Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sad little Robot Me

This past week has been tough. But fret not, this broken robot will be fine tomorrow, because:
(a) it will be the weekend
(b) two of her faaaaaaaaavourite people come into town this weekend
(c) two of my faaaaaaaaaaaaaavourite people will remind me that I'm not a broken robot nor do I have a square head and that they love me anyway (i love you guys)
Happy Friday everyone... you know, I really do think robots are cool...

Friday, February 16, 2007

"I've made a decision, I'm gonna live in Morocco for one year. I need a new crowd. Do you wanna come? "

** Double points to whoever can guess where the Title is taken from **

This post is long overdue but the memory of ElMaghreeb is still fresh in my mind... I better document it before the smell of sweet oranges in the streets and the rumble of tiny taxis escape me...

From the minute we arrived at Marrakech airport, we were welcomed by a swarm of people that were really welcoming other people and not us. It was post-Hajj and all the pilgrims were returning from Mecca, their families awaiting them at the gates of the airport with flowers and kisses (and stares to the tourists). Our first task of exiting the airport was crazy enough to want to send is back into the comfort of the cramped EasyJet airplane, but we managed to push through the crowds with the help of security guards who were literally holding back the crowds of families. After walking through the masses and down a non-existent path only led by some government official, we found ourselves in an abandoned parking lot staring at the masses of people and looking around for whispering taxi drivers. Seemingly the only tourists around at this time of year, we were passed around one taxi driver to the next until we found a man sitting in a bumper car with a bewildered look on his face. Our journey had just begun!

Our first taxi driver was a funny one who pointed out land marks and horse-drawn carriages, knowing he would definitely score a tip with the three foreign girls in the back. We began snapping our cameras at everything we passed and immediately fell in love with the old town. Funny thing about Marrakech: Everyone seems to own tiny dirt bikes, or "bu6bu6a"s as I warmly refer to them. They seem to be the most popular mode of transport, especially if you're an old lady in a hoodie. England would be ashamed.

As soon as we arrived, we had the pleasure of being shown around the market square (Jaam3 elFnaa) by our two semi-resident friends. We walked into open squares and "ooh"ed and "aah"ed at street performers, henna painters and the inevitable snake charmer. As everyone else will tell you, tons of photo opps around and we soon found ourselves drawn to a cave of small streets and treasures galore. The inside market was incredible and filled with everything you can imagine to find: from jalabiyat to soaps to tea to shoes to belly dancing outfits and crockery, really anything you could sell to a tourist that had a camera around their neck. Walking through the tiny alleyways of market stalls and vendors shouting out to their potential customers, you feel a rush of energy to be quickly replaced by an immense overwhelming feeling and then absolute exhaustion. And this is all from just looking at the goods! Everything is jam packed and as soon as our tour guides left to take their afternoon siestas and we were left alone to do our shopping, the three amigos announced in unison that we needed a coffee to tackle the rest of the day! (that and we were sick of people shouting out "HELLO! FISH AND CHIPS!" in their best English accents)

Coffees were had with my new friend Mahmood Al-Yousif and the lovely Samar at a cafe where we relaxed and chatted the night away. Biggin' it up to the Big M, he is definitely a cool cat and it was a pleasure meeting him in such beautiful surroundings...!

Coffee was preceded by dinner - food gets a huge mention in Morocco... The square which was filled with various forms of entertainment was transformed into a huge out-in-the-open food market, with dozens of stalls only identified by their number (Biggin' it up to stall # 30 and the sweet Rasheed!) Apologies for their being no pictures of the square at night, there were just too many to put up...

The oranges get also special mention - never before have I seen so many orange trees everywhere that excrete such a sweet smell through the streets of a city! In the market square we found this very nice man with the nicest and sweetest oranges (and no Moroccan sweet talk to go with it! He must have been the only one!)

Just to give you a little background: Our trip to Morocco was primarily to attend a dear friend's wedding, so after a day and night in Marrakech, we hopped onto a rickety train for our 5 hour journey to the capital, Rabat. We got to Rabat and were a little disappointed at how modern things were but managed to find our hotel, get ready & hop into another cab off where the Henna party was at. The Bride's directions to the first leg of the fun was "Next to Service De Mile, you'll find us." With no street name or no GPRS to guide us through the neighbourhoods of Rabat, we started to panic as our taxi driver crammed in 2 car's worth of passengers and began driving in figure eights around a residential area. Nail biting and prayer reading lasted a little longer than we expected, until we turned an unexpected turn to find these chaps shown below in the street doing their thing and a good couple of dozen women partying right there. We yelped, we jumped out of the cab and we joined the start of the party, right there in the street pres de service de mile.

Amongst the crowd was a parked car with the fidgety bride waiting in the passenger seat, whispering "This has all gone terribly wrong, hasn't it?", waiting for her prince in a shining dishdasha to find his way to her. And he did, escorting her out of the car and through their neighbourhood. The band followed, still drumming, clapping and singing away, and so did we. Down the street, into the building, up five flights of stairs and into the newly wed's new home. All by candlelight.

The Henna party was great - the two ladies got straight to business on the bride, paining her hands & feet away and applying glitter and gems which I've never seen before (but quite liked). All the girls quickly got in line to get their hands painted too - I got a special YE YE YE YE when I sat down to get my hands painted, which the bride told me means not only am I special but it's my turn to get married next! Good job Soos!

The night carried on with much dancing and meeting a lot of the Bride & Groom's family that had flown from all over the world to celebrate with them... The party went on til late and we woke up early to get ready for the actual wedding...

I must say, Moroccans really know how to keep you entertained at their parties: The wedding was a fancy affair and not only were there 3 different bands to keep us dancing throughout the night, the bride made 6 entrances (with 6 different outfits!) and was carried into the hall like a Queen by four men! We were stunned at how beautiful she looked waving from up above while we all took pictures and danced around her...

Another thing I really liked about the wedding that there was a sit-down dinner, none of this buffet bull we get back home... There was no pushing and shoving to get your plate of luke warm casserole, as waiters came to each table with huge plates of food for the table to share. First course was a seafood bastilla which was very good, followed by the main meal which was a carnivores dream: A whole lamb pierced with skewers of chicken pieces (and cheese samboosas for your touch of dairy). Yum-my. Of course, I have to point out that each course was huge and plonked in the middle of each table for everyone to eat from together, which was a bit of a problem for our veggie friend who had to fill herself up on nuts and sweets while we all dug into the carcass in front of us.

The wedding was incredible just about after 6 a.m. when they served us a delicious breakfast of meat soup (I probably have gout now from all the red meat I had this trip), we watched the Bride and Groom leave the hall... The wedding slowly came to an end and we rushed back to our hotels, back on a train, back to Marrakech, and eventually back to London... our hearts sank as we touched ground in the pouring rain and we all sullenly went back to our lives behind desks and between cold walls...

Writing this all makes me nostalgic for that sunny place I was in a month ago... Again, apologies for getting this out late, but when you take such a great trip there are too many pictures and too many memories to try and retell to your audience, so I suppose the best way to end this is to take it from me, there's magic in that land over in Africa, some real Moroccan magic...

Good time memories: Getting hurled abuse at by taxi drivers, becoming bargaining queens, all the Rasheeds, the mad-woman on the train back (Aysha, it was definitely not a pleasure meeting you), the hammam experience and all the dirt that came along with it, all the cafe au lait and paninis, the im-sem-in-a's and the mint teas, the jumping on the beds, shouts from passer by's and all the mad, mad dancing...

Wishing the Bride & Groom a happy life together wherever they settle in the world... wishing for my travelling partners many more trips together to come...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Best Valentine's Day Celebrity Quote

Matt Bellamy, Muse, won best British live act at the Brit awards, and included in his speech:

"Thanks to our girlfriends for putting up with our schedules. Happy Valentines Day."
Well said.
Other updates should follow shortly.

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