Saturday, August 23, 2008

Essaouira

so i promise the posts will become more frequent and less long soon, but while im traveling this is what you get!

8/15- Travel is a relatively new thing to me, well traveling alone that is. I’ve been traveling with my family since I was born, but it wasn’t till my recruitment trip to Santa Clara that I ever stepped on an airplane all by my lonesome. Last summer was the first time I’ve been out of the country without at least one member of my family, and this summer has been the first time I’ve done the journey completely alone. Traveling for me is more than a vacation, it’s a chance to cleanse my soul, and to really take an introspective look at the person I am. This summer, more than ever with the language barrier, I’ve had a lot of time to just sit and think, which sometimes has been great, and others has been difficult, but its really brought me to some realizations. I’ve been sick the last few days, which has led me to a bit of stress, and I’ve just felt like I have some unseen standard or goal I need to accomplish. I’ve been running around, and meeting people, and trying to do this and that, and meet this person, or do this thing, and I really don’t know whose goals I’m trying to meet. So today, right now, I’m doing exactly what I need to do. Its only nine, but I’m home, laying in bed, reading and writing. I’m cleansing. I’m taking full advantage of travel.
This morning I woke up around ten and got ready to go windsurf. I felt pretty shitty, but I came to Essaouira to do this, and I just needed to make myself get out of bed. I was told earlier I needed to be there by 12:30, but it was already eleven, and the walk was about 20-30 minutes, and I needed breakfast, and I wanted to actually update my blog, but I went. Thankfully, at least in my beliefs, God was looking out for me today. I found a quick breakfast, got the fresh squeezed orange juice my failing system needed, and made it too the windsurf school right at 12:30. The day before my body basically crashed because of fatigue, and my thoughts and worries got the best of me, and the mix really wore me down. I was afraid this was going to happen today, because I wasn’t fully awake and I hadn’t really eaten, but when I got to the school, and paid for my lesson, the teacher said he would see me at three. It seems so small, but something like this is why I believe in fate. I was told all week that I could only get a lesson at this time, but even though I wanted to wind surf, I wanted to eat, write my parents an email, and finally update the blog before. I was feeling homesick a little bit, and I just needed to do these things to center myself. This spur of the moment change in windsurfing lessons gave me that opportunity. What would look like to some a minor detour in the day, ended up being such a blessing in disguise for me, and to be honest, a catalyst in reclaiming a positive outlook. I was doing what I needed to be doing.
In the two hours I had to spare, I found an internet café, checked emails, did the blog, and had time to eat. But what was most important was I had time to collect my thoughts. My Mom and I have both been very interested in enlightenment, and eastern religions this year, and I had been thinking a lot about what enlightenment really looks like. When I’ve really prayed and meditated, I’ve felt nothing. But not a bad nothing, nor a good nothing. It’s just nothing. It’s a sense of being there, not wanting anything, nor worrying, or planning. Its almost like having an out of body experience but still being in my head, watching my body act as if it were on autopilot, and seeing time go by as like it were a scene in a play. When I was in Casablanca, when I first meet Adiel, Aida, and Jasmine, and we walked along the beach, with cool ocean breeze, and the sand between my toes, I walked, replying to questions, taking in the sights and sounds, but not thinking, just doing. I remember snapping out and making myself stop and think about what was happening at this moment, how I was in another country, with three complete strangers, speaking of things like we had known each other forever. With this, I felt a high like never before. My body was tingling, my thoughts where pure, and my senses where intensified. In this moment I had decided that instead of having my body run, as if my soul was pressing the cruise control, I wanted to be in the drivers sit, and experience in full each moment, be it good, or bad. At least this is what I thought until yesterday, when a mix of frustration, cold, and fatigue led me to low, and an inability to combat the negative thoughts. I’ve always been a firm believer that there has to be a balance of good and evil in the world, and that those who have experienced the lowest of lows, are the only ones who have the ability to experience a high of the same magnitude. It was in this thought that I gained more insight into what I think enlightenment will feel like. It’s that balance. That moment when there is a complete equilibrium between the lowest of lows, and highest of highs. In that moment, want, desire, yearning, pain, pleasure; all these things will be working as one, to a feeling that is so much, but nothing at all.
After this thought I remembered I’m a kid who likes to ponder things like this, but also dive into shallow pools and do dangerous things, so it was time to counter the serious with the silliness. I paid for a two-hour lesson, and though I only got about an hour fourty of windsurfing, I think it was all I could handle. My instructor was a twenty-year-old surf bum, who lived in a beautiful town, doing what he loved. He spoke a little bit of English, and showed me how to stand up, and turn, and then let me go off on my own, while he spent time on the beach flirting with the local girls. It was great. Windsurfing, though, is amazing. It’s amazingly difficult as well, but having your actions dependent on nature like that is so cool. I ended up being able to stand, and turn my board in a complete 180, and catch enough wind to pull me at a decent speed. It was awesome. Well worth my 50 bucks. I look forward to doing it again.
When my lesson ended, and I was deciding what I should do with my night, whether I should call my friends from the night before, eat shark, drink with the bums, fate took its turn again. I knew I needed to rest tonight, and sit, and try and get past this cold, but its hard to make myself rest while I’m on vacation. But as I passed the lone liquor store, only to see it closed and remember that Friday is a holy day in Islam, I realized this was a direct request for me to go take care of myself. I walked home, sat at the local beach for a bit and stared out at the crashing waves, then returned to my guesthouse to watch a video of an immaculate Arab wedding. I showered in warm water, watched my first Moroccan sunset (which I know seems weird, but I’ve been running around) and now I sit reading and writing, just like I’ve been wanting to do all trip. What a great day.

8/18- Today was a day of tested moral value. Though there is a language barrier, what I’ve found out in my short 21 years on earth is that words only account for such a small part of communication, and most of the time eyes and can speak more words then the lip sever could
The day started out with some pickup basketball at the courts near the beach. I played with Choukri (the unfaithful Moroccan man) as well as Hassan. Its difficult to play basketball outside when there is wind, so to take a shot from further then 10 feet out in Essaouria is almost impossible. We played three on three, first team to four, and as the games progressed, I felt like I was learning a new sport. The game is a lot less physical in Morocco, and almost any contact is foul. You also have to be stationary when you start dribbling, and if you try and start dribbling on the run, its considered traveling (marche). But these new rules didn’t seem to effect our team to much, and we ended up winning until we were finally kicked off the court.
As we walked down the beach road back to the house, Hassan and Choukri began scouting for talent. This was interesting to watch, but these men where definitely professionals. It started with a look, as you kept walking by females walking the opposite direction. Then as they passed by, you turned your neck to see if they did a double take, and if so, then you shoot a wink, and raise the brows a bit, and if all goes as planned, go spark up a conversation. It made me laugh at first, but as I caught a glimpse of the girls they were eyeing, I felt a bit of a lump in my stomach. It dawned on me that I was with two married men, and the girls who they were talking to looked very young. It turns out the younger sister was only 18, but the girl Choukri was interested in was 25, and actually older then the two.
We got the girls numbers, and decided we would meet up for (non-alcoholic) drinks around ten, and then went on our way. As soon as the girls were out of site, we found another two, and Choukri and Hassan started again. It was weird because, although I wasn’t the one talking nor getting numbers, it just felt a bit wrong to me. We walked, and as the two chatted up the opposite sex, I thought about my stance on what was happening. Either way, whether I wanted to participate or not, I was impressed with the social skills of the two.
Before the rendez-vous, I went with Hassan’s younger sister Hajaar to watch some local music. We walked through a couple dark allies, and found ourselves in a small colorfully tiled room packed with people. All the musicians were wearing traditional garb, and they all played clappers except for one man who played an Arabic bass. Everyone was pushed together around the musicians, and with a few people dancing in the ,iddle. At one point the musicians, who I think were high up religious men, did a synchronized dance, with jumping, spinning, and a lot of moves from and to the knees. It was quite a site. There were kids as small as 6, and men up to what I think would be 80 (give or take 20 years depending on nicotine and caffeine intake). As my mind started to wonder a little bit, a girl next to me began flailing wildly. Her arms went wild, and if I were deaf, I would have thought she were at a heavy metal show. The girl got pushed through the crowd and into the dance, where she was then harnessed with a scarf and somewhat held up while she continued to rock out. I don’t really know what was happening, but it reminded me of the one time I saw someone speak in tounges at my Grandma’s church. Both this girl, and the women at the church, were caught up in something which looked as if they couldn’t control their own bodies. Though this girl’s spiritual consumption was more physical, but are quite moving sights.
This set the tone for the night, because what was to come was also filled with interesting sights. At ten, as promised, we met with the girls, and were on our way. Hassan was at work, so this rendez-vous quickly turned into a double date. As Choukri and Zakia Immediately fell into their own conversation, I found myself in an interesting situation. I was now playing wingman for a 24-year-old married Moroccan man. Now I know its every man’s duty to do this once in awhile for his friends, but the fact that I can barley make sentences in French, and I know about three Arab phrases, really made my job difficult. But I think I passed with flying colors. The wingmanee was named Salima and was about to start university. We struggled through a conversation until we got to the café, where we all sat together. My role tonight was comic relief. Instead of trying to speak in French, the group had me repeat the Arabic words for the parts of the face, and laughed wildly. I also had quite a reaction when I told them the one Arabic word I already knew before I came, Haraar, which so nicely translates into shit in English. Technology also came into play, and we all took pictures and watched videos on cell phones.
It ended up being a pretty nice little date, and as Zakia and Choukri began to get close, I did my best to keep my pseudo-date as unromantic as possible. I thought I got some aid from Caroline, as my phone buzzed with a text, but when I announced it was my girlfriend, it didn’t seem to phase anyone. I guess infidelity is common in Essaouria. We left the café, and headed on our way back into the Medina, where we found Hassan and a large group of women. Two were white Italian women he met at work in the Hammam (reoccurring theme?) and the others where actually related to Zakia and Salima. I think two where cousins, but I one recognized from the photos on Zakia’s phone. Her name was Hakeema, and from now on will be referred to as SMAMW (sexy middle aged Moroccan women). We all talked for awhile, with the Moroccans in one conversation speaking Arabic, and myself and the Italians in another speaking English. The family of Moroccan girls decided to call it a night, and the four remaining persons decided to head to Choukri’s.
This is where the night took a turn for me. Choukri’s place was very nice. It was a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment with a big fancy TV and a few couches. The Italian women had never smoked Sisha before (for those in the higher age group, not hash, but a very mild form of tobacco smoked out of a water pipe) so we all sat around the hookah, and listened to an eclectic mix of wordly music. Choukri and Hassan had been telling me about when they were paid to be extras in Alexander and Kingdom of Heaven, and so he grabbed a stack of pictures and began to pass them around. After the film pictures came, then came pictures of him in referee school, followed by the ones of him and his wife, as well as a two-year-old son. This came as a shock to me, as well as to the Italian women. Choukri continued to pass out photos, and showed one of a Spanish woman who he dubbed his “next wife.” The Italian women asked him if he was divorced, and with a look in his eyes I hadn’t seen before, he said yes. He got pretty quiet after this, and then began to smoke a cigarette. He had told me earlier he didn’t smoke, and as he took long drags, he stared at the floor. I guess the Italian women’s reaction to his antics really got to him, and as I sat in the smokey room, watching Hassan dance, Choukri sulk, and the Italian women take in the moment, it hit me what was bugging me earlier. I was concerned about my morals. I knew both these guys had wives, and with the recent news of Choukri being a father, I really began to feel bad for aiding and assisting in their devious encounters. I was pretty quite for the rest of the night, and as I got home I prayed and thought about what this all meant for me. But as my eyes began to get heavy, I realized that my intention in all this was to meet people in a different culture, and take in the sights. As long as I was clear that I had no love interest in these girls, and stayed faithful to my relationship, I should have no moral qualm.

The final two days
After having my realization the night before, I came into day one of the final two in a better mood. Both days looked very similar in form, but the actual happenings of the events where quite different. Each day we went and played basketball at three, then had random meetings with the Casablanca girls, then a fun night out. But if that was all I had to say, I probably shouldn’t have a blog.
Basketball ended up being pretty frustrating because of the nonsense international rules (I know that’s an ugly American comment, but come on! Basketball is the one thing that the US has ever actually created, and we still some how have different rules then the international standard). In Morocco taking three steps is legal, but it’s a foul to swat the ball from someone’s hands when they are dribbling. I didn’t get the rules at all, but the fact I was playing basketball in Morocco, with a bunch of Arab kids, near the beach really made up for the frusteration. Besides the first day, I ended up being loosing teams. what can you ?
I guess since I met the guys, my checklist in Essaouira changed, but thats what traveling is about, Having initial perceptions that completely fluctuate once you arrive. Plus, I realized that the shark that looked so appetizing the first night, was the same shark sitting in the ice the next day, and the following, and the one after that…so I had to find a substitute. This came with out question in the final two days, with a fish feast, and a traditional Moroccan family platter. With the poisson, we ended up buying the seafood at a market, then the bread at a bakery, then cooking all of it at a hole in the wall Moroccan restaurant where you can grill your own fish. I had never seen anything like this, where all the customers where the cooks, but our food was great. We had Kalamaria, Sardines, Shrimp, and a bigger fish I didn’t know the name of. It was excellent. The next day for lunch, the women cooked, and we ate at home, but it was still quite eventful. The dish consisted of an olive-based sauce spread over chicken and crepes, all in one large dish, eaten with the hands by everyone. The food was great, but what made the lunch eventful was the family feud that ensued. From the bedrooms very close to the table, I heard Marium, the oldest sister, start screaming at Hajaar, the youngest. I had no idea why, but then I heard a smack, and La Haardisha (mom), Hassan, and Niama, the youngest, all ran into the room. The yelled for what seemed like hours, which in reality was probably ten or so minutes, so loudly. Through the curtains I heard squels, and tears, as I sat awkwardly reading my French textbook, hoping for any reason to leave the house. This was the second fight I heard in four days of staying in this house.
The nights, although very eventful, were quite the opposite, and both filled with lots of fun. The moral realization gave me excitement for the night, and as I left the house the first night, Hassan only showed me to the door, because he was staying in to be with his wife. Again we met the two girls, went to the café, played games, took pictures, and left. We then went to the top of the Kasbah to watch the waves crash, and again Salima and I where in an awkward situation as the other two ran off. To ease the tension, I began asking what if questions in French, and then we sang songs she knew from the US. At one point Salima asked me what the other two where doing, and I replied embrasser, kiss in French. She couldn’t understand my accent so I closed my eyes, made a kissy face, and a loud kissing sound. We laughed, and the other two heard us, and we convinced them to move on.
Our final destination was a hidden dance club near the Kasbah. It was on the top floor of a hotel, with a DJ, and a huge mix of Moroccans and Travelers. We saw our Italian friends there, then sat down our things, and began to dance. The club had really good music, with a mix of hip-hop, Arab, and house. We all danced wildly, spinning, and jumping with the rest of the floor until about two o clock when we called it a night. Choukri walked me home, and I thought I would have to sneak in the house quietly, but to my suprise i found the family just sitting down to eat dinner.
My final night coincided with the first night of the Essaouria music festival. It started at ten this evening, and since everyone was running pretty late, I went by myself at first. The stage was at the entrance of the mediana, and people where lined from the guard rails of the stage to the wall that lines the ocean. The first band was an Arab jam band, which got the crowed wilderyone was jumping around, swinging in circles arm in arm, and just having a good time. There were barely any people standing still, and as I began to get self-conscience dancing by myself, I found Niama, and jumped in the mosh pit of his friends. There was a fancy hotel bar on a roof, which had a great view, so I decided to sneak up there for the second band. It was actually easier then I thought, and as I listened to the traditional Berber music, I found out my secret agent ability saved me from having to by a twenty-dollar pint like the other fools on the roof. I watched the crowed move, and saw patterns of bodies grooving in synchronization that looked like a wave crashing from one side of the stage to the other. I felt like a VIP, but then decided that I would rather dance with the crowed, then snooze on the balcony.
I met up with Choukri and Hassan, as well as Salima, Zakia, SMAMW, Fatima-zarah, and a new Marium. We went to go eat, and then at 1:30, went back to the stage where the concert was still rolling. We got the end of another traditional band, which few people danced too, but then got to partake in the largest, most sporadic dance party I’ve ever seen. The loud speakers boomed with a song by a guy named H-kayne, and as the roadies fixed the set, easily 20,000 people shook their hips. It was incredible. This must be one of the biggest songs in Morocco because the entire area went nuts. The song ended, but the energy stayed high as a funk/punk rock band from Essaouria came on to close the show. The entire crowd danced like those obnoxious people at a concert who, if you are them, are way fun, but if you aren’t them, you try and dub as obnoxious, but really your just jealous of the fun they are having. We jumped around, did summersaults, lifted people on shoulders, danced in circles, did the train, and anything else a person could imagine. When the clock struck three, and the last chord faded out, I knew the night had come to an end. As we walked the girls, and SMAMW, to the taxis, I thought about how the next day I would just be another tourist, running around on my own. Before this summer I’ve never been lucky enough to have perfect ending to anything, but with this, and my send off weekend from Boulder and Littleton, I have to say my luck has changed. Essaouria gets an A in my book.
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