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.”
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.
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.