After returning from the desert, the first thing I wanted to do was shower. Every time I touched my hair, ears, legs – really any exposed part of my body – there was sand. It felt like I brought a good part of the dunes back with me in. This in mind, we decided to treat ourselves with a dip in a rooftop pool then partake in a Moroccan tradition turned western indulgence: the Hammam.
The pool we went to is actually in a bar at the top of the Hotel de la Renaissance in Gueliz. From the top, you can see the Medina, the mountains, and off to the horizon as far as the eye can see. After cooling off, it was time to heat things up.
Hammams are like saunas or public bath houses, except there is an attendant that bathes you. I’ve heard that hammams are an Islamic tradition. Muslims are required to cleanse themselves before entering mosques and hammams offer a way to do that beyond the typical washing of the feet and hands. Indeed, male and female hammams in the Medina are often seen next to mosques. Other people say it’s a carry over from the Roman bath houses. Either way, it’s a unique experience. As Soufiane so eloquently described it, “hammams are the place you go, get naked, then have some woman scrub you down until you have no skin left.”
That’s more or less accurate. We entered a stream room with just our swim bottoms (ie topless) and were directed to sit on a bench while the attendant (wearing a modest one piece) attended to two other foreign women. It seems contradictory that a culture so concerned with modesty would be so comfortable with mass nudity.
In between scrubbing the other women, the attendant would occasionally direct me or Dana to stand up and she would dump a large, shallow bowl of warm water on our bodies and over our heads.
When it was my turn to be scrubbed, the attendant directed me to stand up, lay down, and turn over as she scrubbed virtually every inch of my body. Letting a woman get to second base with me was not something I had planned on doing…ever. I’ll admit though, the rough sponge, warm water, and rose essence felt really good on the numerous mosquito bites that covered my arms, legs, and chest. Having water dumped over your head then being attached with a scrubbing brush is a fairly violent sensation. I’ve never felt cleaner in my life.
The next day Dana left for the airport first thing in the morning. My flight wasn’t until the late evening. I had a whole day to fill by myself so I decided to sign up for a cooking class.
I met my instructor, Karima, in the big square then she took me through the souqs to gather the ingredients for a Moroccan salad, chicken tajine au citron, and an orange cinnamon dessert.
Tajine refers to the style of clay pot used to cook the dish. I asked Karima if the conical shape did anything special for the cooking. She told me it just makes the meat tender; I could probably achieve the same effect with a heavy bottom pot and a lid, but then it wouldn’t be tajine.
Preparing a tajine is fairly simple. You can find thousands of recipes for every type of tajine online. It’s almost like Moroccan style stew because you take whatever you have, cut it up, throw it in a pot, and cook it for a long time. We used chicken, lemon, preserved lemon, onions, parsley, cilantro, garlic. You can also add carrots, potatoes, or whatever is on hand. The saffron and cumin seasoning and olive garnish give the dish it’s truly Moroccan taste.
Now I have something else to try to cook at home.
Before I leave Morocco and talk about Barcelona, there are a few more things I want to address.
Taxis are fairly cheap in Marrakech – about a euro if you’re with a Moroccan. Like the souqs, taxis don’t seem to have a set price either. When we took cabs with Soufiane, they ended up being 10-15 dirham. Without him, Dana and I paid 20-40 dirham for the same distance. For the last taxi I would ever take from the square to Soufiane’s apartment, I asked the guy how much it would be. 50, he told me. I asked him why and told him this morning I paid 20. He told me 50 is the price and I should just get in because it was hot and Gueliz is far from the Medina. I told him I would find another taxi and started walking away. Madame 40 he yelled after me. Monsieur, I said, I paid 20 this morning. He puts his hands up and says, OK, 35. He was right; it was hot and I didn’t want to make the 30 min walk in 38C heat. Ça va monsieur, I say, but only because it is hot. A little while down he picked up another passenger who was dropped off on the way and charged him 10.
I have a serious question for you monsieur, I told him in French. I’ve taken a cab to and from the Medina and Gueliz a lot since I’ve been here. Why do I pay a different amount every time?
He told me 50 is the price for the distance and he is being nice to me pointing to a sticker on his windshield. I couldn’t really read the sticker from the back seat but I was able to make out, Gueliz – 30 dirham. Wait, why are you charging me 35? He agrees to 30. As we talk, I lie and say I’ve been in Marrakech for a month teaching English and really like the city, but I just can’t figure out why I only get a fair price in a cab when I’m with my Moroccan friends. He assures me he doesn’t take advantage of foreigners. By the end of the trip I talked him down to 25. Soufiane said I still paid too much and that sticker was fake, but for a non-Moroccan woman, I’m still proud of the rate I got.
Cat call is probably a misnomer because that implies trying to flirt. Most of the time people were just trying to get our attention, or get us to buy things. Dana and I had a rule: if the shopkeeper yells something at us, we just ignore them. However, since it was exclusively men shouting things at exclusively women, cat call is the best term I can think of.
Though cat calling also happens from time to time in the States, having it be an accepted and normal part of the culture is somewhat jarring. The idea that cat calling is intertwined with masculinity is something I had only experienced before from the Maghreb men in southern France. Instead of (or maybe in addition to) being perturbed, Dana and I had some fun with it by tracking the numerous calls directed at us. Here are some of the highlights:
“I’m British, come see me… OK, a Chinese and a fake blonde.” – I think I actually laughed when I heard that one
“Hello Shakira and Lady Gaga” – Dana had on big white sunglasses so I’m pretty sure she was lady gaga, I’m not Latina so I have no idea why I was Shakira
“Konichiwa!” – this was one of the more frequent ones. Though I am a quarter Japanese, Dana speaks more Japanese than I do since she lived in Japan at one point. The best one was when a guy on a scooter pulled up next to my taxi on the way to the airport, yelled konichiwa (while driving), blew a kiss, then speed off.
“Vous n’êtes pas mal” – (you’re not bad)
“You’d be 2000 candles”
“I don’t sell anything… Smile from your heart”
“Bonjour mesdames, mes amis” – said with elevator eyes while holding hands with a woman”
You’re fine. Speak English or French?”
After this I have a new appreciation for American men.
Crossing the street
With two lane roundabouts that routinely pack three rows of cars, mopeds zooming about, seemingly optional traffic signs, and narrow streets, it’s amazing we never witnessed an accident. When crossing streets, you have three options: wait for an opening, play chicken with the cars, or find a local and cross with them. When the first wasn’t an option, we normally tried to do the later. One time we crossed the street next to a man and a woman in a full burqa. After arriving safely to the other side, she and I exchanged glances and I’m fairly certain I heard her laugh. Traffic is really absurd.
Absence of women in public
It’s hard not to notice an absence of women in the streets. All the shopkeepers are men. At one point we waked past three cafes next to each other in the north part of the Medina (the less tourist-y part). They were all packed, but there were no women. Leaving Marrakech, I ended up standing behind two American-Brits (American by accent, English by passport). They told me they went to a bar and tried to hit on the women. Something was a little off. Then they realized all the women were hookers.
In other countries I have visited, like France or Malaysia, there are many signs of foreign cultural imperialism. Often times this is American. Our films, music, and food are everywhere. You still see American influences in Morocco, but the French cultural affect is much stronger. Gueliz – where Soufiane lives -is a neighborhood that was built by the French during the colonial period. There, you see European style clothing boutiques, cafés, and even boulangeries. The French influence is not surprising, but the relative lack of American influence was different. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if Dana hadn’t pointed it out. That said, there is still McDonalds.
All in all, Marrakech was a great place to visit, but I would never live there. If I were to go back, I’d probably want to travel with a guy (no offense Dana).