Spice Up Your Life

18 May

Exotic.  Different. Enthralling. Mystical. Morocco. I just spent our last long weekend in a country, heck a continent, that I never thought I would visit.  I was in Morocco.  I was Africa!  The cultural difference between Spain and Morocco was much greater than between the US and Spain.  Isn’t it ironic that Spain and Morocco are so different, yet they are only separated by a 14km of water?   As soon as we stepped foot off of the ferry we definitely could tell we were no longer in Europe.  First, everything was written in Arabic, a language I couldn’t even begin to pronounce because the letters are so different.  For the first time in my travels, English was not a commonly known language.  As we made our way down the port, we were greeted by an inconceivable number of people trying to sell us their goods and services: taxi rides, food, and offering to carry suitcases.  So many people and we hadn’t even left the port yet!  It was overwhelming.  I had been warned that the street sales men were unbearable in Tangier but I didn’t know the truth of their warnings until I witnessed it myself.  Despite our bad impression of the first Moroccans we dealt with, the rest of the people were some of the nicest people I have met.   At first we were hesitant to their kindness as we were afraid they were going to just try to sell us stuff, but as we found out, even if they were trying to do so, they were still very pleasant and kind-hearted people.

After our first day in Tangier, in which we stayed in the touristy beach, we were ready to get some authentic Moroccan city life, so we walked to the ancient medina that had all of the stereotypical markets.  Think of when Aladdin steals the bread in the classic Disney movie.   There were stands of plump olives of all colors that the worker let us sample, spices piled high that let out a great scent of authentic Moroccan food, and lots of raw meat.  We saw entire cow legs just hanging from the ceiling….needless to say, we did not stop and talk to these tenants as we were trying to get as far away as possible from the grotesque sight.  I can honestly say that we were the only tourists in the market at this time.  What a cool experience to finally be in a place that was not dripping with people snapping photos.  As we ventured further into the market, we came across many stores selling beautiful handmade Moroccan art ranging from pottery to rugs to jewelry.  One man invited us into his store that was full of breathtaking art work. He showed us around and laid his hand-woven rugs out of us to see saying, “you girl with sandals, take off your shoes and tell friends how soft camel-hair is”.  Laughing I obeyed!  It was surprisingly smooth!  He then showed us a great view of the city.  We even got to see where Matt Damon ran up the famous red stairs in The Bourne Ultimatum.  After the nice man explained his store to us, he took us to an authentic pharmacy that sells spices and herbs as medicine!  Another nice man took over from here letting us sample some of his natural products. We tried rose oil, Moroccan oil, different cremes, and smelled different herbs used for healing.   It was such a cool experience to learn about all of the different ways they use nature for health and beauty.  No chemicals in this medicine!  That day, it started raining on us so we ducked into a small pastry shop and started making small talk with the worker.  It turned out to be a great decision!  Not only because the sweets were only about 15 cents apiece but because the man we met was incredibly kind to us.  He let us sample different food and even gave us a recipe on how to make some of them!  Eventually, he finally just said, “Oh come on…let’s just go watch women make them” so we ventured in to the actual bakery were we got to see a brick oven and even got to pretend to fish out the bread with the long paddles.  Then he took us up to where the women actually make the candies. There we met one of the masterminds behind the great goodies.  She introduced herself and showed us exactly how to make one of the sweet confections. Where else do people just invite you into their bakery and let you watch them and sample their food? Only in Morocco.   Even though this man was so nice, it was hard to not notice his sexist undertones.  When explaining how to make the candy, he always made sure to say it’s the woman’s job or I’ll show you where the women work.  He didn’t mean anything by it, but it certainly gave me an insight on how women still have a lower role in the society.    

During our day in the medina, it was blatantly obvious that we were in a very different society with everyone dressed in their Islamic clothes, the different foods, the women’s role in society, and especially the prayer five times a day in which the prayers were chanted over the loudspeaker for all to hear all added together gave me more culture shock than I could have imagined

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We also got to know the several taxi drivers who drove us around.  As the Moroccan Dirham is much weaker than the Euro, we were able to use taxis for almost nothing.  Fortunately, the drivers almost all either spoke English or Spanish so we had some great conversations with them ranging from history on the city, explanations of cultural traditions, and the food.  They really gave us an insight on local life in Morocco, at times making me feel guilty about how good we have it. The economic situation in Morocco really hit home with me when our driver explained that in order to get clean water for three months it cost about 8 euro.  I was about to say, wow that’s a good deal. But luckily he beat me by saying, isn’t that soooo expensive?!  Expensive!  Wow! Immediately I was struck with guilt for haggling the taxi price down to a cheaper rate. The money difference was also evident in the price we paid for food and souvenirs.  When we went on a day trip to another small city, we ate at a very local restaurant.  Because the workers spoke no English and very little Spanish, we struggled from the beginning to order.  We finally deduced that they didn’t have a menu so we just got them to give us food for 4.  The food was more like food for an army.  We got bread, salad, soup, and shish-kabobs with potatoes all for 23 Dirhams which equates to about 2.1 Euros!  What a deal.  Even though the food was great, we were in for another cultural shock when we asked for the bathroom and they led us to this small closet with a hole in the ground.  Dumb founded, my friend and I looked at each other, turned, and ran back to our table, half embarrassed and half laughing.   This is when we knew we were not in a tourist area anymore and decided that we probably just ate the most authentic food one could find.  Furthermore, we were able to buy loaves of bread and sweets for about 10 cents, milkshakes for 2 Euros and delicious mint tea for  70 cents.   As far as souvenirs go, we were able to buy beautiful pottery platters for five Euros and gorgeous jewelry for one.  We certainly took advantage of the great exchange rate while in Morocco!

 Morocco was so Moroccan.  That is the best way to explain it.  It wasn’t like you would think Africa would not be like, nor what you would expect a Middle Eastern Muslim country to be like, nor what you would expect a place so close to Spain to be like.  In fact, I would say it was probably a mix of all three making it uniquely Morocco.


3 Responses to “Spice Up Your Life”

  1. boileradmin May 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    The things you stumble upon are what every traveler hopes to encounter. Either you really know what you’re doing, or are very lucky. It’s a lot of both, I’m sure.

  2. Amy Shelley May 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    What a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy Shelley May 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

      Just got done looking at the photos. Those fries don’t look very Moroccan Mandi! What a lovely side trip 🙂

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