Steph’s note: The following story snipets set in Morocco have not actually happened, since I’ve never been there. But, they could happen… This post is part of an entry to a contest sponsored by Expedia and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) The prize means traveling to a specific destination to make a 2-3 minute film for Expedia’s “Find Yours” campaign. (By the way, you don’t need to vote on this!) Ultimately, I’m hoping to…
FIND MY MOMENT IN MOROCCO
Working the Djellaba and Hijab
Moroccan women definitely make the djellaba work — and, actually, so do the men. The traditional gown, which is similar to a kaftan, doesn’t flatter me, that’s for sure.
In the mirror of the Marrakech riad where I am staying, I look like I’m ready to be wheeled into the delivery room. However, I’ll be wearing the djellaba while exploring the medinas in Marrakech, Fez and Rabat. In addition to respecting the culture, it doesn’t hurt to blend in a bit more especially in Rabat, which is more conservative than the other Moroccan cities.
Amira, the wife of the owner of the riad, helps me fashion a scarf over my head into a hijab. The hijab, especially with sunglasses, makes me feel elegant, like a slightly more wrapped up Grace Kelly. I just need a convertible and some elbow length gloves. On a more serious note, by wearing traditional attire, I’m hoping to better understand a Muslim woman’s point of view. I will take a walk in her kaftan and hijab. If I can, I hope to talk to a few women, and I think, in traditional clothing, it will be easier to approach locals.
Beginning Bargaining 101 in the Bazaar
Bargaining. Time to try it again. This time at a souk in Marrakech. It’s the custom, I know, and I suck at it. Clicking on an item, adding it to my online “cart” while sitting on the coach watching “Friends” reruns is more my style of shopping. Three years ago, in Bali, I completely offended a woman for lowballing her silk scarves. She yelled at me, turned away from me and didn’t come back over when I lingered at her stall.
In Kiev, after a long day traveling in the Ukrainian countryside, I was too tired to really shop while at handicraft market. Picking up a nestling doll, I checked it out, put it down and turned to leave. The vendor told me to wait, and he stated a figure. I shook my head. He shouted another lower number. I kept shaking my head and saying “nyet, spaseeba,” but the vendor actually followed me and kept lowering the price. Pretty soon, I bought the doll, partially because I wanted to be left alone.
“You like it?” I’m not being left alone now since a Moroccan vendor has noticed me looking at a beautiful blue tiled frame. “I will make you a good deal,” he maintains.
So here goes —although this guy speaks English — I’m going to try in Arabic…”Beshhal hadīk?” I butcher the question and wait for the vendor to tell me how much the frame costs.
Drinking Orange Juice and Practicing “Please” and “Thank You” in Arabic
The steam rises from food stalls and hovers above all the white canopies in the square. Already my senses are on high alert this morning at Djamaa El Fna. The stall owners banter back and forth and re-state orders as they prepare the food. I’m sitting at an orange juice stall ready to experience a citrus celebration, watch the street performers and practice some Arabic. Glancing at my cheat sheet, I review common pleasantries like hello, please, thank you — the essentials.
However, the first phrase I need to utter is Wash kat’ref neglīzīya? (Do you speak English?) You never want to assume people speak English because they shouldn’t have to know the language if it’s not their native tongue. Speaking of knowing, “I don’t know” is handy when traveling since it’s vague, and it makes people think for a minute after you state the phrase. (This especially throws people who are trying to get your attention in an annoying way.) I look one more time at my cheat sheet and then over at the juice vendor, my heart is thumping. “Pardon..Wash..”
Amazed and Confused in the Medina
How the hell am I going to get out of this medina maze? People, donkeys, noises, smells. Everywhere. My head almost whacks into a row of hanging guitars. Personal space does not exist — it’s not possible. Agghhh. I have to stop.
Glancing up, I see a tall white building, jutting from within the media with two columns of blue cutout shapes that resemble onion spires. Within the cutouts, aquamarine tiles, like clear, tropical ocean water, project a calming effect. The Medersa looks like the featured piece of a Wedgwood china figurine collection. Meanwhile, despite people bumping into me, I stand still. Maybe it’s not so bad to be lost for a while.
Getting Goosebumps during the Islamic Call to Prayer
I am sitting on top of the roof of the riad in Marrakech. The sun is not yet up. Waiting with a hot cup of mint tea, I look around as if I might see the sound. The tea warms me in the morning chill. The instinct is to be silent although the call has not yet begun.
Then, I hear a faint yelling almost like an air raid siren from the distant loud speaker of a Mosque. The sound reverberates with feedback from the megaphone. Buzzing turns into a lower toned response from another Mosque and then another.
Even if you don’t understand the words or what is going on, you know the protocol is to stop. The calls blend and I feel goosebumps emerge on my arms. They are not the result of the morning chill, but of the surround sound of the Adhan — the Islamic Call to Prayer.
Hospitality at a Moroccan Family Dinner.
I’m invited. While talking to Khalid, my taxi driver, about Moroccan customs and what not to do while visiting, he says I should learn for myself from locals. Now I’m going to be a guest in his home. Initially, I thought it might be a scam. But I’ve read about the hospitality that is essential to Islam. Khalid, a guy I just met, genuinely insists that I be a part of his family’s festivities. Incredible.
Yikes. Is there a Moroccan version of the Robot?
There is no way I can shake it like Khalid’s wife and sister who dance the Shikat. Beckoning with their hip swivels and their graceful arm movements, the women coax me to join them. There is no way I can shimmy and shake like they can. They know how to belly dance.
Hafeza and Yaida persuade me to ditch “The Tree Stump,” my signature 1980s dance, which involves keeping my feet and hips stationary while I move my arms like tree limbs blowing in the wind. They also discourage the “Robot” which is my default dance.
Sharing the Sahara.
I finally feel stationary on my camel as heat rises in visible waves — a counter pattern to the ripples and grooves in the endless stretch of sand, which is the Sahara. Like whipped carmel frosting in the distance, the dunes spread into the blue horizon. Our guide halts the camel train to stop.
Who needs Instagram effects in Morocco? Forget X-Pro II, Rise or Toaster — even Kelvin can’t enhance or even match the already intense oranges of this scene.
Ultimately, however, I want to use Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, WordPress, whatever — at least something that lets me show everyone this stunning scene. I’ve found a moment and I want to share it.
A moment — or perhaps a combination of moments — isn’t that what travel is all about? Your moment might be an epiphany, a mishap or connection that, for a minute or two, holds your complete attention and is your world. It might be when someone understands you speaking in another language, when you try a mystery meal, when you figure out how to flush a toilet or when you smile at someone who smiles back. In the process, you learn about you, because travel is not only about being open to a new culture, new food and a new landscape, but it’s about being open to yourself — in the moment.
My first travel moment
My travel moments almost always involve cultural connections. In 1985, when I was a senior in high school, I went to France with my family. While at a Parisian restaurant, I innocently ordered what sounded like a cheese dish. When the waiter arrived with our meals, he placed a plate of the most heinous meat I’d ever seen right in front of me. Marbled with what looked like translucent globs injected in a polka dot pattern, it was fromage de tete: head cheese. Interspersed with the clear globs were other chunks that looked suspiciously like hot dog bits. The meat glistened — not in an appealing, succulent way — but a slimy way.
However, our enthusiastic waiter, who, understandably, spoke no English, seemed like he really hoped we were enjoying our meal. Not wanting to be an ugly American, I ate as much of the jellied, gelatinous bits of barnyard head as I could — stuffing them in between heavily buttered bread. When the waiter came back to inquire how the meal was, I rubbed my stomach in a universal “yum” gesture. He gave a thumbs up in return. As repulsive as the meal was, I realized how important it was to experience a cultural connection. I found my moment.
Why all this reflection and these fictional scenarios about Morocco?
As I mentioned above, Expedia and NFFTY are sponsoring this cool contest, which will result in a film for the “Find Yours” shorts on Expedia’s website.
According to Expedia, “one travel blogger will get the chance to star in his or her own travel short film. This spring marked the second year we’ve partnered with National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), the world’s largest youth film festival. Today, the partnership is just going to get better. We’ve partnered with NFFTY to determine five iconic cities often seen on the silver screen, including: Australia, Paris, Morocco, London, and Seattle. [By the way, I realize Australia and Morocco are not cities.]
To enter the contest, travel bloggers must write a blog post on their own blog about how they would “find theirs” in one of the locations above if they were chosen for the star of a 2-3 minute film then share it on Expedia Viewfinder ™”
It’s a pretty amazing opportunity, and you can check out The Expedia contest here.
To write the above scenarios, I looked at many photos on the internet and consulted several travel sites and blogs for information on Morocco. Some of the helpful sites were:
I also watched a Call to Prayer filmed in Marrakech via this YouTube clip. It did, indeed, give me goosebumps, so I can only imagine what the real thing does.