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May 4, 2010 | by  | in Online Only |
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Finding Yourself in the Souks

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One of the first sights I was greeted with on arrival in Morocco was a middle-aged woman in a white miniskirt and cleavage-exposing top, utterly inappropriate by even Western, let alone Moroccan standards, her skin bearing the unflattering effects of years of baking in the sun, with the fruits of an extravagant shopping spree in hand. I was filled with a sense of dread that Marrakech would prove to be one of those commercialised and soulless destinations for wealthy, ageing and yet utterly unworldly British tourists. Blissfully, this woman was but one of only a handful of her kind that I encountered, and Marrakech was exactly the opposite.

The reality of Marrakech couldn’t be further from the idyllic, romanticised summer escape. The entire city is a constant barrage on the senses. Everywhere you turn you are confronted by an intense and overwhelming conglomeration of colours, sounds, tastes and smells, certainly not all of them pleasant. Coupled with the inescapable heat and claustrophobic throng of people, Marrakech is definitely not a place for the faint hearted. The narrow streets turned into a battleground as everything from pedestrians to donkey carts fought for supremacy in the struggle just to move forward. Successfully navigating through an unlabelled labyrinth of streets, where a map was about as useful as a screen door in a submarine, was impossible—you simply had to keep walking in the hope that you might find your way out eventually.

The rude and impatient honks of motorcyclists and the shouts of “attention” as men wheeled carts containing absolutely everything imaginable had me constantly jumping out of my skin, while the lurking presence of snake charmers draping pythons across the shoulders of unsuspecting tourists was enough to put anyone on edge. Relaxation proved elusive even within the walls of our hostel, where pungent and disconcertingly unrecognisable smells managed to permeate the air, and sleep was abruptly disturbed by the calls to prayer ringing out across the city at an hour of the morning so early I had previously barely known of its existence.

If I had to use one word to describe Morocco, it would be confronting. Not in the sense that I ever felt unsafe, in fact, surprisingly I felt much safer in Morocco than I had in large metropolitan cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, or even London. Marrakech, in particular, was confronting in the sense that it forced you to really open your eyes and assess both your place in, and view of, the world. One thing that particularly struck me was the manner in which the locals could all switch effortlessly between fluent Berber, English, French and Spanish. Ironically it was on the poorest continent in the world that my university education and faltering NCEA level two French seemed most embarrassingly inadequate. It is all too easy for us English speakers to rest on our Laurels, so to speak, while in so much of the world multilingualism is the norm.

The little boys who would tug tirelessly on your arm with pleading eyes and outstretched hands represented another conundrum that we faced in Morocco. Charity, which should be one of the most pure and simple of human actions, is horribly complicated. Although I gave to those who seemed genuinely deserving, it is virtually impossible to make such distinctions, as you can be almost entirely sure that the saddest and most pitiful looking of children would be returning any money to the pockets of cunning and exploitative parents. Bartering for the beautiful leather bags or exquisite jewellery that would have fetched small fortunes in the high streets of New York seemed outright offensive, especially when our conception of affordability is so naively Western.

Those so frequently promoted slogans of World Vision, UNICEF and the likes echoed unnerving truth in the realisation that five spent Euro might to me mean the sacrifice of two unnecessary lattes, but equates to something so much more significant in the lesser privileged parts of the world. I hope that I am not an unforgivably bad person in finding, that after several days of ever-present reminders of the poverty and inequality of our world, it was easier to turn away from the begging bowls and desperate pleas than to face the internal moral questions that they inspired. To acknowledge, let alone address the problems of poverty, is incredibly confronting, and unfortunately this is a malady which seems to affect the majority of Western society, myself included.

What impression of Morocco the cleavage-barring, white-skirted lady left with I will never know, but my five days in Marrakech and Zagora were utterly mindblowing. In all its bustle, noise, relentless heat and beautiful colours it was certainly the most extraordinary place I have ever been to. Marrakech was intense almost, but not quite to the point of being unbearable. What I saw and experienced will remain vivid in my mind, and undoubtedly play upon my conscience for a long time to come. I am so thankful that I took one giant stride out of my comfort zone into the continent of Africa, but if your ideal holiday consists solely of familiar comforts and utter luxury I would certainly not recommend Morocco. In fact, I probably wouldn’t recommend travelling at all.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Peggy says:

    You said,”One day we’d go together”, it’s a date.

  2. Peggy says:

    Did you take these photos yourself?? You can almost smell the smell and the colours are so vibrant.

  3. Peggy says:

    Did you take the photos, the colours are so vibrant

  4. property for sale manchester says:

    The souks of Marrakech is a paradise operators in terms of diversity and range of exotic products. But if you’re used to a shopping experience calm and civilized, you’re in a bumpy ride.

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