People smile at me as I walk with my daughter through the medina, my thumb and index finger wrapped around her billowy wrist. These standing witnesses seem like the collective soul of the world, yawning, like a baby awakened with a gentle rub on the back. When my daughter and I are together playful and chatty, we become a catalyst that causes a deep, dear memory to show itself as a smile on the face of strangers. This floating memory is so primal that it cannot enter the conscious mind as a coherent thought. Instead, it enters the semi-toothless mouth of a fruit seller who, in broken English, asks my daughter if she wants some melon. More
There was a group of Americans at the tapas reastaurant where we I ate with two girl friends on a Saturday night. I had grown accustomed to not hearing my native language around me and gravitated towards their words. I knew they must be part of an organized group, perhaps a conference or fellowship of some sort. On my way back from the bathroom and after a second bottle of wine, I stopped by their table to ask. More
I pull up to the Agdal train station and the attendant tells me the lot is full. I wait in the car for another car to leave. I pull into a too-small space. A passerby motions which way I should go as I drive back-and-forth to nudge into the opening. I ignore him. Frustrated.
The Train Station Boy
Now that I am safely at home I can confess that I locked my keys in the car at Chellah. And my cellphone. And my wallet. I had my camera bag with me which held a few dirhams, and my three year old daughter, who was wilting under the midday sun hovering a few thin inches above our heads. I had memorized only one local phone number, which rang a house where no one was home. This is the kind of moment that tests Moroccan hospitality.
Trying to understand the origins of Moroccan design makes it is easy to neglect the new developments taking shape around the country. Take for example Hay Riad, the suburb of Rabat. The first time I visited Hay Riad in 1996 it was considered a far-out suburb, a cumbersome bus ride away from the city center. Now traffic flows into Hay Riad. It is complete with shops, businesses, gardens, and religious centers.
My favorite thing to do in Rabat is to take pack my daughter and her trike in the car and head towards the medina. In May and June the weather is nice, perhaps a bit too hot at midday, but the crowds are thin. As my girl peddles her trike I take in the visual delight of artisan shops. If we visit during lunch when some of the shops are closed I can admire the painted doors. Sometimes we cross the street to the kasbah Oudaya for more fun exploring the gardens and a cup of tea for mom and cookies for the girl.
Working with Moroccan Artisans
I wish I knew about this the day I got to Morocco. Wireless, pay-as-you-go internet. Life is good.
After hanging out at hotels and hanging out of windows trying to pick up a wifi signal, I went to the Wana store in Hassan (Rabat) accross from Yum Yum and bought a wireless modem. It cost 700 dirhams (about $100 USD – ouch, the dollar is low) for the modem and first month of unlimited connectivity. You can buy additional months and pay-as-you-go (Meditel offers a similar service, but at the time they require a two-year plan). Based on the access map I saw at Wana, it looks like it should work along the costal areas of Morocco. You can ask them about coverage, but I don’t expect it would work for a trek through the desert. I’m using it now in Rabat and plan on using it when I get to Restinga, between Tangier and Tetuan.
Since I work as a freelance web designer, this is a very, very good thing for me. A bit pricey, but worth it if you need to work while traveling. Wish I knew about it before I started my travels, so I wanted you to know.
I just bought a bag made of fabric woven from silk and cotton with leather detailing. I bought it from the “purse guy” on Rue des Consuls in the medina Rabat. He has excellent quality bags. If you get to go to Rabat, stop by his shop. I don’t know how to describe the exact location, but you should be able to spot it by the steady flow of customers coming in and out.
My Moroccan Bag
I love to spend time at my friends house in the neighborhood of Rabat aptly named L’Ocean, just down the street for the new Bou Regreg waterfront and the Oudaya kasbah. They have a beautifully decorated fifth-floor apartment with a large terrace and amazing ocean view. Its the perfect spot for watching sunset and relaxing with friends. I can’t say enough about how nice it is to have your own place in Morocco…a place on the ocean. But, in L’Ocean, if you turn away from the ocean and look south down the coast you will see a neglected neighborhood that tells the story of suppressed waterfront development in Rabat.
Real estate development on the Rabat waterfront
Although I’ve been in Rabat for about five weeks now, I have just begun to appreciate how much there is to enjoy around the Moroccan capital. Take for example this madrasa in Sale, just on the other side of the Bou Regreg estuary. It made an excellent day trip for me and my three-year-old traveling companion.
On our way to a friend’s house in Ain Atiq, we happened upon a fantasia. It was a competitive tournament, not a regular tourist attraction, so I felt lucky that we were able to witness it.
More from the fantasia
The guide, a man of about 20, at the entrance to kasbah was lying. He told me the café didn’t open until 6pm. It is in fact open from sunrise to sunset. But, I had a few hours to kill while waiting to meet with some friends and little else to do for a distraction as most shops were closed for lunch. I decided to follow him, interested in what he would show, tell, and expect from us at the end. He showed me his national identity card in lieu of a guide license. It showed was that he was a resident of Oudaya.
Guided Tour of Oudaya
I visited a Moroccan home goods boutique in Agdal that specializes in quality home accessories and gifts. It was hard to chose from the colorful candles, glassware, table linens, art, tapestries, and little gift items with a toddler in tow. I bought a few pens and hair sticks. I asked the shop keeper if they considered exporting their products to the United States. She said that quality control is a problem “you have to look at everything.”
Shoppping at Cote Maisions
Tonight the Bou Regreg hosted Los Van Van as part of day three of Mawazine’s festivities. The redeveloped waterfront space is perfect for large outdoor events. The crowds near the stage included boys who built themselves into pyramids and fell roughly on top of each other. Their fractures and bruises would be wells of pride in the coming week. Someone waved the Cuban flag and the stage was decorated with a light display of Che Guvera’s face. Every time the musicians said “Morocco” the crowd would roar, understanding them selves to be an important part of the event. A bit farther back, a group of women played a Moroccan song on a small radio and watched a toddler dance. Further downstream from the stage, families wandered the renovated pedestrian walk ways. Street vendors sold fruit and kefta cooked on small grills. Families enjoyed a small dinner away from the crowds but well within reach of the music.
At the Ziggy Marley performance on Saturday May 17, night two of Morocco’s 2008 Mawazine festival, I wouldn’t risk having my camera’s flash disturb the scene. In my over ten-years of traveling to Morocco, I’d never seen a diverse cross section of Moroccan society enjoying the same social event.
Ziggy Marley in Rabat
The vibrant colors and abstract ornament that characterize Moroccan design find voice in the many music festivals celebrated in Morocco each year. If you visit Morocco this summer, expect to hear the sounds of music in the streets as music festivals around the country celebrate diversity and promote peace. From Whitney Houston and Ziggy Marley to trance-inducing Gnaoua musicians there will be something for all musical tastes in 2008. Each festival includes an intellectual component with seminars and conferences exploring musical history and cultural diversity.
2008 Music Festivals in Morocco