Thursday, 24 November 2011

Moroccan magic, madness and memories

I recently posted a poem I wrote whilst on holiday which touched on some of the sights, sounds and smells I experienced whilst in Agadir. Now I thought I’d use my blog to tell you a little more about the coastal resort I stayed in and show you a few images of my time there.

Agadir is purely a tourist resort now and in fact one taxi driver told us how people are only allowed to build properties there for tourism now. This is something I found quite sad, of course the tourists are good for the country and economy, but it seemed unfair to prevent locals like this in their own country.

Many years ago Agadir was destroyed by an earthquake which killed thousands of people and now all that remains on top of the hill are the ruins of the walls of the Kasbah. On the hill are the words God Country King which serve as a constant reminder of original Agadir and create a beautiful and memorable sight on the coast, which at night is clear for all to see when it is lit up.

As we drove from the airport to our hotel we passed a host of interesting sights, locals with what looked like their weekly shop balancing on their knees whilst driving their motorbike, fruit and veg sellers along the rode being pulled along by donkeys, old men playing board games in the street, men wearing pointy hooded cloaks, run down looking buildings which were actually relatively new build properties for teachers (the King is working on improving the literacy rates), a walled wildlife area which only the Sheikh and his family are allowed to see and much much more.

I visited Agadir around five years ago whilst I was still living at home and went with my Mum, as my Dad was still working then and had important meetings to attend. I will be honest and confess at times we were nervous and concerned for our wellbeing, being Western women in a very traditional country with strong views on how females should look and behave was in our minds. Plus on our last visit our trip had coincided with Ramadan, as a result the area was very quiet and we found there were never any women about. On meeting a tourism graduate one day on this year’s visit we soon realised that when last time we had felt threatened, we had in fact simply misjudged their friendliness and interest in meeting new people. This is something clearly evident in Moroccan people, everyone is so friendly, more than willing to help or tell you about local history or find out more about you and your life and your culture.

So what memories stick in my mind? Being a passenger in the ‘orange taxis’, which had no seatbelts and my door had no handle (our driver told me it had special automatic control!), our taxi driver spending hours with us waiting for us and wanting to be in our photo, visiting a local Berber souk and getting dressed up in traditional garments, offers of camels to my Dad for me – top offer was 5000! Being labelled Fatima (a popular Moroccan name and as I often get when going abroad I was told I very much looked like a local!) The entertainment staff asking my Dad if he could dance like Michael Jackson and talking to him about his dance moves (‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’), constant questions as to whether I was married and if I was on Facebook, my super big feet being too big for the Moroccan slippers I so badly wanted to purchase. My Dad having a full conversation with a lady who worked in the hotel bar in English (she was Moroccan and spoke French but could understand perfectly well, she wanted to know the rules of the card game we were playing), then deciding when referring to the number three he had to offer a bit more explanation…Picture my Dad chatting away and then explaining that you need three cards in a set to lay them, but after a whole chat in English, stating “you know un deux trois. Three?” Embarrassing is not the word, although it gave us all a good giggle! Or how about visiting the souk and finding we didn’t have enough money, the stall owners had a simple solution – the taxi driver would pay for us (using all his taxi float) and then when dropping us back at the hotel we could get the cash and pay him! Silly for us to go back to the hotel and come back paying double taxi fares. Just like England eh?

The trip also highlighted differences in cultures in a number of ways. I always feel quite ignorant when I visit other countries, in England we just don’t push the importance of learning other languages enough and I feel ashamed at how good a grasp on English local people have. I couldn’t say anything in Arabic! (The languages typically used there are Berber, Arabic and French). Also in our hotel in the Moroccan themed restaurant you were sat with other people – they would try and place people from the same country together (the hotel is very popular with French and some Italian visitors). Our first visit found us with two English couples, people hardly spoke and there was an awkward feeling at the table. My parents talked of how this has happened before on other holidays but yet when sitting with people from other countries – for example with outgoing Americans – the conversation never went quiet. On the second visit we were sat with a Northern family and almost immediately they started to chat. At lunch we would find a table and keep to ourselves, French visitors would join huge tables together and almost take over, their talking and laughter heard loud above everyone else.

We revisited the fish market in the area, which was so quiet and mostly shut down on our last visit, this time we ventured there via the newly built marina and extended promenade and met with a local man. Studying tourism, he became a makeshift guide and showed us to the fish market as he was on his way to work (he works part time in the market in one of the stalls/’restaurants’ which serve up local fish. It works so well, you pick what fish you want, each one sells them at the same price and so an area full of long shared plastic-covered tables, hustle and bustle and tourists and locals mixing together is created. Whilst our ‘guide’ was telling us more he invited us to share some mint tea with him, which we enjoyed and then were introduced to his manager and his family. A local sitting having his lunch even offered me some of his fish to try!

In another souk the Berber man showed us how they create Argan oil and we watched some women painstakingly shelling the nuts and grinding them to produce this amazing product. We were dressed in traditional clothes and told more about the traditions, without pushy sales techniques. I felt truly welcome.

I could go on but you may well want to go and see for yourselves and don’t want me spoiling your experiences!

So although I may not have seen the ‘real’ Morocco and didn’t venture too far, I got a good enough taste from the local people to understand what sort of place this is and the type of people that live there. Really friendly, helpful, intelligent people always keen to learn about others and offering beautiful food, history, scenic surroundings and numerous souks/markets offering an array of local goods.

1 comment:

  1. I knew there had to be a food pic in there somewhere! You should be a travel writer Mel!