How did I go from walking around a little expensive garden in Marrakech to being taken to a local Berber house in the Atlas mountains by a Moroccan man? It all started with a complaint.
I’d heard great things about Yves Saint Laurent’s gardens, Majorelle Garden. So my friend and I decided to venture to that side of town to check them out. Our guide book had suggested it would be 30 Dirhams, just shy of 3 euros – expensive for Morocco, but not too bad for lush gardens. Once again, the two year old book was way off, leading us to be disappointed again. For 50 Dirhams I knew that it was not a place that local Moroccans would visit and wondered if it was worthwhile. I asked some girls who were just leaving whether it was worth it and they couldn’t really say, but said it was very lovely.
“It’s so expensive” I said, in the general direction of some Moroccan men, but mostly to my friend. We decided after traveling to see the gardens, it would in fact be a shame not to see them. So we went in, walked around, and while it was lovely and quite beautiful we came to the conclusion I had suspected; it simply wasn’t worth the price.
We sat on a seat and decided to spend some time just enjoying the peaceful contrast to Marrakech, when eventually a man, Jamal, came up to us and asked whether it was worth the price we paid. We were frank and told him although the gardens were beautiful, we would never come again and never suggest out friends would too. Then I asked him a question, he hadn’t thought of before. I asked why the gardens weren’t a more reasonable price, one that the average Moroccan could afford? Shouldn’t they be able to enjoy their own gardens? He agreed and from that comment stemmed a conversation that stretched the edges of our culture.
I asked what he thought about all the tourists who were wearing skimpy clothing, short shorts and crop tops that showed off their bellies, and to my surprise he said it didn’t bother him too much. There was a line of course, where it became a little bit too much and a little too disrespectful, but for the most part he didn’t mind when tourists didn’t cover up. I was surprised, because the Moroccan woman I have seen have been covered from shoulder to toe, right down to the palms of their hands. I asked him what he thought about covering a woman’s face up so only her eyes are visible. It turns out the average Moroccan man isn’t so interested in that kind of dress anymore and often it’s the woman who has grown up that way who wants to follow her tradition.
As he was leaving the gardens, he gave me his email address and said if we were interested he would be happy to take us out to dinner later this evening. We decided to walk to a supermarket and a few minutes later he drove past asking if we wanted a ride, we obliged. He said he was going to do some business and would be traveling back the other way and could give us a lift back to the central square. Mid way through our walk back we heard tooting and saw his enthusiastic face in the car waiting to help us once again. He dropped us off and suggested we meet there again at 6.30pm that night for dinner.
And we did, and the dinner was nothing short of amazing. He ordered vegetarian things for us to try, as Ava is vegetarian and compared to the bland dinner we had the night previous, everything was so flavorsome and delicious. He told us that he was writing a book about himself that could only be released after his death. Intrigued, we asked him to tell us stories that would be included. He shared one that made our eyebrows raise involving a German man which he ended up staying with for two weeks. He stressed that he’s not rich, but travel is his absolute priority. He collects experiences, not things. He spent four years teaching French and Arabic in Japan and has really been all over.
Our dinner stretched out past 11, where tiredness crept in before we could have ever got bored and we decided to go home. He invited us the following day to join him on a trip to a Berber village and we did. I’ll write a blog post about that in a few days, but for now I just wanted to show how travel can be when you’re open. When Jamal first approach us about whether we were enjoying it, we could have easily answered his question and then brushed him off. When we were at dinner, I laughed at the simple fact that we were enjoying a dinner at a place we’d never known about because of a simple, passing, complaint. I also suggested that if complaining would bring me such great fortune, I should do it more often.
Maybe because you have more free time, or maybe because you’re more open, when you’re traveling these kind of experiences tend to happen more often. These deep insights into the lives of others, people you would have never met otherwise. I love meeting locals, it is one of the main reasons I travel and this experience was nothing short of wonderful.
Have you ever been invited into the life of a random on a trip? I’d love to hear more about it.