“You Want Culture?”, the Man Behind the Desk Challenged

It was Christmas 1972, the Tourist Office in Marrakech.  “You want culture?”, the man behind the desk challenged us (Tom and me. determined we’d scratch beneath the surface of the big city, after several weeks just hanging out in the lesser cities, and countryside, to the north).  “Go down to the kazbah”, the man directed.  “Smoke some hashish.  You’ll get culture.”

The Water Man Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech

What did we encounter in the kazbah?  What was it we encountered throughout our three months in Morocco?  A world very different from the one we’d come from.  A world where people dressed differently, and spoke a different language, of course, and where the architecture came straight from the set of the Arabian Nights – though nothing I’d ever seen in a book prepared me for the vitality and diversity of the souksand the city within the encircling rampart walls.

Everyone's a Trader - Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech

But more, it was a world where men seemed to predominate, where children worked, and women were obscured from the gaze of strangers (though not in the steam baths, where their unabashed nudity astounded, challenged, we ‘liberated’ young women).  It was a world where men whiled away their spare hours smoking their hookahs, drinking mint tea, or sticky coffee, conducting their business, and talking politics, telling stories.  Where the call of the Muezzin pulled down the shutters on commerce, and where people lived out their lives to different patterns, to different music, smells …

It was also a world where people laughed, and cried;  were concerned and ambitious for their children.  Where people struggled to survive against the odds, were eternally curious, unimaginably generous, and forgiving.  We middle-class ‘western’ kids were thrown headlong into experiences which would challenge us, and open our eyes to what cultural differences might mean on a personal level.

Morocco, in those three short months, broadened my worldview so I’d never be the same.  I’d never again regret a jettisoned ball gown, matching handbags and shoes, not even the pillow that wouldn’t fit, no matter how I tried, into my luggage.  More, I began to recognise that although I may have spent my life so far as part of a community of people who shared a common history and language, we all had different traditions, family customs.  Indeed, as people, we were all different, and to be different is just fine.

It might also be fine to be different to the M my loving, worried, parents had worked so hard for me to become …

And so began my slow, stumbling journey to discover who I am, and who I wish to be.

4 thoughts on ““You Want Culture?”, the Man Behind the Desk Challenged

    • No, I haven’t but I know it’s changed enormously…. The grove developments, if nothing else, and people at the desk who are proud of their physical and cultural heritage too! How fantastic it would have been for us to have been able to go to concerts and things. Oh well … Perhaps I’ll win the trip that inspired this memory? Keep your fingers crossed for me, please:).

  1. Thank you for your comment & pointing me to this post.. wow.. so vivid .. your words are so beautiful ..

    Just watched “The sheltering sky” last night for the first time.. and was completely lost in te art of that film.. I miss everything about Morocco.. and can honestly say, that my latest short trip is a begining of a very long affair.. no matter where I will travel in the world, the road will keep bringing me back to Morocco..

    love & light


    • Aahh – you’ve found one of those places. The places that grab at you and draw you into them … It happened to me first in Spain and I considered moving there, but Franco, and male chauvinism (this was back in the early ’70s) dissuaded me. Thank goodness, for I’m now living out another passion, here in Sri Lanka. Look forward to catching up more in the future.

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