Embracing the Madness in Morocco
by Andrea Duty
Sometime between being caked with black soap and having my boobs scrubbed with what I can only assume was steel wool, I got the giggles. I should have clued in to the oddities to come within the hammam when I was handed a white paper thong upon entrance, but I didn’t. Now, there I was, sliding around on a hot marble slab while some woman hosed me down and repeatedly ordered me to flip over, as if she were basting a rotisserie chicken. I was eventually – mercifully – swaddled in cocoon of towels, ushered to a pile of floor cushions, and fed an endless supply of warm, mint tea. In the end, I felt much the same way as I did during the rest of my stay in Marrakech, which is to say: confused, mildly abused, yet exhilarated nonetheless.
For the uninitiated such as myself, Marrakech can swallow you whole. If London is an anthill of organized layers and regimented routines, Marrakech is the feeding frenzy atop a pile of picnic leftovers. It’s raw, chaotic, colorful, and, at times, jarring.
But sometimes chaos is what we need, isn’t it? To be tossed into mayhem; thrown back to that place where we see everything anew again, as through a child’s eyes. It’s only when we are placed into the unfamiliar that our senses are sent into overdrive, forcing us to live in the present moment.
And to walk through the streets of Marrakech is to have the present moment unceremoniously shoved in your face. Fumes float from the tanner, a metal worker hammers, neon dye drips from wool strung above. Donkeys drag, motorcycles rev, verbena hangs brittle in the sun. A thick snake sways languid to a tune. Cool orange juice to squelch the heat. Hello/Hola/Bonjour, Madam! Special price just for you! Come inside, just to look! Snails for one durham! Scarfs! Soap! Spices! Three men pull a lamb from a pit, steamed and salted. The street is sweet with cumin. A stop for tea. The call to prayer. Five times a day all is dropped. Five times a day, the movement, the melody, the madness is put on pause. Five times a day, there is space to draw a deep breath and take it all in.
The whirling chaos of the Red City often left me frazzled (and once drove me to tears), but it also gave me the cultural slap in the face I so love to experience and am finding increasingly difficult to find. Most of my travels have been to sanitized, Western countries and it seems I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel so utterly out of place, what it’s like to have expectations shattered in the best way possible.
I thought I was traveling to Morocco for warm weather and a tagine or two, but what I got was a glimpse into another world and a reminder of how grateful I am for destinations that challenge my comfort, my routine and my ideas of what travel is meant to be. Marrakech taught me to embrace discomfort and vulnerability and, yes, even white paper thongs, because it’s in these states that we learn to challenge ourselves and in doing so, broaden our ideas of the world and the lives lived within it.
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