Sunday, January 3, 2016

One Day in Africa - Tangier, Morocco

As a 'spur of the moment' decision to make the crossing the night prior to arrival, the group tour I thought I paid for ended up being with a private guide about the city being "my name was not on the list".  At first, the company was hesitant on letting me in on the tour that soon left.  Still holding my ground with my e-receipt as evidence of payment, the tour coordinator made a quick phone call and soon enough a salt and pepper, olive-skinned man came walking up the path.  The coordinator introduced him to me as Nadir in which I responded to in Arabic 'تشرفنا، نادر' (tasharrafna nadir) and both of their eyes light up with excitement! Nadir's walk changed from his slow saunter coming to the office to spry step onward into the time-worn streets and walls of the medina.  As we made our way up the winding passageways between small markets and shops, I felt the history of this multicultural city come to life with her sounds and smells!  After a few minutes, the narrow street opened up into a vast maze of market stalls and that is where the real-life tour began.  Nadir gave me a few words to the wise about going into the market, dealing with the shop owners, and staying safe.  In the web of shops and stalls, I could find anything from fresh fruits to young kittens enjoying a small, morning cat-nap!  He later commented on my cultural awareness and said that he would be willing to take me a little more off the beaten path for the next few stops!  Between the market and our next destination, I will admit, I felt nervous but those feelings passed as soon as I stepped out into a spacious courtyard.  Although the buildings had seen better days, most likely a century ago, this enclosure cut off from the noises of the city was home to a series of small workshops.  As Nadir guided me along the graffiti covered walls to the next corner, we came to an open door and to my surprise were two men running the looms to make the traditional style of rugs to the Kingdom of Morocco.  Continuing on, we came to a neighboring worker preparing a loom for what would be about a three meter by four meter rug.  Asking politely in my best Arabic, my request to enter in and witness the operation was answered with a weathered yet warm smile of this artisan.  I find it hard to describe those short moments.  The smells of the spools of wool and the crispness of the wooden tools filled the small room as he quickly but precisely set the loom of hundreds of long, delicate strings of the canvas that would become a work of art and a story of their families, culture and home in which they so openly welcomed me into even if it were just a day.  

As the morning turned to midday, Nadir, led me down this 'street' that when I extended my arms out, my fingers were tracing along the walls of the stucco homes rising above us.  After a few more bends and turns, we came to a small blue door framed by unbelievably ornate tiles and a firm "MARHABAN!" from a man standing just inside.  Him and Nadir chatted in their thick Moroccan mix of French and North African Arabic with an occasional Spanish and English dropped into the dialogue.  Soon enough, I was being led up the tiled staircase of more strikingly beautiful tiles to a gorgeous dining area next to the arched windows with a bird's eye on all the happenings down below.  Settling in with a cup of mint tea on it's way, Nadir took his leave to run a few errands while I had traditional Tangier cuisine!  Without saying a word, dish after dish came to my table and I enjoyed every second of it!  From my tribulations of forgetting my passport in the morning and only having a small breakfast on the ferry ride, along with a collective handful of dates as lenders offered them up for me to try, I was ready for a real meal and they complied!  I left that table with a true taste of Morocco!  As I stuffed the last bites of the dessert line-up, Nadir came up the stairs with a happy smile and a young lad in tow - his youngest son.  Squaring up with my gracious host, I paid for my meal which came to a total of around 11 Euro (about the same as the US dollar) and my best guess from the Moroccan restaurants back in the States I would have paid about forty to fifty for this meal.  

Completely satisfied, we all ventured back out into the summer Moroccan sun and walked about the medina as Nadir's son practiced his English skills with me and my Arabic in return.  Coming up on a different market area, we made a hard right turn into a small side alley.  As we were walking, Nadir switched over into the local dialect and from what I could gather from the son's reaction and collecting his books from his father's bag, he had to go back to school.  As the son set off, Nadir fired up his scooter to take me to a few other spots of the city - off the charts!  From the new and modern uptown to the new construction of the megaport and a few side places in between, my one day stop in Tangier was extensive and exciting.  My last request was to spend some time on my own around the Grand Mosque and Nadir was honored to oblige with such a request.  Zipping through the narrow streets after following the port boulevard, Nadir and I parted ways just outside of the chaos of the traffic buzzing about this ancient and sacred ground.  As I meandered on my own toward the rising minaret, I stumbled upon a placard giving a history of the 'masjid' of the Grand Socco area of Tangier.  The foundations date back to the Roman times when a temple dedicated to the demigod Hercules was a place of worship to the far ends of the empire.  Later, a cathedral built by the Catholics of Portugal stood on this hilltop overlooking the trading port below.  Today, the grand mosque stands as a quiet sanctuary to worshipers despite the chaos that occurs just outside it's walls.  From this high point of topography and of my trip, I slowly made my way back down what were once strange streets to the port to catch the ferry back.  As I conclude this post, it almost seems like it was impossible to do all of this in one day without any planning.  Although, with the help and kindness of a local man by the name of Nadir, I did and I will hold each and every bit of Tangier dear to me.

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