heiko rudolph

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Morocco ... a travelogue   page 2 of 5

Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2006 10:29:02 From: heiko....@....
Subject: hr3

Here's what happened next with the ‘nice' girl at the internet cafe.

Yes, she was a nice girl by Australian standards (but this was not Australia). She helped me change the keyboard settings to International and asked about where was I from? and told me that she lived in Belgium and had a father there and a Moroccan mother blah blah.... and was this my first time in Morocco ?, and did I travel alone etc... ? being a 'nice' girl I thought, ok I can tell her the truth... that: yes I travelled alone and this was my first time (it's usually not a good idea to admit to this) - famous last thoughts blah blah blah... to cut the story short: she invited me to drink tea with her mother... and her grandmother.... Hm...??? I knew there had to be more to it than that, but they were probably just going to try to sell me a carpet or something like that - I should be ok with that -I thought...

On the way, she told me how bad the stealing in Morocco was and I had to be careful etc... I got a little more suspicious and sure that they would try to sell me something, but I was also curious. There was something not right here, she was nervous and when I told her I would not buy anything she said of course not etc...No no, there's nothing else about it.... sure I thought, but I'll see what is going on here....

In two minds I followed her, I knew there was funny shit going on, very funny stuff. .... I was wondering what the hell this was going to lead to.... sure enough up some stairs and round and round. and there was the old granny, and then.....there was the "mother", tea was being served. The mother by her looks although a family relation was more an older sister. I turned on my mobile just in case ... then the "mother" proceeded to apply makeup to herself and suddently the penny dropped...and I'm sure by now you've all worked out the real deal here. Rather embarrassed at my slowness in 'getting it', I told them I had to go, rather urgently....erhumm.... sorry not interested.

I did remember the way out, and noticed the stares of the people in the neighbourhood, obviously this is a common rouse. Phew... ok another thing learnt.

Upon later reflection: clever ! Use a relatively innocent person as bait...that threw me, I thought of the “buy carpets or whatever deal” but I didn't expect that angle at all. Though in hindsight there were many little warning signals: her body lingo would have told me things were not as they seemed.

I think from now: I will always have been to Morocc at least once before (i.e. to appear less innocent, less ‘green'), I will have a friend back at the hotel who is sick today and therefore could not come today (but who will miss my absence immediately). And I of course also have an expat friend in Rabbat who works for the Embassy and invited me here, I'm travelling around while she works. That should be a good starting point as a general cover story if things seems fishy...

Later I discussed this online and got the following feedback: “.....Did you really think you were just getting free tea and a chat ? While I agree with the OP that sometimes people are just being friendly ... well before you got anywhere buddy you said you had a bad feeling! And when you are travelling the 1st rule is "Trust your instincts!" and the second rule is "Trust your instincts now!".

Good advice and a timely reminder...

Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2006 03:22:13
Subject: hikks

Now in Rabat, the capital of Morocco: just a quick sign of life, off to Chellah today, the old Roman ruins and Necropolis... then a nearby village.

I think Morocco is do able on your own (without a tour), I've highlighted the exciting bits, but mostly its been walking, eating, searching for hotels... etc... The usual travel life.

I have a lovely hotel right now, family run, tiny, super clean, inner courtyard, close to everything, this being the capital there are expats and tourist here, its quiet, haven't had anyone approach me or try to sell me stuff all of yesterday. In fact Manilla, Phom Phen and Hanoi are all much worse for this kind of thing than anywhere in Morocco so far (touch wood).

Discovered lovely yoghurt with fruit salad and honey and nuts etc... so nice. They also have a place here called 7th art, its an art house cinema, cafe, half outdoors, really lovely and friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The students and the richer set go there, hang out there but it has something of Melbourne's Brunswick street about it.

Found a shop with old Baroque antiques, cram packed to the top, its like walking into Ali Baba's cave. Each of the pieces are exquisite and they are all packed into this shop, with chandeliers (turned on), and old furniture, old tables, lamps, pictures...huge ornate vases... all just a step away from ordinary big city street. ok gotta go heiko

Date: Thu, 6 Jul 2006 11:43:49
Subject: Moroccan musings from Rabat (capital city)

some snapshots: 1) Traffic lights and road rules here a 'recommendation' only, take them as a guideline if you will, - nice if you follow them, but you don't absolutely have to. You can cross whenever there is a gap at your own risk, actually come to think of it: everything is always at your own risk anyway :-P

2) Here, you always know the VERY second the traffic lights change, because the cars in the back will honk their horns, to make sure the front guys don't miss a moment. Its a good signal to tell you to run if you are halfway across the road, because unlike Oz, where there is a safety margin built into the system, the lights here change green -> red instantly, with no early warning or anything. Now wasn't that a useful piece of information ?

3) Trains here are soo sooo well organized, clean, on time and frequent. Tourist going to the train information counter:
Heiko: "do you speak english ?"
Info Lady: "no, Arabic, French, - why do you speak Arabic ?"
At this stage Heiko entertains the crazy vain hope he might have managed to blend in and be mistaken for a Moroccan. (erhummm......)
Heiko: (smiling, surprised ) "why... do I look Arabic ? "
Info Lady: "No - do I look English ?"
Heiko : "....uhhmmm well no", - general laughter, point taken. I obviously look like the tourist I am.

Let's try again for the real information: Heiko: " ... tomorrow, .....train..... Marakesh...?"  - and she gives me a preprinted little ticket with all the train times going from Rabat to Marakesh, including arrival times.
First train at 3:40am, Erhummmm ... I'll pass that one I think....this is supposed to be a holiday after all. Save ridiculous times for international air travel instead.

4) ..... couldn't find anything to eat for breakfast in the city, the shops at the old quarter (the 'Medina') weren't open yet. Feeling hungry and grumpy, I'm walking along, overtaking a few people on the way to the old Roman ruins of Sala Colonia and Chellah. One guy on crutches and suit jacket is moving between the parked cars. I heard a big "clunk" sound. "Oh that must the crutch of the guy I just passed". "Crutch certainly sounds loud", I think to myself. "Monsieur, Monsieur....." very insistently. Even though I have my 'ignore cries for money and offers of tours' - spam filter on, for some reason I turn around anyway. There are a group of Moroccan men, some in suits & ties others in shirts without ties waving to me. The man with the crutch is holding up my digital camera. That was what had made the loud "clunk" sound.

I was sooooo grateful and kept saying "mercy" (the total of my French) and bowing like a Japanese. I felt guilty for having tried to ignore them intiatially. Thoughts of offering the finder money crossed my mind, but it would have seemed an insult. By the time I recovered sufficiently to think of inviting him for a coffee, he had moved on. Once before in Oz the velcro holding the loop of the camera had come loose. It fell on the ground from my bike. This time I went to the hotel and sewed up the Velcro loop, bugger the convenience of easy release, its not worth the risk.

5) Following the winding convolutions of the Medina, the old city, I stop outside a tiny room, really tiny, laughter and waves of "come in, Welcome" greet me. I enter - 9 guys, half of them with blowtorches sit on benches making silver jewellery. each has a different part to play. Its a conveyor belt system off sorts, but the work seems to be done as a by product of the chatter and talking .the tourist provides some new interest. I'm shown the delicate work they do, really delicate stuff.

If I'd seen this in the market I would have wondered if a machine had made this, but here they actually make it by hand. Of course I'm offered a few pieces to look at and buy, but I just wave it aside with a laugh and its fine, they continue to ask me where I'm from, "first time in Morocco....football, etc....." Then the leader, not one of the 9 shows me upstairs, its sort of a mezzanine floor, the room up there is half height, there is a gas cylinder heating a small furnace red hot, melting the brass off-cuts to be re-used. A boy sits watching it.

The room is divided into two section, the other section holds another 2 guys, and 4 free benches They all cheerfully show me what they are doing, half finished stuff, and I see how its going to fit together in the end. then they get on with their work. Ever the philosopher I am of course very grateful that I don't work in a place like that, but then come to think of it... but most of all I was struck by the social nature of their work, I think given the situation, it was that which really made it bearable and possible for them. (No I'm not advocating open plan offices, because its not the open plan, its the cultural social element that was important here)

6) on the odd occasion, every few days I see people here disagree openly, having it out on the street verbally only of course. The internet place I'm writing this from is crowded with 6 PC's, 3 phone booths and a few people hanging about. Just now, some argument ensured and two guys were gesticulating shouting and arguing. So far I've never felt any physical threats from one to the other, its been just shouting. Talk about a fiery temperament! Everyone here just smiles secretively and goes on with their work, 'such things happen' , 'cest la vie'. In Australia such and outburst would have everyone ducking their heads, here its just part off the background noise... a temporary spike, but pink Gaussian noise nonetheless.

I've noticed from the body language, tone of voice, and behaviour, quite a few couples, having relationship issues out on the street, talking, (no shouting in these cases), obviously discussing major issues of their relationship.

In one case in Fez: the girl walks up to guy, tells him off in no uncertain terms, tosses her hair and stalks off, guys follows, imploring...etc... you get the idea. Soap opera stuff, but real life. Life happens on the streets.......

this kind of openess is different from my own Culture, its not better or worse. One culture may think of itself as more 'open' or whatever, but in the end I've found that each culture is proud to be just what it is. A culture/society puts out some reasons for being proud of itself, and if you take those reasons at face value you will find many of them have holes in them, => but in the end really its simply about being proud to be the culture you have. There is no point to say you are proud of your culture.... for being the most this or that...., its far easier to just say you are proud to be what you are. No need to make it "the most this or that..."...because if you do, someone will come along and find an exception, academics especially are good at finding those rare exceptions :-)

I guess like a colour scheme a culture is the product of all its people, and it will suit each person more or less and probably none of them entirely.

7) Money: buying things: buying breakfast: I point to a bottle of yoghurt, a coconut biscuit, and a triangle of sticky honey, nutty things. no idea what it will cost, but pretending (very unsuccessfully) that I do this every day I just hold out a 10 Dirham coin and some extra one Dirham coins, the guy tosses back the extra coins, takes the 10 and gives me back a whole lot of change. Same at the internet place: I say1 hour 20 mins, ok: "make it 10 Dhiram", "no no", he says, and tosses me a one Dirham coin. A whole lot of French follows which I think was supposed to mean, "you gotta get it right, etc... "

Buying water, and a boiled egg, I push a 10 Dh coin to the shopkeeper. He gives me back some change. Then as I walk out he thrusts out a hand with a half Dirham coin. Wow.

Same shop next day: I pick up a baguette stick, thrust a handful of coins and notes at him. He picks what is required, holds up the two coins he's taken to let me know. I nod, take my handful of coins and notes back and leave. End of transaction. No words required.

But if you go where there are lots of loud, noisy tourists then of course, the situation is different. Prices double and triple.. What would I do if I earn $3/day, and I see a whole lot of money loaded ignorant foreigners noisily wandering about ? Double the prices of course... :-P

8) It has been said that humans are creatures of habit: True in my case. Ironically, the more I travel between cities the more I like routine when I DO stay in one place for a few days. Even within just a few days of staying in Rabat, I have my fixed routes, - the breakfast shop, one of the few that opens early. - the internet shop, where the computers work well, - the lunch spot, where Rashid the waiter knows me, welcomes me with a "Bonjour monsieur" and I make sure to give him a tip every time so he looks after me quickly and well. The nice thing about such a routine is that people remember you, "oh hello its YOU again, how are you ?" and I start to get to know them, we might even chat, and ask about each other's country (in my non existent French, and their basic English). Still I'm surprised at myself at how unadventurous I am within one city, I really do like the same restaurant... cafe... internet... dinner places... until its time to move to the next city and do it all again there...

Of course the excursions in between vary but the foundations of food and internet and accommodation I like them to be stable. Luckily holidays don't last forever or it would become boring. Come to think of that kind of routine is the life I have in Australia...hm....hm.... there's a thought....

I once when I was younger and even more foolish than now, I met a guy in his late 60's whom I had met 10 years earlier. He had been travelling like this for all this time. Perhaps he'd been made redundant somewhere and lived off his pension. Certainly there are worse ways to spend your retirement - and better ones too I guess.

all for now Heiko

PS: if this is starting to bug anyone let me know and I'll take you off the list. don't worry, the holiday won't last that long and then I'll shut up again :-P

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© 2006 heiko rudolph

'dance me to the children that are asking to be born....'    Leonard Cohen