A wonderful display of olives in the Medina, Essaouira, Morocco.
My husband and I had a holiday in Essaouira, Morocco recently. Essaouira is a wonderful bustling place, with a colourful old Medina lined with tiny shops overflowing with goods of all sorts. It also boasts a long, golden, sandy beach, where local boys practice football and gymnastics, girls paddle, tourists lie prone soaking up the sun for hours (yep, that was me), or take to the water on boards of all shapes and sizes. At the far end, away from the town, camels and horses line up awaiting their next riders, while their owners sit and chat and smoke.
There are hawkers patrolling the beach selling all sorts of tat, but also brandishing trays of cakes. One particular gappy-toothed chap was certain I knew him and every day approached my sunbed with
‘hello ma’am, you remember me? You want happy cake today?’
and when I refused offered me
I still don’t know who he mistook me for, I can only assume I look like an ageing hippy!
The tiny Riad where we stayed was right in the Medina and looked very unprepossessing from the outside, but inside, it was a glorious gem, with all the luxurious trappings you could imagine, even a Jacuzzi.
Anyway, it was all very lovely, we did the touristy things; had a hammam (owww..), rode a camel, saw the sights (including where they filmed a bit of Game of Thrones) and took full advantage of the lovely restaurants and beach.
But all this aside, one thing that made this holiday very special was our complete separation from technology and the outside world for a whole week.
I did take my phone with me for emergencies, but it remained switched off for the entire time. My laptops and ipad stayed home alone. For once there was no TV in the room, and we couldn’t read the headlines on the newspaper stands. So for a whole week, we were cocooned in our own little world of eating, sleeping and having fun.
Naturally, while we were there we witnessed some poverty and were reminded of really how privileged we are, but generally Essaouira is less down at heel than other places we have visited. So all in all, it was a treat to have a break from the daily bombardment of misery, suffering, and arguments that is fed to us daily through newspapers, TV, and websites.
Nonetheless, I believe that it is absolutely right and proper that we should all take an interest in the world and it’s complex problems. Ok, it’s often distressing, and worrying, and I don’t necessarily understand it all, but it wouldn’t do at all if we all buried our heads in the sand and said
‘it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t affect me’.
Of course, it matters. It will affect me. History teaches us that ripples, from whichever corner of the world they originate, will eventually reach us. Whether it be close-to-home decisions in parliament about taxes and austerity, or news from the faraway places where injustice and horror reign, we can be sure that there will be an impact, one way or another, on our lives.
So yes, a break from all that is brilliant, but I don’t understand those who can live their entire lives unconcerned and disassociated from society. After all, we are all global citizens these days.
Surely a world in which we were all blithely going about our own business without a care would soon founder? And wouldn’t those self-absorbed individuals be a bit of a bore?
I should mention that I always take the news with a pinch of salt. We are all aware of how stories differ from one media outlet to another, so what is factual and accurate often takes a bit of unravelling. But by being engaged and interested we can form our own opinions and take our own paths accordingly, perhaps add to voices to improve conditions for everyone, and maybe even throw our own stones:
‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’ – Mother Teresa
For anyone who hasn’t yet visited Marrakech, Morocco, you must. Jemaa El-Fna is the huge square in the centre. Scooters and motorbikes go in all directions as do pony and traps, there are entertainers dancing, gymnasts flick flacking and climbing on each other to make pyramids (ta da!) hawkers selling, well everything – we even found a stall selling second hand false teeth (where did he get those from I wonder?), people with performing monkeys, musicians, people telling stories, people grabbing your hands to try and paint henna on them, it’s colourful, noisy and mad, in the best possible way. In fact you can just sit in a cafe sipping your tea and watch it all for hours.
I’ve always liked a refreshing glass of mint tea, it’s good for the digestion you know, and can help if you’ve got tummy upsets or the like. However, I’d never tasted mint tea as good as the brew they deliver in Marrakech.
They pop freshly picked mint and a dollop of honey into a silver tea pot, bung in some boiling water and serve (from a height to cool it) into wee little glasses. Perfect on a scorching hot Marrakech morning (or afternoon).. (or evening)…
‘We can’t make it this good at home’ we thought ‘the little teapot must be the key’
We set off to the souk to buy one, and while we were at it, thought we’d get some for our daughters too, as a souvenir So we needed three topnotch teapots. Surely there would be a deal to be done.
The souks run off of the square and are narrow covered lanes with market stalls or tiny shops on either side. They are normally packed with people, animals pulling carts, and mad motorcyclists trying to run you down. It’s steamily hot,and there are some interesting smells. But I absolutely love them. The atmosphere is like nowhere else. Mostly jovial, but you have to beware of anyone trying to fleece you, or pick your pockets. Probably no worse than any other tourist ridden place though.
It didn’t take us long to find a small shop whose shelves were overloaded with gleaming teapots of all different designs and sizes. We pondered long and hard over which three to choose while the owner of the shop stood courteously to one side watching us diligently. As soon as we picked a couple up, he swooped and gave us an outrageously high price which he swore was a bargain for these authentic Moroccon items. Now, anyone who has ever been to Morocco must know that the rule of thumb is to seriously haggle over the price. When he found out we were buying three, he did drop it a bit, and after haggling good naturedly for a good half an hour, we got him to a more reasonable sum which was about a quarter of the original price he’d suggested.
Letting us know that he wouldn’t be able to feed his family of ten for a week because we had struck such a hard bargain (hmm….) he wrapped up our lovely bona fide Marrakechian pots and we went off to find a cool spot to have another cup of tea.
When we got back to our room in our little Riad, we were eager to inspect our purchases. Polished and shiny, prettily patterned, they would be a perfect reminder of our short holiday in Morocco.
Though we did see the funny side when we turned them over and found ‘Made In Manchester’ stamped brazenly on the bottom!!
We were lucky enough to visit the exquisite Bahia Palace in Marrakesh on our brief trip to Morocco a few years ago. This is a detail from the cool and peaceful little courtyard. All the walls are heavily decorated which make them look as though they are made of lace! It’s a beautiful, calm, oasis in that exciting and colourful city.