(Please start with Part 1)
We get into a taxi to the riad that Lamia’s family runs. It’s in the middle of a bustling square, I’m thinking Marrakesh has such a vibe and energy and at this point I know I’m about to have an amazing time.
We walk through the busy little streets on this fine morning, I feel the sweet sun on my face. I’m reminded of one of the first scenes in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with L being Belle since she’s being greeted left, right and centre, everyone knows her. I find out she can speak four different languages but has never left Morocco in her life. I thinking wow, she must look at life from a completely different angle to me. I keep hearing the word ‘safi’ being used at the end of conversations, I ask her what it means, she says it means ‘you are pure, all is good’.
I spot a butcher operating from a small window with crazy pieces of meat hanging by his head. There are motorbikes everywhere in between the pedestrians, I nearly get run over so many times in my hazy state. As we walk through the crowds L kisses a random man on the cheek, I’m thinking did I just see that? She tells me it’s her uncle, phe-ew!
After dumping my bags we go out to run some errands. En route we pass some men who are exploiting monkeys to make money from tourists. I’m about to walk away in disapproval when I spot a baby one and I can’t resist. They tell me his name is Coco the same as my cat back home. I though it was adorable to begin with but I really become attached after feeling it clutch me with it’s little hands and watching it gaze into my eyes. I smirk at the thought of my dad and his serious OCD with hygiene thinking he would kill me if he knew.
Before returning to the riad, L takes me to the best shoe shop in town, I fall in love with some tan colored leather sandals, she’s surprised at my choice and prefers the bright less natural designs that I wouldn’t go near, I find this interesting. Back at their place I meet her mum and the house keeper, they are equally pleasant and tell me I’m ‘zweina’ which means beautiful in Moroccan.
Following L’s itinerary we get ready to go to the bath, I can’t wait it sounds relaxing. En route we visit a pop up supermarket in the middle of the street, it’s literally like a window with stacks of products displayed around. She tells me they look small but they sell literally everything in there. (I’m fascinated by this) She picks some dark coloured goo in a clear bag, I ask her what it is, she tells me it’s olive soap and completely natural and explains we’re going to use it in the bath, I’m excited. On the way I tell her I need to eat something so that I don’t pass out in the bath, we stop for cake and juice, freshly squeezed of course.
We enter the bath, it’s nothing like the commercial ones I’ve been to before in Turkey and Tunisia, this one is so basic, full of just locals and I’m about the size of one of their thighs There is no room for modesty here.
The women are gathered around each other all in different positions, some pouring water on others, some scrubbing, chatting away the whole time in Moroccan Arabic, I find it impossible to understand especially with the bits of French and Spanish mixed in, it sounds like they’re debating about something, it also looks like they’ve been there for hours, I’m thinking this is fantastic, this is actually part of their daily routine. A lady comes over to scrub me down, she’s adamant to get rid of any surplus skin possible, I’m thinking if I had any tan left it’s gone now. After a while I start to feel a bit grossed out as I think about all the dead skin accumulating by everyone in that one room, I want to get out.
We’re drying up in the changing room when I spot two women who work there sitting and eating what looks like a feast in a huge bowl. L tells me to go over and try some, I’m thinking they are actually eating in a changing room, how bizarre. I go over to find them sharing the most colourful looking couscous you can imagine and they are eating it with their fingers!! Apparently it was a gift from a neighbor I’m thinking this is mad and I would never have been so adventurous a couple of years ago but I try some. It tastes absolutely fantastic and doesn’t compare to any cous cous I’ve tried before. I’m thinking after this trip my immune system is bound to be so strong.
L wraps my wet hair in a printed scarf and we leave the bath. I’m walking down the streets thinking with this headpiece I look like Erykah Badu but it’s all good. We go to a tiny oldskhool salon to blowdry our hair, I see the state of their brushes and try to sneak in my own but the hairdresser uses hers and they look skank, I’m waaay out of my comfort zone now, I tell myself if I get nits it okay, we have all sorts of treatment back in England.. I decide that on this trip I need to learn to let go of any inhibitions and just go with the flow.
We pass a shop selling the weirdest things, natural lipstick where the colour is exposed only when you lick it, crystals to use as deodorant , toothpicks from a type of thistle etc. The owner gives us some demonstrations, I tell him he’s like a wizard, he looks happy. I’m thinking Marrakesh is seriously a treasure trove, I love this place already.
We go to grab some lunch, after my taster earlier I go for some cous cous although unfortunately this one doesn’t compare to my last, I guess that was home made. I order coke, the waiter makes a big deal, he tells me you’re not allowed you should be drinking yoghurt with cous cous. I get a little food in my hair, I explain to L that that’s ‘my thing’ and that my sisters always make fun of me for it and taunt me by always looking at my hair and saying ‘what’s on the menu today?’ She finds this hilarious and it gets used constantly throughout this trip.
We plan to leave to Asfi where my dad is at 7pm. L suggests I wear a traditional outfit to surprise him, she picks a style at a market stall, it’s like a short sleeved floor length gown with stitched detail, I pick a bright orange one.
Sporting my new outfit we make our way onto the train, the layout is interesting, it’s made up of mini dorms that fit six people, I’m thinking if you traveled with a group of friends you could make as much noise as you like and even have a party in here. I analyze the four other people in the hub with us, they all look Moroccan, in no time everyone is talking to each other, playing music, it’s a great atmosphere and I can see how friendly and laid back Moroccan people are.
It’s a three hour journey and L and I have plenty of time to chat. She tells me she gets very lonely at times since she doesn’t have many friends.. I’m surprised and I ask her why, she says her mum doesn’t like any of them particularly since most are prostitutes. (this is not uncommon here) She tells me about a rich Saudi guy who’s in love with her, she says he always tries to shower her with gifts and that he’s a nice guy but she doesn’t feel the same way for him and can’t be fake (I like this). I realize she’s just a normal girl who wants to be in love. She wants to get away from the family business but she loves her mum too much to disappoint her. She manages everything back at the riad, she doesn’t enjoy the work and dreams of change. I’m thinking she’s so intelligent and a fantastic person it’s so sad that she doesn’t have the freedom she deserves.
By now I know she loves bright colours so I get out some flower hairclips from my bag and tell her to choose one, she picks the fuchsia one my favorite, for a split second I’m disappointed but she was over the moon with it, I never knew something so small could make someone so happy, what was I thinking feeling bad about it!? I should also mention that when I told her I liked her leather handbag earlier she offered to give it to me which of course I refused especially since it looked very expensive.
My father picks us up from the train station, as soon as he sees me he says I look like ‘a Hare Krishna’ in my orange gown, and there I was thinking he’d appreciate my effort to look traditional. We get into the car and with his hygiene OCD it’s too tempting to mention the monkey incident so I show him a picture of me holding the monkey, he gives me a deadly look and so I quickly say don’t worry I spent 2 hours in the Moroccan bath afterwards, he tells me he would never have kissed me hello had he known about this earlier. I get into his apartment only to be welcomed by the strongest smell of Dettol you can imagine, apparently he’d just ‘cleaned’ the whole house, I’m thinking this can’t be good for me to inhale.
It’s now about midnight, I’ve only had 2 hours sleep the past 36 hours and he asks me if I want to go out for some tea, I think why not after all I’ve just arrived. I was expecting us to go to a café but we end up at the house of a local family he knows. We take off our shoes and enter the living room, they are a big family I get introduced to all. Ahlam is the only daughter living at home, she seems a little quiet, Mustapha is the youngest son, and apparently he likes football. It’s a typical Moroccan setting and we sit around a round table. As we are having our mint tea, the mum of the house brings over a large dish called ‘pastilla’, I’m intrigued, it looks a bit like a pie, it’s filled with shredded spiced chicken and coated with pastry and crunchy sugar and cinnamon, although it sounds strange it tasted FANTASTIC, I wonder where it came from since it was piping hot and untouched. Although it’s almost 1am and I’m kind of full I can’t help but eat away, I’m getting through my last slice when out comes three freshly roasted chickens! I’m totally confused as they insist I keep eating. I’m literally stuffed, we leave and Fatina the mother tells us she expects us for breakfast tomorrow at 10am, I can’t even think about food right now!
Back at the apartment I forget my toothbrush but it’s fine, my dad is such a bad traveler you see, he packs everything under the sun, you name it, he’s got it, he offers me a choice of three new toothbrushes. As I brush my teeth I shout out ‘dad, there’s a glass of milk in the bathroom!’ ‘No, that’s just Dettol’ he reassures me. Right, it’s definitely time for bed..