Days 1 & 2: Shukran

NOTE: This is the first entry in my “From Main To Morocco” blog series, chronicling my ten-day trip to various cities in the country of Morocco. Click here to read more entries in this series.

Shukran is Arabic for “thank you.” It is the first Arabic phrase I have learned (and used) while I’ve been here. However, it also sums up so much about this day. Morocco is a place unlike any other I have ever visited.

But first, I had to actually get here.

[You’ll have to forgive me here. I’m actually consolidating the events of two days into one entry. Since so much of the true first day was spent on various airplanes, it hardly feels like actual time went by. More like … standby time.]

Going on just an hour and a half of sleep (don’t ask), my great aunt Judy picked me up at my apartment in Chattanooga around 7:00 in the morning. I stumbled and fumbled, attempting to finish the packing job I had abandoned around 5:15 that morning (a decision made partly due to an insomnia-influenced lack of deductive reasoning). I said a very long goodbye to my wife, and then to my son, who responded by lying face-down on the floor and crying his heart out.

[Not really. He actually did that because Michelle wouldn’t let him have the leftover pizza that I had left sitting on the kitchen table from the night before. But I’d like to pretend it was for me. Don’t ruin my version of the story.]

We took a shuttle to Atlanta, where everything went as smoothly as it possibly could. I love the Atlanta airport. It is huge, and even slightly intimidating, but it is remarkably well organized. You always know where you are going, when you need to be there, and what you need to have with you when you arrive. Some of the airports we visited afterward made me appreciate this even more.

The less said about Montreal, the better. That airport was a nightmare. And if it wasn’t for one decent man who went above and beyond to help us with a baggage situation, I would have lost serious faith in humanity. Instead, I have just lost serious faith in the humanity of the employees of the Montreal airport — with the exception of that particular man. I wish I knew his name.

We arrived in Casablanca early this morning, nearly twenty-four hours after we left Chattanooga. The airport doesn’t quite offer the same rich cultural experience for which the city is generally known, but I knew it wouldn’t. I’d like to go visit the city proper someday, if only to pretend I could be as cool as Humphrey Bogart.

From Casablanca, we flew to Marrakech. And … well … here we are.

Here in Marrakech, the most common spoken languages are Arabic and French. We heard plenty of French in both Montreal, but there was still some English being spoken as well. By the time we made it to Casablanca, the English options were drying out. Were it not for Eric, my second cousin, we would be in serious, serious trouble. He speaks for us here, haggling the prices on taxis, ordering food for us, and giving us the rundown on various local customs so that we don’t appear quite so tourist-ish.

We still appear quite tourist-ish.

Tonight, we experienced the Jemaa El Fna, a square which TimeOut’s Guide to Marrakech describes as “uncontained, disorderly, untainted by grandeur or pomp, untamable by council or committee” and “nothing less than bedlam.” While I didn’t find that description entirely accurate, it was still completely unlike anything I have ever before witnessed. Imagine an open-air market mixed with a carnival, set it at night, and then turn the volume up two clicks past the max.

Jemaa El Fna

Jemaa El Fna ("Assembly of the Dead") at night.

We ate a kind of soup that was remarkably similar to minestrone, followed by kebabs of beef, chicken, lamb and vegetables. It was all fantastic. And, despite Judy’s warning to me while we were still in Atlanta … yes, there were french fries.

Dining in Jemaa El Fna

Dining at Jemaa El Fna.

The beggars in Marrakech are relentless. Erik told us as much as we made our way to the square, but I wasn’t ready for how accurate his warnings would be. They will do anything they can to get your attention, and if you so much as make eye-contact, it’s over — you’re not going to be left alone until you part with some of your dirham. Plus, they’re much more aggressive about getting what they want than the panhandlers I am used to in Chattanooga. While we were eating, an older woman walked by our table, grabbed a handful of food off of my plate, and just kept on walking. I was too stunned to even give a reaction.

After we ate, we walked around the square a bit. We watched an interesting game where the objective was to put a ring around the top of a two-liter bottle by means of a fishing pole. Nobody won. There were also a few groups of musicians sitting in the square with circles of people surrounding them, plus what appeared to be an impromptu boxing match.

Perhaps there is a little bit of bedlam in there after all.

And now I sit in the hotel room, chronicling these events. I’m looking longingly at the bed, knowing that as soon as I close this laptop, I’ll be under its sheets. Within ten minutes, I’ll more than likely be asleep.

Judy, thank you for this amazing opportunity. Erik, thank you for being our guide and, in many ways, our savior. Michelle, thank you for being such an amazing wife and allowing my great aunt to borrow me for a bit. Ten days is too long to be without you, and I will see you and Liam again so very soon.

And to everyone reading this, shukran. I’ll see you all again tomorrow night, when I’m sure I will have even more to report.

Until then … goodnight and sleep tight. I know I will.


About [rlh]

Ryan L. Haddock is an aspiring writer, emphasis on the "aspiring." He mostly writes short stories, but that is only because he doesn't seem to have the attention span necessary to write a novel. At least, not yet. He is also a husband and a father . . . yet he is still struggling valiantly against the notion that he has to grow up. View all posts by [rlh]

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