Lessons learned, Places
Comments 13

Marrakech, expressed

Morocco has defied our expectations at every turn, but not necessarily in ways that we have expected. We turn up at campsites that bear no resemblance to their descriptions and the ever changing landscape continues to surprise and confuse us; but nowhere has confounded us more than Marrakech.

As our campsite is a good few kilometres out of town, we initially take a taxi to the Jardin Majorelle, the artist’s garden famously patronised by Yves Saint Laurent. I’m hoping that entering the city this way, surrounded by the calm coolness of the carefully tended gardens, will enable us to acclimatise slowly, to dip a timid toe into the life of this most overwhelming of cities. It’s a gentle and stress-free environment, protected from the heat and chaos outside the gates; the blue pools and perfectly swept paths soothe us all and afterwards we walk with confidence towards the medina, with its souks and famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square.We think we are ready.

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Ready for all that our imaginations had promised; a sensory overload, a cacophany of hagglers, hustlers and colour. We enter the square looking for the acrobats, the storytellers and all the wonders of the world. What we see are a few sad and degraded monkeys being yanked about on leads, jumping and tumbling to order. Their fur is clogged with dust and grime, one wears a red velvet suit, another a nappy. People approach us with snakes and the boys, excited to be able to touch, are soon uncomfortable as the snakes are placed around their necks while their keepers urge us to take photographs and pay our money.

The outstretched hand, the fingers rubbed together, becomes a recurring sight. All looking must be paid for, every ‘experience’ has its price. It feels like everyone here is a tourist or after tourist money . There is a palpable desperation that goes beyond good natured haggling; our white advantage, our position of privilege is too obvious to all concerned.

We attempt to ‘wander’ in the souks, the souks that I’ve dreamed about photographing. I want to browse, to admire, to window shop. But at every stall we slow by there is a man who wants to engage in the hard sell. Before long we realise that we can’t just stroll about idly enjoying the atmosphere because the ‘atmosphere’ has a distinctly uncomfortable edge, something like sullenness or maybe even resentment hangs in the air. These men have had too many tourists tell them ‘maybe tomorrow’ with big smiles on our faces. For us tourists it can seem like a game; we’ll return home or move on in a few days with some trinket, a new pair of slippers or maybe a rug and a tale to tell of the deal we got. How we all smiled and slapped each other’s backs, shook hands over our ‘democratic’ deal.

As I walk with increasing unease I can see that the people here no longer enjoy this game. I rarely take out my camera even though there is so much I am itching to frame in the view finder. I can sense that my lens is not welcome, it makes their world a fish bowl.

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As well as the entreaties to buy wares, we are constantly handed flyers for restaurants and when we turn them down they hand them to the boys to trick us. One man pulls on Monty’s arm far too forcefully, pretending to take him into his cafe – I try to laugh and join in the joke, but it isn’t funny and we both know it.

We return to the square as evening falls, thinking that maybe now it will be transformed into the dazzling affair we’d read about. But there are no fire-eaters, no spectacle really to speak of. A man with a defeated looking kestrel on his arm pushes a hedgehog about roughly and it falls forward hitting its face upon the ground. Then, trying to decide where to eat, at every stall we’re accosted by a man speaking perfect English patter, ‘Aldi prices but Marks and Spencers quality!’. Again, it’s all supposed to be good fun, but actually it seems pretty serious. So much so that when we allow ourselves, weary with resistance, to be steered into a stall to eat a disappointing dinner we are watched by a young man with black looks who’d spoken to us earlier. He must have thought that some kind of agreement had been made between us. As we walk away to find our taxi he follows us and with barely restrained fury tells us that he would be very rude to us if it weren’t for our children. I try to apologise, explain even, but it’s pointless.  According to him we’ve broken a deal that we knew nothing about.

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Backing away, the boys afraid and exhausted, we head for our taxi. I choke back tears and a desire to drive straight back to Hebden Bridge. The taxi hurtles through the street-lit city too fast. Our fellow passengers are young and beautiful; a tattooed, pierced and elaborately shaved group of Austrian travellers whose eyes shine as they gaze out of the windows and the Arabic music from the speaker next to us is so loud that our brains rattle and shake and I hold Eli close and I can’t work out whether I feel like I’m in a pop video or a bad dream.

Eventually, after what feels like an eternity of noise and flashing street lamps we return to our van, our oasis of sanity. As I peel off his sweaty socks, Eli looks at me with eyes huge and wet with tears and says sorrowfully, ‘the world is so big’.  And I know exactly what he means, because it is, and we are so very small in the face of all the sadness, the cruelty, the injustice and the anger.

In the night Monty is sick, which seems a reasonable response to it all and the next day we drive to Essouira. As we travel, the landscape changes. There are more trees, fewer cars, less rubbish. Inside the van the mood changes too and although the world still seems big, suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so scary.

13 Comments

  1. Steve Darnell says

    thankyou so much for the blogs – you make it so real and ‘raw’. I feel your anxiety and your elation with the fear and eventual relaxation. Well done and keep ’em coming!!

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  2. Hey Selina! What a fantastic post about Marrakesh! We returned from a trip there on Wednesday and I couldn’t have summed it up better myself. I too was itching to take photos, especially of the souks that like you I have always dreamed of. Everywhere I go I love to capture each moment in extreme detail but you are so right about here…. The photos on your blog however
    are fantastic and certainly capture the experience! You are braver than me. Good luck on the rest of your travels with the boys!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. annathrax says

    Amazingly well wriiten. Dont know if i want to take baby girl when she is older now. Sounds too full on!

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    • Thank you. As I’ve said elsewhere, everyone’s experience will be different so you might not necessarily find it so full on and generally travelling with children in Morocco is good fun. There are other cities however that we definitely found to be more laid back.

      Liked by 1 person

      • annathrax says

        Oh ill still give morocco a go – your post didnt totally scare me off! But might wait til she is a bit more older. Like anywhere, there is good and bad. Its all part of the adventure!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Selina, I guess sometimes what we dream of is never quite what we think it will be… I have felt all these emotions and feel your fear, worry and lostness acutely. I believe though that the journeys we take often go on to place us somewhere we least expect and that these become unexpectedly the most joyous moments. I hope you find lots of them as you continue on your travels. Alice x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah the hardest journeys are the ones in which we learn the most no? And there has also been plenty of joy too. Thanks as always for your thoughts Alice x

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  5. Nicole Wickenden says

    Thank you for your beautiful post Selina. You write it so gorgeously, so real and full of feeling. I feel like I’m there with you. I’m always touched by that. Love to you Nicole x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you beautiful. Was thinking of you this morning and realising I’d been rubbish at keeping you up to date! I Must try harder! xx

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