We Try To Rock The Kasbah During Ramadan Fast

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2010

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Where I stayed
Miramonte Campground and Pension Victoria

Flag of Morocco  ,
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We are finally in Tangier, Morocco after a crazy travel day and a half to get here and have entered into what our guide book says is one of the greatest shows on Earth. Morocco is charming us already and i am sure it will enchant us even more as we get familiar with the fascinating Muslim culture. The computer keyboard i am typing on is in Arabic and the English alphabet letters are scattered around the board making this blog a slow process. Morocco will definitely take a while for us to settle into. There is nowhere else like it.

We walk out onto the street outside the port area to try and get a cheaper taxi deal. A faux guide tails us straight away and trys to lure us into a deal on a hotel. I ignore his questions of where you from? and Francoise? and keep walking. Everybody thinks we are French, perhaps because recently we ate 200 snails. We definitely have snail karma. Some people are legitimately friendly though.

We think we are ready for Morocco and the hustlers after time spent in South America and this is our next step towards India.We hailed one of the older style Mercedes taxis and get in the car after we do a deal with the driver for 10 dirham. After the backpacks are in his trunk he turns to us and says we must pay him 100 dirham instead of the agreed 10. He tries to be stern with us thinking we are fresh off the boat from Spain. We refuse and try to get out but he will not open the trunk of the taxi and then tells us he will take us to the campground for 25dirham. We agree knowing we are still being ripped off, we have an approximate exchange rate sorted out. The driver does a maniac mission through the medina area of town and even drives on the footpath. He was actually snorting like a bull in anger and spitting out the window. We had to put our heads out the window and make horn noises so  people wouldnt be run over by the madman. After we get to the location he demands 20 dirham AND 5 EURO. Bollocks to that we said and he threw our money into the dirt and kicked it. He then tried to steal Nadines daypack and put it back in his trunk. Some muscle-y looking Moroocans came over to smooth it out so after we paid the 25 dirham the driver left yelling Arabic out his door. Later we found out that he just needed a cigarette. Welcome to Morocco.

We stayed in a campground out of town where they kept monkeys in cages and there was only one other tent. Why only one other tent? Because by the time you pay for a taxi out there and add on showers which are extra then your night spent not sleeping on a hard ground surface costs you the same amount as the cheap hotel with rooftop views in the centre of town. We have decided to put the tent away for now and take the rooms.

Upon entering Morocco we are immediately  made aware that we are in a country where 99% of people are Muslim. Despite extensive Westernisation, Morocco remains a largely conservative Muslim society. This means a high degree of modesty is demanded of both sexes in dress and behaviour. For us this means covering up our shoulders, upper arms and chest areas and we need to wear long trousers or skirts. We dont need to wear the head dress but we have decided to go all Lawrence Of Arabia and buy one of the long pixie-like, hooded, shapeless kaftan shirts that all the women wear. I am getting mine in potato sack brown. Bang on some sunglasses and some genie shoes and hey presto, no-one knows you are a gringo and we can get around the gorgeous streets without being harrassed by men. The harrassment generally takes the form of  intense and persistent staring and constant greetings. One guy attempted an arse grab but i was too quick for him and no contact was made. Avoiding eye contact is absolutely neccesary. Languages spoken here are Berber; Arabic and French so we are out of luck in the communication stakes.We are trying to learn some basic Morrocan Arabic like how to say no thank you, toilet, water, how much? and bugger off.

We took a room at Victoria pension on Mokhtar Ahardan Alley for 100 dirham which was around AU$16 for both of us including shower water, rooftop views to the Strait Of Gibralter and turkish style squat toilets. Then we had a wander around town getting lost in the alleyways. We checked out the petit and grand socco areas and the kasbah area where the former sultans palace is. We ate little honey baklava type sweets, two bananas, a samosa and some little muffins filled with tuna and mincemeat.

The muslim residents of Tangier all cover up with the hooded dress, head dress and genie shoes for the women and the long, to the floor, hoodless dressing gown type shirt, genie shoes and little beanie cap being the normal attire for the men.  Some modern, younger women wear a shorter kaftan dress over jeans; higher heeled shoes and sunglasses adorn the face. Some women paint their feet and hands with henna paste. Some older men wear a pixie type hood and robe that makes them look like wizards. Some of them carry headless broomsticks to complete the costume. There are gorgeous coloured tiles everywhere. We got lost trekking around the medina and taking in the spicy smells wafting around our nostrils and changing scent at every turn we took. I like Morocco alot. The stores sell wonderful Moroccan goods like leather feet seat poofs, hookahs, Alladin lamps, genie shoes that curl up at the ends, rugs, instruments and glass lanterns. Of course we want to bring it all home with us. It is mainly men who hang out in the streets doing business deals, drinking mint tea and playing cards whilst the women are at home or out buying food.

The most important thing we learn today. After a whole day, we find out that Moroccans are in the middle of  the Ramadan fast or holy month which means they are basically fasting and are only allowed breakfast very early at around 5am after their first prayer of the day. This was the singing and prayers we heard on the first night, they blast it through the city via mega speakers. Then no food or water is allowed until sunset each night when there is more prayer and the daily fast is broken. All the stores shut, food stores open, fruit drink tables set up and everybody eats like beasts shoving fried sardines, olives, prunes and bowls of lentil soup down their throats then the stores open up again. They pray then eat again then repeat this again. Also, no music or live entertainment, no smoking, no alcohol and no sex allowed. You can be arrested for drinking or selling alcohol. Everybody stays up all night until 4am eating and praying then sleeps in all morning. During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to avoid obscene and irreligious sights and sounds. We are not so sure if the intended outcomes are achieved.

As a tourist we can still do anything we like, but it would be much appreciated if we didn't each or drink in front of the locals. Oops, we already have. We chowed down on baclava type sweets in the main square and were wondering why everyone looked like they wanted to punch us in the face. Also we were wondering why all the local restaurants are closed. The only prepared food to be found is at McDonald's and Pizza Hut where, legally, only Westerners and Muslim children can eat. Bollocks to that, we are in Morocco. We can buy a stash of fruit and other things like pastries then sneak into our hotel to eat them without shame. Let them eat cake. We have also  learned that non-Muslims can buy liquor if they succeed in convincing a store owner to open his Aladdin's cave of booze and show a passport, a bit of a process for a beer we thought. Where are we gonna get the drinks for Nadias birthday? We also unknowingly commited the sin of smoking cigarettes in the main square and people were yelling Ramadan, Ramadan at us. They meant it too and we dont want to be on the wrong end of an angry muslim. We are so very ignorant. But, now we know, all respect to the Muslim culture.

Properly observing the fast is meant to induce a comfortable feeling of peace and calm but in fact everyone is angry with a temper with their voices yelling competitively at increasingly high decibel levels. They are all hungry, tired, horny, thirsty and in the midst of the effects of  serious nicotene withdrawls. The hookahs are empty. The internet woman has just finished an intense domestic with her boss and i have already seen a brawl on the streets plus.... the crazy taxi driver and someone is beating up a telephone in this very room at this very moment. Joy. We thought we were prepared for Morocco but now we find we will have to drink down an extra can of harden up in the morning if we are to survive Morocco during the holy month. Perhaps we will have our pick of the hotels as many tourists smarter than us stay away. After Ramadan ends in one month there is a festival called Aid-al-Fitr that lasts for five days and basically involves everybody ending the famine by feasting on alcohol and previously forbidden foods, cant be good for the system. All of Morocco grinds to a halt at this time and we want to be out before this occurs. But, does all this Holy week business mean we will not be seeing any bellydancers on show?

After the sunset happens and the daily fast is broken we can smell all the food cooking and follow our noses down some alleyways in search of dinner. We realise that all the restaurants are filled with men scoffing food and find it a little intimidating to enter knowing that there are many male only venues in Morocco. We take our chances on a small place serving traditional Moroccan fare and order a meatball tajine that comes out as lamb and a bowl of the tasty Moroccan soup. You cant eat or touch communal drinking water or money with your left "hygiene" (toilet) hand which takes a little getting used to. Moroccans are messy eaters.

They areonly  three days into Ramadan. Usual daily life is lived at night time (eating and prayers) and things are slow to get going during the day.

Happy Ramadan!!!

Where are the belly dancers? When do we see a camel? No we dont want to see your carpet store.

Now we feel comfortable with our introduction to Morocco we are heading south and in a little deeper.
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