MOROCCO 2013: Life, Lessons, Laughter and Love.

When the spirit of adventure seeps through your veins, you become a nomadic soul, tormented only by your obsession for exploring the world.

 

After having finished my first film, “Amazon Souls” and seeing it premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I was ready to give myself a well deserved break. Not only did I want to travel, but to live, experience and understand a culture different from what I had already known. I spread out the map. I rolled the dice. It landed on Morocco. Off I went…

 

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MOROCCO FACT FILE

Meaning of Morocco: Al-Mamlaka al-Maġribiyya, ‘The Western Kingdom’

Capital: Rabat

Largest Cities: Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, Agadir, Tangiers, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra

Population: 32.52 million (2012 est)

Government: Constitutional Monarchy

Currency: Dirhams

Languages Spoken: Arabic, English, Spanish, Berber Languages

 

Religions: Islam (99,7%), Christianity (0.3%), Judaism and Baha’i (<0.1%)

Random Fact: Morocco is the 12th richest city in Africa

 

 

THE DIARY (Images and video taken on my iPhone 5)

  (Some episodes have been edited to respect privacy)

 

Friday 13th September 2013

Sight, sound, taste, touch but especially smell heightened when I drove into the heart of the Medina through the souks in Marrakech. Melon flavoured oxygen – something new for my system. Visited my new home; a riyad and went for a wander through the market place, excited to get lost in the exotic maze with only curiosity as my compass.

 

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Base camp: Riad Edward. The view from the top was quite something. During the day, I would catch and control a bird’s eye view of life in Marrakech. Some nights, I would catch the sunrise. Those were the nights I favoured the most.

 

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A donkey’s tale.

 

I stepped into the heart of the medina. The old medina. Spotted by the locals as fresh meat, one man approached me then offered to show me around. Friendly. Cautiously friendly. After we turned the corner, I realised he was striving to strike it lucky. According to the  locals and from experience, there are many crooks  who rely on ripping off tourists to make their living and then spend this income on drugs, alcohol, gambling and prostitution. This was the first lesson I learnt in Marrakech. Don’t. Trust. Anyone. Especially if they try to become your “brother” or “uncle” and especially if they make themselves your “best friend” within seconds of meeting you. My guards were up.

 

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Extremely vivid. Colours bursting from every direction. An intensity defined only by its sight. Spices, scarves, sweets, sours. Senses erect. Even in scent, I smelt colour.

 

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 Scales for sale. The marketplace was filled with fresh food with every man, woman and enthusiast lining up for a taste of the square’s finest.

 

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I walked into a factory where they were making steel. I peeked at the back and made my way into a room where a group of men were making traditional Moroccan plates. Embellished golden and silver armour embedded within painted clay. Made for distinct dining. The men were content, completely lost in their work. Nothing beats doing what you love and making it your way of life.

 

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On route to the Atlas Mountains, where my heart sank and swam in a pool of serenity. The views were incredible and I couldn’t get enough. This was my view for the first 10 days in the Kasbah Bab Ourika.

 

That night, I visited the Berber villages in the mountains and attended a tribal wedding. We danced into the early hours of the morning to traditional Berber music whilst sipping fresh mint tea. Before the Kasbah, the locals had never laid eyes on foreigners. Here, I blended in quite well, considered either a local or a neighbour.

 

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 The Singer. The DJ. The Explorer. The Student. The Berber.

 

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 Cheeky boys plan a few tricks up their sleeves.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2224Innocent gaze amidst the beautiful chaos.

 

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Joyous celebrations echoed through the mountains as Berber women sang songs of love at the wedding that marked my welcome to Ourika valley.

 

IMG_2242Here comes the bride

 

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 They drum. Bang, tap, clink, sing… She sang! Tambourines sending a river of women into a hypnotic daze.

 

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Happily Ever After.  In Morocco, marriage starts early in life, pretty much as soon as the man starts earning. This can be as young as 16! That way, he is able to provide for his wife and their children.

 

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Traditionally in Morocco, people eat from a large plate, enough to feed the whole family or group and it is their signature act of kindness to share and offer food to others.

 

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 A three course meal of rice, meat, vegetables, almonds, sweets accompanied by Berber tea left me a full stomach to dance off. That night, I danced with the Berbers until the early hours of the next morning to traditional music.The young men smoked a few cigars, sneakily sipped a bit of alcohol and I watched as their desires had gotten the better of them. It was definitely a night to remember.

 

 

 

Saturday 14th September 2013

 

The sound of the birds singing woke me from a deep sleep, dreams merging into one big ball of fantasy. I was walking through the village in the mountains absorbing the breath taking scenery and the people in it.

 

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To be alone and contemplate the world from a mountain top, somewhere in the middle of the Earth, instills a deep sense of satisfaction somewhere in between the heart and the mind.

 

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Prickly plants pop up along my path as I start to explore the valley.

 

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One by one, the children approach me and we conversed in French – our mutual language.

 

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“Oh, we remember you from last night! You were dancing with Abdul Karim. You dance really well. Come, come, dance with us!” I was very embarrassed as I must have crossed the cultural boundaries…

 

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Slightly worrying that a woman was vaccinating my hands with a syringe full of henna. Henna leaves are crushed into a thick paste then used to dye hair or paint parts of the body for parties and special occasions. Applying henna is a leisurely activity amongst younger women.

 

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Voila! C’est tres belle! La henne por moi.

 

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I was pulled into a house to watch all the elderly women dance in a small room. I looked on as they swayed to the drum beats and Berber music. The girls kept touching my hair. From their body language, I thought they wanted me to cut their hair in layers. I set on a quest to look for a blade. I returned to the village with a pair of scissors. Sana translated their request. They wanted me to get hold of a blow dryer to make their hair straight like mine. Puzzled, staring at my pair of scissors, thinking I was going to cut their hair, we all burst into fits of laughter!

 

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 The villager’s pad. I would often be chased by young boys or meet and greet the locals, who inhabit the mountains here.

 

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 I would often stroll along these paths without a plan and meet the most beautiful people along my journey. They would then join me on a trek to explore the unknown, sometimes, guiding me along the way. Other times, I would be guiding them into an adventure.

 

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 The salt fields.

 

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 A football pitch situated in the middle of the Atlas mountains. The only goal post to be seen for miles.

 

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  A dark, thick cloud covered the sky so I made my way back to the castle.

 

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Meet Fatimah. A very strong woman with an influential voice within the tribe. She would often look out for me and act as my armour of protection in the village.

 

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 The boys club. My little mountain chasers.

 

Sunday 15th September 2013

Exploring a new route every day is my motto. Not only does it open up new routes along the adventure, but it also opens up new routes within the mind. Only then, the map becomes interesting.

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 A little trek through an uncommon trail in the village led by the little Berber girls to the sitting rocks, carved out by nature, shaded by a tree and next to the river.  Guided and guarded by these little angels.

 

Monday 16th September 2013

I LOVE being in the mountains! Wandered through all the weird and wonderful places through the mid mountain village souks, making friends left, right and centre. I couldn’t leave without buying a dagger made out of precious stones… a fetish find for my knife collection. To share stories in an English version of French, was an interesting exercise, until the rain hit hard.

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Spices galore

 

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A Berber restaurant presents its finest tajines

 

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Chicken slaughtered and thrown in the barrel, stacked up for sale. I was offered to join in but I kindly refused.

 

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Succulent, cooked meat embellished by an array of fresh vegetables. Gossip of the locals passed like Chinese whispers through his joint.

 

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  I noticed a lot of men at the market and very few women, covered in the veil. It was usually men’s duty to sell and bring back the money. They would sometimes bring their sons to help.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2456 A man followed me but quite strictly in Arabic and French, I told him to leave me alone. I then met another guy who approached me, speaking in English. My instincts were alerted but geared towards goodness in his presence so I spoke to him. His name was Soufian and became a good guide.

 

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 I joined a grocery seller on his day’s work. I took a seat on the van and watched as people passed by, bought fruit and veg and then I zoomed out sight and watched the mountain watching us.

 

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SOUFIAN: This is the Berber Mercedes!

 

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Berber Mercedes garage

 

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The horse shoe maker

 

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 Fascinated by this man’s work, I had to sit down with him and find out more. As I looked deep into his eyes, my Father’s eyes reflected back at me and tears trickled down my face.

 

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 The oldest restaurant in Ourika Valley and the most popular one by far.

 

Tuesday 17th September 2013

Breakfast…

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SANA: (Arabic)

ABDUL KARIM: (Arabic)

SANA: Do you want to know what we were saying?

SARAH: Yes, please.

STELLA: They were talking about that guy you were with yesterday at the souk.

SARAH: Oh, what about him?

STELLA: They were saying that maybe he wanted to be your friend and take you away and then I can’t say the other word because Mummy told me not to say it.

SARAH: (Laughs!) Oh, that’s so cute!

SANA: Sex!

SARAH: Huh? Sex? (Laughs)

SANA: Maybe he wants to be your friend because he wants to have sex with you.

SARAH: Oh! Yes, I get it now. And, no! Most definitely not.

 

Later that day…

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On route with my guide, Hassan to the mountains, through the forest and into a remote Berber village.

 

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HASSAN: You are the very first person to climb the mountain with me. Usually, people just walk on the paths.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2520In exchange of teaching Hassan English, I asked him to teach me Arabic. We both trekked, climbed, crossed and jumped over gaps in the mountains whilst learning Arabic along the way.

 

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 Rocks carving out the path

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 Praying on top of a large rock

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 I took shelter in a cave before carrying on the intensive trek. Sometimes, it is important to do nothing and recharge your batteries before continuing. But I admit that even then, my mind wanders…

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Hassan

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We arrived to a peak where men were herding goat and sheep.

 

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“Meeeehhhh! I gotcha!”

 

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 Counting sheep

 

 

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We trekked further into the mountains, crossed wide cracks to the other side and ended up in a Berber village where I jumped in a tree to over look the view before making way to civilization.

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 Salt fields are one of the Berber’s main source of income.

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Rocky mountains

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2615Reflecting on my next step whilst taking shade beneath this tree

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 I had to climb this tree for an ultimate view of the scenery

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A woman stood about her business, looking at me. Her stare of wonder attracted mine.  As I spoke to her, the familiar scent of my mother embraced me.

 

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First, she made me say the Shahadah. Then, she told me that I was the same age as her grand children but was like a daughter to her.

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The baby was scared of me at first and after a while pretending to be his sister, he warmed up.

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2674 Hassan took me to a house with a beautiful family who made us Berber coffee, lemon flavoured tea and prepared bread for us with natural butter made from cow’s milk. It was delicious! I sat in their living room, with a perfect view of the mountains.

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My childhood spirit poured into the room and I was fascinated by everyone and everything. This way of life, the simplicity is beautiful! I couldn’t get enough of it.

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  After speaking to the family, the mother offered me a traditional style Berber Hammam when I return and pleaded I stay there over night. I wish I did. Next time!

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Chickens on a ladder – a surreal sight!

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Climbing tendencies

 

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Meals on legs!

 

That night, Morocco experienced the heaviest rainfall in 20 years. Thunder and lightening added to the dramatic horror show that we all went through here at the Kasbah Bab Ourika hotel. I walked into my room and water  appeared from my bathroom wall and drizzled up from the cracks in my bedroom floor. Prone to flood, I reached out to the guardians. Muha and Hassan, the guardians rescued me from the terror that night by cleaning and draining the water out of my room. Poor Muha, he had to clean my room twice, bring me medicine, search for mosquitoes until I was safe, secure and dry. I waited as moments of panic attacked me in the dark, cold water filled space that I was to call my room for the night. Eventually, at around 3am, I fell into a deep sleep.

 

Wednesday 18th September 2013

Lunch with Stella (7 years old).

 

STELLA: Do you know, I know how to tell if a man is good or bad.

SARAH: And how is that?

STELLA: It’s in the eyes, I don’t know how to explain it to you but I just know. I feel it.

SARAH: That’s called instinct. Every woman has it, including me.

 

I make my way down to the reception area in search of WIFI to check my emails. As I peer out the main door, a familiar denim jacket lurks outside. Soufian. With another guy. I approach him and meet his “best friend” and we arrange a rendevouz the next day at his village so that I could meet his Grandfather.

 

I walked down the mountain for a trek through the village and spot Muha sitting outside his house. He seemed relaxed and content and asked me where I was going but I didn’t know so he joined me. A group of little boys joined us trailing behind all the way through the ancient house at the top of the hill where we sat on a rock overlooking the incredible view.

SARAH: Wow, I love your way of life, it’s beautiful!

MUHA: La vie, c’est tres facile. (The life, it’s very easy)

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Muha. The simple life. We conversed in French and English, exchanging our knowledge of the language as we walked further into the wilderness. History entwined with the present beings. I asked him what he liked to do in his free time and he replied that he liked to see all the views. I had to keep referring to English and French words in my dictionary. We both laughed every time I took the book out.

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Boys on wheels

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Little wise men

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 The view

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Me and my Mountain brothers.

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 Happy go lucky

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 The ancient village et moi.

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 Over 100 years old, I was captivated by this ancient village.

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We passed an old woman with many wrinkles. Beautiful wrinkles. The lines on her face told a story I had yet to find out. She kissed me and invited me back to her house. Muha agreed to take me one day this week. On our way back, he invited me into his house and I met his family. Realisation of a simple life versus the hectic city hit me and just now as I write this, the realisation of why men are so serious about their work and being a source of security for their women. We ate bread, olives, olive oil, fresh butter and Berber coffee. He’s only 18. He told me that he started working from the age of 16. The first year, he worked in Marrakech and later, he moved to Kasbah Bab Ourika as it was closer to home. Makes sense.

 

Thursday 19th September 2013

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STELLA: My name is Stella Skinner. I am seven years old. I am 0 tall because I don’t know that yet. I have blond hair and…

SARAH: How do you spell blonde?

STELLA: Oh yes, with an “e” at the end!

SARAH: Yes!

STELLA: Do you know how I know how to spell blonde?

SARAH: How?

STELLA: Because I have an app on my iPad for blonde jokes.

SARAH: You? Have an app for blonde jokes on your iPad? You?!

STELLA: Er, no I don’t.

SARAH: Yes you do.

STELLA: No, I don’t. Ok, yes I do.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2808Stella and I committed to a mission to donate books and equipment to the school, El Tourite, situated in the mountain. Abdul Karim came with us. I asked the teacher to update me on the progress of the school. Smiley faces flooded the classroom and gratitude filled the air as we handed out the pens, books and stationary. I want to go back and give them all something more productive, something eternally useful.

 

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Back at the Kasbah, I was scheduled to meet Soufian to visit his village. Abdul Karim offered me a ride on his motor bike and it was definitely an offer I couldn’t refuse. Speeding away through the village, humps and bumps until we reached the other side. I do love motorbike rides!

 

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 Abdel Karim. Young with big dreams and even bigger hopes. At aged only 18, he wants to get married and have children.

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Waiting for the hosts to catch up.

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Once united with Soufian, he led us through his beautiful village and I met with the most wonderful souls. The photo above is apparently a football pitch in the middle of a forest!

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2829I walked into Soufian’s house and there was his grand father sitting under an olive tree. Al Hajj – Lahmiz Ben Musa claims to be 136 years old. He enjoys reciting the words of God from the Qur’an. He recited Sura Yasin for me and I recorded it. Breath taking.


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 Grandfather’s old house.

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 Candid shot

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Villagers look on as we continue our trek.

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 As I cruised the biggest village in the mountains, we arrived at an ancient mosque with Arabic letters painted on the ceiling. But it was more than that and not what I had expected at all. Especially when I realised I was standing next to a tomb!

 

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The keeper was absent but I was told that people usually try to come to the house and raid it in search of gold. No gold has yet been discovered and it is the keeper’s duty to protect the site from any destruction. Preservation of such history is important.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2832 A  beautiful pregnant woman offered me a plate of powdery Moroccan sweets. Between our limited Arabic, French and English, we managed to understand that I am Soufian’s friend and she is his cousin who is married, has one little daughter and is expecting another baby.

 

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Walking through nature’s richest earth tones.

 

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 The sunset signalled my departure. We returned to Soufian’s house for evening tea with his grandfather. His grandfather was concerned about my safety and even offered me to stay with his family for the night. But I couldn’t as night fell and dinner was waiting back at the hotel. He chanted a special prayer to serve as my protection before I departed. Wow. What an evening!

 

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From the biggest village in the valley where I met the oldest person I have ever heard of and received the warmest welcome from them all… Touched, still and enchanted. The generosity in this family was enormous and I couldn’t believe how amazing these people were.

 

Friday 20th September 2013

Douar Tafza, this Berber Eco – Museum is full of very interesting exhibitions, highlighting the Berber history and culture in many of its intricate rooms. It was created by rebuilding a derelict house into a traditional Berber dwelling to preserve the heritage by Patrick Manac’h and his business partner, Hamid Mergani.

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 What fascinated me the most were the symbolism in the traditional Berber carpets. Yellow on the outside of the carpet or a triangle represents a man. Red on the outside of the carpet or a diamond represents a woman. A dot in the diamond represents a pregnant woman. White represents death and black represents danger. Symbolism delves deeper than this. They even have the words to resemble the sound of the birds.

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Hall of portraits

IMG_2938Women outside the Berber Eco Museum, making Argan Oil – a sought after product all around the world for its cosmetic properties. Argan Oil has become popular in hair treatment in the west.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2928Bird’s eye view

The night I trekked in the mountains, Morocco experienced it’s highest rainfall in one hour since 20 years. I got lucky! People died in Marrakech and all the rooms in the hotel were flooded, including mine. The thunder and lightening was unforgiving and roads broke down everywhere.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_2941On our way back from the Berber museum, we had to get out of the car and walk as another car in front signalled danger and was stuck. I was with Stella (aged 7) and her Nanny, Sanaa (aged 32). Sanaa offered her help to the stranded men and I joined in. Sanaa and I got down on our knees and used our bare hands to dig the rocks out of the ground and clear the way for the car to pass through. Stella was on guard and in charge of telling the others not to pass down this road although she wanted to get rough with us too. Now, in the countryside where women are used to working in the house and men outside, it didn’t matter this time. We all worked together to help each other and the men were very thankful for it.

 

Saturday 21st September 2013

I met Muha at 11am as planned and we walked to the old woman’s house together.

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Khadija’s bedroom. In her free time, she enjoys watching comedy shows.

 

Her name is Khadija and she is beautiful. One of the most animated and jubilant character I have met in this village. She prepared Berber tea for us and couldn’t stop hugging and kissing me. At 70 years old, Khadijah has two sons and three daughters. In that moment, I was adopted as her daughter, an addition to the family. I took a few photos of us together and she loved it. Laughter flooded the four walls of the room as we conversed in English, French, Arabic and Berber, with only my French dictionary as a tool for translation.

Later that night…

AHMED: I heard you visited my neighbour today, Khadija.

SARAH: Yes, I did and she adopted me!

AHMED: You are very popular and now famous in Ourika Valley. Everyone knows who you are.

SARAH: But I’ve only been here a few days.

AHMED: You have done much more with the people in the villages than anyone else I know.

 

Sunday 22nd September 2013

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 Kasbah Bab Ourika on top of the mountain

Monday 23rd September 2013

I could feel my heart crumbling as we drove out of the mountains and headed for Marrakech.

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 I have grown to love these people here in Ourika Valley and truly cherished the bond created between us. It was one I had trouble detaching from and leaving behind.

 

SARAH_BEGUM_MOROCCO_IMG_3169My base: Riyad Edward.

IMG_3136Abdelkabe is the manager at the riad  I hopped on his motorbike, walked through a garden, sipped fresh avocado juice at a really trendy bar in town. Marrakech does really come alive at night.

 

Tuesday 24th September 2013

I walked out into the concrete wilderness that one calls Marrakech looking for something, anything to top the inspiration I found in the mountains but nothing came even close. I realised that nothing in this city excites me, nothing inspires me, nothing will ever compare to the village in the mountains. Ourika Valley. Jamaa El Fna – the famous square filled with the famous souks and snake charmers, monkeys, henna artists and money grabbing tourist hunters… 

 

Wednesday 25th September 2013

I was a walking blank canvas, absorbing the ink of my thoughts.

I explored the new part of town but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Something was missing… the soul of Marrakech I have yet to find… What is it that’s missing? Never have I felt this way about a place, the same way I have about a man… something has happened to me… I’ve been captured by the Atlas Mountains!With harsh reality sweeping across my face, or more like slapping it, I accepted my fate here in the drowned out city and decided to walk back picking up a few treats along the way. It took me about 2 hours but I eventually made it back to the Riyad and zoned out!

 

Thursday 26th September 2013

 

I met Soufian at Bab Taghzout to hit the town in local style in Marrakech. It was my only hope of surviving the city.

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 Finally, I could see what was missing. Marrakech is so busy that simple routes of exploration seem to never cross your mind until someone bluntly shows you the way.

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Marrakech was definitely an inspirational city for a hub of artists. French artists at work in the souk.

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 Camera trinkets?

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It seemed almost impossible to take a photo without having to ask permission or pay money in some places in the souk. Tourism seemed to be the main source of income for the city. It was even expensive for the locals.

 

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We walked through the alleyways, shortcut to Jamaa El-Fna and on the bus number 6 to his aunt’s house. His aunt was a very lovely woman. We all enjoyed some Moroccan mint tea and the spaghetti soup as a family. They were such lovely people. En route back to the Medina. Marrakech comes alive at night! The hustle and bustle of the day transforms into something else. We tried a special type of tea made with Berber herbs with added crystal menthol – it was sensational!

 

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 Jamaa El Fna at night – the only time this place really comes to life!

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 Night malls. I often enjoyed getting lost and finding my way back.

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Soufian took me to a stall owned by a friend. A traditional Berber tea with menthol. This tea gave me interesting sensations. Accompanied by a very distinct flavoured traditional cake.

 

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 I sat down to a delightful candle lit dinner by the swimming pool, reflecting on the day I just had. Marrakech couldn’t be that bad after all.

Friday 27th September 2013

On my first  day looking for Jamaa El Fna in Marrakech, I met a fellow traveller and a very talented artist, Eric Olmstead and asked him for directions since he had a map in his hand and a pomegranate in the other. We stayed in touch and planned to meet up.

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I met an artist from LA. He was working on a new sketchbook in Morocco. His brand was “Art for Travel’s Sake“. Steam scorched my eyes as I looked for the food stall 31. There at 32, Eric looked spotted me through the heavy smoke and our eyes locked. I met the other couple from his hostel and we began dining Moroccan style. Somehow after searching for frogs legs, watching Eric not get the hole in the bottle and sipping that strange tea back at stall 70, we decided to set off for drinks. Alcohol is not permitted in Islam and since Morocco is a Muslim country, it is hard to find unless you go to the hotels. Even then, the options are limited. According to certain laws, a lot of other things were not permitted in public such as kissing, etc.

 

Saturday 28th September 2013

 

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 Yves Saint Laurent, Jardin Majorelle was beautiful! It is one of the major tourist attractions in Marrakech. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé discover the Jardin Majorelle in 1966, during their first trip to Marrakech and bought it in 19080, saving it from total disappearance. Reminded me of the Botanical Gardens in New York City. I had to pay my respect.

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 I found my name painted on the walls as I got lost in exploration. Marrakech was certainly showing me signs of love.

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 Walking through the marketplace, I came across a stall made out of rags and held up by recycled materials. I thought it was a pile of rubbish until I turned the corner to notice a man selling vegetables. Rather odd but interesting I thought…

 

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Flies feeding on dead cat.

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Alleyway games

 

Back at the riyad…

SARAH: So many men were harassing me on the streets! In the end, I covered my face like this! (Uses scarf to cover head)

ABDELKEBIR: But you are beautiful and this is nice, so? (Points to my scarf)

SARAH: But this is my protection, it’s not supposed to look nice! (Laughs)

 

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That night I headed into Comptoir, the city’s most popular and expensive restaurant in search of belly dancers. The guard at the door greeted me with a laugh after trying to digest the fact that I came on my own.  I sat on a table next to an English couple. Candles burnt brightly as I peered down. The stars sparkled as I looked up through the roof, revealing the magical night. Breath taking! I lost myself in traditional chicken tajine, sipping mint tea.

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Sweet Love

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The belly dancers swarm in, standing on the tables, dancing around us. One picks me up and I dance in tune to her rhythm then others follow my lead and we take photos to mark the memory.

 

I head up to the bar and order a strawberry mojito. Two French men talk to me and end up inviting me for drinks and desserts. For the next few hours, we conversed entirely in French and I was proud of myself for having learnt new words.  The night traversed into a laugh as we checked out all the women together.

 

A rather large woman walked through the door.

 

ETIENNE: Le King Kong est arrive

PASCAL: HAHAHAHA

SARAH: (Laughs)

 

A woman in a leopard print dress with an hour glass figure walks in through the door.

 

ETIENNE: Elle est la cheetah. Et, le King Kong est ici (points)

PASCAL & SARAH: (Laughs)

 

I left the table, gratified. This French affection has definitely marked a French connection. On my way out,  looking for a taxi, I caught sight of two girls driving past. They were stuck in traffic and called me over.

 

ZOHRA: Hey, where are you trying to get to?

SARAH: Bab Tagzhout

ZOHRA: Ok, come in.

SARAH: Thanks (jumps in the car)

ZOHRA: Do you always do this?

SARAH: Do what?

ZOHRA: Go by yourself like this?

SARAH: I go by myself everywhere. I’m used to it.

ZOHRA: No, this. I mean, you don’t know us and you just got into the car.

SARAH: Oh, I never do this. It’s my very first time.

ZOHRA: And the last time! (Laughs) It can be very dangerous for you here.

SARAH: Yes, I guess it is the last time.

ZOHRA:  So why did you get in?

SARAH: I had a good feeling about you being a good person. So I guess I just went with instinct.

 

Zohra showed me the restaurant she works in. Her friend, Zahra is a singer and she sings in French, Arabic and English. They sampled a few songs for me and invited me to watch them at a piano bar. I was then safely driven back to my riyad where Abdelkebir learnt of my new adventures.

 

ABDEL KEBIR: In 2 weeks time, you will know everyone in Marrakech!

 

Sunday 29th September 2013

 

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Bike to bike

Wednesday 2nd October 2013

Surviving in a country where motorbikes can kill you if you look up or down… So I look ahead, right, left and behind ALL at the same time! Senses alert 100% of the time!

Most of the men in Marrakech are just insane!! I got so irritated by being “chatted up” that I actually took the scarf from my dress and covered my head. That didn’t work so I covered my face with only my eyes showing. Although it reduced the problem by 95%, I added my Ray Ban’s and believe it or not, actually felt liberated and got rid of the problem totally! Now I can understand why women cover themselves. Not because they are forced to and not just because this is a Muslim country but to protect themselves against the animalistic nature of the opposite gender.

As long as I keep my mouth shut and just nod when I need to, I am Moroccan when I need to be… I speak Arabic when I should… When that is limited, I fall swiftly on my French, which does me favours… but if I really struggle then I squeeze out a few words of English and fall flat out on my face and body language… which works. Every. Single. Time. The beauty of language… ay?

Friday 4th October 2013

On route to Ourika…  She’ll be coming round the mountains when she comes. Yee ha! She’ll be coming round the mountains when she comes. Yee ha! She’ll be coming round the mountains, coming round the mountains, coming round the mountains when she comes. Yeeeeeeeeee HAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Atlas! We meet again…

I greeted my loved ones at the Kasbah before descending down to the village. I see Abdel Karim and Syeed with a friend sitting on the roof of an old building and I join them until the sun goes down. Abdel Karim invited me to the waterfalls in Si Fadma the next day.

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 Sing posts back to the city

 

Saturday 5th October 2013

On the motorbike to Si Fadma with AbdelKarim.

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We trekked up the rocks through the little shops to see all the beautiful paths that lead us to the top. Many waterfalls were to be seen. Only one was conquered on this trip.

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An artist selling his calligraphy works and red cedar scented key rings teaches me about the ancient civilizations of Morocco and their origins. I learnt that the Berbers originated near Egypt and migrated to Morocco, Africa and the Arab world. The man was very generous and made me and Abdel Karim key rings with our names in Arabic painted on it. 

 

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I trekked up the rocks in my gladiator sandals, trying hard not to slip down the slopes and finally made it to the waterfalls at the top.

 


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My last day at the Kasbah. The guardians, the waiters, the cooks, the chefs, the maids and all the other people from the Kasbah truly made my experience wonderful! I’m going to miss them.

 

Monday 7th October 2013

 

I decided to take a detour instead of my usual mission of dodging the motorbikes and hailing a cab back to my riad. I was looking for somewhere. Anywhere. I walked into a brand new bar called “Le Klub“. The owner was lying down on his comfy black seats, pondering at his ceiling. He saw me walk in, showed me around and then invited me to the bar for a drink.

 

NASSIM: I’m Moroccan from Marrakech.

SARAH: You don’t look Moroccan.

NASSIM: I know, everyone thinks I’m European because of my face.  

SARAH: How old are you? You look  about 18!

NASSIM: 26

SARAH: No way! Let me see your ID please.

NASSIM: Here you go. My ID. And what about yours?

SARAH: I’m 25. Here’s mine.

Nassim offered to make a cocktail. It was his attempt and probably his last. Slowly his staff arrived and filled the bar.

NASSIM: I’m just going to the garage to pick up my car. It’s been there for over a month and they haven’t fixed it yet. Wanna come?

SARAH: Sure, why not? I’ll come with you. It’ll be nice to see Marrakech with locals.

 

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 The Garage. I was in car parts heaven! I was told that I was the only woman to visit this garage.

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Waiting for repairs

Wednesday 9th October 2013

 

The next few days blurred into nights of adventure, comedy from Muslim alcoholics, sheesha bars, long nights at Le Klub, drama, being the DJ of honour, French jokes, Arabic nights and lots of love and laughter.

 

Sunday 13th October 2013

 

True living, laughing and loving keeps you even more alive.

 

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Amine and Nassim with Nassim’s mattress. I helped Nassim move into his brand new apartment. It was beautiful inside but had no running water or electricity.

 

Monday 14th October 2013

 

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Sisterly Love –  Zahira, ma soeur.

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The Menara Gardens. One of the main tourist attractions in Marrakech. The legend has it that a Sultan seduced his guests over dinner then drowned them in this pool.

 

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Situated in the old Medina, this place is like the Bronx at the end of the world… Gonna miss dodging the craziness during the day and the mayhem at night…

 

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 Marrakech Mornings

 

SARAH: So, how do you celebrate Eid ul Adha here in Morocco?
NASSIM: We kill!
SARAH: Kill what?
NASSIM: The sheep
SARAH: Alrighty…

One of the most bizarre things I watched had to be a sheep sandwiched between two men on a motorbike!


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   Cumin Cure

 

Sitting in African Chic bar, feeling a bit sick…

BARMAN: What’s wrong? Are you ok?
SARAH: I don’t feel too well. It’s my stomach…
BARMAN: I have something for you…

He takes out some pills and I kindly reject them as I can’t read or understand the Arabic label…

BARMAN: Ok, well there’s the traditional option. And it works every time!
SARAH: What’s that?
BARMAN: Water with cumin
SARAH: are you sure about that?
BARMAN: Of course! It’s worked with me. Every time!
SARAH: Must be a Moroccan remedy…

I drink the magic potion.

15 minutes later… My stomach is smiling.

 

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The view at night. Star gazing  sessions.

 

Tuesday 15th October 2013
The alarm coincided with the call to prayer and I forced myself to rise and shine with the sun. With little sleep, I was looking exhausted. I finally made my way to the taxi stand to meet my crew. They were all wrapped up warm.

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 Hot blooded Sarah. Cold blooded crew

SARAH: What’s with the fleece, hats and scarves? Are you guys going to Antarctica or something?
AMINE: We’re going to the mountains, it’s gonna be cold.
SARAH: So am I, but it’s Morocco and I’m warm in my tank top. Must be a British thing. Ha!

 

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 Getting ready for action in the valley that captured my heart. Yes, that is a sheep in the back of the car behind me.

 

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Ourika Valley

 

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Self portrait: Mother Khadija and Me

We made way to my Mother Khadijah. I knocked on her door and waited patiently. When Mother Khadijah opened the door, her face burst into the biggest smile I had ever seen. She was so happy to see me again and hugged me hard, kissed me endlessly. This was my favourite moment of the day. I conversed with Mother Khadijah as she made us traditional Berber offerings. Her son was in the market, buying food for Eid. She had a sheep stacked away, ready for the kill. With three languages under one roof, we had a very entertaining conversation. Mother explained how she wanted me to get married to someone. She asked me which member of my crew I wanted to marry. She then motioned with her hands that I should make a baby. We all laughed hysterically. She then took the ring off her finger and gave it to me. Her generosity touched my heart and it started crumbling to know that I was leaving her, not knowing when we would see each other again. If we would see each other again. I promised her I will come back to visit. She blessed me and with that, I left.

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My crew and I decided to break for lunch in the market before heading off to Soufian’s village. En route, I asked for a cab. Five minutes later, I was stuffed into the back of a cab with a bunch of men, with open back doors. Strange!

SARAH: What’s this?!

SOUFIAN: It’s your cab.

SARAH: This is supposed to be a cab? HAHA

 

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Camera man: Iskander Rami

 

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 Sound man: Amine Arrom

 

 

When we arrived in Soufian’s village, I learnt how the women make their tapestry, explored a tomb in an ancient mosque and finally, got a chance to meet his grandfather once again. Soufian’s grandfather recited a chapter from the Qur’an, blessed me and made sure that I was travelling back safe and sound.

 

The crew and I walked back, but not before I realised I needed the toilet in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere! I crash landed onto bed once I finally made it back.

 

Wednesday 16th October 2013

 

Eid Mubarak from Marrakech! The Azaan calls. Each year, Muslims celebrate Eid ul Adha to mark the end of Hajj, their pilgrimage to Mecca and a major pillar of Islam.

 

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 Eid ul Adha outside my riad.

 

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 Braeem exhibiting wool with his young neighbour

 

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I joined Braeem  and his family for Eid lunch.

 

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I watched as Braeem’s brother and wife made kebabs from all different parts of the sheep. Nothing went to waste.

 

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 The Offering

 

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 Braeem’s daughter and I

 

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Salt and cumin seasoning

 

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 Later that evening, I met Nassim’s friends and neighbours for tea and sweets in the newest part of town.

 

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Families gathered in one room. Moroccan sweets were laid out and Nassim’s friend decided to give me a Moroccan name, Fatimah. Children played, I conversed with a Danish woman who married a Moroccan man and moved to live in Morocco. Her story was a beautiful one. Such is life for those who can stay in one place and settle down.

 

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 Nassim in traditional Moroccan dress on Eid.

 

 

Thursday 17th October 2013 – The last day…

 

I’m in pieces as I’m driven to the airport. I play back all the faces, experiences, encounters,  conversations, explorations and then all the lessons in my mind. Faces of the ones who have made an impact in my life stick.

 

At the airport, I can’t find my ticket, the whole airline help me print it out and make sure I safely reach the plane.

 

 Relief hits me. As does the pain, and the love.

Morocco 2013: I’ve lived. I’ve learnt. I’ve laughed. Most importantly, I’ve loved… in many forms…

 

 

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Sarah Begum

Adventurer. Filmmaker. Explorer. Presenter.

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