Needing to get from our hotel in Casablanca to the train station, we hailed a red petit taxi, which sort of works like a ride-share program. The driver picks up as many passengers as he can squeeze in along his route and drops them all off wherever they need to go. When we popped into the car, the driver—a young guy clad in Ray Bans, a leather jacket, and on-trend jeans—was having a boisterous conversation in Arabic with an old lady in a hijab and djebella all while driving in a manner that can only be described as “terrifying, yet in control.” On the radio? “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I thought it was a pretty excellent example of a surreal moment, until the next song came on: Here was Bryan Adams asking us all, quite passionately, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” Now that was surreal.
Share and Share Alike
On the train from Casa to Fes we settled into our first-class compartment with five other passengers, including a mother and daughter about the age of me and my mom. A few folks exchanged greetings with us in English, but they mostly spoke in Arabic and French. When the little café cart came along, the mother and daughter picked out some Pringles, and the daughter pointed to the cart and asked if we’d like something. We assumed she was trying to translate the activity for us, thanked her, and told her G would take a coffee. When he went to pay, the attendant waved him off, and an older man explained that the mother and daughter had paid for his treat. “In Morocco,” he said, “when one drinks, we all drink. Here, we share.” The daughter rolled her eyes a bit and said that’s how people say it is, but it isn’t always true. Well, it was in our car, anyway, and it was pretty cool.
Within minutes of settling into Marrakech, everyone in town decided that George was Spanish. Our hostess at a lovely little restaurant seemed simultaneously disappointed and skeptical when he insisted he wasn’t, with a snazzy little “Lo siento. Yo soy Americano.” (Fancy.) We were therefore shocked when a shopkeeper yelled out to us: “Polonia? Polonia? You come from Krakow?” Uncanny! I thought: How did this guy realize G was of Polish descent? By the time we’d moved along I realized I was an idiot and he was referring to me. For the rest of the trip, I had to insist that I wasn’t Polish (or Russian) almost as strenuously as George was issuing forth his Lo Sientos.
The shopkeepers and food venders in Marrakech’s medina hustle nonstop to draw tourists into their spots, for a kebob, a new pair of harem pants (that I’m TOTALLY WEARING RIGHT NOW), or just a look around. To do so, they’ve gotta make their voice heard above the hundreds of others who are competing for the same bit of attention. Often times, they’ll use jokes as the draw, offering you, for example, the chance to “Chillax with some good tea.” My favorite? A guy telling us that we really had to check out his leather shop, because “Jamie Oliver? Jamie Oliver the famous chef is in here right now looking around! He loves my shop!” Awesome.
No amount of videos or photos could’ve prepared us for the sensory overload that is Jemaa el Fna (pronounced exactly like it looks, but at warpspeed). This central square in Marrakech bustles throughout the day, but when the sun starts to set and hundreds up food vendors set up stalls in the middle of the square, things really get interesting. The square is suddenly filled with snake charmers, monkeys (turns out they're endangered Barbary Macaques. Oof.),motorbikes, trucks, donkey carts, calls to prayer, rapping in English and Arabic, traditional music, storytelling, smoke (from kabobs and French cigs), spices, sellers of everything including human teeth (on the spot dentists!), drums, glow sticks flying through the air….It is OVERLOAD times infinity. Then plus infinity. It was my favorite part of Morocco.