in effort to sort of cool it as it passes over your lips. Though this is unnecessary by the time you finish (though you still do it anyway), because you will typically finish it cold. I do not believe there is any remaining concept of the “three cups”.

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By the time you get to Mali, however, three cups are obligatory, and it’s gonna take you a good couple of hours to have them.

First you must buy the charcoal, and then locate someone with existing hot coals to get yours started; you swing it around or maybe fan it for a bit in order to bring it up to the right heat. The tea is made only in the tiniest of pots (whereas in morocco, they can mass-produce it a bit in bigger pots). It’s heated once, some is poured into other cups, more water is added (more or less depending on the number of people being served; if there are more than a few people, they seem to use a second pot in conjunction with the first), more sugar than you can imagine going into that tiny pot is tossed in, and it’s heated again. But remember, we’re working with coals here. Each heat probably takes at least 20 minutes, or can take all day if no one remembers to fan it.

Eventually it’s bubbling up through it’s lid, so it’s ready. Depending on the number if pots, there will be many transfers of tea between them and the little cups, in a way that I generally cannot understand.

After, it’s poured back and forth, just like in Morocco, in and out of the pot, working up this tea-foam. Pour a cup (from a distance; it’s the disturbance that creates the foam), put down the pot, flip open the lid, pick up the cup, pour the tea back in, put down the cup, snap the lid closed, and start again (it only just occurred to me that this is possibly done often with one hand only, as to abide by the same rule that dictates that you eat only with your right hand).

Eventually, a cup is poured and handed to the person at the top of the hierarchy of respect (the eldest and/or richest are served first); it’s sipped in a similar way; noisily, and small amounts at a time, but it’s a very small cup, and the idea is not to mull over it for half an hour, but rather to drink it quickly so that the next person may drink. The cup is returned and refilled for whoever is next in line. And then this whole process is repeated another 2 times.

Here, in Maroc, you can order a pot of tea at any cafe. But everywhere else, it’s a process that you must be invited to, and sit through in order to enjoy. Both customs involve a lot of sitting and chatting, but here the preparation is quick but the drinking is slow, whereas south of here, it’s the preparation that’s slow and the drinking that is fast. I now find it challenging to pace myself.

All of this makes me miss Mali. And miss Burkina. I don’t want an entire pot; I just want a tiny cup of strong (albeit still sweet), dark, coal-fired goodness.

2 thoughts on “Back in Morocco: a new perspective

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