Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shakira Shakira!

Cellular experience

So, on the account of having the previous one stolen, i went shopping for a new mobile phone. I've always felt that not having a mobile phone is like not having hands. You know that you will get yourself new hands soon, but that's not really going to help you if you need to scratch your nose right here and now.

So, the mobile phone prices are the cheapest when buying from the street vendors and there are plenty of vendors selling them. And since i needed just a random mobile phone, not anything specific or special, i was very ok with buying it from the streets. At first i tried to bargain on my own, but the guys just wouldn't budge. Seems that mobile sellers here in Marrakech are quite a tougher breed than the tajine ones. But having some Moroccan friends really pays off, mostly financially - i decided i don't want to pay the double price, so i got a friend to help.

After you buy the phone in Morocco, your next visit is to a lovely gentleman down in some basement somewhere, who will crack the phone for you and make it work with any SIM card. That service can also be very flexibly priced, i think the initial price we started was 150 DH, but in the end we shook hands on 30 DH. The phone itself was 300 DH, add to that the local prepaid SIM set (another 50DH, though they will try to sell it with 75 or higher) and some extra credit (i bought the 50 DH card) and the total came to a whopping 430 DH. I could've come up with some better ways to spend that money, but oh well, at least i have a shiny new phone now.

I got the cheapest phone there was, i will have plenty of time at home to waste thousands and thousands on a new fancier model. Though knowing myself, i will probably never get around to do it. I don't care much about mobiles, i use them for pretty much only one thing - calling; so all the fancy extra features are not really my thing. And the very cheap one will do just fine while traveling. Turned out that my newly acquired high-tech gadget could be best described with words "somewhat too weird", as it really is ahead of the pack when it comes to sucking in many different levels. It looks decent enough though, very slick and modest.

My first problem was finding out what kind of ringtone it has, to ensure i would actually recognize it ringing when i'm in a more crowded place, like anywhere else besides my hotel-room. I spent quite some time trying to find the way i could change the ringtones and it was only later i learned that the feature i was searching for was burried so deep into some obscure sub-menus that you'd think it's part of national secrets. When i got my first call to my new phone and i heard it ring with it's default ring-tone, i almost broke my leg jumping up and running to it in attempt to cover the phone with my whole body and silence it forever. Btw, it's still my reaction every time the thing rings. I remember thinking "Oh my God, oh my God, no no no, that just can't be! what the fuck ..??". When i finally found the way to change the ringtone, i was re-introduced to a wonderful world of .midi audio files, that were supposed to die out along with the end of previous century, but somehow had still made their way into my spanking new mobile phone. And may i say what a delightful arrangement of sounds they are - if you are tone deaf, that is. I truly couldn't believe it, but when i tried all the different melodies that my phone had to offer, i reached to a painful conclusion that the default one is actually by far the best .

Entrepreneurial boys selling stuff on the street

Shakira Shakira!

So far i’ve been in Morocco only with my friends, but this is my first time to come here completely alone. While a big chunk of my acquaintances and family is convinced that i am totally crazy and irresponsible, i myself am kind of thrilled. Maybe i should be worrying about my safety, reputation and whatnot, but at the moment my biggest concern is money and how to keep my meager budget afloat.

The attention in Morocco can get a bit tiresome. Specially if you are a white woman and alone. It’s amazing how most random guys will take the trouble to mutter something to you when passing or attempt to start a conversation while walking on the same street. The iPod + sunglasses combo works quite well in Morocco as well, though you might still find somebody walking next to you for 5 minutes and trying to talk to you. My Moroccan acquaintance Adil was saying that modern Moroccan guy’s dream is to get a fancy car and land a rich (preferably white) woman. Morocco is definitely a country where any normal looking white woman can find herself a guy for the night is she wants. And from conversations with local guys I get the impression that there is a fair number of female tourists who are coming to Morocco first of all for exactly that and then for tajines :). No wonder it’s almost impossible for me to explain to locals that I’m not here for love affairs, majority just don’t seem to grasp the concept of traveling for the sake of traveling.

Of all southern male population I’ve met, Moroccans are by far the most non-vilently aggressive and with unreasonably high egos. You just cannot imagine the confidence of those guys, they are ready to butter you up any time any place. And all that without a drop of alcohol to gain courage from (islam forbids alcohol). Of course, it might be also a lot of talk and no follow up, but the testosterone is definitely bubbling. For example Mexican guys were kind of timid when it came to making social chit-chat, specially when they were sober (hehe, like Estonian guys). They were very happy shouting “Guapa!” or “Bonita!” from over the street or from a passing car, but that was mostly it. Next to Morocco Mexico was a land of peace and quiet for a single female traveler, though I did not realize that at the time.

Morocco is also the only country so far from my travel experience where marriage means nothing. A big fat zero. People either tell you flat out: “I don’t believe that you are married” or look around and say: “So what? I don’t see your husband here ..”. I liked that in Mexico people had respect for marriage and though the macho guys were still machos, nobody was trying to “talk you into” anything as it is in Morocco. Moroccans are generally very flexible when it comes to defining stuff like “private space”, “intimacy” etc. I personally do not like when people I’ve just met take liberties of touching me casually too much or trying to hold hands or something. It might be perfectly norm in Morocco, but it’s sometimes too much for my ice cold Northern nature. I also tend to be sensitive about conversations with a lot of sexual innuendo, because they can get very quickly very personal and when that happens I have very little patience to stay polite and friendly. I do realize that sometimes I over-react, but I prefer to keep most people at arm’s length, specially random new acquaintances. But if you get pass that awkward phase of making it clear that you are not “on the market”, then the guys can be very adorable. Very protective and helpful, sometimes even a bit territorial with each other :).

All my life I’ve mostly had guy friends. I grew up with an older brother and big part of my childhood was spent playing with his friends. Even now I can count on one hand my female friends and they are somewhat outnumbered. And i’ve yet to be in the situation in Morocco, where I could strike up a friendship with a girl. Women definitely speak less English in Morocco, but they also generally seem to be more passive and withdrawn. And so it goes that most of my old and new Moroccan acquaintances have XY chromosomes.

When i walk on the streets of Marrakech, there are many recurring types of comments i hear, but one of the most amusing ones is Shakira Shakira! - i've asked few times that why you are calling me Shakira and gotten an answer because of the "golden hair". I guess the Brasilian pop is taking ground in Morocco :).


Morocco is also so far the only country I’ve been to where people actually take the trouble of following you. OK, maybe for example Cubans were also doing it, but in that case they were much better at it because I never even had an inkling that I might be followed, not to mention seeing a guy circling the block for the umpteenth time. I remember that my first encounter of being followed was on my first visit to Fes. I was walking alone in medina, cruising about and snapping photos when a guy in a lime-green shirt passed me by on one of the streets. Five minutes later I see the same lime-green shirt walking on one of the other nearby streets, and then five minutes later again coming down the stairs somewhere and so on so forth. It went on for quite some time. At that point I even considered the possibility that he is just walking randomly like me, that we are on the same route or even that there might be more than one guy in Fes who is willing to wear that God-awful bright lime-green shirt.

The notion of “somebody following you” sounds awfully sinister, but in all fairness they seem to do it purely out of curiosity. I’ve never felt threatened or scared, it’s just a bit weird at times to see somebody taking such personal and persistent interest in you. But again, iPod will do miracles in not paying attention to anybody or anything around you. As it gets later in the evening that following can get more aggressive. I’ve gotten into a verbal fight couple of times because it’s very annoying if the same guy keeps coming to talk to you with the lamest questions ever or pretty much just one direct proposal. But if you’re walking late on the streets alone or spend time on Djemaa el-Fna after midnight, you kind of have to be prepared for that.

One morning i woke up and there was a note slipped into my hotel-room from under the door. It was a long novel of a letter:
"Hello sweet girl! My name is Khalid, i am 26 year old. I wanted to knock on your door in morning but didn't want to wake you, i hope you have good dreems .. ", it went on and on, telling me that he has been watching me (creepy?) and would really like to get to know me better bla bla bla. The usual pitch. Along with the phone number. Girls, anybody of you happen to want to meet a 26 year old tattoo artist from Morocco? :)

I guess, in reality, i'm also kind of a stalker. I love making photos of people, so all i do on my travels is lurk around and follow interesting people, trying to catch a shot-worthy glimpse of them through my lens. I'm constantly on the prowl, batteries charged and camera ready. Like a greedy animal who never has enough. Always looking for a better prey.

Show guys on Djemaa el-Fna. If you make a photo of them, they will hunt you down and bully you pay money for it. I personally believe in "it's a free world, i can photograph whoever is walking around in public", so i never pay for such things.

But all in all, people here are nice. I'm at the moment talking about the simple folk, not the rich cream of society of Morocco. Which is not to say that the latter aren't nice people as well, i just don't have very many personal connections with them. The usual people though are friendly and open. Sometimes they get too excited about you being a foreigner and they want to charge you too much or walk around with you in public and so on, but i've also met some great kindness, pure interest, childlike joy when you spend time with them and eagerness in helping you even if there's no way to profit from doing it. My suspicious nature is used to searching for an ulterior motive when somebody wants to be friends with you, but sometimes it's just that. Yes, i'm the first one to say that you have to be reasonable yourself not to get swindled or taken advantage of, but don't get too carried away with being always on a lookout or you will miss out on some interesting acquaintances.

A kind pizza guy from the pizza joint next to my hotel. He always tries to ask how my day is going (very little English skills) and gives me small gifts like keychain holder and so on.

1 comment:

  1. It is very strange that the foreign girls are also called Shakira in Marocco - it was the same case with me when I first visited Egypt as a tourist, so much so that finally I even started to believe it a little bit :P


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