Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Family Arrives, Everyone Plays Tourist, Sarah is Momentarily Displeased with the Accommodation

“You have to be fucking kidding me,” Sarah said so softly that only those standing immediately next to her could hear.

Elizabeth heard her, laughed and skipped ahead to where I was walking. “Did you hear what Sarah said?”

We rounded another corner of the narrow dirt alleyway that ostensibly connected our rented apartment with the main cobblestone thoroughfare of the medina. Sarah’s displeasure with our course was understandable. Had the approach we walked been in any part of the United States, there would be strong odds that it did not lead to a refurbished riad apartment, but some kind of redneck drug factory or murder garage. I extended my arms slightly, tapping the dirty walls on either side as we walked. Men worked overhead on aggressively hazardous-looking wooden scaffolds, roping buckets of muddy cement to one another with a Gilligan-esque system of pulleys.

The apartment I’d rented was actually the quarters used for visiting groups of women for a much larger riad (family home built around a central courtyard). Islamic architecture is foremost family oriented, and secondly; built with a mind for introversion. On the second point, for instance; the largest, most important mosque in Fes is almost completely unrecognizable from the outside. It is so overrun with housing and shops that its facade has been completely buried. It’s only after locating one of its arched doorways and gaining entrance that you take in what a grand and meticulously artful building it really is. Large homes are similar. It often seems like the approach and facade are designed purposely to belie the comfort and opulence of the interior. Entry rooms for riads are often more expansive than the streets that lead up to them.

I was worried when we came to Fes that my family would be subjected to the same level of harassment that my friends and I faced when we first visited. But my fears were largely unfounded. Going totally unharassed anywhere in Morocco (especially when travelling with young women) it impossible, but Fes was much better than I anticipated. It’s widely known that there is a hierarchy of tourist marks. Touts and faux-guides will always ask a set of questions, in addition to making visual assessments, to determine which demographic you fall under. For instance, middle-aged American tourists with DSLRs hanging from their necks and fanny packs tied around their waists will be harassed far more frequently than scruffy Latin American 20-somethings with rucksacks on their back. (Though the latter will have to deal with drug dealers). The hierarchy of value of nationalities in descending order: Japanese, Korean, American, Western European, Gulf Arab, Latin American, Arab, Other. For tourist types: Elderly, family men, adult women, backpackers with good gear, backpackers with shitty gear and baggy French cheesecloth pants.

Utilizing the aforementioned information, I determined that my parents and sisters would encounter a near constant barrage of commercial offers and demands. But again, it was not the case. Apparently there is an exception clause to the whole thing. Nuclear families, traveling as a unit, are left alone. That’s the only rationale I can think of. Traditional Moroccan cities like Fes have a tremendous amount of respect for the sanctity of family, and I think it immunized us. When I moved off on my own, for instance, or when either of my sisters did, the shills were instantly on the attack. But travelling together; total peace.


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