August 2011, Marakkesh
In that big square, we are just spectators, spectators of a grand display of faith by thousands of Moroccans, garbed in black or white robes, praying intently, oblivious to the noise created by tourism in Marrakech.
I stand in awe, my ears follow the rhythm of the chants recited by the Imam from the great, unfamiliar Koran. My eyes get hypnotized by the faint glow of the Khoutobia. My mind tries to process the mesmerizing image of men and women bowing, praying and kissing the grand in unison. Rarely do I find peace in a noisy, public place but my soul was touched by an unexplainable serenity as I watch the last prayer in Jemaa el FIna.
I wondered, do Catholics have the same, deep faith? As atheist, will I ever again feel that same kind of peace without practicing any religion?
The chanting goes on, the cameras of the tourists keep on flicking, the cars keep on driving by, the busy capital did not stop for the prayers. No matter how much I wanted to stay until the end of the last prayer, I walk on. I feel that it was disrespectful to watch.
That was entry from my journal five years ago when I went to Morocco with a group of Filipinas for my annual, solo birthday trip. It was Ramadan and things didn’t go as planned.
To begin with, Kasbah du Toubkal, the hotel where I wanted to spend my birthday weekend, was fully booked. I couldn’t bear the oppressing summer heat. And finally the grumpiness of many people put me off, not to mention that we got ripped off several times.
Maybe I couldn’t blame them. It was Ramadan after all. I myself turn into a cantankerous bitch when I couldn’t have lunch. What more for people who don’t eat the whole day?
We couldn’t eat before lunch time because restaurants are often closed. At the hotel where we were staying, they wouldn’t even serve us coffee in the morning. An old man spat on my legs when I passed him. Maybe he thought my knee-length skirt was already too short. Even in the Argan oil cooperatives and the Berber houses that we visited as part of our tour package, the people weren’t so accommodating. I felt like we were intruders disturbing very solemn rituals.
The hunger and unfriendliness persistently annoyed us the whole day. But it was an entirely different story in the evening.
People become warmer, friendlier, especially at Jemaa El Fina where, during the day, we would be met by angry stares whenever we want to buy food or avail of any service. I especially enjoyed bantering with the hawkers selling us the most bizarre food (sheep brain anyone?) at the nigh market. Shops would be open until midnight, including cozy cafes. We spent balmy evenings sipping coffee and talking about our expat lives.
When my travel companions left, I decided to shorten my trip as well. I booked a flight back to Holland but in my heart I knew that I would be coming back, when the circumstances are more favourable to my touristic pursuits. And I did, three months after.