Marrakech, Morocco Part 2:
On our first morning in the medina we were jarred awake at 4:30am. The Muslim call to prayer is a shock if you are not ready for it. The Adhan is recited from the top of all of the mosques 5 times a day by a Muezzin and it goes on for several minutes. The Muezzin is a special person in each mosque that is chosen for his ability to recite both beautifully and loudly. This was once done just by reciting the prayer from the minaret in a big voice. Now, thanks to modern technology, a loud-speaker broadcasts it so that everyone can hear. When it is heard it is time to stop what one is doing and get ready for prayer. In most cases at 4:30am this means to stop sleeping. The mosque, (that may have been right outside our window), made a second call to prayer, the Iqama, at 5:30am as well. So, once my heart had stopped pounding and I had drifted back to sleep, it started all over again. Now I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive. I do understand that this is very important for muslims; it was just a bit of a shock the first day. Once I knew what the sound was, it was far less startling the next morning.
It is lovely to be on vacation and not need to get the girls ready for school in the morning. We wandered downstairs for breakfast after 9am and Youssef was waiting for us . We had rghaif which is a rich Moroccan dough that is pan-fried and served with honey. We also had delicious coffee, hot milk, yogurt, pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
The girls and I had noticed that there was a spa next door to our riad. After breakfast we decided we could use a bit of pampering and we scheduled pedicures. At the Heritage Spa we were welcomed with warm tea and led to a sitting room where we waited for our attendants.
Sky and Savannah were taken to a lovely little room where they reclined on a colorful bed of pillows. A fountain bubbled and whispered soothingly and soft Moroccan music played in the background.
I had also scheduled some waxing in addition to my pedicure so my attendant, Banan, led me down some stairs, then up more stairs to a separate, more private area. I lay on a massage table while she focused a bright light on me. She had an old-looking can of wax with thick honey-colored drips down the side. It sat on a grubby base that she gingerly carried over and placed next to me. She carefully pulled some used-looking gloves out of her pocket and covered her hands. She used a popsicle stick to dip into the rusty can and blew on the wax to cool it a bit before she painted my hair. There was a lot of double dipping involved and I tried not to wonder how many other people’s sticks had been in that bucket of wax. I really did want to get rid of all that hair so I convinced myself that nothing could survive in boiling wax however unsanitary the set up was. I thought that surely I would get to go to the lovely room for a pedicure and a leg massage when the procedure was over. Nope, still on the flat table she had me bend my knees to put my feet in a bucket of warm water, weird. It was my first lie down pedicure. Once my toes were done she left me alone without a word in my little room. I put on a robe and wandered out to find my clothes and my children. I found Sky and Savvy lounging on their bed of pillows while their toes dried. Two little sultanas. I joined them and we compared colors. No one offered to paint a flower on our toes and we all felt that the foot massage was little more than a couple of slaps on the bottom of our feet but all in all it was a pleasant experience and I did get a very complete, albeit somewhat scary waxing.
Next stop, the Henna Cafe. After the odd experience with our henna attack in the big square the day before we thought we should find a calmer venue for some “temporary tattoos”. We noticed the Henna Cafe the day before on our explore about town. We climbed a narrow staircase decorated with paintings and photographs from local artists. We passed a tiny kitchen on our way to the rooftop terrace. We sat in the shade and sipped tea and ate delicious food from tagines.
Sky and Savannah found small turtles roaming about the tiles. The turtles were tame and ate table scraps. It was good entertainment while we waited for our food.
The girls chose their designs from a book and gentle Fatima skillfully painted them with her “homemade organic henna”.
After getting lost in the labyrinthine medina Mike was keen to check out the “modern” city, Gueliz. Youssef pointed us in the right direction and this time I downloaded a map. We were very careful to memorize landmarks and I promised Savannah that we would come home the same way we went out so that we wouldn’t get lost. She was skeptical but agreed to go.
I did wonder what the draw was to this part of town. I wondered just until I saw the McDonald’s, which of course Mike already knew about from his Africa McDonald’s App. As a vegetarian, it is embarrassing to admit that my husband has a deep-seated love for Mickey D’s. So against my better judgement, it has become our tradition to visit one in every country. It is amazing how we just happen to “stumble” upon them. Mike was in beef heaven and was so happy that it was worth it.
Mike had a Hamburger Royal and Savvy had a cheeseburger. Sky and I sipped vegetarian milkshakes. McDonald’s in Marrakech is wildly successful. It was packed with people, lovely girls met us at the door and took our order on handheld computers. We had to search for a place to sit amongst the local Moroccans. We had definitely come across the modern Morocco. Beautiful, fashionable women in head scarves strolled next to friends in tube tops and high heels (I wish I had a photo of that!). Many women passed with their heads conspicuously uncovered, with long, flowing dark hair exposed. The west has obviously affected this Arab country but it seems that it has been a peaceful transition. Morocco was our first exposure to the Arab world. We learned from the locals that we met, that in their opinion, Marrakech is a progressive city that welcomes the Western changes. There are many immigrants from other parts of Africa who on their way to Europe stop in Morocco. Many find it so agreeable and peaceful that they decide to stay.
Over the centuries, Moroccans have endured invasions by Arab, French and Spanish civilizations. The indigenous Berbers have been in Morocco for over 5000 years. They have survived and today live throughout Morocco composing more than 40% of the population. There are 35 million people in Morocco and the overwhelming majority are of mixed Arab and Berber descent so it is not surprising that Arabic and Berber are the two official languages of Morocco. What is surprising is that Berber was not recognized as an official language until 2011. The third, unofficial, language is French which is the language that is widely spoken in government and business. Moroccans easily switch between French and Arabic and we noticed that they frequently speak a combination of the two languages. The recent history is that Morocco was occupied by the French and Spanish as a protectorate from 1912-1956. The French occupied most of the country while Spain occupied the northernmost region. Mohammed V negotiated a peaceful transition in 1956 that restored Moroccan independence from both Spain and France. The sultan agreed to transform his country into a constitutional monarchy where the sultan would continue to have an active political role. His son, Mohammed VI, is the reigning king today. In 1999 at the age of 36 he became king when his father died. Today he seems to be a popular and powerful king, not to mention fabulously wealthy. In 2009 Forbes magazine estimated that the Moroccan Royal Family had one of the largest fortunes in the world. He is ever-present in Marrakech from his face on the Dirham, the local currency, to his ubiquitous portrait. In 2002 he married to the most beautiful computer engineer in the world, Princess Lalla Salma. They share a son and daughter.
He is also known for creating a new Mudawana which is family law based on Islamic principles that grants more rights to women regarding marriage, divorce and property ownership. I like to think that his lovely, well-educated wife had some influence on the new rights for women in recent years.
I got a bit carried away, but I do find the whole idea of royalty quite interesting. After lunch we shopped in the modern shops where everyone spoke French and many spoke English. It was relaxing not haggling over prices. We were surprised that in the stores that sold typical Moroccan clothing and ceramics that the prices were actually better in Gueliz than they were in the medina. Obviously in the medina the local merchants are accustomed to asking outrageous prices of the tourists. Sky chose a beautiful blue outfit that was one long piece of fabric. For the outfit and some golden shoes it cost the equivalent of about 40$. In addition, there weren’t the pressured sales pitches that we experienced in the souks. Savvy found some sandals that she was happy with and we successfully found our way back to the riad. Sky put on her new outfit and we had a fashion show. We sipped mint tea and played cards until we collapsed. Another full day in the Red City!
Part 3 coming soon…