It was kitsch, it was touristy, but it was fun.
After the mandatory Berber dinner, in a very large tent, we had a demonstration of what it seemed several and different folkloric groups.
Maybe it was only a professional group showing different costumes, but it was well conceived, and the few dances performed really seemed a little different from each other.
The ambiance was inviting, we were in costume, so we did try their dances.
Well... we really had fun.
Beggars and begging...we see them on the streets here around the UK and Europe and are usual quite reluctant to give anything maybe unless a government approved charity....
Generally in Morocco there is so much importance placed on family - responsibilites and expectations to care for or be cared for so this in a way provides a fairly secure social framework - if the family is a poor family ways will always be found to obtain what is needed - that can mean that children dont go to school but instead look for ways to make money for the family such as looking for tourists for local businesses and receiving a commission or out looking after the sheep and goats - women may need to continue working even though the years of manual labour have taken their toll and they can no longer even stand up straight - the elderly maybe sent out to beg or 'ask for donations'
Its true that Morocco does have a lot of very poor people, with NO social welfare assistance - that includes those that are widowed, unable to work, handicapped, or simply cannot get any sort of decent income - and only until just recently did apparently the King of Morocco bring in that hospital care and surgery would be provided without charge - so you can also take a stance of kindness and carry half and 1 dirham coins handy in a pocket to give to these beggars - which is not such a bad thing to have a bit of compassion and help - culturally this is also one of the pillars of Islam - its also a part of christianity - whatever approach - there is some difference between beggars and the hustlers in the souks who want to charge triple to 10 times more for anything you want to look at on display for sale -
Do know that is okay to say no but even a dirham is appreciated for your kindness and there is usually no retaliation for choosing to say no - for the little old ladies and little old men I think its a kind thing to give them a dirham here or there to help when there is often no pension from the government for them or perhaps no family at home to let them enjoy their old age in peaceful rest.
Another local custom that we enjoyed was the yummy Tagines. This is an authentic Moroccan dish like a stew cooked slowely in an eathernware pot.
One of the best Tagines that we had was chicken cooked with lemon and olives at our Riad. We booked dinner and the staff went out of their way to light candles and make it a lovely romantic experience.
After, we were to experience other Tagines on our desert trip with Sahara Dreams Maroc. These were a family affair with our guide Habib's family along the way and consumed the authentic Moroccan way by dipping your bread into the communual Tagine and then eating the meat with your hands. What an experience that was!!
We had heard all about the custom of enjoying Mint Tea in Morocco. We had our first mint tea experience when we arrived at our Riad in the Medina behind the Souks in Djamaa El Fna Square. Mint tea is certainly refreshing after a hot drive in the taxi from the airport :o)
We came to enjoy this beverage during our stay in Morocco - hubby liked his mint tea sweet (boy do they pack the sugar in!!) and I preferred mine with no sugar. Hubby even had a lesson in making mint tea. We also had a good belly laugh at the tea that they use..... called 'gun powder' rofl :o)
After the sights, scents and sounds of the Djamaa el Fna (and the pain of my broken foot – ouch), one of my abiding memories of Marrakesh will be the sound of the call to prayer wakening me at 5.15 each morning or floating over the hubbub of the Night Market each evening. While we have heard this elsewhere on our travels, in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, it is in Marrakesh that I have been most aware of it as an integral aspect of life in the city. Perhaps this is because it seems so in tune with the ancient streets and walls of the Medina, or maybe it was the knowledge that at the Koutoubia Mosque at least, a muezzin still climbs the minaret five times a day to make the call. Whatever the reason, this reminder of more spiritual things rising above the secular, commercial frenzy of the city is definitely an integral part of the Marrakesh experience.
The call to prayer, or “adhan”, summons Muslims to follow the mandatory five prayer times of each day. Starting with four repetitions of “Allahu Akbar” (”Allah is the greatest”), listeners are summoned to hurry to worship and, at dawn, reminded that “prayer is better than sleep”. I can’t say that I always agreed with that last point, but somehow I found myself always happy to have my sleep interrupted by the call.
You will see this symbol all over Marrakesh: as here, used as a door knocker; incorporated into designs for carpets and leather goods; in jewellery; painted on a wall ... This is the hamsa, a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It appears in both Islamic and Jewish traditions, and is believed to act as a defence against the evil eye. As you can see, the hand is stylised with two symmetrical thumbs, and the ornate patterns echo those of the henna painters who throng the Djamaa el Fna. Maybe it would be better to buy a necklace or wall-hanging incorporating the symbol rather than have your hand decorated as the latter (in my past experience) can look rather incongruous when you return home and put on your business suit, and in any case will quickly fade.
Everywhere you go in Marrakesh and throughout the country you will find mint tea on the menu. Sometimes referred to as "Moroccan whiskey", it is part of the life-blood of the country – the essential fuel that oils the path of difficult transactions, cements friendships, marks life’s big events and celebrations. I didn’t expect to like it as I’d heard it can be served very sweet but I found it very refreshing and I loved the traditions that surround it too: the ornate silver teapot and dainty glasses in which it is served, and the custom of pouring it from a great height (an acquired skill!) to allow cooling. By tradition the first pouring is returned to the pot, as is the second, and only on the third pouring is the tea ready to be drunk. A traditional rhyme goes:
The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as gentle as death.
In some cafés we found that the tea wasn’t served in a pot but just in a glass, and sometimes was simply sprigs of mint with boiling water poured over them. While just as refreshing these lack the sense of ritual that the pots provide, and on a practical note, you get less tea!
There's a bevy of strange words used when people refer to things in Morocco. These words often have an English equivalent and why those aren't used instead, I have no idea. Maybe pretentious people have preferred to use the exotic substitute so long it's become the norm? Listed below are some of the most common of these words and their English equivalent:
Rhiad: An inn, bed and breakfast, or hotel.
Souk: A market.
Hammam: A body massage.
Medina: The old town.
Tangine: A stew.
Petit Taxi: A taxi that's a hatchback.
Grand Taxi: A taxi that's a regular-sized car.
Jma El Fna/Djemma el'Fna/Jmaa el Fna: The name of the central square in Marrakesh. (Nobody knows how to spell this correctly.)
Minaret: A mosque's tower.
Berber: Indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile.
One of the words you will hear a lot of in Marrakech (or Morocco for that matter) is "Enshallah" . This means "God willing" or "As God Wills". However it seems to have lots of meanings in every day life.
Although Djemma el Fnaa IS a tourist attraction, where snake charmers, colourfully attired Water Sellers and Gnaoua musicians, pose for photos (for a price!), many of the musicians, singers and storytellers are performing to and for the locals. (Usually dressed in 'everyday clothes' not costumes!)
The speed and dialect they use is often too difficult for foreign tourists to understand!
Around the square, you'll see crowds gathered in a circle around these artistes.
Some may be listening to an animated storyteller, pacing in front of his audience, others to Berber musicians accompanying a singer or storyteller, sometimes with a male or female (or Transvestite or Trans-sexual ) dance, often taking a comic role!
I spent most of my evenings watching a performance from a group of Berber musicians who seemed to have adopted me! (I think they were called Groupe Aylalen)
They often invited me to join them for a drink, at a nearby cafe, after their performance (which I'm afraid I declined)
Gathered around kerosene lamps, the musicians would start a tune, then start singing, their leader would then break off and start appealing to the crowd- Although I couldn't understand fully, there seemed to be different storylines, where other musicians from the group would also take their turn in the proceedings to appeal for money.
Slowly, coins would be tossed into the arena, when enough was judged to be collected, the music would continue - a sort of pay per view!
There were also cassette tapes of the groups music to buy. (Which I did - a souvenir that reminds me of my happy evenings in Djemma el Fnaa!)
Often musicians and dancers from other groups would come and join in for a song or two, before returning to their own group.
The musicians are on the lookout for tourists taking photo's, and will (rightly) expect a tip, but often they are then invited to take a seat, with a front row view.
These evenings made my stay in Marrakesh even more special, I felt quite at home here!
Usually gold (or gold coloured) 'The Hand of Fatima' is often either worn as an item of jewellery, or fashioned into door knockers, to ward off 'the evil eye'
The hand is usually holding a gold ball, and wears a ring on the 2nd or 3rd finger.
Although this photo was taken in Essaouira, I did spot examples whilst wandering around the Medina in Marrakesh. I've since spotted examples in Granada - (Andalucian Spain)
When wandering around the souks/ Medina/ Mellah areas, I was often advised by locals/guides etc to keep to the right side of the road/alleyway. Which suddenly reminded me of a line from 'Midnight Express' which I'd seen on TV a few days before my holiday (Yes, those Christmas/New Year TV repeats!) when the hero of the film decides to walk in the opposite direction to everyone else of his 'inmates' and he's reminded that '"a good Muslim always walks to the right"
I've since found out this is also the practice in Venice, another city with narrow, crowded streets
In Marrakech, leave small change amounting to about 10%. Restaurants and hotels often state a service charge but it is polite to leave change. Visitors should note, tips are the only additional income for some porters and guides.
Marrakech is predominantly a Muslim city; therefore it is essential that visitors opt for attire that is not offensive and revealing. Modesty by wearing a cardigan over the shoulders when visiting places of worship or religious significance is most appreciated. Swimsuits, shorts etc are best worn inside hotel premises, by the pool. Smoking is practised widely and it is customary to offer cigarettes in social gatherings. Traditions and customs should be respected, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. Eating, drinking and smoking during daylight should be indulged inconspicuously during this time.
Going to a hamman should really be a pleasure, but they have different times and days for men and women - so if you are traveling as a couple and would like to have a hamman and massage toogether, then you'll have to go to less authentic places.
We found a little corner of heaven in a little beauty spa off riad zitoun el kedim (I'll have to sort out the place name) - but roughly it is opposite the Riad Dar tamlil where we stayed the first 3 nights... You'll have to look out for the little sign on the door, as it is not really well-marked or advertised. The hammam - in all fairness - was just OK - but the massage was really excellent and I can recommend it without hesitation.
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