Oct. 30th, 2013
In many ways, my life here in Marrakech is much the same as my life in Mississippi. I still rise most days before dawn, and enjoy my first cup of coffee while listening to the birdsong outside my window. I go to work on the computer for several hours, tackling the unpleasant (business) side of making a living as an artist while my brain is functioning at its best, and when I can't take another minute of staring at the monitor or keyboarding I switch to my passion, the creating of art. Sometime in there I have a second cup of coffee and make breakfast. I try and break away to do housekeeping tasks at regular intervals over the course of the day, and wind down work about 12 hours after I have started. I enjoy spending my day alone here as I do in the states, and usually only venture out when the sun has lost its strength.
There are significant differences in the details of this life. The first thing I hear every morning is the haunting Muslim call to prayer. It is beautiful, slow and melodic and hypnotizing. There is a mosque directly across the street from my apartment and the loudspeaker used by the muezzin is pointed at my window. I can also hear the muted calls of two other nearby mosques, and they seem to echo off of each other in an exotic game of hide and seek. The first of the five daily calls reaches me before it is light, and I look forward to be awakened by it every morning.
My apartment is spacious, with tile walls and floors, and beautiful decorative relief designs on the plaster ceilings. Housework is housework no matter where you are and most things are the same here except for the time it takes to wash clothes. My washing machine consists of a 5 gallon bucket I place in the kitchen sink, and I am developing good muscles in my forearms, acting as a human agitator. (Funny how the meaning of a word can change over the course of a human life; my “agitating” used to have a distinct political dimension.) Disposing of the trash also has its own unique profile; a dumpster magically appears outside my apartment door sometime before the first call to prayer and disappears again by 8 AM. I have seen the man in the green and blue uniform wheel it away around the corner and assume that it takes up its station at various locations in the neighborhood over the course of the day. I have also watched this man sweep the cobblestone street from my favorite perch at the kitchen window; his broom is made of a cane handle and the 2' stems of a local plant the ends of which taper to a point. It has, I imagine, as elegant a shape as a broom can possess. Later in the morning when the shops open, I listen as the craftsmen and merchants wash the streets in front of their shops by splashing water from jugs on to the bricks.
Three of the windows in my apartment look down upon the street, and two more give me a view of the courtyard in the center of the building. This is a traditional Moroccan design for a home and the view of the courtyard is pleasant, but it is the street scenes that fire my imagination and have given me hours of pleasure. From these windows I have watched mothers walking their children to school or market, and men gathering outside the door to the mosque. Shoppers hurry by, their bags laden with foodstuffs and household items and vendors wander past, pushing their carts filled with laundry soap or piled high with sheepskins, and calling out their particular offering of goods. Several nights ago I listened for hours as a small group of young men gathered around two musicians who were coaxing melodies out of their stringed instruments and the next night, the same street erupted with a fight when a young man made an inappropriate advance towards a girl. For the past week, a group of boys has been gathering in the afternoons, setting off firecrackers. With every sharp report the smell of sulfur drifts upward and mixed in with the cries of delight uttered in Arabic are the words of one boy who has mastered a bit of English. Every time I hear the “oh my God” that pours from his lips I have to smile.
My daily excursions consist primarily of walks to buy food and household items, or exploratory strolls around the medina. I am becoming familiar with some of the merchants nearby and judging by the lessening instances of attempts to lure me into their shops, I am becoming known as someone who lives here and is not likely to be buying tourist items. On my way to Aswak Assalam, the supermarket a 20 minute walk north, I often stop and have a glass of tea at the tiny cafe run by Mustapha. He is a short little guy with glasses and a big smile, and he serves the best tea I have tasted. One day I spotted a couple of little girls in the street and took out the bag of balloons that I keep in my purse and before I knew it, word had spread like wildfire and I was surrounded by a dozen kids. Mustapha helped me blow up the balloons and pass them out, and pocketed a few extra to bring home to his children. Since then, we have felt like friends. There is another small shop that sells grains and pasta in large barrels all lined up in the small stall, run by another friendly man whose name I have yet to learn and I buy from him whenever I can. At still another I buy my coffee, eggs and drinking water. I don't know this man's name either but he is so helpful and patient with my faltering attempts to speak his language that he has won my loyalty as well. I am still intimidated by the fruit and vegetable vendors that line up next to the medina walls; I would rather buy from them than the supermarket but they do not post their prices, and I know that I will be overcharged so until I make more progress with the language, I pass them by.
I am beginning to get a better feel for the layout of the medina but I have yet to make my way through the main section of souks without getting lost. I usually have a pretty good sense of direction but it fails me completely when I enter the labyrinth. The last time I was here I abandoned my maps and relied on a compass app to get me across town but I am determined to conquer the maze during this stay. I actually enjoy being lost in the medina and the opportunities it affords for discovery but I also want to be able to get from point A to point B at times. Promptness is not a valued trait here in Morocco like it is in western cultures, but I can't seem to leave behind my Midwestern compulsion to be on time for an appointment. It is pretty silly really; for instance, a few days ago I was to meet Rachid and Abdellah in Djemma el Fna at 6 PM and I found myself becoming stressed when I became lost, worried that I would be late. I made it to the meeting place on time, barely, only to wait another 30 minutes before they came strolling up, completely unconcerned with being late. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Mark Twain. He wrote “I am an old man and I have had many troubles, most of which never happened.” Perhaps living in the medina will help me to leave some of those imagined troubles behind.