Part II of my trip to Morocco and Portugal
The difference between the central plaza of the medina during the day and during the night is like the difference between, well, day and night. With each of the five prayer announcements the plaza grows busier with more mopeds, more drum circles and more noise. There are a few constants about the plaza: there are always vendors, there are always people, and it is always colorful. The women´s hijabs (headscarves) and burkas dye the medina with blotches of hot pink, green, blue, sequin, fusia, and everything in between. Before the night vendors arrive, some of whom sell entire heads of animals, teeth and all (we jokingly called the process of eating this ¨sucking skull¨. Sound a little vampire-ish?), the dried fruit and nut stands and the orange juice carts have a monopoly on the plaza. The warm color of the dried apricots contrasts with the nuts placed so neatly on display.
I´m not great at estimating numbers, but we´ll just say there are a ¨montón¨ (many, many) of orange juice carts, each with the same exact set-up, prices, and persistent vendors. The oranges are stacked in meticulous rows, and many times I considered (not seriously, of course) pulling an orange from the bottom row, and watching the stampede of fruit cascade off the stand. But don’t worry, those were very brief thoughts, and were always countered by “that wouldn’t be very nice now would it, Mikayla?”.
Our last night we decided to eat in the market and sample as many vendors as we could. As an appetizer, we bought a bag of dried apricots. Before I had even popped my second apricot, children were coming up to us with expectant hands, waiting for us to share our food. And who can deny a child? Not me. We made our way down the first aisle of vendors, perusing the kebabs, the the vegetables gleaming with freshness, the mint tea, and the cooked heads. There was one table set apart from the food vendors that looked as though it was selling small white shells. But as we approached the table, we realized they weren’t shells at all, actually. They were human teeth. A graveyard of human teeth sprawled on this four foot by four foot table. They were being sold for dentures, and I mean who wouldn’t want to have some random person’s teeth in their mouth? I just wonder how they were acquired…
As we lazily strolled through the aisles, looking at each stand indifferently, the salesmen swept in on us like seagulls racing for abandoned food. “Hello! Hello! English? French? Spanish? Our food is ranked number one by the BBC!” The vendors often spoke at least three languages and as they approached us, insisting that their stand had the best food for the best prices, they casually helped themselves to the apricots, reaching inside the paper bag as they made their sales pitch. At first Jake and I were a bit, well, surprised by this. Is this customary? To just take a stranger’s food? After the second time this happened we laughed at the electrifying culture shock of our situation and began offering our apricots freely to each vendor we spoke with, until we were left with just an empty paper bag. The vendors didn’t think anything of it and treated our small generosity with an air of casualness, as in “oh alright, I’ll take an apricot.” Either Jake and I were wearing a sign around our necks that said “Free apricots! Please take one,” or it is simply a sharing community. Something tells me that it’s a little bit of the former and a lot of the latter. Yes, we were obviously tourists, and therefore we were probably perceived as people who wouldn’t protest to a little apricot theft (“Oh those silly tourists will probably just brush it off as ‘this is what I get for coming to Morocco'”), but ultimately when I think back on my Moroccan experience, I remember the generosity of Echo’s family, I remember the mother who shared her sandwich with me on the train, and I remember the man who helped us to our hiding hostel. Morocco is a place of poverty, but also a place of immense generosity. What I love about traveling is encountering a situation that just totally shocks you, and exemplifies the mountains of difference between your cultural norms and those of the culture you are being faced with. It might take a few seconds, hours, or months to acclimate yourself but it is the challenge of this adaptation that is so fun, and for that I loved Morocco. We continually stumbled on these intangible cultural barriers, clumsily climbing over them, walking around them, or jumping up just to catch a glimpse of the other side. As I wandered through Marrakech, skirting out of the way of mopeds and pick pocketers, I realized that with all of our so-called “differences”, the cultural dichotomies between “me” and “Moroccans” really didn’t make us all that different at all. Now please, take an apricot.