27 April 2014

A Taste of Berbers

Moving right along, chronologically in this case ... few (decent) photos from this adventure. Obviously supplemented with postcard images. After this I became more conscious of using my camera. For better or worse.

Years later by chance I renewed my acquaintance with the species camelus dromedarius. I travelled with a group from Malaga, Spain, across the Strait of Gibraltar and southward through the mid-Atlas mountains. Exotic Marrakesh was the third royal city of Morocco we visited (but not the most memorable in my mind, I give that to Fes). Our tour leader Alami was necessarily proficient in several languages — the great majority of my companions were from South America. He didn’t totally satisfy the large contingent from Brazil who were awfully busy waving football (Canadian English: soccer) flags at any flimsy pretext and inappropriate moment.

Changing tense, one evening we are taken into the desert for a special “Berber Feast.” By this time a third of our company is absent due to stomach complaints ... obviously no red flags for them about eating fruit with skin on it. Only fruit you can peel yourself, like the exquisite tiny oranges picked up in the market for pennies, is sanctioned by all the travel websites that dispense touristica stomach advice. The belly dancing performance the other night was when whatshername ate grapes (skins on) and became so incredibly ill we left her in the hospital in Meknes and didn’t see her again until Casablanca.

For this festive outing two of my companions uncharacteristically appear to adopt me. D and D are a cheerful New York City couple: a beautiful coyote and her happy-go-lucky boy toy. Their newfound attention was missing during prior medina explorations where all single female tourists are constantly pestered with offers of “a Moroccan husband” age and infirmity being no barrier. Inexplicably, the male D habitually eats apples with skins on to no adverse effect. Go figure.

I bristle a little at the notion that D & D are being protective of me. Protection from what ... fruit? From tonight’s silently efficient waiters who wouldn’t dare lapse into flirtation mode? Or do these two need me as extra defense against the predominant, incomprehensible Brazilians? (... close to a breakthrough, I feel, with Renate the German-Brazilian; it must be my six or seven words of German that raised a flicker of comprehension.) Never mind, I tacitly accept my new hovering buddies.

 Chez Ali, our destination, is a series of rooms resembling Berber tents, open to the night air, surrounding an enormous sand arena. After all, we’re verging on the desert. Wandering minstrels and dancers give constant song and music. It may be touristy but it’s an impressive venue and fun. The meal is typical of what we eat most nights. Can’t beat those Arab appetizers. Then lentil soup, lamb stew with couscous and veg, wonderful sweets for dessert. The post-dinner “extravaganza” performance in the arena includes some son-et-lumiรจre history, but the highlight is the show of Berber horsemanship. The riders are amazing, and those gorgeous Arabian horses ...!

It takes me a while to notice that camel rides are going on peripherally on the darkened edges of the arena. Of course I had to do THAT, propelled by some instinct. Fully expecting my companions to follow, lusty Brazilians and all. Nope, not one of them. The two Ds have been lugging a variety of expensive cameras around for days. Now they are slightly horrified at my boldness but chatter excitedly. Not to worry, my new BFFs are on it — assuring me of photographic captures from the viewing stands as they fumble with all their gadgets.
Oh well. Turns out only one of the Ds has a shaky grasp of zoom operation. An Italian with even more equipment fares better. Trust me, if I’d known in advance, I wouldn’t be wearing a skirt. 

The camel handler has a singularly surly disposition; his world view includes neither job satisfaction nor customer service. Paid in advance, he doesn’t care if his passenger goes ass over teakettle in the all-important mount and dismount. Fortunately, a stored memory of old  you know, morphic resonance or something  saves me from disgrace. The camel is terminally bored.

This is not a big deal, around the arena, but it’s an epiphany. 
It heralds more. I must have more.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman 

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