Monday, 11 July 2011

Life Beyond the Border...

There’s something I have discovered as I have grown older and generally experienced more in life; and that is that the world is amazing.
I know that sounds really vague and dreamy, and makes me sound like I should be hugging a tree or pondering life by a lake or something. But over the few countries I have been lucky enough to travel to, I have realised that the culture, the sights and the people you can come across in other places can be ultimately remarkable to experience.
For me, a trip to Morocco last summer was what suddenly set me off on this “friend of the earth” kind of wave length- and I thought that since it was one year on from my time there, I would share all that I loved about the whole hot, dusty, donkey-smelling country.
                                                         Some of Morocco's hot and dusty Atlas Mountains
Simply getting there was a surreal experience in itself. You expect a country’s border to consist of tall wire fences, a fairly civilised, slowly moving queue of cars and a quick check of your passport – but not in Morocco. There, on the verge of the Spanish owned city of Melilla, was where life simply descended into chaos; and with a sweaty 5-hour wait in a pick-up truck, we found ourselves getting totally caught in the middle of it.
Women would stroll past with the blatantly obvious shape of fifty counterfeit shoes beneath their robes, children would come to your car window to sell you whatever they found lying around (we purchased a very handy half-used box of tissues); all while a few Moroccan policemen tried to flirt with you in an unusual Arabic-English mix.
And life beyond the border is equally as chaotic and colourful. The narrow streets of old town Fes are the best example. Tiny stalls line the alley sides, each of them like an alcove filled with glassy lanterns, gold ornaments or bright red spices- while multi-coloured shutters hang above your head- keeping the sun out and an interesting kind of leathery/sweaty smell in.
One thing you do need to adjust to though is the random spontaneous shouts of Arabic men. Something that sounds like “200 camels” as you walk past is probably an offer of what they’ll give to buy you- made worse for me by a guy I was travelling with who tried to pawn me off to some locals for free.
Another is just a crazed mix of Arabic words which suddenly sets the whole street into frenzy. People scatter into doorways and you’ll probably find a hefty Moroccan pulling you in against the wall. I came to learn this means “move or get hit” by the over loaded donkey that’s hurtling up the narrow, winding street towards you. 

The narrow, shuttered streets of Fes                                                               Colourful cloth handbags line the alley walls

So, I realise the picture I have painted of Morocco so far isn’t exactly a pleasant one. But what I found, was that just off the dusty, smelly hectic streets, there was always something entirely surprising and beautiful.
You would maybe find a narrow wooden doorway leading off an alley- and as dodgy as it may look, you might cautiously enter. But inside, a massive, beautiful building would open up before you, with cedar-carved ceilings and intricate mosaic covering the walls, filled with rich rugs, cloths or whatever the store happened to be selling. Moroccans love mint tea, and as soon as you come into their shop, they’ll have you seated around a small, low table while they pour you glasses of the concoction of mint leaves and about twenty six sugars- no exaggeration. It seems like a lot less of an offer than the 200 camels suggested to you earlier, but it’s definitely a lot safer.
     A friend and I get dressed by some local burka merchants

And that’s what I love about Morocco; about any other country at all really. Parts of it may smell of donkeys and the locals may seem a bit too presumptuous at times, but it’s all those little elements that make up its fascinating, beautiful culture.
It’s the sights, the smells, the people and their languages that left me totally enthralled with Morocco, and made me realise how amazing different parts of the world really are.
So while I probably won’t find myself embracing a tree in the classic “love for the earth” kind of way- I might just find myself back in the frenzied streets of Fes dodging over loaded donkeys and camel offers- but I’ll be loving every minute of it.