So many people! Our first stop was Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, a city of 3.5 million people. Here, we encountered the traffic, the noise, and the perpetual motion of busy lives.
And here also, we were fortunate to experience the legendary hospitality of the Moroccans. Abdellah did not know me when I sent him an email, but he replied immediately with his phone number and an invitation to call when I got to Casa. An hour after I called he was at our hotel, dressed in his warmest jellaba against the chill of the evening, and ready to show us the sights of his city. After driving us around, he invited us to his home for tea and coffee. Here, we met his wife and children, saw how the average Moroccan lives, and spent an hour satisfying our curiosity about their daily lives. Their warm hospitality to total strangers gave us a wonderful welcome to the country that put us in a relaxed state of mind for the next two weeks of exploration and discovery.
We saw two completely different faces of the Moroccan people. In the medinas and the cities, the pace was hectic, harried and hassled. But just outside the gates, we encountered tranquil souls, apparently passing the time in quiet reflection, appreciating the moments of the day. Even inside the medinas, the mosques and medersas were havens of stillness against the currents of the moving crowds.
We were prepared for some bargaining. Fixed prices are not part of the Moroccan way of doing business. But the extent to which every purchase must be negotiated is amazing. Inevitably, the participant with the best knowledge of the item's value, and the most time to spare, comes out the winner. Unique handicrafts picked up at roadside stands for one-quarter the asking price were inevitably available in the hotel shops for half of what we paid. I guess the difference is what you pay for the street theatre, the entertaining acts vendors put on to make you buy.
Wandering past Place Mohammed V in Casablanca, we encountered a crowd of people in colourful dress carrying bendirs and darbukas (drums), andirs (trumpets), guimbris and kanzas (strings). The dozen different groups distributed themselves around the fountain. After a lengthy preparation involving warming the bendirs over charcoal braziers, the entertainment began. Mock swordfights, dances, chanting, the beating of drums, a feast for the eyes and ears. The rhythms told us that we were indeed in Africa. There was rarely a day when we didn't encounter music and dance.
The spirit of free enterprise. We turned a corner in the Fes medina, and there was this boy, sitting backwards on a donkey. This was definitely a photo opportunity! And a money-making opportunity for the boy. He asked (and received) five dirhams for the photo.
We had been warned that many Moroccans do not like to have their picture taken. Indeed, groups of women would hide or wave us off if a camera was pointed even vaguely in their direction. On the other hand, people in picturesque situations were quick to demand payment for the use of their image.
There were children everywhere. We should not have been surprised, more than 50% of Morocco's 30 million are under 20. Some were shy and avoided our glances, but most were eager to run up and greet us, "bonjour monsieur, bonjour madame", and they would gaze up with their big brown eyes. And then they would demand "un dirham".