Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moroccan conversations - a Blue Peter post

from John:

Gayle tells me my posts should be more pithy, which reminds me that the oranges here are just fabulous - sold with their stalks on, and dusty looking, but inside juicy and sweet and all for the bargain price of 25 pence a kilo. Anyway, here´s one I prepared earlier............

We've had an interesting few weeks here, but struggled daily with the good ol' Moroccan ways of over-charging or short-changing. There is no sign of crime here against tourists in the form of mugging, bag-snatching or pickpocketing, which is quite remarkable considering the huge differences in wealth within society and between the tourists and locals. There are many people begging: children, mothers with babies, old ladies and tramps - a country that should prepare us for the poverty of India, but quite shocking so close to home. As a visitor, we are frequently subjected to minor hustles, especially at the bus stations, but even in posh cafes. We have resorted to always checking the price of everything everywhere before purchase to avoid being scammed. However, for each time we have been over-charged or short-changed there are 5 or 6 instances where we have been indulged for our lousy french and treated kindly. We can't drop our guard though, which means that we treat anyone who approaches us as someone who is out to make money from us. As someone wrote - it's as if we are covered in dollar signs and have the word 'swag' emblazoned on our bags.

There have been a couple of times when we've been able to chat to locals without hassle. The first time was with the hotel owner and super bad cook, Hussein, from the Todra Gorge. After our evening meal, which was an effort in itself, we talked at length in French, leaving us quite exhausted. We asked lots of questions and he was eager to talk - the French satellite TV programmes made Channel Five look good. Hussein is Berber, as are about 70 per cent of the population, although many see it as a stigma - the Arabs have always looked down on Berbers as hillbillies, and their culture has been gradually eroded. Berber names were banned many years ago, and only arabic and french is used in schools. However, the current king is half-Berber, so things may change. Gayle asked Hussein about marriage across the two racial groups, what would he think if his daughter wanted to marry a Frenchman, and about women's rights. He loved these questions - said he had an arranged marriage, but these days things were different, people married for love, or occasionally money. He knew a young man who had married an old French woman, but returned to the area after a couple of years. He drifted on to the new consumerism that had his family in its grip - too many mobile phones, a TV, "la femme chez nous" (Her Indoors) no longer wanted to look after the cow and tend the fields, but wanted to buy jewellery and makeup and a washing machine. (Where were the cows? We hadn't seen a single on. Kept at the house apparently, so they wouldn't eat everything in the fields). Gayle also asked about the migrant workers working in Europe - did they prefer Europe or here? Hussein explained that he loved his simple life here, no pressures, a comfortable life in the country, not like the long hours in awful jobs that his neighbours had left to do.
However, on a bus journey to El-Jadida we met a Moroccan who was working in Spain, and had been for some years. He got chatting to Gayle at a stop in Spanish (he spoke little French), and when we got off at the same place (once again dumped at a roundabout) he suggested we share a taxi to the bus station. At first we were a little wary, but he seemed genuine. So we piled into a Peugeot 106 with our rucksacks perched on the roofrack, and the taxi screamed off..............and stopped about 150 metres down the road, rather embarrassingly. Said paid the fare and insisted we have a tea with him at the station café. But they had no tea, so I had a coffee and Gayle and he had lemon verbena, which is fairly common round here. We chatted in our rusty Spanish - Said was home for a month visiting family. Gayle got stuck in straight away and asked him how much he earned in Spain. "Mucho mas que aqui!" Much more than here! He worked in construction and said that the average daily income in Morocco was 5 euros. Did he like Spain? It was much better than here, here there was nothing for him but family. He pointed at the grotty street, the broken pavement, the porters with their wheelbarrows, the dirty buses belching exhaust - the usual city landscape - and told us it was better in Spain. But how were the Spanish with Moroccans? Ah, well, there was quite a bit of racism, from all but a few. He'd heard from a friend that Switzerland was a nice place to live, so that was his aim. He insisted on paying for the drinks and we bade him farewell and suerte.
Back in Marrakesh we had also been treated with unbidden hospitality by a stranger - a young woman whom we sat next to at a fish and chip stall in the main square one evening. Gayle got chatting to her (where does she get it from?) - she came from Rabat, where her baby was being looked after by her mum, whilst she worked in a good job at a posh hotel in Marrakesh. (We later looked it up in the guidebook - it was the author's choice!) Her husband worked in Ourzazate during high season. We munched our way through our food and then she offered to pay so that we didn't get overcharged. But when we left, she refused to take our money! We carried on talking and she took us to a posh cafe and we bought her a coffee in poor return. Ikram was wearing a headscarf so Gayle asked her what she thought of the women who didn't. She didn't care, and had only begun to wear hers after marriage, before that she didn't bother. One advantage was you didn't have to bother with your hair. She had grown up with French neighbours in Rabat, and her middle sister was completely westernised. She only went home on her "weekend" - she couldn't find such a good job in Rabat. (Most of the tourist money was being spent in Marrakesh we thought.)
We finished our drinks and I paid. The waiter not only tried to pass me a euro in my change, but also short-changed me. We had mentioned this to Ikram, so it was quite funny it actually happened. She said it happened to her too, but then she was a very kind woman. To our embarrassment she asked us how long our holiday was for - when would be home? That took a bit of explaining. She offered us accomodation if we ever visited again, and after swapping e-mail addresses we parted.

Afterwards we ambled around feeling very glad to have talked with her - this really makes the travelling more rewarding - and perhaps we felt a little more self-concious about ourselves and having the opportunity and wealth to do this. Perhaps we really are carrying that swag after all........

a tout a l´heure