Saturday, January 10, 2009

Maddening Marrakech

Tonight, we ate in the open air under a full moon in the Jemaa-el-Fna food stalls. Each night this open air restaurant of hundreds of food stalls opens to locals and visitors for cheap and fresh meals served fast. McMorocco. Everyone wants you to sit at their tables. There's lots of shouting and pushing and bright lights and food and smoke and we have got to go home and rent Hideous Kinky.

If the kebab chicken won't kill us, will the scooters? We feel like we're living on the edge every minute of every day that we're here. Our dining partner at the food stalls (he's one of the chefs at the Mamounia Hotel, making our food stall at the market seem all that much safer) told us that roughly four thousand people annually die from scooter related deaths. We're not sure if that's just Marrakech or Morocco or if that relates to being hit or being a driver, but it all seems quite possible ten minutes after you leave the airport. Two, sometimes three people riding together, children clinging for dear life, old ladies driving, guys with propane tanks. Like China, there are no rules of physics that seem to apply when it comes to hauling ass on a scooter.

The alleys and streets are never much more than five or six meters wide and yet scooters, motorbikes, full on motorcycles, regular bikes, donkey carts and even little cars will often race down them at 20 miles per hour or more and it is the pedestrian's responsibility fully to get out of the way. We're like kittens crossing a highway every time we step outside the Riad and we sort of have to psych ourselves up...have a huddle, say a silent prayer, drink Red Bull to increase alertness...whatever. When we return to the Riad door each night, pupils fixed and blown but with all our limbs still attached, Mohammad hands us our keys as we fall to the floor and kiss it, sobbing, shaking, lips moving but no sound coming out...

But the color of everyday life is bolder, richer and more plentiful than anyplace I've ever been. Perhaps it's the stark contrast to the grime and crumbling buildings and complete poverty that is its backdrop. I wonder if a Moroccan traveled to Madison, would he feel lonely, or that the quiet was crushingly solitary and would he be as afraid as I am at times? Or would he be bored? Or does he know that there is any other way to live? I can't quite understand what it is here that would make it feel like home except the madness--the good and the bad of it.


  1. Well, at least they honk if you're stubborn enough to walk without attention to their presence. The trick is to jump out of the way in the opposite direction -- not in front of their path. In that split second, you must guess.

    My question is -- if they run you over, will they stop and check on you? As you say, they seem so young... (or old; or a combination thereof)

    About a Moroccan in Madison: I think s/he would be first and foremost cold. After that -- lacking community. After that -- complaining of not enough spices. Or mint tea with sugar.

  2. You are so right about that split second making all the difference. I think they would be long gone by the time you hit the pavement with your injury. Poor Olivia jumps six inches in the air everytime they honk. She'll be twitching for weeks to come.

  3. Very entertaining, Julie. I got more than a few laughs off of this one. Glad the Hunters made it out of Morrocco with all their limbs and their wits.

    PS Thought for a moment I saw yarn in one of those photos...can it be? It's the photo above the the androgynous-looking person dressed in the hot pink frock.

  4. Very good spotting. That is a transvestite dancer AND a stall full of yarn and thread.