Friday, January 29, 2010

A Photographic Diary of My Trip: Marrakech

I'm notoriously bad at not finishing things, but I'm committed to getting this photographic diary done - Morocco is the last one, so I'm close to the end.

Here are a few photos around the city of Marrakech:

The main square, Djemaa el Fna

The day and night transformation is amazing. During the day, the square is empty. At night, there are so many people milling about. There are street performers, snake charmers, dancers, and storytellers. The energy is inspiring - I've never seen anything like it anywhere else.

I wish I had pictures to show you of the square at night, but I refrained from taking pictures at night because it seemed like you had to pay for any pictures you took of anyone.

A typical street in Marrakech

Walking around the city can be very confusing. It doesn't help that all the streets look the same and the street signs are nonexistent. I learned to rely on landmarks to get back home.

The famous Koutoubia Mosque

As non-Muslims, my friend and I were only able to appreciate this tall beauty from the outside. It is so tall that you are able to see it from far away - which very helpful for finding your way to the square. ;)

A park by the mosque

Marrakech houses some of the most lovely gardens and parks. They are always immaculately manicured.

A typical shop

These shops are everywhere, and many of them sell similar trinkets and souvenirs. This is one of my favorite pictures.

A government-run carpet shop

Yes, my friend and I got sucked into one of these shops. Neither of us were planning to buy a Moroccan rug - both of us ended with one.

How we got to the shop is an amusing story. We were wandering around the city lost. While I was talking to a street vendor about getting minutes on my cell phone, an older man walking his bike came up to my friend and asked if she remembered him. From the riad? Apparently he works there?

Um... yes?

So he offers to take us to a nice shop that's close by. It's government-run so you won't have to haggle so much. Don't worry - he'll take us there for free. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking this could have ended badly...

Yes, we followed him. I mean, he wasn't taking any shady streets or anything. AND it was in the daytime - nothing bad ever happens in the daytime! Don't shake your head, it could have happened to anyone! As we're walking, I asked my friend, "Do you know him?" "No." Neither did I. Insert nervous laughter.

Thankfully, he took us to some kind of carpet and furniture mega-emporium.

Let me start by saying that Moroccan salesmen are good at their job. And I am a sucker for deals. And I am a sucker in general, because I know I'm not getting a good deal but I just can't say no. We've spent all this time getting to know each other, now I can't just leave you hanging! I walked away from the emporium with a rug, a colorfully painted tagine and matching plate, and several pairs of leather slippers - and right into the spice shop next door.

The lady shows us traditional Moroccan beauty treatments and products - like the famous Argan oil-based soaps and black scrub treatments. On the shelves, there are stacks of neatly packaged loose tea, herbs and spices - one for curries, one for barbecue rubs, here's a 5-spice rub, or would I like her favorite, the 9-spice rub? And you can't say you've been to Morocco and didn't get a pack of mint tea! If you buy two, you get one free!

Yes, siree! I'd like all of them, please!

Then, she starts loading us up with free goodies and then lowers her voice to tell us not to tell our neighbors over at the emporium that we bought all this stuff. Just a few packs, so it doesn't look suspicious - because here's the thing. Since the salesmen at the emporium led us to her spice shop, they get a cut of the profits. A big cut, like 50%, and that doesn't leave very much left over. That's just the ways things are done.

Then, a light bulb goes off in my head. What about that mysterious guy that led us to the emporium in the first place? Does he get a cut? How often does this happen? Doesn't it all feel a little... shady?

For a while, my impressions of Morocco were tainted by these under-the-table deals. I couldn't help but feel a little used. Under the guise of friendship, I saw money signs. How could I trust whether this restaurant was a local favorite or one that paid out well? I saw these deals happening everywhere - even at the tourism office!

But near the end of my trip, I was in better spirits because I came to terms that that's just the way things are done. I had my shining moment of paranoia. But the truth is not that this is a real injustice, because I'm sure this kind of stuff happens all the time everywhere. It just never happens in my neck of the woods. And therefore, I am just naive. But we already knew that when I agreed to follow the stranger and his shiny bike.


Anya said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Only YOU would put your life in jeopardy to get to some shopping :) That's why I love you!

I'm glad all went well, but I gotta make you sit down and watch To Catch a Predator or Nancy Grace! Just think about it: you could've been on her SHOW--and I know how much you'd love that!

Elie's Papel said...

i've always wanted to go there... great photos ;)

Sarah Klassen said...

Oh my! No wonder you were nervous -- that story is so funny, and you're right, it could happen to anyone. Though perhaps not as frightening, I did the same thing in NYC and after, upon reflection, shook my own head and sighed...

Ahh memories...but now you have some beautiful new pieces :)