Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day Thirty-Three: This Is Morocco (pt. 1)

We are currently on our way to Ksar el Kabir after a weeklong stay in Fez followed by a series of two-day stays in Ouezzane, Chefchaouen, and Asilah (including an awesome day trip to Tangier). We are but a few days away from the end of this magical journey – a weekend until the end of suitcase livin’ and the readjustment back to reality. As our trip comes to a close, I’ve had some time to think about my experience(s) here in Morocco. I have to say that overall, this trip receives two enthusiastic De Le-thumbs up! What we have seen and experienced has surpassed my expectations in every which way. However, given the fact that a trip is, in effect, just a trip – something temporary – we, like most people, will only scratch the surface of this country. Though we will have been in Morocco for five weeks, there is much left to be explored and discovered.

Our Fulbright program – like all organized programs – is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Fulbright has afforded me the rare opportunity to see things I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime (and for that I will be eternally grateful!). From the arterial veins of humanity and history that are medinas to the gates of the Sahara, snacking on snails in Marrakech’s Djemaa al-Fna to attending a traditional Moroccan wedding in Rabat (until seven in the morning!), I have had incredible access to the country and caught a very special glimpse into its culture and peoples, an access that would never have been possible had I done this trip by myself and on my own dime.

On the other hand, organized trips sometimes leave some things out. Such is the nature of the beast, I suppose. Adhering to timetables and itineraries, rules and regulations, the engaged traveler must make a special effort to not lose out on “the adventure” – those opportunities to become fully consumed by the culture, take the road less traveled, and engage with the people on a person-to-person basis. Over the past few weeks I have attempted to do just that within the bounds of our program. In my following posts I hope to chronicle some of those memorable experiences.

On our second to last night in Fez, a few of the guys ventured off with our language instructor, Professor Abderrahim E. A small man with a big personality, I always found his presence magnetic. Mustachioed and always sporting dress pants, a short sleeved button up, and sandals, his chain smoking self always reminded me of Scrappy Doo, Scooby’s young nephew (interesting trivia tidbit: Scrappy’s middle name is Cornelius. Seriously.). In class he was the stately professor always pushing us to exaggerate the long vowels and correcting our pronunciation (much to his amusement). Outside of the classroom, Professor Abderrahim was simply “profesor” to me. He picked the four of us up in his old Fiat Uno with his good friend, Mohamed in the front seat. Six fully-grown men (some of us of the pudgy variety, mind you) in a tiny Fiat hatchback?! Adventure was imminent.

We drove over to the Hotel Merenid on a bluff overlooking Fez’s famed medina for a few beers and solid conversation. Sitting out on the open air patio overlooking the medieval city just a few meters below was at once exquisite, surreal, and sobering. Here we were drinking beers in a five-star hotel spending with abandon what many Moroccans earn in about a week. As Morocco’s finest flowed (Flag Especial only – made in Fez from Fassi water, as we were taught), so did the conversation. After a few rounds and some laughs we left for our second stop but not before a quick detour to profesor’s home so that he could change.

Sporting a crisp pair of capris and a t-shirt, profesor looked more Santa Monica Beach bum than fashionable Fassi – quite the funny sight. He suggested a spot where locals patronized so we took a dark and isolated back road into the hills on the outskirts of Fez. After a few minutes of driving through the forest with Mohamed leading us in the singing of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” we arrived at this resort-ish-type place that only Moroccans went to. As we approached the doors we could hear and feel the music pulsating from within. We took a seat behind the band playing a Berber variety of music and the (belly?) dancers. The dancers danced beautifully transfixing me with the swaying of their hips. We’d seen belly dancers in Marrakech at a fancy shmancy restaurant, but they were of the Hollywood sort: fair skinned, buxom, showing liberal amounts of skin, and made up. The dancers at this joint couldn’t be more different. With varying shades of browns and creams, they were fully covered ankles to neck in what looked like a loose fitting djellaba. Their blemished faces and pretty smiles conveyed a sense of realness, a far cry from the done-up women in Marrakech. While one of them sang in a high, off-pitch shrill (the microphone and old speakers only further augmenting this quality), the other two shook in a way that was beautiful, hypnotic, and incredibly sensual. They appeared to me as inverted bobble head dolls; their upper and lower torsos looking disconnected and their garish, golden belts making it seem as if the two halves were hinged right at the waistline.

We sat and enjoyed the beautiful night, all our senses piqued. Snacking on a mixture of nuts, olives, and chips, we bonded over successive rounds of cigarettes and beers. We shared stories (profesor’s father had him when he was 90!), laughed raucously (every heard the elbow joke?), talked politics and philosophy (the monarchy, socialism in Morocco, and the state of the Western Sahara, past, present, and future), and just… connected. After a jam packed day (three and a half jam packed weeks, for that matter) we were tired, a feeling exacerbated by the fact that we had to be at the bus bright and early by 8:30 am. Though our hosts appeared as though they could (and would want to) go longer, we were simply drained. We paid the bill, crammed into his Fiat, and headed back into the Ville Nouvelle singing traditional Moroccan music all the way home. If ever there was doubt that an amazing time had been had the night before, peep this: Professor Abderrahim arrived to class an hour late the next morning.

Currently listening to: LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

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