After three months in site, it was nice to head out for some away time. The three months of mandatory integration was fascinating and fulfilling. We met innumerable amazing people who brought us into their homes and offered us friendship. But, Morocco is a large and diverse country, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to see more of it.
While Erika returned to site to begin her art camp, I took a few days to see some of Morocco’s southern coast. Essaouira has a rich history. It’s been occupied by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, among others, so there is a rich European tradition that mixes with the more traditional Amazight (Berber) and Arab ones.
North of town, along the seawall, are two remarkable cemeteries, one Jewish and one Christian, side-by-side. The Jewish one was closed while I walked by, but on my return from the souk, I managed to sneak in with a group of Spanish tourists as they were leaving, so my visit was quick. I never made it to the building in the middle, so I don’t know what that is. When I glanced inside, it looked like a tomb.
Within the medina is the Simon Attias Synagogue build in 1882. It no longer functions as a religious building and is, I think, being converted into a museum.
The Christian cemetery was not as well maintained, but it was interesting nonetheless. The man who oversees it has a tremendous store of knowledge about the graves. The cemetery is divided by nationality. There are separate sections for Spanish, Italians, Portuguese, English, German, and, strangely enough, Jewish converts to Christianity.
Living in the desert, it’s easy to forget that Morocco has an incredibly long coastline and that seafood is an option. Not much of it makes it into the interior and the little that does is well-traveled. Being in Essaouira was the second time I have had seafood while in Morocco with the first being some fried fish with my host family in Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. Here, it’s everywhere.
Though I missed the official fish market that happens once a week, I was able to walk along the port and see the incredible fishing culture. There are large, ocean-going trawlers packed tightly into the harbor in the image on the left and smaller, blue coastal boats for shoreline fishing. Walking through the mostly empty market, the smell was overpowering. The asphalt was covered with a mix of fish scales and seagull down feathers. At one point, I dropped a trinket I was carrying and the fish stench still remains on it two days hence.
The old city medina is amazing with it’s endless alleyways and pleasant surprises. Unlike larger cities, such as Meknes or Marrakech, the alleys don’t seem as daunting. Rather, at least during the day, they seem quite inviting. Sometimes, around the darkest corner, I would come across pleasant local shops or upscale restaurants.
Outside of the medina, the city sprawls extensively. Getting about, there are several options for transportation. There are the standard city buses and petite taxis or there are calèches. Remnant from an earlier age, these “taxis” are horse-drawn carriages that operate in much the same way as a petite taxi.
There is an expansive beach that, as one walks along, become more and more European. For the adventurous, there are ATV rentals, surfing instruction, and kite-surfing. From an Islamic standpoint, it was weird to see so many European tourists laid out in next to nothing. What would have seemed ordinary at home, was strange in this context.
Finally, a note on tourism. Having now lived in Morocco for more than six months, I feel like this place in my home. So, when I see tourists from around the globe, I have an awkward feeling of otherness. Especially, when I see them treating the culture with such disdain. As I was leaving the medina today, I saw a sight that disgusted me.
Typical in Moroccan towns are people with wheeled carts that offer a carry service. They carry luggage, groceries from the weekly market, etc. Today, there was an elderly man pushing a cart heavy with luggage for a German family. As the man struggled to simultaneously push it and navigate the crowded medina, the father and son were taking photos and videos of him with their iPhones while smirking and giggling to each other.
I was infuriated. I have come to love the people and culture of Morocco. They are like my family. To see them treated like objects made me sad.
Anyway, below are some more photos of my short stay. Off to Marrakech, then home!