Sunday, 28 October 2007

Les Dossiers des Marrakech - Day 2

Excuse me while i wipe away the blood and sweat from my computer screen and press the 'publish post' button. Below is the account of my second day in Marrakech last month. I got there in the end!!

Day 1

Day 2

Sight seeing on Day Two got off to a slow start. This is because something arose back home which needed to be sorted out ASAP and although my mobile phone had registered itself automatically on to one of the local networks, i was somehow still unable to make calls.

I got up quite early determined to find Place Jemaa el Fna, having been thwarted by pesky Mustafa the previous night. I begin my stroll through the fairly quiet streets of Gueliz, using the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque as my marker. Apparently the square is north of the Koutoubia Mosque.

After about a half an hours walk, i get to the Mosque and subsequently the Square. It's virtually deserted at this hour, save for the numerous Cafes dotted along the perimeter. In between making phonecalls home, leaving sufficient time for the chinese whispers to filter down the line and calling back for updates, i read for a while in a cafe sipping espresso, then i take a walk through the Souqs (markets). Think the outdoor part of Tejuosho market. The Souqs are usually arranged according to, and known by the name of whatever goods are being sold e.g. fabric, jewellery, leather goods, spices etc. The traders are very friendly. Again, think Tejuosho market traders. Plus, i'm a bit of a novelty. They call out greetings to me in French, Spanish, and English and i respond in English of course, my French being atrocious. Someone invites me to have a look at his stall, offering 'ASDA price'. I found that quite amusing...

Still reeling from my Day 1 experience, i resist the urge to buy anything, or indeed even price any goods. I do manage to buy some spices from a stall with the prices clearly displayed.

Crisis back home averted, i now face the business of the day - sightseeing. Yippee!!! I purchase a ticket and jump on the Hop-on-hop-off bus and off we go. My first stop off is at the Jardin Majorelle, set up by French painter , Jacques Majorelle in 1919, and now owned by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge. The garden is not a big as i thought it would be and is packed full of tourists. Apart from that its nice and cool due to the greenery (trees and plants from all 5 continents) and the rich vibrant colours of the buildings and flower pots, and the gentle singing of the tropical birds are all très hypnotisant

Next stop, the Menara Gardens. By this time, the unrelenting heat and burning sunshine has begun to get to me. I'm also conscious of the fact that Mustafa will be turning up at the Hotel at 5pm. I take quick walk around and take some pictures. As i turn to leave, a guy comes up to me and strikes up a conversation. His name is Yousef, he's Moroccan but lives in Paris and every year he comes home to pass the month of Ramadan with his family. According to him, Paris presents too many distractions. We chat for a while and he tells me of how he had travelled home by boat and how it had taken 26 days! On further thought i realise he must have said 6 days. I have to leave to catch my bus and we arrange to meet up at Cafe France in Place Jemaa el Fna at 9pm that night. Or rather, he suggests it and i say i'll see what i can do.

Next stop, the Kasbah Mosque. This is where things get a little bit confusing. My real target is the Saadian Tombs, but i can't seem to find them. I won't bore you with the details of my search, though. However, i do get accosted by a so called 'guide' and whilst i insist on not boring with the details, can i just suggest to you that if you travel to Morocco or indeed any North African country, do not get carried away by the accounts you might have heard about the friendliness of the people, so that you are lulled into a false sense of security by random people offering to show you the way or give you directions, because, THEY WILL DEMAND PAYMENT!!! I had such an encounter and ended up giving the guy (couldn't be older than 13!) a 20 dirham note, after which he proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms that that was the equivalent of £1 and i should give him more! I told him to bugger off, as we probably spoke for less than 5 minutes, which consisted of him giving me dodgy directions i.e. directing me to the women's entrance to the Kasbah Mosque, while clearly pointing me away from the mosque and down some obscure alley way. Needless to say, i didn't follow his directions!

Anyway, it's about 6pm now and i head back to the hotel for a short rest. As i pay the taxi driver, Mustafa rolls up on his scooter. He had come earlier, only to meet my absence. Tough! I pay him and he invites me to come and have dinner with his family. I politely decline.

I rest for a while, and then i head back to Jemaa-el-Fna for my rendevous with Yousef. Once i get to the Square, i remember i'd seen an imitation Gucci travelling bag while sight-seeing in the Souqs earlier in the day, and i decide to go and pick it up in order to fit my ever-increasing luggage in for the journey home. I then get distracted by the enticing aromas emanating from the several food stalls where both locals and tourists gather to chow down on the local cuisine, and i decide to have something to eat.

Delicious! My only regret was ordering snails. Instead of the Naija style Igbin (what was i thinking!), tossed in a spicy, peppery stew, i got tiny little tachere things that had the tentacles on, and tasted as if they'd been boiled in salt and water, period! I wasn't impresssed, needless to say. Oh, and i also had the opportunity to meet the Moroccan (self-proclaimed) Jamie Oliver.

Dinner over and Jamie Oliver gives me directions to Cafe France, my rendevous spot. I make it to the roof-top terrace at about 10:15pm, over an hour late, and i find that Yousef had either not turned up or had turned up, got tired of waiting for me and left. Ah well! I grab a seat and watch the world go by for a while in the Square down below. Then i go back to the Hotel to get some sleep, ready for my trip into the Ourika Valley the next day.

End of Day 2.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Prison Inmates do Michael Jackson...

...routine (hah!)

A video of Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in bright orange uniforms has become an instant worldwide hit on the video sharing website YouTube.

Inmates perform the coordinated dance routine as part of their morning exercise ritual at a prison in Cebu, central Philippines.

Apparently this has been doing the rounds for a while, but i've just seen it...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Black people 'less intelligent' scientist claims - Times Online

Black people 'less intelligent' scientist claims - Times Online

The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.". He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

Erm...what testing? This is clearly a statement of his own prejudices, nothing more, nothing less. I, personally, am unaware of any tests to support his wild, and quite simply, foolhardy assertion.

Apparently we're all dumbasses! The guy has clearly been too busy deconstructing the structure of DNA to watch an episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show or indeed, Jerry Springer. * extra looooooooooooooooong hiss*. Nonsense!

Friday, 12 October 2007

No more 'smalling up' of me

No more meekly saying yes
when my heart is screaming no
No more taming of my feelings
so my power won't show
No more hiding my exuberance
from disapproving eyes
No more watering down myself
so my spirit won't rise

No more 'smalling up' of me
pretending I'm not here
No more running from the music
and the spotlight's glare
No more living in this prison
barricaded by my fears
No more turning and retreating
in the face of new frontiers.

Even as I am speaking
I am taking shape and form
harnessing my powers
like a gathering storm
There's no obstacle so bold
as to dare stand in my way
I am taking back my life
and I am doing it today.

By Jean Wilson

This is a repost. So sue me. Lol!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

I need a male 'plus 1'.

Well, i did say i'd go into blogging overdrive once back from holiday!

I am in dire need of a male 'plus 1'. I suppose he'd be the equivalent of Atutupoyoyo's friend with benefits, except without the benefits. We would trip together, but at the end of said trips, we would both go home to our separate beds, and under no circumstances whatsoever would he betray me by trying to move things to the 'next level'.

There would also be an element of what Waffarian describes as the 'party' friend. And i quote:

"..the one you can go out with and know you will enjoy yourself wherever you end up in. No complains of "I don't like the music", "I don't like the crowd here", "lets take a taxi" "I want to go home", etc. The "party friend" is spontanous and will be happy with any suggestion"!

'Why has this need arisen'?, i hear you ask. Well, my last male plus 1 got married, the inconsiderate sod!!! I subsequently found a suitable tripping buddy to replace him, but the only problem is that she is a she. 'Why is that a problem'?, i also hear you ask. Well, in certain situations, turning up as one half of a female duo is just not on. I mean, i'm not bothered about 'normal' functions. Family functions, i just turn up and scream 'tada, let's get this party started'! Other naija functions? I've got my female posse. No wahala involved. No. The tricky part is the non-naija stuff.

What got me thinking along these lines is that a couple of months ago, my boss (at the time) turned 40, and i received an invite from his wife to attend his birthday party. I had a good relationship with him and would have loved to go celebrate with him, but i had no one to go with. I had no male 'plus 1' and i just knew it would be couple city. You know the drill, lovey-dovey couples milling around, discussing mortgages, investment portfolios, eastern european au pairs and nannies, and holidays in the south of France. I couldn't take my female tripping buddy, cos they'd probably just assume we were a 'couple' too and i had no male 'plus 1' on speed dial cos aforementioned selfish male plus 1 had gone and got married.

So what did i do? I didn't go...

This was some months ago. Now, my boss has moved on, but his wife is expecting soon and we met up recently and he extended an invite to their christening. I'd love to go. Just not on my own. And certainly not with a female 'plus 1'. So again i reiterate, i need a male 'plus 1'.

Person Specification:
- Great sense of humour
- Killer converstional skills and intellect
- Sense of fun, sense of the ridiculous
- Unconventional
- Great dress sense and individual style (he has to look good on my arm)
- Kind heart and considerate nature...

Call me, Josh... know you want to!

But really, i don't know why it has become harder to establish platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. Does it have something to do with the fact that i am getting on a bit (ha!) and thus dudes think i cannot possibly want nothing but friendship from them (conceited sods!). Because, of course women of a certain age are all marriage-obsessed and will latch on to any single man that crosses their path, club them over the head with a Gucci handbag and literally drag them, kicking and screaming, down the altar or what....? What is it? I don't know.....

I'm thinking out loud, not advertising the position!

Related article
Just good friends

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Les Dossiers de Marrakech - Day 1

Marrakech beckons

I almost missed my flight, you know.

Well, i technically almost missed my flight. I actually almost missed my train, because i almost missed my cab to the train station, because my alarm clock did not go off. But i won't bore you with the details. All i will say is "the devil is a liar". This holiday that i've been looking forward to for months, i will now come and miss my flight? Iro ni, it's a lie.

The flight was the usual humdrum. The in-fligth movie was Ocean's Thirteen. I read a book instead. As we approach Marrakech, we've almost touched down, when all of a sudden the plane gathers speed and takes off again. After 5 minutes the Pilot announces that its too windy to land from the east so were going round to the west runway to land. On arrival, we have to fill out a form which is basically a visa for EU citizens. You don't have to get one beforehand.

The Hotel
I arrive at the Hotel and check in, but not before filling out yet another form *yawn*. The Hotel's 'public relations' lady comes over and introduces herself to me. I ask about day trips and she informs me of/tries to sell me what they have on offer. I decide to go for a day in the Ourika Valley, between the first foothills of the Atlas Mountains and about 1hr30mins outside Marrakech; and a trip to Essaouira, a seaside town about an 1hr outside Marrakech for Saturday and Sunday respectively. I haven't got any money on me so i tell her i will pop out later, once i've settled in. After unpacking and a short rest, and much psyching up of self, i venture out on to the mean (rather clean, actually) streets of Marrakech.

The Hotel is located in Gueliz, which is Marrakech's new town and was built by the French during their occupation from 1912 to 1956. The new town is as different as can be from the old town, the Medina (see below for a movie clip of my trip into the Medina). Gueliz is home to the business district i.e. banks, hotels, restaurants serving western type food, a McDonalds, bars and nightclubs.

The streets are very wide and as i stand at the zebra crossing trying to get to the other side for 5 minutes hoping someone will stop and let me cross, it suddenly hits me that that just ain't gon' happen. Taking a deep breath, i step out and manage to make it to the centre of the road amidst angry horn tooting from the oncoming scooters and cars. Heart pounding, i realise i'm going to have to be assertive here, so i take a step forward. More angry tooting occurs, but i give the scooter driver a look that says 'ok. You're either going to let me pass, or you're going to run me over'. Thankfully, he lets me pass.

I follow my nose and stumble onto a busy road with aforementioned McDonald's and several banks. Yippee. I withdraw the cash for my day trips and return to l'hotel.

Venturing out - again...

"You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes".
Morpheus to Neo (The Matrix)

I'm one of those people who enjoys watching local television stations when abroad, so i shun BBC News 24 and flick through the other channels. There's a German one, Spanish one, French one, Al-Jazeera and a local Moroccan one. My highlights so far have been watching the Spanish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and German The Weakest Link. Great fun!

Later in the evening i literally have to drag myself away from the TV, but somehow, i manage it. I step out again, intending to find the Place Jemaa al Fna, the main square of Marrakech. At night, it's meant to come to life with food stalls, dancers, musicians, story-tellers, henna tattooists, and lots more. Definitely worth seeing, so i retrace my steps from my earlier trip out. At the busy road, i notice all the non-Moroccans heading in a particular direction, so i make like i know where i'm going and i follow. I'm like a man in that respect - i never ask for directions unless i have to, which usually turns out to be when i have become hopelessly lost.

Hardly anyone is out and about on the streets as it's the middle of Ramadan and everyone is at home, breaking their fasts. I stop to take a picture of something that's caught my attention, and that one simple act changes the course of my holiday. I reserve judgement as to whether for better or for worse.

A scooter swoops down on me and the driver rattles something off in rapid fire french-arabic. I reply with something to the effect of "me no speakie frenchie". Hey, Mr Oguchi my JSS french teacher was narcoleptic and spent 45 minutes of our 1 hour lessons asleep on his feet! He asks if i'm going to the Medina and i make the mistake of saying yes. He offers to take me. I say no, because i'm sensible. I do not know this man from Adam. There's no way i'm going to get on the back of his scooter and allow him to cart me off to goodness knows where in a strange, unfamiliar land. I remember that i was actually heading towards Place Jemaa El-Fna and i say so (turns out he speaks Anglais). He says there'll be no one there at this time (it was around 7pm). He's very persuasive and my resolve starts to crumble as i ask myself the point of coming to Marrakech on my own in search of adventure if i refuse to take any risks. "Oh, ok", i say. "Let's go".

The red pill...

I clamber on to the back of the scooter and away we go. My driver's name is Mustafa. Occupation - okada driver and part-time tourist guide (so says he).
"Take me", he says suddenly.
"Erm, what"?
"Take me".
It turns out he means i should grab hold of him. Now, if he was Josh Holloway on a Harley Davidson, he wouldn't have had to say it twice. Alas he is not, so i choke back my laughter and politely decline. "I'm fine, thanks".

We make idle chit chat and somewhere along the line, i invent a Fiance back home in London in response to his question, 'Are you married'? Some of the material i read beforehand actually suggested wearing a ring on your ring finger if you're a woman travelling alone. Suddenly, i realise the enormity of what i've done and i begin to speak in diverse tongues. "Father, your word says...".
Mustafa: You ok?
Me: Perfectamundo, mate! Just perfect! Never better.....Yea though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, i will fear no evil...

First stop, the Koutoubia Mosque, the biggest mosque in Marrakech. It turns out that that day is the only day in the week on which non-muslims are allowed within the courtyard. I manage to get some good pictures, and then we resume our journey into the Medina. At this point, my apprehension that i might have hooked up with an axe-murderer has begun to dwindle and i somehow have the presence of mind to take out my camera and film part the journey. Please click here to share the experience with me.

Destination, Sahid's shop, a veritable Aladdin's cave nestled within a building in the labyrinth of dusty streets that make up the Medina. We go in and i'm invited downstairs to sit down. Sahid is a Berber Artisan who comes into Marrakech on a monthly basis to sell his silverware and other goods. He leads me down the stairs, warning me to mind my head on the door frame, but i still manage to knock my forehead. Aah well.

I ask if i can take pictures. He says fine. I take a couple. I've read that people might demand money for their pictures to be taken by tourists, and sometimes it gets ugly. I ask again and Sahid tells me they are Berber, not Arab. They don't mind. Hmm. Good to see North African tribalism at work!

No sooner have i sat down, than Mustafa swoops down with 2 bowls of soup. Oh no! I've always been squeamish about eating things whose origins i am unsure of, but do not wish to appear rude.

"What is this"? I ask.
"Vegetable soup", they reply. "Try it. It's good"
No spoons are provided so i mimic Mustafa and slurp the soup out of the side of the bowl, whilst noting to myself how surreal this whole experience is.

Vegetable soup is promply followed by mint tea, an accompaniment to every meal. "Do i want sugar"? "No", i reply, but they don't seem to be able to get their heads around the fact that i don't want sugar and proceed to cajole me. "Ok, already. Just a little". Sahid goes off and comes back with the tea. I take my first sip and it takes every ounce of self control i possess not to spit it out. Do you not understand the concept of little? The thing tastes as if it's one part mint tea, one part sugar! Disgusting!!! I manage a few more sips, but then i give up. If its a toss up between offending them and taking another sip of that goo, then sorry dudes...

Pleasantries out of the way, we begin to transact some business. What? You thought the vegetable soup and mint tea came without strings attached? Sahid begins to pull out some hand woven rugs and show me the intricate desgins, explaining how they've been hand woven with silk by Berber women in the Mountains. He whips out a cigarette lighter and holds it to one of them. I'm halfway up from my seat and about to knock it out of his hand, when he explains that pure silk does not burn. He demonstrates it and is proven right. Phew! Ok.

As you can see from the pictures, there are numerous rugs, of various designs and colours. Sahid pulls out a number and lays them on the floor, inviting me to take my shoes off and walk on them. I comply and then sit back down. They tell me the words for 'yes' and 'no', which i have now forgotten. He raises them up one by one and asks me to tell him if i like it or not. We finally settle on one rug, but i change my mind because i'm not quite sure how to fit it into my luggage. Also, the total price he gives me for the rug, a silver bracelet and another item is just too ridiculous for words. They actually have this fun system for bargaining. He takes out a little notebook and divides a page into two columns - one with my name and one with his. He then writes down his total price (which was 4,700 dirhams. At an exchange rate of approx. 15.6 dh to the £). I'm like, 'Yeah, right'! He says to not worry, just write down what i'm willing to pay. I write 500 Dh. He shakes his head in a mixture of shock and incredulity and is rendered partially speechless for a while.

Long story short, i select some smaller items as gifts for my family, and a bedspread for myself. Sahid gives me a ceramic bowl as a gift and i'm happy with the other stuff i got 'cos i know they'll make good gifts, but i still leave there feeling like i've been Punk'd! Well, i tell myself, that's my souvenir/gift budget blown on my first day.

I know Mustafa's was going to demand some sort of remuneration at some stage. As we leave, he lays it on me - 500 Dh. I laugh and say 'thou art not serious'! I beat him down eventually to 350 Dh, which i'm still not happy about but by now i'm tired and have had enough excitement for one night and wish to retire to my supposedly 4 star, but in actual fact 2.5 star hotel room, and just crash for the night.

He drives me to the cashpoint, where i find out i've exceeded the daily limit for withdrawals (£125 a day). Just great! I persuade Mustafa to come by the Hotel the following evening. He drops me off and i go to bed.

End of Day 1.