Sunday, October 28, 2012

Back to Africa: souk rage

Africa doesn't soothe you upon arrival with craft beer, artesinal cheese, cobblestone steets, cozy, candle-lit trattorias and orderly bus stations.  North Africa blasts tinny music, throws donkeys, over-stimulation, smells and motobikes in your path as you get lost down narrow streets and invite stares and endless questions from inquisitive people.  Africa is a little bit sink or swim.  If you can't just go with the flow, you sink.  I tried to get back into the rhythm of Africa as quickly as I could but I was very, very rattled by Marrakech on that first day.  Coming from a cocoon of friends in laid-back Amsterdam was quite a change.

Goodbye, Europe!

I booked a really; really nice converted riad hotel for myself.  This was only about 90 dollars.  Morocco is a bargain compaired to Europe..  Looking down from my huge, tiled room and bed with flower petals on it I could see this:

The French owners got me settled in and showed me the way to the main square and the souk, an endless narrow winding pathway of little shops.  Just like shops you would see in Mexico or Asia - crafts, food, spices, rugs, pottey, linens, shoes, art...(top photo)

They warned me about aggressive people in the souk.  I assured them that I've been there, done that.

I make sure that I'm dressed modestly here.  It's obvious that I'm a foreigner - I can't change that - but I wear long cargo pants every day and my shoulders are always covered.  Despite all of this, and an expessionless face showing no interest in anything, I recieved contant attention.

"HELLO where you from?!"
"hello this is my shop come in my shop"
"What are you looking for?! hello my friend come over here American!"
"Why you walk away?! come back here lady!"

It got worse.  There were other touists in the medina, all trying to remain un-fazed, we threw eachother looks of knowing sympathy.  I've dealt with similar situations in Egypt and other places.  I just remain expessionless, then smile politely and just say "no, shukran" or "no, Merci". This worked great in Egypt.  They would get the message and just bid me a nice day.  Not here.  My arm was grabbed.  My hand was grabbed.  This was going from annoying to infuriating.

One man who I said "no, merci" to at least 5 times decided to FOLLOW ME and yell.  YOU Americans! you are all the same.  You are so angry!  What is wrong with you Ameicans!  The French, the Swedish they no act like you!  My shop is very nice!  You just walk by when I talk to you! Come back here!

I turned around, gave him a nasty look and said "LEAVE ME ALONE!  I was polite to you. I am sure your shop is very nice but you follow me and you yell; you are insulting and I will never come into your shop, ever"

I made a point to not walk down that alley again and I started to enjoy looking at all the fun things for sale.  Not all the shop owners were pushy and aggressive.  Only about 35 percent of them are.  Those are good odds, right?

10 minutes later, my friend appeared around a corner in another part of the medina.

"fuck you, American bitch"

I had had enough.  I didn't care.  I went up to him and said "EXCUSE ME what did you just say to me asshole?!".  I knew there were plain clothes tourist police around and I was so angry, I really didn't care if I was doing the "right thing". An asshole is an asshole and needs to be called out.

He disappeared around another corner.

15 minutes later, who do I see again?!

"I am sorry, I apologize to you.  Why you no come into my shop.  Is my brother's shop, is vey nice. I apologize to you.  Why do only Americans act this way?"

I decided to give him some advice. "When you follow me, grab my arm and insult me, that does not make me want to come to your shop.  I bet you would get a lot more people in your shop if you stand back, let them look and act nice to them. The more you try to force people in your shop; the less they want to come. When you follow people, it makes them run away.  When people say no merci; you must leave them alone."

"You Americans, you all the same!"

That's right, buddy.  I never saw him again. I hope he took a little advice from me and retired the "get in my shop, bitch" sales method.  The whole American thing touched a nerve I didn't know I had.  Feel free to insult me for my bitchy personality, but why bring my nationality into it?  I've heard people say "I don't always agree with your country, but I like you and this other American I met once".. That kind of thing.  People all over the world have so far been very good about just judging me for me.  I have my good days and bad days. Bringing up my nationality just feels so ignorant, like they have nothing else to insult me about.  I've worn the same orange shirt every day, let's start there!

I found a lovely rooftop bar, cafe arabe.  I listened to the call to prayer echoing around the city with other weary tourists and Americans who needed a break:

I changed into another outfit and put my hair in a bun just in case my little fiend from the souk saw me again. I headed to the main square for dinner, the dja el fnaa.  I love it there.  Food stalls, musicians, drummers, performers.. you can buy a cheap tagine, eat at long tables with other people and be endlessly entertained.  Moroccans and tourists, young and old all eating together.

After an awesome chicken-lemon-olive tagine and some b'sara soup (which I got for the name but honestly loved), I had a nightcap at another rooftop bar near my hotel. I listened to arabic-flavored electronica, texted with friends at home and vowed to be tougher tomorrow and get used to this place.

I came back to my riad and sat in the quiet coutyard with my feet in the pool and talked to the hotel owners.

Coming up: Morocco redeems itself; and then some!

this keyboard in Merzouga is infuriating.  more to come when I get to Fez in a few days.

1 comment:

Trisha T said...

sorry about the asshole...honestly though, it's too bad more ignorant Americans (not you, of course) aren't the ones to encounter such experiences...maybe we could all stop stereotyping each other based on nationality!

I'm excited to hear how Morocco wins you back :)