A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Medinas in Morroco

We made our way two hours north by train to Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. Our mission: get two visas to Ghana in one afternoon. We arrived by 11am and delivered our application in quadruplicate, with 4 photos, 1 copy of our passport, and $65 each. Waiting patiently on a supple brown leather sofa in the air conditioned air, we wished we could just stay the 3 nights in the serenity of the embassy compound. The ambassador wished to speak with us and it was a bit like being called in to the principals office. Why do you feel nervous, especially when you have absolutely nothing to be nervous about? We got our visas an hour later and we were on our way to look for a hotel, we told the cabbie to take us to the Medina, feeling braver from the night before to try again.

The Medina is the old section of the city where the two story arched buildings line narrow pedestrian streets filled with thousands of buyers, sellers, food vendors, and locals hanging out.

It is most definitely “where its at“. Bustling, noisy, often smelly. It was my favorite thing in Morocco, we called it crazy land, as in “Where do you want to eat tonight? Crazy land?”

We actually slept in Crazy land one night, because a woman lured us away from a hotel we were evaluating, with the promise of a cheap apartment. Cheap, was right. Clean, not since the eighties. I actually bought disinfectant and spent a solid two hours cleaning the bathroom before daring to use it.
And to make matters worse it was the bottom floor, or more like inner courtyard, of her families house. So anytime day or night, she could peek her head over the railing and yell something down at us. Not exactly a private love palace, but it had amazing architectural elements, high ceilings, decorated archways, and traditional furnishings. We just couldn’t deal with the centuries of built-up grime and moved out the next day, against her heart wrenching pleas for us to stay.

Later that morning, I got in line (which is inaccurate, more like I clamored in a mob) with a few dozen people in front of a food stall frying up what looked like frittered doughnuts and sesamed sweets. After a minute or two the man behind the counter pointed to me for my order. “Uhhhhhh…deux, s’il vous plait?” My French, by no means good, was a godsend (or allah, if you prefer) in Morocco as most everyone speaks Arabic or French but usually very little English. Little did I know, that I had actually ordered 2 kilo and not 2 pieces!! Luckily it was only 50 dirham or a little over $6 but we didn’t even put a dent in the enormous bag we received, and ended up giving most of it to the nice doorman at Hotel Central where we stayed on Mohammed V.

Almost against our will, we are fasting during the day, eating an early breakfast and a late dinner. The famous tajine dishes (lamb with prunes, chicken with citrus and olive) were pretty good, but the fresh mint tea afterwards was to die for and is not to be missed. Speaking of, we missed having couscous since they only serve it on Fridays and we didn‘t know this crucial piece of information until after the only Friday we would be in Morocco. Argh! This Ramadan business has led to frustrating outbursts because nothing is open. And then all of a sudden everything is open. And then its closed again. We long for the schedule, like someone could hand us a Ramadan for Dummys book that explains when we have 5 minutes to buy q-tips at the corner store.

Ramadan is a time for introspection and prayer, to show self-discipline and appreciation through your conscious abstention of pleasures. I did a long sweaty session of yoga and meditation as the 3rd call to prayer sounded. I felt a little bit closer to the strange city surrounding me. I felt at peace. Then my stomach rumbled. Shit!

It’s hard to review Morocco on its own merits. We were only in the cities and busy securing visas. It was quite hot in the southern regions, like Marrakesh, so we didn’t venture to see the more exotic side of the country. And to top that off we came during Ramadan, which is no one’s fault but our own for the poor planning. I wouldn’t tell you not to visit Morocco, since I think we saw a very skewed and narrow view. But we hated it, hated it with a passion. Sitting at the airport, neither of us could wait to get out. The plane was delayed another unbearable hour. Softened fractionally by the kitties roaming around and keeping us company.

We prayed the flight would not be canceled, which apparently happens a lot on Royal Air Maroc flights. But we were filled with elation when we finally lifted off and flew south to the West African nation of Ghana…


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