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Marruecos Marruecos en el Mercado de Tetuan

November 15, 2010

Part 1:

This weekend I went to Morocco.

I will say that like it was no big thing, but really, it was super, super, super exciting.

I knew I wanted to go – that I had to go – even before I got to Spain. I am not even sure why. I had no idea what to expect, and really I think that was part of the draw. I’ve been exposed to some Muslim culture here – so much of Spain’s history and its monuments highlights the Islamic presence here. I’m not sure I had ever heard the word sultan before coming here without some Aladin-y reference. But “sultano” has become common in my many guided tours.

So I guess I expected tiles, and carvings, and lots of Arabic on the walls. And of course head scarves and camels – it is Morocco! – and praying and mint tea and so on.

But it was so different being there. Morocco was dirty. There were half-built buildings everywhere with cranes hanging over them. Looking at the people, there was a mix of traditional and Western style of dress that I had never seen – because I have never been anywhere where those traditions exist. This was perfectly characterized by our principal tour guide, who the first day was wearing a long embroidered robe with silk harem pants underneath, and the second slacks, a collared shirt, red sweater, and tweed jacket.

He was amazing, our tour guide. Absolutely hilarious and warm. His name was Abdul… with a suffix I don’t remember, couldn’t pronounce, and definitely couldn’t spell. But everyone called him Michael Douglas, because he bares some faint resemblance to the actor. I almost thought I saw it sometimes. And when I say everyone, I don’t mean my group, but people in the street (I am still at a loss for how he knew just about everyone in the country). It was weird in the best possible way.

We spent the weekend in three cities: Tetuan on Friday, Asilah and Tangier on Saturday, and Chef-Chauen on Sunday.

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In Tetuan, we went directly to a school for the traditional arts: wood carving, painting, ceramics, metal work, embroidery, etc. The students start when they are about 12 years old, said Michael Douglas, but all the work I saw was incredible and far beyond what I was doing at that age. Then we went to this restaurant and had an absolutely incredible meal: soup, kebabs, couscous, oranges, and finally tea and cookies. Everything was delicious, and there was awkward entertainment the whole time: a woman dancing, a contortionist with a platter of candles and a tea-pot on his head bouncing around, these really lively musicians. I am normally so put off by such touristy places, but… there was something about it that made it okay. Maybe it was that we walked through these totally unassuming streets to get there, where there didn’t seem to be anything but people’s simple homes and cats (cats everywhere). Or that the food was just that good. Or that I was totally exhausted (and also with a terrible cold… Friday and Saturday were hard). But it was all so new, so overwhelming, and I was trying so hard to remember how to say “thank you” in Arabic that I just sat experiencing instead of criticizing.

After lunch, we walked around the market in Tetuan. That’s a huge part of what we did this weekend: walk around markets. The one in Asilah particularly was geared almost exclusively towards tourists, but they were all really interesting to wander around.

Tetuan’s, though, was my favorite. We didn’t see any other tourist the entire time (unless they had camouflaged themselves very well) and we kept getting separated in the crowds of people. We walked by all the food stalls and Michael Douglas chatted to everyone in Arabic while we all followed behind, mouths agape.

What stuck with me the most was the chickens. I guess it was the same in Peru – the whole thing reminded me a lot of Belen market in Iquitos – but there were just these crowds of sad-looking chickens with butchering stations right next to them. I get in this place where I idolized traditional markets and that the key to sustainability lays somewhere in them, but these stalls full of chickens are just mini-CAFOs. Not on the huge, disgusting scale. But these aren’t happy wandering chickens. They haven’t had the best diets, the eggs and meat are probably comparable nutritionally to those in the US. or not that much better. Or something. I don’t really know, I guess. But being in these markets and thinking about the food there reminds me that even if Morocco’s population is very predominantly agrarian, the large cities don’t necessarily nutritionally support their populations sustainably.

Even though there are a lot of really amazing food tidbits I picked up in Morocco. Every neighborhood in the cities – along with a communal bath, a mosque, and a fountain for fresh water – has these amazing communal ovens for bread. They are hug, some are made of a cob-like material, there are stacks of wood inside, and thick wooden peals for the bread. You see children running around with big pans stacked with dough to take to the ovens. We stopped at one gas station/convenience store thing, and outside in the back were two women and a man shaping dough to put in the two giant ovens that supplied the little restaurant inside. It looked like a McDonald’s, but you could see them making it right next to the little bathroom building and hand washing station.

Right across the street was the actual McDonald’s, the same red and yellow sign in Arabic.

There were lots of other things in the Tetuan market, too – just about anything you can imagine. Socks, appliances, brand new pants, candy bars, bottled water, goats and sheep, traditional garb, leather, shoes, rock deodorant, henna, so on, so on.

It got really cold at night, and I was tired and sick. I had completely lost my voice by the time we got back to the hotel. After dinner I fell asleep without changing my clothes.



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