Thriving in Marrakech

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

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Two weeks ago I was able to travel to this beautiful city that has been on my travel list for years. I knew I wanted and needed a break to recharge. I felt like I had been on work mode since November, besides the migraine attacks were enough as warnings for slowing down. The thought of travelling back to the African continent after 16 years made me very excited and this break would be the first one that is not to Manchester, vitamin D for the win!

I searched for flights and ended up paying too much as I preferred comfort over long transit hours. Lucky for me I was able to take those 5 days off work. My sista- friend however, could only take 3 days off which meant I would be by myself for two days in Marrakech. I made a list of what the two of us could to do and see together and what I could do by myself. I slept late the night before out of excitement, I was just happy to escape wintery cold and rain.

I made it on time to the airport and once on board I took out Psychologies to read. However, I ended up staying awake entertaining two young boys seated next to me for almost the entire duration of the flight. I had a nap and read a few pages and then back to entertaining. I did not mind as they were polite and funny. When we landed, I had the biggest smile on my face the moment I saw the palm trees! The sun was out shining temperature 27 degrees yay!  

I got through security; I grabbed my suitcase and my eyes begun scanning for my sista-friend. I found her only for her to walk straight pass me. Once she realised I was the person frantically waving at her she came over, hugs and squeals were exchanged and out there we went into the sun. The drive from the airport was short and smooth to Marrakech medina. Everything was brighter, the scenery green and lush and the people appeared busy but not in a stressful way from my observation. The sky had begun to change colour, daylight slowly transitioning into the evening. It was time for the evening prayer and I heard the adhaan (call for prayer). I got teary-eyed as it was the first time in years since I heard it publicly and not while inside a mosque. There is something very soothing hearing the call of prayer, a gentle reminder of my daily meeting with the Creator. I get to take a pause and fully connect mindfully during prayer, nothing else matters and everything can be paused.

We walked through the narrow backstreets dodging scooters and carts. I was amazed by how the people navigated the streets without accidents. We arrived at our Riad, a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden usually with a fountain in the middle, some citrus trees, plants and flowers. I was very impressed with the details and the colourful zellige tiles. The architecture in itself is marvelously adorned with Arabic calligraphy. The many decorative arched doors, intricate designed cushions and the different patterns on the rugs which are handmade by different tribes. The hanging brass lamps illuminate the space, not to mention the refreshing scent of Moroccan mint tea in the air adding to such collective beauty. There is this curiosity about what is hiding behind the big heavy arched doors. However, once you enter your jaw drops in awe of its serenity and grandeur. Each and every Riad we saw was equally beautiful yet unique.

We decided to walk through the hustle and bustle of Jama- el Fina square. Stall vendors shouting for customers, a mix of sweet and aromatic spices filled the air from the food stalls. The sight of freshly pressed juices of pomegranate and orange and hot tea pouring made me thirsty. We were ushered to a packed table because one vendor made us laugh. He charmed us with his latest English slangs including M&S, Tesco and Morrison taglines to mention a few. The food was not the best but we ate it because we were hungry. We walked back to our Riad, luckily stayed alive in the narrow backstreets dodging carts and scooters. Everything and everyone come to life once the sun sets. It was clear that the square will not remain quiet until many hours later. We were tired and needed to sleep. What a cold night it was, because the temperature dropped and we could not find the heavy blankets, which were in a wardrobe next to the beds. I still have no idea why we did not look inside.

The next morning, we woke up to a traditional Moroccan breakfast which went down really well. Our plan was to check out the souks navigating with Google Maps! First mistake, our roaming data does not include Africa! Anyway, after being charged £29 for barely 5 minutes, we needed a plan B. As we walked towards the souk an elderly man with a big smile approached us. He asked if we required a guide, we asked him how much? He replied with his toothless smile and said “50 dirhams or whatever you feel like”. We agreed, he took the lead and off we went. I must admit, the souk is like a BIG MAZE! There is no way we could have navigated ourselves unless we count walking in circles. 

I was intrigued, so many eye-catching items on every corner, and being called over and over by the vendors to come and see their stores. We had to politely say no thanks with smiles because once you step inside a store, you’re given tea and then you spend some money as expected. Our guide was very funny, told us he has been a tour guide for 20 years and spoke 4 languages fluently. He even helped us to haggle many times and introduced us to his trusted store owners. Three hours later, although that felt longer, I bought some hand-painted plates/bowl and brass window decoration for Ramadan, dried roses and hibiscus. One interesting item was the solid Channel No.5 perfume. Mind blowing how they managed to get the notes so accurate. I ended up adding some amber and cedar wood too. The seller said to use them on the skin or dash into chest of drawers.

That evening dinner was rather disappointing; we had the driest chicken tagine which was overpriced. The next place we ate at the following day was top notch in taste! The price matched the food, finally Marrakech delivered! I smiled mopping up the delicious tagine with some fresh bread. Let’s just say we went back there for more. OH and their salted-caramel crepes for dessert and breakfast were scrumptious. Mmm what’s not to love about Marrakech?.

It was time for some sightseeing and we made the almost four-hour drive to Essaouira, this place is known for its windy nature much to the delight of surfers and paragliders. En route, we stopped at a women’s co-operative where argan oil and products were being made. Each and every part of the argan nut is used for something, and nothing goes to waste. We were given a tour including tasting, always taste before purchasing when possible. I had not tasted argan oil for consumption before, but this is nothing new to the Moroccans who use this for dressings and cooking. I purchased of course cosmetic argan oil, argan black soap and the nutty butter for my toasts. We arrived at Essaouira hungry, so we went on the hunt for fresh seafood, just our luck the catch of the day was not that appetising, no fried calamari or seabass. Did I mention we were hungry? We sat at the nearest restaurant and ate simple! A slight self-induced food coma made us lazy, so we ended up at the beach for waltzing, much more like wobbling in all honesty. We were literally blown away and none of those many pictures we kept taking did us any justice.

The drive back to Marrakech was quiet, everyone was tired. I kept having 5 minute naps because I enjoyed looking out the window, beautiful houses and landscapes. Once we arrived to Marrakech medina, the city was coming to life again. I prayed and to dinner we went, and yes to the same tasty restaurant. Next morning, we got all dolled up and headed off to the YSL Jardin Majorelle and museum. This garden is lush, colourful and full of different kinds of plants and flowers. It was warm and busy; the perfect Instagram pictures are taken here. Oh, and at Bahia place, we did not have a chance to see the Badia palace, Saadien's toms due to timing and the Ben Youssef Madrassa was closed for renovations. This blog is already long enough but the Hammam, a traditional Moroccan bath ritual. We rushed from Jardin Majorelle to make it on time for our hammam appointment. After taking a few wrong turns because I was sure the direction was correct, blame the heat for that and then we found a fresh juice stall, YAY for pomegranate juice because the Thirst was Real. Pun intended. So back to the hammam, although I was told to experience a local one, I was glad to be at a spa. The scrubbing part was needed although a little bit wired. However, the massage afterwards was even highly needed. Relaxed and hungry it was dinner time, yes same place.

It was my sista-friend last night so to the airport she went after dinner and I went back to the Riad. I got invited by one of the African Sista’s for mint tea which was lovely and we sat there on the terrace chatting before I went to bed. Next morning, the cloud had taken over the sun, so the air was a bit chilly. I went out to the square and got myself a hot latte. I just sat there people watching. There is something fascinating about watching people go about their mornings, children being rushed to school. The store owners sweeping their entrance ways while greeting each other and customers Salaam, Saba-al-khayr. Peace be upon you and good morning. My guide to the spice souk did not show up, so I walked to the Khoutobia mosque. Its huge minaret and arched doors is so inviting. I walked around and strolled to the garden. I found a bench by the water fountains and began to journal. The sun asked the clouds to beat it and out it came shinning. I sat there for some time and made a new list for what I need as it was my last day. I came back to the Riad, met up with the sistas and they took me to the spice souk! I wanted everything, the air was perfectly mixed with different spices, herbs and teas oh and the colours so natural and pigmented. Happily, I ticked off each item on my list and it was time for dinner. I tried a new place the sistas suggested and loved every bite of deliciousness. We stayed there chatting and lucky for me, the sistas listened actively to my dilemma. They gave me advice and many words of encouragement and to me that is enough. Sometimes you meet people and within a few moments you’re welcomed like you’ve known them for years.   

I packed my things, as much as I wished I could have stayed a little bit longer, work found itself on my mind wondering, bringing me back to reality. I slept late and woke up early only for the flight to be delayed. I made up my mind to sleep once on board anyway, so I became unbothered although slightly annoyed. I arrived to a full- blown winter but the warmth of Marrakech was within me. This break was exactly what I wanted and it definitely won’t be my only one to Marrakech. Next stop Petra or Istanbul? We’ll see In Sha Allah.

 

PS: Thrive the way you know how

love and light

-Ummi

Ummi Fulani

Sosionom/Social Worker & Psychologies Ambassador, Child & Adolescent Mental Health (Oslo University Hospital)

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