Thursday, 4 November 2010

Marrakech Part Three: Community

Marrakech isn’t quite like any other city I’ve ever been to before. Of course, architecturally speaking it is nothing like the cities we know, with no high rising tower blocks to speak of, and even the telephone masts are disguised as palm trees to blend in with the foliage.

When you hear the word city, along with bright lights and corporate suits running around trying to make it to their next big meeting on time, a sense of danger pops into your head, especially a city in a foreign country. Hustle and bustle brings along with it pick-pocketers, scams and swindles. Adding to this, Marrakech is all one colour; if you can’t stand the sight of terracotta, don’t go. It’s so easy to get lost and disorientated, and at night, if you don’t know where you are and by yourself, it can become a scary place.

A carpenter who looked a
little disgruntled to have
 his photo taken...
It occurred to me however that it only really becomes threatening as an outsider. As British people we immediately stand out to the locals as foreign, on holiday and with money to spend, so of course they target us for these kinds of things.

For the people who actually live in Marrakech however, it seems not like the kind of city we are familiar with, and the sense of community is incredibly strong considering its size. Around every corner there seemed to be children playing out on the street with no sign of parents or guardians watching over them. Several people I was with pointed out how it seems a shame that it doesn’t quite work like that over here in the UK.

With stories hitting the papers every so often about missing children, stories which the public hold onto for years to come, the simple charm of children just being allowed to play unattended in the surroundings of their homes is tainted and becomes more and more scarce. Groups of children who do this in cities become gangs, loitering in dodgy areas and are often linked to violence.

Whilst I’m sure this does happen on occasion in Marrakech, it still seemed like a much safer environment for children to play in. It felt like the whole community was in a sense looking out for the people around them, and I guess also with their religion (almost exclusively Muslim) hurting children wouldn’t even be thought of.

Some lovely woolen hats made
by some chirpy Moroccan ladies.
As well as freedom and safety, another factor that adds to their community is the trade. Whilst I imagine a lot of the items you can buy in the souks are cheap tack that comes from outside the city, you can also see much of it being made in the markets before your very eyes. Just as the food in the markets is prepared before you, there were stacks of leather waiting to be made into intricate bags and slippers, and carpenters making exquisite chess sets in a matter of minutes.

The fact that the items that these people are making are fabricated exactly in the place you buy them from really adds to the idea that this is honest trade; trinkets made in the community, and money going towards to community. When we visited the Atlas Mountains on one of our day trips, we came across co-op shops with beautiful fabrics crafted in the very villages just steps away.

As the mosques get full, men
 line up in the streets the pray.
Marrakech has a sense of community like no other that I’ve come across in a city before. These people eat together, munching away on the food from vendors on the street. They pray together five times a day, an official blasting out the call the prayer on the speaker system of every mosque so everyone in the city can hear it. On several occasions we came across groups of men on rows of tables playing cards in the street instead of some smoke-filled seedy bar above a kebab shop. Despite the intense competition, the shopkeepers all sit outside their shops together having a laugh whilst they trade. 

I have to say, I genuinely admire the dynamic that Marrakech has created, and it seems a shame that something in our world has dissolved our own sense of community. Even though the place seems so chaotic and crazy, somehow it’s held together so beautifully and it just works. I can’t quite see London making it yet, bit more ground to cover than Marrakech I guess. 

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