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Do you feel touristic is a word in English? I never have myself, but my former students used to always use it, in spite of the gallons of red ink I spilled telling them not to. And really, why shouldn’t it be?
But I digress, before I’ve even started.
Many of you have recently read Ilsa’s description of our trip to the Oudayas, and Abel’s description of our trip to the Chellah. I thought I’d fill in the blanks a little bit, and add another perspective.
Ilsa wrote of our trip to the Oudayas, which she called the Casbah or the pirate fort. All are appropriate names. It was built in the 12th century as a place for soldiers from the Spanish wars, and it contains a castle, which gives it the right to call itself the Casbah (although that word can just mean ancient quarter of an Arab city as well). At some point, it was appropriated by pirates. Since the Oudayas are right on the mouth of the river, on a bit of rocky coastline, story has it that pirates used to offer to guide the ships over the rocks, and would instead guide them onto the rocks and then plunder the sinking vessels. Later, a tribe called Oudaya moved in, hence the name.
At some point around the turn of the last century (i.e. not a couple of years ago), the interior was all built up in a sort of Spanish style. It’s charming. There are narrow, paved alleyways that twist and turn, all painted blue and white. A community of about 3000 live there, of which approximately 60 are European.

Donn and I want to live there. We could deal with all the tourists walking by on the weekends, couldn’t we? There’s even a public phone!

We’re not really going to, although prices are reasonable for the city. It’s just too far from the kids’ school. But we’re tempted, really tempted.

We wandered in, right behind these people,

and were immediately accosted by a woman doing henna, which Ilsa described. After a fairly long conversation in which I explained that we lived here, we weren’t tourists, and we’d had henna done many times before, she said she wanted to do just one flower–”for me,” she insisted. Ilsa, who was sitting down taking off her sneakers and putting on her new bright orange sandals, gave that look of longing and great expectation, and the woman saw it. One thing I have learned in walking the streets of Africa is how important facial expression is. If you even look the teensiest bit interested, it’s all over.
You know the rest. She did much more than “one flower, just for her.” She could see from my face that I was less than thrilled. “Pay me whatever you like,” she crooned, and then complained when I paid her 20 dirhams, which I felt was appropriate. She left us alone after that, though, and when we ran into her later, in a group of other henna women, and one of them starting saying “Just one flower, madam, for me!”, she obviously told them that we were hers. If you visit us, we promise not to abandon you in their hands.
After that, we spent our time just wandering the tiny little cobblestone roads, admiring the way people had taken pride in their houses, visiting art galleries. Eventually we made our way to a large open space that overlooks the beach…no doubt a look-out for those pesky pirates once upon a time.
There was a lovely fresh ocean breeze, and I admired the view across the river to Rabat’s twin city of Sale. Donn admired the waves.
This is a view looking up the river:

See? These people have plenty of room for laundry. I know we could be happy there.

Eventually we wandered down to a café, the only one I’ve seen that was open during Ramadan. We sat on the terrace and drank sweet Moroccan tea, feeling somewhat illicit and wanton since we are sensitive during Ramadan and don‘t eat or drink in public. This place catered to tourists, though. We gazed out over the view, and enjoyed the breeze.

I think this is the house I’ve picked. Either of them. The people in them need to leave, so we can move in. Don’t you think?

We wandered out through a beautiful garden, which is the way most people go in. I neglected to take photos. Next time.

I have read, in various travel articles, complaints at how life is changing in traditional places. These writers bemoan the fact that you can be camping under the desert stars and hear a nearby nomad answer his cell phone, or see camels put in the backs of pick-up trucks. I have always felt this to be unfair. We don’t complain when Europeans have modern cities built around ancient ones. Why should we deny people here the joys and sorrows of technology? I for one am not willing to live as my ancestors did, even if it would be more “picturesque” for visitors. And so one of the things I love about Rabat is its mix of ancient and modern. I love how it’s quite a developed city, and yet you can suddenly turn a corner and be confronted with a sight that hasn’t changed much in 100s of years. And I especially enjoy where the centuries meet and mingle in just one frame of my camera’s screen.

September 2008

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