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With love from Morocco

By Dolapo Aina
18 December 2019   |   4:51 pm
Exactly three years ago in the month of November 2016, I was in Morocco; in the cities of Casablanca, Marrakesh and Ouarzazate (better known as the home of one of the largest solar complexes in the world and known for the locations of some of the biblical themed movies); for the United Nations Climate Change…

Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakesh, Morocco

Exactly three years ago in the month of November 2016, I was in Morocco; in the cities of Casablanca, Marrakesh and Ouarzazate (better known as the home of one of the largest solar complexes in the world and known for the locations of some of the biblical themed movies); for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22). Even though, I travelled extensively within the three cities during that period; I did not bother to write an article about my travel experiences in Morocco. The reason was quite simple. I was baffled by the fact that a country with not as much resources as Nigeria had practically done so well for herself considering the major challenge the country has.

If I had written the article then, I would have compared both countries and what I witnessed was no contest. Three years later, I find myself in Morocco again. Casablanca and Marrakesh again. Morocco’s Marrakesh is for laidback individuals. In 2016, the streets of Marrakesh, Medina etc were sparkling clean. It is still the same in 2019. The trip by road from the Aeroport Mohammed V in Casablanca to Marrakesh and vice versa is one you should at least undertake. I have done it thrice and would do it again (once in 2016 and twice in 2019.) A train ride from Marrakesh to Casablanca is also advisable. This journey by road connects you with the sand dunes and desert mountains synonymous with Morocco.

This topography is different. I know you have seen mountains but trust me, the desert mountains of Morocco are unique. The more of the desert you see as your vehicle zooms past the desert mountains of Morocco, the sooner you begin to ruminate on how Morocco deals with the high intensity of the sun and its manifold challenges. They just have to be innovative about it.

Marrakesh can easily become one of your favourite cities; for there is a blend of the ancient and the modern. Going by the numerous videos and pictures I have seen of Morocco and Marrakech of the early 19th Century; it appears that they have kept their culture intact. I noticed this in 2016 and noticed it again in 2019 in pictures found at Hotel Du Golf in Palmeraie Resorts, Marrakesh; where my hosts provided for me for the duration of my stay.

To really have a feel of Marrakesh, you need to visit Medina square daily; if you don’t live nearby the square. The major reason being that it is the melting point of the city and the place to be daily. The mammoth crowd that converge there every day and night would convince you no less.

The energy is nothing short of intense. It is easily the United Nations of Africa; simply because you would find almost all the languages and accents of this world at the square daily. And so, it was, that I had to visit Medina this time around even though I stayed twenty minutes away. And my good friend Ibrahim Alamin (a Nigerian studying in Marrakesh. We met in Medina Square at a phone shop three years ago) was the one who came to pick me up. And late into the evening, we zoomed off on his scooter. Yes, you read it right, a scooter (better known as Okada in Nigeria). What an experience, as it was a journey of roughly twenty minutes from Hotel Du Golf to Medina Square; where the real vibes of Marrakesh must have taken permanent residence for decades if not centuries.

Late into the evening as anticipated; tourists were still mingling, strolling and shopping; the street vendors were in place too. The traditional singers were singing to the high heavens and if you attempted to record a video of them, the men would come after you with caps in their hands for a token fee. Like I did in 2016, I did not drop a tip. The only difference in 2019 which I noticed was that I heard an unprintable four-letter word from the young man who wanted a tip and when I turned back to be sure he said it; he looked straight into oblivion like the unprintable word didn’t emanate from his vocal cavity.

Nothing much has changed about Medina Square. I saw a lot of shops better known as souks and their owners, who I visited in 2016. The souks that sell fruits are still here. The leather shops have not changed either or gone anywhere. Those who sell Argan oil (both adulterated and genuine) have stayed put. The hustlers and street hawkers from Francophone West Africa are still selling their iPhones and Hublot watches (don’t ask me how genuine the products are). The Moroccan men making brisk business selling jackets for the cold season are forever displaying their wares. The women selling the long scarves, the boutiques with their wares from Europe, the shops catering to the different taste buds of tourists; the singers who would serenade you to the Heavenlies and back to earth; the police officers stationed at strategic spots and casually strolling.

The shops dedicated to men who love to watch football and sip Moroccan mint tea and smoke their lungs away. And how can I forget three more things? The souks (not restaurants but traditional food shops) where people go to eat, seated on just benches. The real Marrakesh. And how can I forget the cats of Medina, who are forever patient for the most sluggish diner to get up and leave. These cats would wait for you till you are done eating at your fanciful restaurants in Medina and they would then help themselves to the leftovers. Some of these cats don’t even wait as some would casually stroll and relax under the dining table.

Ibrahim and I crisscrossed the streets of central Medina square and whilst I noticed some of the above, some were memories of 2016 which resurfaced. These scenarios are better experienced. And as the memories flooded my vision, my legs engaged themselves in their own dialogue and found their way to the area, the street and to the exact house I stayed in 2016. That my memory remembered the exact street and exact house surprised me. If you knew the Medina square like a google map, you would know that the inner streets are like a maze, an outsider can get lost in between the streets which are centuries old with history oozing in the air.

Three things were missing during this trip to Medina; I wish I had been here earlier to soak in the electric atmosphere during the day time. Secondly, there used to be a famous cat which was always on a particular street. And thirdly, in 2016, young and old men would gather around the local musicians in the square and they would sing songs but most importantly, they would all sing Asha (a popular song by a popular musician from the Middle East) till past midnight. I did not see any group of men do this ritual during this brief visit to Medina square. Maybe they have all moved on since Aisha could not be for everyone.

Marrakesh evokes personal memories (making great friends from Europe and the Arab world who are making giant strides in the media scene). A visit to Marrakesh would evoke personal memories for you too if you do too. One location, I missed out again on this trip to Morocco was a visit to the centuries-old Jewish quarters which I read has been in existence since the era of Jesus Christ. A side note: this piece was written whilst airborne a Qatar Airways flight in the Middle East between Casablanca and Doha. And typed between Doha and Entebbe in Uganda.

What surprised me was when the plane flew over Iraq, I checked the map and discovered the plane probably flew over cities which you must have heard of in the past as war-ravaged etc. My surprise was the luminous sign of properly lit cities in Iraq (I think we also passed over some cities in Syria). The one question I asked myself was how come these cities which were in turmoil some years ago, are better lit than when you fly over some countries who aren’t ravaged by conflicts?