I am gutted to be coming home. The past week in Marrakech has been constantly exciting, terrifying and, therefore, exhausting. I have had the most inspiring experience immersing myself into Morocco culture, and though I am excited to begin creating work using what I have learnt, I am sad to leave. Marrakech was like no where I have ever been before; every single thing was different. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been able to visit Marrakech as part of a university module; I am so glad I had the guidance and safety reassurance of tutors and trusted tour guides, as Marrakech can be an overwhelming and scary place. I also made new friends on this trip, whom I have been inspired by and have learnt new things from! Something we all asked each other when leaving was, would we come back? The answer in most parts, perhaps surprisingly was ‘no’. Morocco was an incredible experience that I will never forget, but it was terrifying as much as it was beautiful and inspiring. I also believe no other holiday/experience in Marrakech could be as enjoyable and amazing as the first time, with that group of people, and so to maintain the adoration we all have as first time Marrakech adventurers, I don’t think many would go back.
Tuesday 24th January was the longest and toughest day of the trip. The 3:30am start meant we went 32 hours without sleep – though our journey was only short in comparison to the India trip, it felt long and only made me more nervous. Marrakech airport was beautiful, a sign of what was to come over the next week in Morocco. Instantly it was clear why Marrakech is nicknamed The Pink City, as we found out later thanks to the clay used in construction. Everything was different to home – the clothes, the colours, the wildlife, the plants, the weather! We were warned by our guide about safety, particularly road safety. He told us that the zebra crossings were there just for decoration and not to expect anyone to stop for us if stood at one! It was clear this was a fast paced, beautiful city and we were looking forward to exploring it. On Wednesday we had a full day tour around Marrakech. My favourite part was the herbery, where we had a talk about the different herbs and spices and what they were good for.
Thursday was the day we visited the Marjorelle Gardens and was my favourite. The weather was so hot, sunny and bright, intensifying the colour of the botanical plants and the blue and yellow house. All of the photos were as beautiful as they could’ve been, and the sharp shadows cast through the canopy made patterns on the pathway. Thanks to my pre-Morocco research, I knew there was an Yves Saint Laurent gallery of LOVE posters at the back of the gardens. The posters were created using mainly collage and were inspired by things that were important to Saint Laurent. He used bright colours, making the gallery sit perfectly in the vibrant gardens. He made one poster per year as a New Year present for his employees. The only type on the poster was the word LOVE and the year the poster was created. In the afternoon, we visited the Clock Cafe for a henna workshop. We got to see a mural created by a Cardiff Met student on the wall of the cafe. It featured the phrase “Art changes people, and people change the world”. I loved this phrase and it stayed with me through the trip. This is something that I strongly believe, and would hope applies to my work in the future. I think it is important to use art to change people for the better, so that they can change the world for the better. This is something I would like to explore more in my dissertation. Atira, the henna artist, painted beautiful henna patterns on all of our hands and arms, explaining in arabic what each pattern meant and where it originated from. My favourite was the traditional berber henna meant for brides on their wedding day. It used more square and geometric shapes than other more common hennas using flowers, swirls and rounded shapes.
On Friday we visited Boutique Al Nour, a social enterprise with daycare for handicapped women and their children. The building was brand new and a beautiful space for the women to work in. They hand embroidered clothes and homeware to be sold in the boutique. The women were kind and welcoming, showing us around the centre and telling us about some of the patterns the women sew. The boutique was full of beautiful hand crafted objects to be sold, everything with an individual and unique piece of embroidery on it. In the most case, the fabrics featured tiny coloured circles, adding stunning touches to each garment and making it a one of a kind. A particular item caught my attention; a small bag with the word ‘coexist’ written on it. Each letter of the word was a different symbol representative of a religion, adding meaning to the word itself on the bag. I loved the graphic element of this, giving a real depth to the idea behind the design. This idea of coexisting was something that was evident to me throughout the stay in Morocco. it was made clear to us when we arrived that there were different religions and cultures living harmoniously in Marrakech, Christianity, Islam, Jewish, Berber, Moroccan, French to name a few. We were consistently reassured of the peaceful Islam practised in Morocco, no doubt feeling the need to reassure us because of misconceptions stirred by the media. This idea of coexisting is central to Moroccan culture and was clear to see.
We visited a school for blind and partially sighted children and young adults on Saturday morning. I think this visit was a significant one for many in our group. The excitement and energy of the children in the school was inspiring to see, and they were dying to speak english with us, sing, play instruments and sing. They asked for photos, particularly fascinated with blonde and coloured hair. Some of the children spoke Spanish, which I also speak (some!) from learning it at A level, so it was nice to able to communicate and practise my Spanish too! Afterwards, we walked through the souqs and stumbled upon a Berber tradition which happens once a year when the Berber people bring their cows down to the city from the mountains to skin and tan them. In the afternoon, some of us had a traditional Moroccan hammam which was amazing! I took part in a traditional Moroccan cooking lesson, where we learnt how to cook tagine.
On Sunday, we chose a day trip to the Ourika Valley; a traditional Berber village in the Atlas Mountains, almost completely traditional and untouched by Western culture. We saw argon oil being made and had a tour around a Berber house which was self sustaining, running off the river that flows down the mountain to power a flour mill and fire. We went back to the Clock Cafe for dinner to see a traditional Moroccan music performance. The henna artist from Thursday insisted on doing us all another henna, a completely different but beautiful design and colour. I never wanted it to wash away! On the final night, we had a meal as a group in a beautiful restaurant. There was music and dancing, a much anticipated night of belly dancing! It was the best end to the best week away.
Before the study trip, in a lecture about Morocco in literature, Marrakech was described as a liminal place, neither Western nor African, somewhere undefinable in-between. I found this to be the most perfect description whilst being there – Moroccan culture is a vast and colourful mix of many different religions and cultures, fuelled by the different people of different walks of life that populate the pink homes of Marrakech.
I will miss this view on the roof!!