Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Allah is God, and Muhammad the Prophet!

These are the words we heard wailing five times daily over a loudspeaker coming from the tallest minaret in every city throughout Morocco. It is the call to prayer made by the Imam, alerting the Moroccan people that the time has come again to worship Allah.
Though religion is clearly very prominent here, everything seems to be open to interpretation the way it is in the United States (to a degree, of course). There were men and women walking around in floor length gowns, wearing hoods or scarves and making sure to be completely covered out of respect to Allah and to one another. In some cases, however, local people could be seen walking around in tee shirts and shorts.
On my first day off the ship, I dressed in knee-covering shorts and a tee to cover my shoulders, being sure to carry a scarf in case I needed to cover my hair or head. I met up with some other buddies heading to Marrakech on the same camel trek, and we were definitely taken advantage of $-wise as we were foreigners and overcharged for our initial “petite taxi” ride. Much of the culture here is French speaking, so that came in handy (thank you, Dr. Yoshimura!). A train ticket in second class to Marrakech was 90 Dirham (about $10).
I ended up in a cabin with two local Casablancans and four unfamiliar SASers (Semester At Sea-ers). We all got to be friends, and one of the girls in the other group spoke French as well. It was so fun trying to talk with them through our language barrier, and hard to explain to them that we were living on the ocean. They were on their way down to visit their families in Marrakech as it was the first day after Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Muslim religion. After Ramadan, there is a big holiday that lasts several days called “The Eat,” which is the first day they are allowed to eat in public again, or between sunrise and sunset at all.
Anyway, we dismounted the train in Marrakech and I met back up with my roommate, Alexa, and two guys in my camel trek group. When we asked for directions, the police would not speak to me directly – they directed their speech at the men of our group even though I was the one with the language access. This infuriated me, and while I wanted to rage into a moment of feminine empowerment, I found it best to refrain out of respect for the local culture.
After a long walk to the Medina, we found our hostel. The Medina is the city center, which is where the mosque is located within each city and contains the main market and much of the local housing. The directions to our hostel were obscure as there are no street signs anywhere (even though they technically have names.. I think). “Go through the arch down the street on the left. Follow the left wall closely until you come to a restaurant, make a u-turn through another small arch and pass the second door on the right…” etc. 
We soon saw familiar faces, and got ourselves checked into our beautiful hostel. This was the first of many instances where I realized not to judge a book by it’s cover – so many of these brilliant resorts or cities and such are concealed by their outer wall; once the door was opened and I stepped inside, a lush world of palm trees, tile ornamentation and sunlight opened up. Our hostel had a pool and a rooftop garden that overlooked the city and provided a beautiful view of the mosque in the evening. All for just $25/night!
I went out for dinner in the Medina with my train-going group of four. We ate snails that were boiled and seasoned with a salt/cumin/saffron liquid. They were given to us in a bowl and served with a toothpick, which we used to scoop them out of their shells. Some of them were boiled while they were still out of their shells, and those ones with faces were especially difficult to eat. They were EXTREMELY delicious though, and I went back for seconds two nights later. ☺
We ate at one of the local market stands. The market that erupted at night was incredible. There were over 90 stalls, mostly serving the same thing, but creating this collective smoke rising from the center of the city and glowing in the market lights. Some of them had tables of goat heads lined up on them (thought I could never bring myself to eat at one of these…). Some only served Chabatikay (sp?) which is a honey-fried dough dessert, or only served mint tea sweetened with sugar cubes, etc. Often times they tried to swindle us and overcharge for their food, but ultimately it was inexpensive and always delicious. I got back to my hostel by 9:00 to meet up with people in my camel trek group and head to a belly-dancing restaurant we had heard about earlier.
After cabbing there, we arrived at a really nice restaurant. We were led through dim lights up a cascading staircase lined with musicians and a man singing in Arabic. It was astonishing Moroccan music that was definitely uncommon for an American mindset and made the experience all the more thrilling. We had reservations for 22 and were sat at two separate large tables. They served us wine and brought a hookah to the table, and within half an hour we had already started bonding quickly. The festivities began shortly thereafter and were very impressive.
These women danced ALL over the restaurant: in between tables, up and down the central staircase, around the DJ booth (yes, DJ booth).. everywhere. They balanced tea sets on their heads with lit candles on them while shaking their hips aggressively, or held candles in their hands while charming with their bodies. Some of them had bills in their straps, which made me want to compare it to a strip club, though I found this to be much classier (or so I would imagine). When they were dancing the music volume increased and everyone in the restaurant clapped joyously. We were so happy to be snacking on Moroccan olive-stuffed bread and enjoying the local atmosphere. The women rotated throughout the restaurant and then tucked themselves away once again until the next round of dancing. Thoughout the night, we all ended up popping out of our seats and dancing at the table together. The night went on like this until our taxi back to the hostel at 1:30 am, and I fell asleep thrilled after having made so many life-loving new friends and having fallen in love with a cheek-kissing culture to which I was previously completely unaware.

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