Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Awful and The Awesome

It's probably better that I'm writing this post in Essaouira instead of Marrakesh, where I'm much more relaxed and, quite honestly, less traumatized.  Yes, big word, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's go back to Marrakesh.
The souk at quieter moments
On our second day in Marrakesh we took some new friends from the riad to the Artisan Ensemble.  The souk in Marrakesh itself is a good time for many, but I found it a bit harassing - I don't need people clamouring for my attention (and money) as I walk by.  If you actually stop and look at something, let alone touch it, it's all over.  They're going to be on you like a cheap suit.  At the Artisan Ensemble, every craftsperson is vetted, and you're ensured that the items are indeed made in Marrakesh (as opposed to China - no lie).  Also, it's pretty much a no-haggle zone so people pretty much let you look without stalking you.  Don't get me wrong, I like to drive a hard bargain, but sometimes I just want to pay a good price and walk away having both me and the seller feel good about the exchange.
View from the roof terrace restaurant of the Maison de la Photographie
Three of us went on to the Maison de la Photographie which houses a great collection of early images of the Moroccan people.  It's really hard not to get taken in Marrakesh and as we walked, a young man offered to guide us to the museum.  We kind of knew better but no one made a move to refuse his "help."  It turned out that we were really only 100 feet of so from the museum, but he took us up and down these alleyways, making it seem like it was really far.  Of course, then he wanted money.  We gave him 10 dirham, which is about $1.00, so in the end he really only screwed himself.
I had decided to wear my Patagonia dress - comfortable, flattering, and cool (temperature-wise).  I did not think I had dressed provocatively (I'd seen lots of tourists in questionable outfits already) - it was just a sleeveless dress that fits.  Now I know my tattoos are of interest to many and that in and of itself does not bother me, but when it leads to what I'd call unwanted attention, it's a different story.  It's hard to really communicate, but I have to say that that day in Marrakesh - where we went to the Artisan Ensemble, the Maison de la Photographie, and then out to dinner in the "new" part of Marrakesh - was the first day that I blamed myself for the almost constant negative attention I received.  Yes, I was blaming the victim - me.  By the end of the day I could not get back to the riad fast enough.  The level of sexual harassment was traumatizing and quite honestly, I understand the burka.  The men were pigs.  Yep, those are strong words, but even as I write this post, I feel anew the trauma of the whole experience.

The next morning, I wasn't necessarily jazzed to go on our trip to the Ourika Valley where we'd see the market the Berbers visit on Mondays and climb into the Atlas Mountains to view the waterfalls.  The ladyfriend and I were feeling like we'd overpaid for the driver (arranged by the riad owner), but we'd committed and set out on our day trip that morning.

Our driver took us to the Cooperative Feminine Tiguemine Argane first, a women's cooperative that produces argan oil and argan oil products.  We got a tour of the facilities and saw how the argan nut was processed - all by hand - by the women.  All the women in the cooperative were either divorced or widowed, and this was their sole means of support.  I won't get into how one gets the oils and what-not, but I will say that every part of the nut is used for something - they make the oil (both cosmetic and edible), make soap and other products from the resultant paste, and use the husks to feed animals.  At Body Blitz in Toronto, an ounce of argan oil (that's mixed with other oils) costs C$36.00.  At the cooperative, we bought a three-ounce bottle of pure argan oil for around €19.00.

Then we went on to the market.  At first I was worried that it was going to be a repeat of the Marrakesh souk as on our walk down the road people kept coming up to us to try to sell us jewelry.  The ladyfriend was offered 5,000 camels for me - kind of a joke, kind of not.  I guess I should be flattered. It came after the guy (who was trying to sell us jewelry) found out that I not only spoke English but also some Spanish and German.  Could we say I'm a cunning linguist?  (Groan not, the joke had to be made!)   But once we turned off the road and started winding through the aisles of the market, it was a different world.

We didn't take a lot of pictures of people because it felt invasive, and while we are tourists, we're not that kind of tourist and have a little bit of shame, I guess, over what feels like exploitation.
From there it was time to get to our hike.  Our friends from the riad had only gone to the first waterfall (we'd been told there were five in all), partly because one of them was getting sick and partly because they didn't want to climb the ladder necessary to move beyond the first one.  Our driver found us a guide who spoke English, and off we went with Mohammed to the waterfalls.
Mohammed was a bit fast for us - we were dealing both with altitude and challenging terrain.  Today, three days after the hike, we are finally feeling like we're not entirely crippled.  The hike and the scenery was beautiful nonetheless, and I won't narrate much more.  One thing I will say is that there were times when I wasn't sure whether Mohammed was being helpful & protective or fresh.  There were times when he really did have to hold on to us lest we tumble over the edge or down the mounting, but let's just say there might've been more touching than necessary.  When he offered to show me waterfalls six and seven while the ladyfriend rested, I felt the "fresh" moniker fit and that I was being invited to see someone's "etchings."
Berber village viewed from the mountain
Irrigation system
Not really a glamour shot, but the ladyfriend thinks I look fresh & natural.  Great.
Mohammed on the mountain

But wait!  There's more; however, it will have to come later.  Stay tuned!


  1. Hmmm... I am fairly familiar with Marocco and marocan people. I've been to markets and Co and I've been heavily "harassed" but I never thought it was awfull: I didn't find it worst than in Italy for example and the market vendor were not as bad as the ones from certain caribbean islands.
    Anyway, luckily I know you enough not to smile thinking "There you go: another American discovering the rest of the World..." Funny!!!

    1. Well, I'm not your average American (having lived all over the world); however, I'd have to admit to a bit of naivete. Nonetheless, I did not experience the same kind of harassment in Italy, and I wonder - when you were in Morocco, were you traveling with a man?

    2. Oh I know you're not one of those (the one who asked me so many stupid questions like "Do you have a fridge?" "Do you have a TV?"). However, maybe you never lived in a islamic/muslim (sorry, I don't know the correct term) country before? I went there during Winter so I was fully dressed but to be honest, I would still dress during Summer, out of respect. I went to a henna ceremony for a wedding. After a couple hours, the bride's mother asked me to leave because I was to much the center of attention. Nobody would ever do that in North America or Europe but the Henna ceremony is the bride ceremony ans she she should the center of attention. However, the tuareg who help you on a camel grabs your ass, the one who give you his Tagelmust brush your breasts but nothing that bad. Nobody was ever as insistent as in Italy really. At the market, we asked a guy who was selling very smelly slippers where the leather came from. He called his son and ask him to bring us to the tannery. The guy gave us the whole tour and next to the tannery, he showed us a cemetery where Jewish, Muslim and Christian were buried next to each other. Anyway, Marroco, Tunisia and Algeria used to be until not that long ago, French colonies. I grew up and know a lot of people from Maghreb (that's how these 3 countries are called together). Maybe that's why I am a bit more aware of their customs. Anyway, if you stop by Fes, check out the market: this city is very famous for its gorgeous potteries.
      In all fairness, if I go to Asia, I am fairly certain that I could write a blog post quite similar as yours!
      Cant wait to see you! (I'll make you a lamb tagine ;o)!!!)

  2. Great photos Liss--and a very interesting read Claudia--I like the 'fresh' motif in the blog this week!

  3. It's sad when a man needs a burkah to behave...