Alone in Marrakech

Story and photo by Jeremy Sorgen
ATW Marrackech Jeremy Sorgen

Far away, in one of the pink towers that stands tall among the simple stucco houses, a faltering voice recites incantations over a loudspeaker. But here, keeping pace in the step of the souk, no one seems to notice. Berbouch vendors continue stirring their snail soup, motorized bicycles release a growl as they weave through the crowded dirt passages, and iridescent hues of orange and green dance in the corners of my eyes as merchants air their fine woven pashminas.

Marrakech, smack in the center of Morocco, is hot, dry and intense. In comparison to the chaos of New York City, Marakech retains all of the fury, but is much more of a mess. And somewhere caught in between, the tourists are decked out in Hawaiian t-shirts, baseball caps and hiking boots, trudging through the Kasbah like lost camels—bemused and bewildered.

On my last night, I missed my plane and was stranded in the airport. Not having any other option, I bought a ticket for the next day and took a taxi back to town.

I decided to eat out that night. I made my way across the main plaza— between the monkeys and percussionists—toward the open-air stands with their naked light bulbs shimmering through the billows of kebab smoke that blow west across the square. The European tourists were lined up along the buffet, eating copious portions of grilled vegetables and meat for pennies. But the idea of sitting shoulder to shoulder with them, bumping elbows as I tried to down another bland and soupy tagine, didn’t exactly appeal to me. I saw the Moroccan tourists were all crowded around another cart. I could not see what they were eating through the smoke and by the time I was close enough, it was too late.

“Come-on-Anglaise-you-sit-down-good-it’s-good-you-Anglaise…” he spewed at me in a single syllable, gesturing the whole time to the space on the bench just in front of the great big steaming cauldron. There, lined up along the counter, were half a dozen sheep heads—their eyes sunken into peeling flesh, bearing their last look of horror, jeering upwards at the dinner guests. Almost instantly, a good-sized bowl of sheep head parts was slopped down in front of me along with a greasy piece of bread. Most of what I ate that night was a mystery to me. I had cheek and brain, but when I inquired about the orange, spongy substance, the cook only squeezed his nipple and twisted his face, sticking his tongue out the right side of his mouth and bulging his eyes, just like the sheep. I didn’t ask any more questions, cleaned my plate, and paid the twenty dirams.

In a land of golden grain, exotic spice and archaic architecture interlaced with the elegance of rich dyes and colored mosaic tiles, the central philosophy in survival may be their greatest artistry: haggling. I remember the pride and bravado with which a muscular Moroccan merchant, hardened inside and out, described the quality of his tapestries as he might have bragged in other circles about his children, the whole time pounding on his chest with his index finger and laughing in deep drawls as he duped my dad out of three times what he should have paid.

It’s strange coming home. Here, I am most aware of my privilege and I feel a strong sense of responsibility, an obligation, to live my life to the fullest, to pursue it aggressively and relentlessly. But then, with time, this clarity of purpose seems to set itself further and further back, just as a beautiful and bright thing recedes into the sunset of familiarity. These moments of charged ambition come and go as I get caught up with immediate trivialities. And sometimes, we must be shaken awake to be given a whole new perspective.

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One Comment

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  1. margotmarrakesh May 15, 2008 — 5:30 am

    It’s reassuring to hear about a tourist who wasn’t overcharged eating alone at a table in the square! Thanks for sharing.

    Margot in Marrakesh

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