Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Men of Marrakesh

Life has a way of opening up opportunities for you if you are willing. Here in Morocco, it's the seemingless mundane errands and my own personal idiosyncracies that have provided the richest experiences. Shopping for an ethernet cable, index cards, and my run yesterday morning. The shopping is another blog.

Traveling around does a number on the body. We haven't spent more than two nights in the same place yet. There's no opportunity to really establish a routine. Thanks to Manuel, I've been able to establish one routine: the early morning run. Promptly at 7:15 A.M. each morning we meet. Sometimes I go to his room; sometimes he comes to mine. Manuel's usual run in Cali is 4-5 miles. Mine is 2.8 along the Charles River. And I run slowly. So, our typical run goes like this: we run together all around the university, leave campus towards downtown, at downtown I stop, do some dips, and Manuel keeps running further then comes back for me. I struggle. Ifrane is at a much higher elevation than I'm used to.

But we don't stay in Ifrane for long. Two days ago we spent the entire day on the bus to Marrakesh. Yesterday morning was my first morning run with Manuel outside of Ifrane. Marrakesh is a big city. Being a single woman is something I'm constantly cognizant of, so I was especially glad to be running with Manuel here. 7:15 in the hotel. We meet as usual. This is foreign territory for us. We decide to go left out the front door today, and right tomorrow morning. The air is crisp, not as cool as Ifrane, but not too hot yet. This is the desert. We run past la gare, the beautiful train station across from the Theatre Royal, and continue on Rue Hassan II, which has a long sidewalk. I can get into a running groove here. There are rose bushes and benches  lining a "red" wall (I would later discover that Marrakesh, the second capital of Morocco, is known as the "Red City" and that it is compulsory for people to paint their house the same color as their neighbor's. But it's not really red. It's a coral--a Florida vacation home coral--a desert sand with pink).

We make it to the end of the rue and turn left in order to avoid crossing the street (an ordeal in itself that always tests one's chutzpah in the face of sheer danger). This street is less busy, with what looks like the Great Wall of Marrakesh along the right. Someone wanted to protect this oasis town.

About 100 yards down the road, I mentally give up. This always happens to me. I consider myself a runner, but I'm lazy, and I'd rather be sleeping most times. I always, always enjoy the feeling after a run, so I try to tackle this mental block each day. This is the point where I let Manuel loose. "Go, run. Come back for me," I tell him, and off he goes.

I walk for half a song, then I tell myself to stop being such a wimp, and begin to jog some more. I don't see Manuel anywhere. I check the time, and remember that the farther I run one way, the farther I will have to run to get back. I decide to turn around. Manuel will find me.

I've been alone for about 15 minutes at this point, all decked out in a very American running outfit. The stares are plentiful, but I'm not too worried. Jen, who used to teach a women's self-defense class taught me the other night where to kick (side of the knees and the Adam's apple, not the groin). I review this information in my head as the sun shines brightly in my eyes.

Suddenly, the men appear. In hoards. They're all dressed in long navy running pants with gray stripes along the side (Adidas-sponsored?) and gray t-shirts. Perhaps some sort of military training. I've already garnered stares from the random passers-by on the street. Imagine the stare down here. When I say hoard, I mean hoard. They weren't in a nice uniform line like I've seen ROTC runs. No. They took over the entire sidewalk, which was quite wide--about 5-6 people across. I decide to stop running and stand still. This probably caused more of a disruption. Men were turning their heads, calling out something I could not understand (Note to self: Have Oussama teach me cat calls in Arabic). Not because I'm particularly beautiful, but because I'm a foreign woman alone running on the streets. Apparently, a sight to behold. Where is Manuel?

The group passes. Relief. Not a big deal. A minute later, another hoard approaches! Where did they come from?!? I try a different approach and run through them. Not much of a difference. But, I get through it. And yet another group approaches!!! This is where all the men in Marrakesh must have been! Last night at the two cafes we went to, there weren't this many.

These men helped highlight for me that I am a single woman in a foreign land. And while that doesn't really affect me much in Boston, it can here. I made it back to Rue Hassan II, stopping once to ask directions to la gare, and then Manuel found me. Of course, he was worried about me because it had been so long. But I was fine. I had found all the men of Marrakesh. 

1 comment:

  1. So, would you conclude that it's "safe" (both in the traditional sense and also in terms of being "culturally sensitive") for a single woman to don her running shorts and get some exercise in Marrakech? I'm heading out there in Oct. and wondering if I'll be able to go running without feeling extremely conspicuous or being mistaken for a lady of the night/day. Can I borrow Manuel? :)