A Welcome Note: On Filling the Gaps

Dear Friends and Family:

Although I haven't added any posts since the summer of 2007, this blog continues to be a warehouse of my thoughts and experiences from my time abroad.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Morocco: Day Two, Part II

2.24.07 - When we first stepped though the whitewashed opening of Café Havana we were slightly confused, because the open air space seemed more like a private home than a restaurant. There was no one to greet us and a simple room that served as a kitchen was the extent of this establishment. Inside, a shadowed cook was brewing some sort of soup and in the terraced open space, Moroccans were scattered around blue plastic tables playing cards, smoking, drinking mint tea (the Moroccan staple). They practically ignored the spectacular turquoise sea crashing against the rocks far below and the unparalleled views of the straight of Gibraltar. After managing to grab someone’s attention, we sat down with our bags and ordered the only thing on the menu, lentil soup (what was to become known as “Moroccan soup”). When we attempted to order drinks from the same waiter (if you could even call him that) we soon discovered one of the first novelties of this incredible country: especially in the restaurant business there are often enterprises within other enterprises and here was a perfect example. In order to get a drink, you had to order from the drink man, not the restaurant, who usually has a table somewhere in the greater establishment. So, we hired the Fanta man to secure us some beverages and sooner or later we had our lunch.

When we finished eating, checking our email at a nearby internet café (finding it was an adventure in and of itself) and satisfying our bladders (now full of soup and fizzy orange sweetness), we returned to the café where around 5pm we were supposed to met up with Muhammad once again. Sure enough, he returned and all six of us piled into the car bound for Asilah, a small coast town south of Tangier where we were supposed to meet Jenny and Rachel that day. The drive to Asilah was beautiful with clear blue skies above and gnarled trees along the road side. To our right was the Atlantic Ocean and at one point along the way we saw where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet. Scattered along the shore were pottery and artisan shops and the occasional group of boys playing soccer in their bare feet as the sea crashed against the fine sand. Along the way, Muhammad proudly displayed his driving license, which hadn't been updated since he was about 20 years old. When we arrived in Asilah and exited taxi, there were a host of eager “guides” to show us around the town and secure us with everything from food to eat to a place to stay. Smart enough to avoid those who simply wanted to take advantage for an extra Dirham or ten, we asked shop owners (with less incentive to ask for money) how to find the Bazaar in front of which we were to meet Jenny and Rachel. It was quickly apparent just how small the old part of Asilah was. Before we even introduced ourselves, we were greeted by a host of proprietors, all of whom knew that we were the six Americans who were supposed to meet up with the two girls who had already come in contact with almost everyone in the city. Although there was somewhat of a misunderstanding about when and where we were supposed to have met Rachel and Jenny we asked one of the shop owners across from the designated Bazaar and within a few minutes the girls came running over to great us with hugs. That afternoon, once we had exchanged travel stories, we dropped our bags at the bed and breakfast where they were staying and walked around the town for a while. We bumped into Abdul, the owner of the B&B who was, as usual, ambling about the winding streets rather than tending to his shop. Our timing was brilliant because the night of our arrival, one of Abdul’s relatives was getting married at his farmhouse out in the countryside and we were all invited to spend the night sleeping at the farm and attending the wedding. In order to be respectful and remain in the traditions of the locals, I purchased a djellaba from Abdul for 90 Dirham and once I put it on, was told that I could pass for Moroccan. We then went to Abdul’s house to discuss a price for the night and have his homemade couscous. This is very customary for Moroccan business, for it is proper to discuss things like lodging and payments only after having been fed. The food was plentiful and delicious and in the local tradition we ate without any utensils other than the flavorful soft pita-like bread one uses to pick up the couscous. After dinner, Abdul began setting up a room where the eight of us could sleep. We were somewhat confused because we thought we would be sleeping on the farm and didn’t understand why he would bother setting up a room in the house. When we asked him about it he didn’t really understand us and was almost insulted. He seemed to think that we didn’t want to sleep at the farm when we really were just wondering why he was setting up the beds in two places. Finally, everything was settled and we were to talk money. Abdul threw out the very cheap figure of 175 Dirham which included the dinner, the farmhouse, a second dinner at the farm, the wedding, and transportation. By that point, we had already experienced a bit of the bargaining culture during the day and Brent became a little aggressive with Abdul, asking for a cheaper price. Much to our amusement, Abdul responded “these things are not important, this is not a problem” which quickly became the catch phrase of our entire trip. Whenever we were discussing something that was serious or important, someone would simply toss in “this is not important, no problem, no problem.”

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