Monday, January 26

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Today we woke up on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t even consider this until midday. Nothing around us reminded us it was Christmastime, and the warmish weather and palm trees didn’t help. We started the day with a city tour of Marrakesh, first going to one of the many gardens surrounding the mosque in Marrakesh. The garden was lovely, especially for it being wintertime. Lots of roses everywhere. We had a good view of the minaret, and took lots of photos. Too many photos, really.

Next we drove to an old palace (not a royal palace, just a large home). Walking toward the palace walls, we were surrounded by dirt bikes and smoky air, but as we entered the walls, it was like entering another world. The air cleared, the noise went away. We could hear birds chirping. Again, we saw a bunch of cats. The palace was okay, but it wasn’t in great condition. No one was living there, and a lot of paint was peeling and some tiles were damaged. Again, we saw lots of intricate tiling, high painted ceilings, and several courtyards. Again, I took way too many pictures. My favorite room had high stained glass windows. They called it Iraqian glass because (drumroll) it came from Iraq. With the sun streaming through, it was gorgeous.

This is the stained glass and one of the beautiful ceilings.

Our next stop on the city tour was the worst of the entire trip so far. We went to a silver jewelry store. They told us that Morocco makes a lot of silver goods, so that’s why were going here. But then, inside it was just like any old jewelry store. They didn’t teach us anything about the silver, they just wanted us to buy things. It felt like a big scam, some sort of deal between Cosmos and the jewelry store. And we spent 45 minutes there! All we wanted to do was go see the souk, but we had to stand around for nearly an hour.

After the silver store, we went to a traditional Berber herbalist. Andrew and I were pretty excited about going here, but it turned out to be less interesting than expected. It was a small shop, and the scents of all the herbs, powders, and creams were incredibly overwhelming to me. We all sat around the edges of the room on narrow benches while the herbalist demonstrated his products. For most products, he went around the room and put a dab or cream on each of our hands or held something up to our noses to smell. One of the products was some kind of sinus-clearing thing. He wrapped up whatever herbs it included in a little cloth, then took the balled up cloth and literally held it up to each person’s nostril, pushing their other nostril closed and instructing them to inhale. The cloth was practically inside every person’s nose. And practically everyone on the trip has been sick, passing around the same cold (a cold that I have also caught, so thanks for nothing, Andrew). And I was the last one in the group. I did not want to put that same cloth up to my nose, but I did. Gross. Then when the demonstration was over, we had the pleasure of getting to purchase things. Instead of letting everyone get up and just select what he wanted, the guy went through the whole list of products and asked if anyone wanted it (which could be embarrassing for some, since the products included “female Viagra” and some kind of rash cream). Only after he was sure that everyone had the products he needed, did he let anyone pay. And of course, then he had to go through the bags and see what each person selected in order to total the cost. It was utterly ridiculous. It reminded me of a Mary Kay facial party, where you think you’re going just to get a facial, but then they push the hard sell and convince you to purchase wrinkle cream and lip balm. We did not purchase anything at the Berber herbalist shop.
Then, finally we were on our way to the souk, the part of Marrakesh we were most looking forward to. Our city guide, however, was fairly awful, and wasn’t making the experience as good as it could be. He kept walking at a snail’s pace while he texted. He was rarely not talking on his phone or texting, actually. Once, he was telling our group about some bit of Moroccan history and his phone rang And. He. Actually. Answered. It. So it took awhile to get to the souk. But we finally got there, and it was cool. A lot different than the medina in Fez. The main difference was that the streets were wider and they allowed motor vehicles in. We had to be on the lookout for motorcyclists wanting to get past us or we would’ve gotten run over. In the souk, we saw lots of vendors selling spices, figs, olives, dried fruit, and leather goods. We saw some thuya wood products that a coworker of mine told me to look out for. We saw silver teapots and lovely glass teacups. Most of the goods were similar to those in Fez as far as I could tell.
There was a giant open area there, too. There were tons of orange juice vendors with fresh-squeezed juice, plenty of women trying to get me to let them paint henna on my hands, and several snake charmers and performing monkeys on chains. All these people were extremely pushy. They’d call out to us from thirty paces away, saying we should buy their orange juice. The women would rush up to me saying “henna for you?” and reach out to take my hands. We had to be quick to say no to them. We did get caught looking at some snakes, and this man rushed up to us and threw the snake around Andrew’s shoulders. I reluctantly took a picture and gave the man a couple dirham. He then tried to put the snake around me, but I wasn’t going for it.
We had an hour of free time to wander the area, so we walked through the market, shopped, and looked around. We bought a red and golden yellow square plate that I’m hoping will look good in our living room. We each got a glass of the orange juice. It was very tasty, but very pulpy, and we had to drink it fast, since it came in real glasses, not plastic. So we had to stand there until we finished it.Nothing really seems to be disposable here, other than water bottles and coke cans. When we get coffee, it always comes in real glasses—no “to go.” Near the end of our hour, we went to a café and got some mint tea. We thought we’d want to spend more than an hour there, but it turned out that we didn’t love it like we thought we would. There were too many fumes, and too many pushy people wanting our money. I feel like I’m missing something about Marrakesh, because it doesn’t seem to be to be the magical place I kept hearing about.

See the monkeys behind Andrew?

After our tour, Andrew and I walked to a place near the hotel for lunch. I felt pretty good about knowing some French, because we need to find the supermarket to buy more water bottles, and I was able to ask our waiter “Ou est la supermarche?”

After lunch, it was time for the optional tour to visit the Berber family’s home in the Ourika Valley. This was, so far, the best part of the trip. This home was so sparse, but felt so warm, and the people were so kind. I took lots of pictures of the house, because it was just incredible.

This is the street outside the home.

They had stables below the living space with two cows, a sheep, a donkey, and some chickens. They had adobe walls, thatched roofs, just a couple of rooms, and sauna-like thing that was shaped like a space capsule. We had mint tea with the man of the house, Mr. Omar. We were also given wonderful fresh bread with olive oil and honey to dip it in. The flavors were so intense—very olivey olive oil and very sweet honey. Everything was made by this family. They grew olives to make their own oil, they harvested their own honey, and probably grew the wheat to grind their own flour to make the bread. This home they lived in had been passed down through the generations, from father to son to his son. We learned that they had only had running water for about two years and electricity for about seven or eight years. Even with electricity still being fairly new for them, they had an entire room devoted to the TV.

Just to the right of the window, notice the bare lightbulb strung up.

We noticed light switched on the walls, too. It was all just incredible. Our hosts could not have been more gracious and kind. On our way out, several kids followed us back to the bus, begging for coins. But they were also just playing together, and it seemed they were more interested in their game than in our money.

The view from the house was incredible.


When we got back to the hotel, I felt like shit. This cold has just taken over my body and I feel exhausted. We ended up in the elevator with Maggie, the kind of annoying woman from our tour, and she offered to help me feel better. I asked how, and she said with acupuncture. Normally I wouldn’t even consider this, but I was feeling awful enough that I took her up on it. She only had long needles left because apparently she’s been treating other people in the group. I have no idea why she brought acupuncture needles with her. So these needles were about three inches long, I’d say. We were in her room, and she put one needle in my forehead and one in the back of my head. Then she thought we ought to go to my room instead so I could rest there while the needles were in. So I walked up to our room with these giant needles flopping around. Very weird. I ended up with about eight or nine needles, all in my face. It hurt quite a bit, the stinging and pressure all around the needle area. I was crying and snotting all over, from pain and frustration. Andrew was very nice and didn’t take any pictures of me. I sat there for about 30 minutes with the needles in my face until Maggie came back to remove them. I had to shut my eyes for awhile because I couldn’t stand seeing all these floppy needles coming out of my skin. I did calm down enough to watch CNN, which, coincidentally, was a show about psychic healing and alternative healing, and energy fields and such. When Maggie returned, she tried to get me to take antibiotics. “You’re not allergic to penicillin, are you?” she asked. “Yes, I am, actually,” I said. “Oh,” she replied. “Do not worry, I have erythromycin for you.” Maggie was convinced that I had a sinus infection, though I told her it was just a bad cold. She said I was wrong and that I’d come looking for antibiotics from her tomorrow. She was quite pushy about it, but I don’t believe in taking unnecessary antibiotics so I stood my ground. After the needles were out, she wanted me to wrap my head up in a scarf and lay underneath the blankets with my head elevated. The entire experience was bizarre, and I still can’t quite believe I let a near-stranger put needles in my face. Maggie had told us she was an MD, but I could have said the same thing and no one would have known the difference. In the end, I don’t think the acupuncture made me feel any better.

Our fancy Christmas dinner was tonight, though it was only Christmas Eve. Apparently a lot of people celebrate Christmas the evening before. The dinner was kind of expensive, but we thought it would be nice to go, since it would be our only Christmas this year. Turns out it was not worth it. The food was just okay, and the servers were awful. They were really slow, and they kept bringing out the wrong dish. They wanted to give us dessert before we’d had our main course. Plus, they refused to give us the amount of wine and water that was supposed to come with the meal. We were promised a half liter of wine a person, and they only brought our table of five one bottle. It was kind of a mess. The music was so loud, we had to shout to hear each other. Plus, I was hoping for traditional Christmas music, but they played traditional Moroccan music. The highlight of the meal was the dessert. We got an entire bouche de noel—a log-shaped cake—and it was very good. Our table included Andrew and I, the women from New Zealand, Mary and Jude, and Maggie. Maggie told me I shouldn’t drink alcohol after the treatment, but I thought I deserved a glass of wine after that torture. One good thing about the evening was that the five of us were all united in our displeasure of the service and the food, so we were able to laugh about it.

2 comments:

Ben Y said...

Wait, I'm confused. Is today Dec 24th or Jan 27th?

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