It began in Africa-ca-ca-ca-ca

Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
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Trip End Jun 11, 2007


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Hello all from the edge of the desert. It has been five days now in Morocco, and the best way I can descibe it is indelible, and a bit overwhelming.

We got off the boat in Tanger under sunny skies and were met immediately by a guy whose name was Mustafa, who explained that he was employed by the government to give a sort of guided tour of places you wouldn't ordinarily see in the area. So we went along and enjoyed a mostly amazing tour of the city and surrounding areas. After checking into a nice hotel across from a mosque (the call to prayer, the first one I've heard, woke me up at dawn, and was quite chilling the first time, insistent like an emergency alarm). There was the Medina, or old town, over 1400 years old, everything a dirty white color, dim streetlights, dirty, crowded. The market, full of fly-covered fruit and smelling of fish, where we were educated on Moroccan carpets (the one thing in Morocco that always appreciates in value), silver, woodworking, and spices. I received a neck massage. We must have really trusted this guy, because we let him drive us around town in an old Volkswagen hatchback with no seat belts in the back, and the radio faceplate falling out as he explained how good life was here. But good in a simple way--people go about their business. We saw the Cave of Hercules, a Roman cave whose sea-carved opening is shaped remarkably like the African continent (Madagascar included), near the point where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet. We saw and saw and saw. Ate good food. Weren't charged an outrageous amount, although I soon learned that Moroccans are very adept at providing services and not telling you what the price is until afterward.

Probably the most interesting thing about Morocco are the people. Tanger was a pretty Moroccan place despite its tourist town status, as in the Medina there were almost exclusively locals. The women dress mostly in traditional Muslim clothes, although it's not shocking to see them dressed like Westerners. The men dress mostly in Western style (an ironic term, as Morocco is geographically west of most of Europe), although plenty do not. There are the very rich, who drive new Mercedes and wear suits and seem to avoid places like the Medina; the comfortable, who as adults dress nicely and as children walk around with adults; and the pretty destitute, who as children hawk chiclets or fake Italian watches, and as adults are stooped and gaunt, their faces the color of dirt.

These last few are typical of Tanger, Mustafa explained. Since Morocco hasn't developed the same industry as Western countries, its economy relies only on handicrafts like carpets and leather and silver, which while they are quite nice don't provide the sort of economic growth and employment that industry can sustain. So lots of people simply can't find work, so they just hang out. It is hard to see because they don't look pathetic, just bored, a victim of their society just as certain people are in the U.S., except they don't complain (more on that later).

We moved on to Marrakech by night train, where I was treated to a show of Moroccan cell phone etiquette. Like the Spaniards, it is horrendous, and seems not to take into account either the vibrate feature or the ring-silencer. The rolling green rocky hills of the north gave way to the red desert of the south, even more rocky, mostly being worked by people as if it was combed. Then we arrived in bustling Marrakech, escorted to a hotel by a friendly cab driver.

Let me just say that driving is an absolute nightmare here. The tendency is to drive in the middle of the road as long as no one is coming, a policy which ignores the center stripe and often calls for swerving. There are no traffic lights, people just merge and others either let them in or don't, at which point a honking match begins. Crossing the street calls for being narrowly missed by at least five bicycles, motorbikes, and carsm and by narrowly missed I mean inches, as they always know how much space they have, but as an American used to wide lanes and big crosswalks, I do not! It is a trip.

Marrakech is beautiful, with a big rose garden in full bloom and a huge royal palace, a mosque from the 12th century, and of course the main square. It is also incredibly smelly and dirty, a mix of garbage and car fumes filling the air. Lots of old cars, but just as many donkeys and horses, gaunt and tired looking, pulling all sorts of carts. Also people pulling carts. Traffic EVERYWHERE.

But while these seem like inconveniences, they are not really. What is annoying to me are the tourists here, mostly garden variety French and English, hanging out in the hotel bar drinking beer (which good Muslims don't do) and taking photos. They are just irritating, the type with rolling suitcases and thick accents who make the waiters bend to their wishes. I mean, I'm glad they're traveling, but they're not for me, and there are a surprising number of them.

The other inconvenience is that, as a Westerner, I am constantly hit up for money, hashish, goods, etc. Dozens of times a day a young man walks past me and whispers, "hashish," which is legal but not openly smoked here, and pesters me when I answer in French, no, we don't want any. Shopkeepers call from their doorways as if we'll just fly in and buy everything. One of the most awesome things about Marrakech is the main square, which every night has a huge market with lots of music and food and stuff. Last night we went there to see what was up, and ended up leaving far earlier than we wanted to because we just kept getting hassled for money. A guy would come up and dance for you for nine seconds, then hold out his hat. Then his friend, who was only in your peripheral vision, would hold out his hat too, as if they were working independently. The musicians always asked for money even if you weren't listening, except the best group who were a bunch of young men who I really would have liked to give money to, but it was all gone by then. The music is really good though, ranging from very traditional instruments to the most stomping beats you could possibly imagine, mostly in Arabic I think, some of it so syncopated that it's almost arhythmic. But everyone from young girls to musicians to cooks to drug dealers asked us for money and basically chased us out of there. I kept reminding myself that it was because I was more financially well off than them, I think, but I was actually pretty offended by it all. I came away dejected, thinking, yes, this is an interesting and simple culture and all, but it's basically just a capitalistic jungle on a smaller scale, money running everything and governing people's lives. It's just more obvious when there's less of it, or maybe I've just gotten used to the U.S.

Which brings me back to our wonderful country (well, for most of the people reading this anyway) who yesterday gave me some mixed news from the elections. While I am happy that the Dems have gotten some seats back, I have to voice publicly my extremely bitter disappointment in the fact that Wisconsinites voted for not one but two extremely, blatantly discriminatory and unsympathetic measures, the gay marriage ban and the reinstatement of the death penalty. Allow me to editorialize here but reinstating the death penalty?? We might as well have voted to reinstate slavery, for God's sake. And gay marriage, I mean this is a fight that will just go on, I guess. My heart goes out to the people who were working to keep the ban from passing, especially Jordan, who is the only one I know personally. And of course to all the people who will now be officially second class citizens in the eyes of our state...I hope everyone else is quite proud of that as we cheer on our Packers and Badgers and drink more beer and buy Christmas presents and all that jazz. Way to go Wisconsin.

Okay, if that offended anyone...too bad, I'm not in the mood. But Africa is cool, anyway. Love you all.
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Comments

jbburghardt
jbburghardt on

Thanks for the Shout Out
I'm extremely depressed about this, but the fight will go on. I mean, we will just have to wait like 30 years and then have another amendment to repeal this one. Fucking bigots.

Also, Arizona defeated their same sex marriage ban referendum, so it wasn't all in vain.

And while it's too close to call, I think that the Dems will take over the Senate as well. AND Doyle got reelected, so if the State Assembly votes to reinstate the death penalty, he'll probably veto it.

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