Essaouira, Morocco: a Sanity Break

Marrakesh is a bustling, energetic, beautiful city, no doubt.  I find I appreciate it most by escaping on a regular basis.  A mere 3 hours southeast lies a sweet little fishing village by the name of Essaouira.  It’s as charming as the guide books say, because in Essaouira you can:

  • Eat fish so fresh it basically jumped out of the ocean and onto the grill.
  • Walk fearlessly in the traffic-free zone of the old city and markets, so liberating when you have precious young ones with you.
  • Speaking of young ones, ours spent all day in the ocean.  They only came out for food or, with great reluctance, when the sun went down.  It’s a famous surf spot too.
  • Shop with very little hassle.  This means a lot to me coming from Marrakesh where the shopkeepers’ persistence is more of a deterrent than an invitation to buy.

The port at sunset (to take this picture I had to actually turn away from lifeguarding the kids as they frolicked in the waves.  They survived my momentary neglect):

The view from our hotel window.  Riad Mimouna.  At high tide it felt as if the whole place could just float away.  The sound of the ocean is purifyingly primordial.

morocco blog essaouira beach view

One little sunburned monkey smiling with all his might:

essaouria morocco blog

Most of the remaining photos are organized under the theme of, wait for it, arches.  I came up with that.

essaouira morocco blog

Outside the hotel.  The bicycle made this snapshot worth taking, for some reason.

essaouira morocco blog

The hotel courtyard…

morocco travel blog

The cart used to transport luggage through the narrow street.  This one is especially festive.  I love when attention to detail is put into the simplest things, like this:

morocco travel blog

The hotel courtyard again..

morocco travel blog

Essaouira “roofscape”:

morocco travel blog

This next photo is a nod to the cliche photos of the Famous Blue Doors of Essaouira.  What you don’t see is the hoard of tourists behind me taking the exact same shot.  Pondering these doors got me to thinking of Leonard Coehn’s moody song from the ’70’s Famous Blue Raincoat.  The mind wanders.

morocco travel blog

Amman, Jordan. My epic journey.

Mosque in Amman, Jordan

I just got back from Amman, Jordan.  I was there for 4 days attending the Arab-Danish Women Blogger’s workshop.  I received an invitation to this event back in November…but didn’t want to blog about it till it was a done deal.  So many times plans change.

I’ve attempted to blog about the event several times.  I keep feeling like I won’t do it justice.  Words can’t possibly describe what a truly epic journey this was for me.  Well, maybe thousands of words might.  But with my self-imposed 1000 word limit per post (give or take a few hundred), synthesis will be a necessary process.

To really describe what this journey meant to me, at this moment in my life, I’d have to tell you all about the last nine years of my life.  You know, those years where three beautiful souls made their way to this earthly plane via my body.  Where my greatest joy and best means of survival was through surrendering ever more to the microcosm of my home life.  Those early years where I needed, viscerally, to be on the same wavelength as my babies, so that I could distinguish each cry (tired, hungry, gassy, bored, you name it), and anticipate each need.  Those years where sleep was the most precious commodity.  Those years where the jewels of the universe where laid at my feet, time and again, in the form of my daughter’s smile, my son’s newest words, or the softness of a sleeping face.

So to be able to leave home for five whole nights is shocking, so abrupt in a way.  I don’t want this whole phase to just roll over and give way to a new one without at least pausing to honor it.  (And even “pausing” is a new luxury).  I have been in the trenches for so long that I forgot what civilian life was like.  You mean, when you are tired, you just sleep?  I’m going to need some major re-integration to assimilate all this.

Ok, I think that gives a pretty good background as to where I’m coming from.  How about we talk about the trip then.  I was totally thrilled to be in a new country, for one.  Amman is a beautiful city, laid out on seven hills; it’s been continuously inhabited for longer than almost any other city in the world.  The local people that I encountered were warm and quite respectful.  In fact I felt more comfortable walking around in Amman than I do in Marrakesh where I’m likely to get stared at, commented on by gawkers, hustled by tourist guides, and otherwise had my space invaded.  Amman rules, in that way.

The flip side?  Everyone smokes.  Amman, I will miss you, but I brought part of you home with me, in the form of second-hand smoke carefully stored in the lining of my lungs.  I had no trouble collecting this souvenir, opportunities were ample. Seriously, I hardly met anyone who wasn’t a smoker.  From dainty ultra-slims to sheesha, that exotic water pipe a la caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.  There is no gender gap in smoking, either.  Yay!  Um, not.  I imagine Virginia slims looking down approvingly from high above the smoke cloud.  You’ve come a long way, baby.  I was slightly nauseous the whole time I was in Amman.  I need to either take up smoking (gag), or go detox in the Himalayas.

I spent a lot of my time comparing and contrasting Amman with Marrakesh.  Here are some of my notes, which may not mean much to you, unless you live in either of these cities.

Music.  Same music on the radio, alternating Usher and Rihanna with Tamer Hosny and Nancy Ajram.

Mixed identity architecture. Same way the city is half construction-site, half slick, shiny buildings…half ancient and half that kind of globalized modern look that denotes nowhere in particular.  That’s familiar.

Weekends. In the Middle East, weekends are Thursday and Friday.  I went out Friday morning and there was not a soul out or a shop open, it was a “Sunday feeling”.  And Saturday was be “Monday”.  It makes total sense for a predominantly Muslim country, since Friday is the community prayer day for Muslims.

Language. I know it’s all called Arabic, but Moroccan and Jordanian are so vastly different.  I didn’t even bother speaking Moroccan, I just spoke Modern Standard Arabic, trying to add a Middle Eastern lilt.  My vowels gave me away though, everyone could guess right away that I was either Tunisian or Moroccan.  But seriously, our languages are so different.  For example, in Morocco we say siri toul, which means “go straight”.  Well in Jordan it’s, dalli doghri. Don’t bother looking for similarities.  It just made me realize that the North African identity is very different from the Middle Eastern one.

Food. After having eaten in Middle Eastern restaurants all over the world, I was thrilled to be eating hummus, baba ghanoush, kibbeh, lebneh etc. in the Middle East.  The food was so perfect, I almost cried.  And so colorful, and varied.  Fyi, it has nothing in common with Moroccan food, which is also amazing.

Well folks, it’s I’m-gonna-regret-being-up-this-late-tomorrow o’clock.  So I’ll wrap up with a few pics.  As for the actual workshop, well, there are so many insights, inspirations, beautiful connections, stimulating discussions, that I want to give it its own blog post…soon insha Allah!

The pics.  My first Middle Eastern meal.  Clockwise from top left: Arrugula salad, Lebneh (cheesy yogurt), Hummus, Salata.  On the sides were wraps stuffed with Zeit ou Zaatar.

hummus and baba ghanoush, middle eastern food

The view from the workshop site.Amman, Jordan

Amman by night:

Amman, Jordan by night

The oh so rare self-portrait.

Nora Fitzgerald