Posts Tagged With: Marrakech

Remembering Argana.

Sunset from Cafe Argana, taken January 2011

We raced a Moroccan sun. “If we time it right, you’ll see magic twice from the terrace,” I explained to my friend Natalie. “First when the sun sets, and then again when the square twinkles to life.” We both needed a bathroom badly, but I insisted there wasn’t time. Our waiter at Cafe Argana had served me before, and we recognized each other. He, like so many of the Moroccans I know, understood the importance of levity and laughter, so he joked amiably with us each time he passed our table. A young American couple sat nearby, discussing how they wished their still-wet henna designs were permanent tattoos. A Moroccan kid, no more than ten years old, squeezed in behind Natalie’s chair to take pictures of Djemaa El Fna, and occasionally, tourists whispered happy apologies in myriad accents while they leaned over our teapots to snap the sinking sun. Marrakech was so hot that day that Natalie and I had spent the afternoon shadow hopping; between our aching bladders and our scorching skin we were anxious for the sun to quit. But, it clung tenaciously to the sky. Finally, it dipped below the horizon and one by one the bright light bulbs hanging from each of the booths began to glow, illuminating the delicacies of Marrakech: dates and apricots, pots of snails and pots of harrira, servings of sausages and dished up tanjia. “I see what you mean,” Natalie said from behind her camera’s viewfinder. “The square is shinning.”

Djemma El Fna shines, view from Argana on April 9, 2011

I’d made a habit of sharing a chicken bastilla at the same table on Café Argana’s terrace each time one of my friends visited Morocco. “Of course you did,” a Moroccan friend said yesterday when we were discussing the bombing. “Everyone did. It’s the best. Everyone goes to Argana.” Then, he lowered his head and said: “It’s not right. How could someone do something so terrible? That’s not Islam. That’s not Morocco. I hope you know that.” I nodded and said I did and we resumed worrying: about his friend that worked nearby, about my waiter from a few weeks ago.

Cafe Argana, December 31, 2010

After that last visit to Marrakech, I came home and found a concert in downtown El Jadida. It was warm outside and the whole town was out for the party. The bands were mostly local and they were surprisingly good. They sang in English and French and Darija and Arabic. I wandered through the crowd dodging strollers and dancing two-year olds and swaying dads with daughters on their shoulders. In the grass, kids joined hands and twirled until they fell down giggling and dizzy. I thought: this is what Park Slope would look like if you passed out djellabas during Celebrate Brooklyn. And everywhere I looked people were holding each other because they were happy. This is Morocco:

And that’s what makes me so sad about Thursday’s events. This isn’t a country where bombs go off; it’s a place where people you’ve only just met invite you to tea or lunch and insist you eat until you’re stuffed. This is a country of amazing linguists. It’s a country of stories and storytellers. It’s a country where you can watch an evening come to life from a beautiful terrace. It’s a country where people laugh often, and laugh well. I’m so sad for Marrakech and the tragic events that occurred there Thursday. I’m angry that innocent people died, and that someone willingly marred the reputation and the tourism industry of a country that dearly loves and needs their tourists. But I’m also confident in the wonderful Moroccans. They will rebuild and survive and the country will continue to evolve in uniquely Moroccan ways. They’ll show everyone that this is a safe and amazing place to visit. And, inshallah, the tourists will continue to swoon over smells and monkeys and the snakes and the storytellers and the performers, just as they have done for hundreds of years, because the spirit Djemaa El Fna has more power than any bomb.

Argana at Night, taken October 30, 2010

Categories: fulbright, Morocco, Ponderings | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Road to Marrakech is Paved with Vocabulary Words.

The woman sat next to me, pressed my body against the public bus window.

-Salaam, I offered while adjusting my bags and my position. She ignored me. My traveling companion was a big woman wearing a sage veil, and I’d watched her board with a younger woman and two children. She had lots of wrinkles around her eyes, which I imagined she’d acquired from hawkishly watching the other three. Every few minutes she twisted her neck to scope the back of the bus where the others sat. Unquestionably, this woman was the matriarch of her family.

There are many differences between men and women in Morocco, but one of these is the palpable sense of ownership, of control, of fearlessness, of sagaciousness, that an older woman often embodies. I suppose I could use some of the same words to describe both my grandmothers, women who presided over their households in America. But it’s different. I don’t want to use cliché phrases like “a lifetime of hard-work” to describe the women here. Because while that’s true, both my grandmothers’ faced their own struggles and worked very hard. Maybe what I’m looking for is a sense of connectedness to the land, of using hands and feet and backs to make a life. I’m not sure. Think of that famous Dorothea Lange Dust Bowl photo of the woman with her children, and you’ll see a face that expresses what my words fail to do.

Ten minutes into our trip, my seatmate eyed me skeptically. -Labas, I tried.

-Shnu? she asked, almost aggressively. As if I’d rudely asked her to move over.

-Labas? Bexair? Hi, are you well? I smiled.

Then, the woman started to chortle – one of the loudest, heartiest laughs I’ve ever heard. The entire bus turned around to look at us.

-Bexair, Hamdoullilah. You speak Arabic?

-Chwiya, I explained. Only a little. She laughed again and slapped my knee. I giggled. And then she announced to everyone that the American spoke Arabic. She told me a little about where she was going, about her family and wanted to know what my  exactly my travel mug was. I tried to explain that it kept my coffee warm for hours, that I usually ordered two café nus-nus to fill it up before a journey. She didn’t believe me, so I unscrewed the lid and together we watched the steam rise.

When she got off the bus half-an-hour later, the skinny woman with a pointy nose across the aisle slid in beside me. It was obvious she wanted to talk, so I asked her for her story: Where was she from? Where she was going? Who was she meeting there? She wanted to see my mug, too, and when I pulled out my red aluminium water bottle, she was equally amused. Neither of the women spoke French or English. My Arabic is so limited that conversations always stay on the surface. Still, I’m always grateful for the practice. And every person I meet teaches me something new about Morocco.

The second woman exited at Sidi Bennour, a town that’s home to many of my students. She invited me to visit her there or in El Jadida. When she left, two small children appeared in the still-warm seat. They were shy at first, but soon, like children from any country, we were playing and laughing and talking freely. I often find children a great relief because our language skills are a closer match, and because the world is so filled with magic for them – just as Morocco is for me.

The bus stopped mid-way between El Jadida and Marrakech for a break. I didn’t brave the stretch I badly wanted, because I couldn’t figure out how long our halt would last. I’d watched four men help an old woman hop onto the already departing bus back in El Jadida, and I knew I wasn’t ready to perform such a trick in the event it was necessary. Men boarded proffering bags of clementines and bananas bunches for 5 dirhams. A hunched back woman climbed aboard, asked for change. Another man lectured the crowd for about 10 minutes. He was selling something – a product, a political notion, I’m not sure. I tried to talk the fruit vendors into selling me one piece of fruit for a dirham, but none of them would bite. I gave the old woman my dirham instead. Baraka, indeed, because soon after I gave away my coin, the mother of the children flanking me offered me a banana and a clementine.

The children spent the rest of the journey teaching me Arabic prepositions, which we demonstrated with one of the tiny oranges. Fuq: above. Thht: below, Mura: behind, qddam: in front. I taught them to count in English to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Soon, we were deep into the desert and the number of degrees inside the bus escalated. The kids taught me the word for hill, and for cow, and by the time we entered the outskirts of Marrakech, I had learned so many words that I was starting to forget everything. The kids took turns sitting on my lap.

At the bus station in Marrakech, the children shouted “Au Revoir, Erin!” until I couldn’t see them anymore. I hopped into a petite taxi, and headed to Djma El Fnna to meet my friends for a weekend of food and shopping and laughter.

Since this entry is already long and you can read about the awesome, but very touristy city of Marrakech everywhere else on the web, I’ll leave you with my photos and their captions and an offer to give you more details upon request. My new friend Kate, posted a great bargaining guide on her blog, so if you’re visiting Morocco and want to shop, make sure to read her tips first.

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Categories: fulbright, Morocco, Ponderings, wanderings | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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