LIZ HARROD

Ensha’llaah – 2 April

In Morocco, Photo, Travel 2011 on April 3, 2011 at 1:29 am

I stand contented in front of one of the possibly hundreds of orange juice stands in Djemaa el-Fna while a woman, head wrapped, snaps my photo – returning the favor. Moments before, I snapped a picture of her and her husband in front of the chaos that is night in the main square of Marrakech’s Medina.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I warn you – this one’s going to be a long one. Today’s events and the people I met deserve every word I’ll write.

Having made it through my morning with a little rest and relaxation and doing what I do best – laying in a park while updating my blogs and editing photos – I gathered my wits about myself, mentally reviewed my French and the few Arabic words from Fatin, and headed back toward the Marrakech Medina. I vowed to not be overwhelmed, or to at least just go with it when I was. To do this, I decided no bargaining today. There’s not much I want to see here past the souks (shops) and the medina. So today is the day to take it all in and suss out the situation. Tomorrow is for bargaining.

I wandered back toward the mosque and paused to take a few quick pictures, admittedly still gathering myself for the unexpected. I carefully crossed the street, following the lead of the Moroccans next to me as crosswalks here are only en’shallah (my favorite Arabic word, meaning “as God wills it” or “in theory”), and with a bit of determination I picked an opening and walked into the souks.

The maze winds with alleys and openings and shop after shop of leather goods, carpets, shining teapots, spices and foods I’ve never seen.

Merchant after merchant beckoned to me.

“Bonjour, tu es Francais? English? Come. Look. Just look. Not to buy. Regardez.”

I smile from under my scarf, something I’ve chosen to wear out of respect, and because it protects from the sun and hides my light hair.

“Merci, but no. It’s never just to look.”

They smile, knowing I’m right, and tell me I’m pretty.

I laugh. “Thank you, but still no.” And I walk on.

Djemaa el-Fna is the point of reference for all visitors to the Medina, Moroccan and tourist alike. Like the North Star or the Southern Cross, I try to keep it’s location in mind, use it to navigate. In addition to being the center of the old town, It is how I’ll find my way home later.

It takes me only minutes and with one or two turns to lose track of it entirely, but I smile to myself. In Marrakech, you have to give in to ensha’llaah and trust. You’ll get there eventually.

Deeper in the Medina I find the street where the artisans are creating the things to be sold. Cobblers’ assistants are clipping leather to sew the slippers that hang from nearly every stall’s door. Men are shining the teapots that all Moroccans own – the customary vessel for the most delicious sweet mint tea you will ever drink. It’s warm, sweet and fragrant with a cooling aftertaste from the mint – a relaxing five minute boisson enjoyed many times each day. The wood carvers chip away at forms that look far to familiar to me from days as an apprentice to Idi and Conde at the museum in Niamey.

I smile at a wood carver. He looks back at me, and I wish I had the words to explain the connection he is completely unaware of.

I want to take pictures, but even a photo requires bargaining, and tomorrow is for bargaining. So I keep walking.

Eventually the Medina spits me out at three museums showing a bit of old Marrakech, as it used to be. As a non-Muslim, I’m not able to visit a mosque. This is the closest I’ll get. So I decide to go in.

The inner courtyards, tiling, and pools are impeccable, examples of pristine and exact architecture foils for the dusty confusion of the market. Sitting on the cool tile is a welcome respite. So I enjoy a few moments, surrounded by a bit of Moroccan history.

I decide to attempt to find my hostel again – better now than at night, and in the safety of the museum study my map. In Marrakech, my iPad with it’s usually helpful GPS map application, is rendered useless. Apparently there are some things even Steve Jobs can’t unwind, and the Medina. I think I have my bearings – knowing vaguely which direction to head and venture back through the medina.

This time Allah is on my side, and with a bit of serendipity, the call to prayer rings out just as I emerge victorious on the edge of Djemaa el-Fna. I spot the corner that will lead me home, and make my way back to La Casa del Sol, a Riad comme Hostel that is tiny bit of Mecca for young travelers, for some much needed rest and time to process my day.

My feet hurt, and I’m hot. I check my watch and realize that of course I’m hot. I’m in Africa and I’m doing something at 3pm – the time for tea and for rest. So, I hash out my morning with my roommates, a Slovakian girl and her Polish boyfriend, as we all take a break from what is just outside our door.

After a bit of a nap, I gather my things for the evening, excited to experience the time of day when the Medina starts to shift.

Djemaa el-Fna becomes packed with entertainers of all types: musicians and fortune tellers join the snake charmers and entertainers with monkeys that have been there since the start of the day. Food stalls take their places, each displaying buffets of food meant for tourists. The Moroccans congregate around particular ones, and I make a mental note – the locals are always a good indication of what’s the best.

I decide to wander back through the souks, reveling in the idea of getting a bit lost again, and pick up a shadow along the way. Adil, in his tight jeans and leather jacket is looking very Euro, and as always, I’m wary of his true intentions. He starts with the usual, asking me if I speak French or English, and we stumble into another conversation of mixed languages, laughing while we try to share a bit about our own cultures. I mention very clearly, again, that he is in fact following me. So I won’t be paying him as a guide. He laughs and says that’s fine.

We get back to the square, admittedly with a little direction from him, and everything is in full swing. I want something to eat and say so. He asks me what, and I laugh – shouldn’t he be telling me what’s good? We walk down a row of stalls and I spot one without an expat in sight. An enormous pot of soup is steaming. “C’est bonne?” I ask tentatively. He just smiles, nods, and orders two bowls and two dishes of dates.

I made the right decision. The harira is creamy and warm with noodles and lentils. With the dates, I do my best to explain the idea of sticky date pudding, an Australian favorite. He understands! . . . And then tells me I should make it. We both laugh while he foots the bill. I’m ready to treat us both to orange juice in return, one of the few products with a set price, simply better than all other orange juice. Unfortunately, the call to prayer interrupts and he’s off to mosque instead. We exchange names: another American friend for his Facebook.

I get my orange juice anyway, not quite ready to end my night, and take the photo of the woman and her husband. A woman and her two children ask for money. Instead I hand over the last of my orange, smiling while the kids giggle as it dribbles on their chins.

Back at my hostel, I spend the evening talking with the owner over mint tea and some shared sheesha. He tells me about the village he came from and other parts of Morocco I won’t get to see. I try to explain my home and what life is like there.

More travelers arrive, and we share our stories of where we’ve been and where we’re going. A couple Americans suggest getting something to eat, and a bit hungry again, I decide to join them for a nightcap in Djemaa el-Fna.

We wind back through then now empty streets between our hostel and the main square and walk into the thick of it. Smiling and polluting refusing the offers from every stall within reach. A few merchants remember me and call out.

“You said you’d come back!” they protest.

“Ensha’llaah,” I reply, and we both laugh.

We pick another crowded booth on the edge, broadcasting tangines and cous cous. After settling on a price, we settle in our seats and wait to be served. They food is hot and fragrant, fresh from the chopping board in front of us. After eating, we engage in yet another conversation of broken French and English, with a little bit of new Arabic to learn as well. They try to up the original price for each of our meals, but we decline, coming to an agreement of a few extra dirham for our Arabic lesson.

I finally go to sleep.

Tomorrow will be different, new challenges and new excitements – just as wonderful, en’shallah.


At the northeastern edge of the souks.


One example of the tiling in the old buildings.


Not sure how, but the orange juice really is better. Also a peek at my henna.


In Djemaa el-Fna just as the night’s beginning.

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  1. wow!! that’s all i can think to say, is WOW!

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