Marrakesh Triptych – Anna Cunningham

Early Impressions

I first thought about Morocco and Marrakesh when I was 15 years old and ordering lamb at Marrakesh Restaurant in Disney World. I remember a belly-dancer in “exotic” clothes, ornate plasterwork, and goofing off with my friends. It was a tasty dinner, though, in hindsight, the lack of tajine makes me doubt its authenticity.

Belly Dancer at Disney's Marrakesh Restaurant

Belly Dancer at Disney’s Marrakesh Restaurant

15 Year Old Me at Disney’s Marrakesh Restaurant

Four years after this early memory, I felt apathetic towards our upcoming Marrakesh trip. As I shoved some clothes into my backpack last Friday night, I thought I didn’t need a visit to Marrakesh, Morocco’s tourism capital, to round out my cultural education. A week and a half in Rabat’s breezy weather, combined with the beautiful mosques and ancient buildings I have visited in Casablanca and Fez, made me feel very complacent about my Moroccan experience so far.

When we arrived in Marrakesh around midday, it was hot and filled with tourists, as I expected. The dusty-rose color of the buildings was a novelty. I was too dehydrated and sleepy to appreciate much else. Apparently, I was also too tired to process the angry vendor’s words as he told me not to take a picture of his wares.

Powder Dyes in the Jewish Quarter

Powder Dyes in the Jewish Quarter

On some level, Marrakesh seemed like a caricature of Morocco. While our program made plans for our free time in Marrakesh, we realized that most of our options were things we had already done: hammam, explore a riad, and visit more ruins. After returning to a more hydrated state, however, I saw that I had experienced several new things on this trip.

Three Views in Marrakesh

Our first full day in Marrakesh, we visited a language center. Three non-profit organizations told us about their causes: an alternative orphanage structure for children born out-of-wedlock, animal welfare, and sustainable community development. The first organization helped fund children who are traditionally disadvantaged in Moroccan society. It offered education, arts exposure, and multilingual training. The second organization was very new, and it provided sanctuary to street animals. The final organization had much older roots than the first two. It focused on transforming agriculture through a community-based support system. The more rural organizations were a reminder of how little countryside I had seen.

Riad Bayti

Riad Bayti

Later that day, an older English professor approached us after our lunch at the riad and commented that our constant phone usage was a “disease.” He claimed he was curious about why this was. After a short conversation with him, we realized he seemed to be more interested in reprimanding us for our phone usage than actually understanding some of the causes of it. While I agree that my generation uses cell phones as a crutch, he let his 30 minutes of observing our phone usage to inform his entire interpretation of our group as individuals. This was a frustrating, but educational experience.

Our last evening in Marrakesh, we bumped around the souk like slow-moving pinballs. I reflected that many visitors on the crowded street would think of Marrakesh as Morocco’s defining city. It seemed sad to have such a narrow experience with al-Maghreb, but then I realized I had a similar relationship with Morocco. I know little about rural areas, there are still several cities I haven’t seen, and I didn’t explore the cities I lived in as well as I could have.

My brain feels oversaturated with colors and other new sensory input almost every day here. Yet even with all of the fresh perspectives, my memories cannot compare to an entire lifetime of living in Morocco. This limitation reminds me that each brief glimpse shapes the way I think of this country, and I am not exempt from being blind to a large part of Morocco’s identity. Just like I look back at Disney World Morocco and laugh at some of the incongruities now, in the future I might adopt a similar view to my current perceptions here.  While I didn’t visit many new monuments in Marrakesh, I certainly learned how important it is to consider perspective. With just a week left here, I realized that my Moroccan experiences are far from complete.

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