I don’t take offense to many things in life. I grew up as an Asian American in the public schools of California. This meant that most of my friends were Mexican or Black. In public school, Asians didn’t have a large population so I stood out as a minority in my classes. By the time I got to high school, I was thick skinned and quick witted. Every racial insult or joke was heard by this point and I had plenty of my own to reciprocate. Most teasing wasn’t to hurt your feelings, it was just to illicit laughter or cause a reaction.
In the souks of Marrakech, I was astonished at how bold and intolerant the shopkeepers were. Almost insulting at certain points but mainly to draw your attention into their shops. They weren’t doing it to hurt my feelings or convey a message of hate, it was their way of connecting with you in the only way they know how. With me, they called me either Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. Only because these were the only Asian people they knew about.
During the first few days of being in Marrakech, I didn’t take any offense and ignored them. It wasn’t like it was personal or anything, these people were just hoping I would look at them and maybe buy some of the useless crap they were selling. I tried my best to keep my composure and not react to what they were saying, but it got annoying fast. Mostly because I was seeing these same people multiple times and they would keep calling out to me. I’ve ignored them countless times and it seemed like they were just trying to get me to react. Marrakech became one of the most irritating places to visit.
After a few days, this man who sold bracelets and jewelry called out to me. Jackie Chan! I was annoyed and looked towards his stall. His face was old and scarred. When he opened his mouth, it was obvious to see that he did not take care of his teeth. The few teeth he did have were brown and broken. It seemed like he spent his life chewing on rocks and rinsing his teeth with motor oil. Without thinking, I looked at him and said, “you need a dentist”. Most people in this neighborhood spoke enough English to conduct simple transactions and immediately after what I said, I was hoping he didn’t speak much English. The expression on his face quickly soured and he walked over to me with a purpose and looked up at me. Compared to him, I was considerably taller but he got in my face and demanded for me to repeat what I said.
Even though I felt that I had equal right to return his insult, I didn’t want to get into an argument with a local. He was beginning to make a scene with his yelling and accusations. I wasn’t prepared for this because I thought there wouldn’t be any consequences to what I said. When I said it, I didn’t even think he spoke English. Before it got too crazy, this guy I previously purchased some hash from stepped in and calmed things down. He vouched for me and escorted me away from the area. After everything, this whole event taught me that I should be less ignorant about other people’s ignorance. And not to fuck with people in foreign countries.
Melissa and Amanda from New York and Luigi from Italy travelled here with me in a taxi we hired in Marrakech. The journey itself took about 2 hours through winding roads through the mountains. An occasional mule or camel would wander onto the road and we would wait patiently for the animal to pass. Music from Morocco played on the old radio that was still equipped with a casette player. Some of it was repetitive and catchy so the girls sang along when the verse got familiar.
Staying in Imlil was a little different than staying at a hostel in Europe. We immediately became involved with the lives of this Berber host family. We immediately became involved with the family life and participated with the daily tasks of the family. All of us would help make food, peel almonds and help with the mules. This was an opportunity to learn culture as well as a nice bed to sleep in.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Ahmed and his family. The family lived a simple lifestyle with many traditional methods in favor of modern appliances. Food was cooked using wood as kindling and most of the ingredients were made naturally from scratch. Clothes were bright and festive as a part of their vibrant culture.
Fresh baked bread was almost always being prepared because I sat by this oven and ate the bread as it came out. With no television or internet, I succumbed to the pyrotechnic child inside of me and made sure the fire was stoked and the bread wasn’t being burned.
Children here don’t have iPads or video games so they played with each other and helped out with housework. This girl claimed that I was the first Asian person she’s ever seen and was very curious about how black and straight my hair was. There would be times where I would be sitting and would feel someone’s hand touching my hair. I’d look up and would see this girl smiling and completely fascinated.
The local butcher shop down the road was sieged by the stray cats in the neighborhood. I believe they have become accustomed to the scraps that are discarded by the butcher and have taken permanent residence here.
Ahmed ordered feed in bulk on behalf of his neighbors and the community would arrive to take their order and pay their portion of the bill. The mules would line up to take their load home to their respective families.
Imlil is a small village located at the base of the Atlas Mountains. People usually use this town as a base camp before climbing Atlas. Located about an hour north of Marrakech, Imlil sits in a valley with a small creek flowing through. The houses line up along the creek to use as a source of water.
People of this region are considered Berber instead of Arabic. The language and customs are slightly different than their Arabic counterparts. I came here along with a few people I met at the guesthouse I was using in Marrakech. Two girls from New York and a guy from Italy. Luigi, from Italy, spoke almost no English and I had to communicate with him using hand gestures and basic Spanish. He might have understood about half of what I was saying and the same went for myself.
At night, the whole village went dark except for the occasional fire and house lamp. The stars were clear to see due to the lack of ambient light in the area. The four of us sat on the roof of our host’s house and smoked joints while huddled in blankets. We marveled at the stars and tried our best to understand our Italian friend. It was a memorable experience that we will remember years later.
Hash and marijuana in Morocco are considered illegal but the police don’t want to waste their time dealing with Westerners on vacation. Some even understand that this is the reason why people visit. There is almost a sense of national pride with hashish being one of their greatest national exports. Southern Europe receives a bulk of their supply from this Northern African country while the rest of Europe get’s their hash from Pakistan and the Netherlands.
In the hostels, there were talks about Jimmy Hendrix coming to Morocco to smoke hash and write songs on the beach back in 1969. This visit a year before his demise made Hendrix an icon of the coastal city of Essaouira. My visit wouldn’t leave the same impact that Jimmy had, but I hoped to make some new friends and try out this form of processed marijuana.
It wasn’t even my first full day in Marrakech and I was still learning my way around. I would walk circles around the guesthouse I was staying at. Slowly expanding my reach and venturing further and further. The souks didn’t have a sense of order or pattern. These alleys would shoot off in random directions and I had to draw a mental map in order to have any sense of where I was.
In this dusty alleyway filled with people, a man my age called me over. He was wearing a white track suit with a matching white baseball cap. Everyone else wore moderate clothing that seemed worn due to living in an area with so much dust. He introduced himself as Omar and I accused him of being the president of Adidas in Morocco. He chuckled and asked if I had any intrest in hash. Like a teenager who just got asked to prom, I tried to keep it cool and disinterested. I wasn’t going to commit to anything and asked if I could see what he had to offer. Omar looked up and down the alley and said that he couldn’t show me out in the open because of police. Agreeing to his logic, I followed him down an alley without any people but was able to see the traffic flow of people not too far from me. Knocking on one of the doors produced his friend who popped his head out.
It turned out that Omar didn’t even have the drugs on him. He would bring people to this house and was more of a middleman. The man in the house smiled and tried to rush me inside to avoid prying eyes. Fuck that. This wasn’t my first time and I knew better than to walk into a strange house with some drug dealers. Thoughts of my body ending up on the internet being beheaded was enough to keep my guard up in Northern Africa. Omar told me that he wanted to give me a free sample before purchasing anything. This was a common tactic among shopkeepers in Marrakech to invite customers in for tea during a business transaction. After ingratiating themselves, the customer would feel obligated to buy something.
My concern was to avoid negotiating for drugs while fucked up. I wanted the peace and quiet of the guesthouse roof instead of being paranoid inside of someone’s dark house. The man in the house brought out a chunk of hash that weighed about an ounce. It was crumbly/gritty texture that had a faint scent of cannabis. When he asked for a $100 for this, I was prepared to haggle for it. In my previous experiences that day, I noticed that tourists were hit with ridiculous prices for anything they wanted to buy. Back in California, this much hash would go for much less. Through persistence and a couple attempts to walk away, I walked away with said hash for around $10.
In the time I spent in Morocco, I visited Omar again to look for hash. I wanted to avoid the the haggling and asked if he could set up the same deal as before to make this easy. I even joked that I’d let him take my friend, Meghan as one of his brides if he would be willing to expedite this for me. Unfortunately, the first guy wasn’t doing business that day and he brought me to another person. This transaction was a bit more confrontational. The new man I was dealing with seemed like he was cursing at me in Arabic when I offered a counter price. Eventually, I got what I wanted and enjoyed the rest of my week in Morocco. You just need patience and good sense when dealing with things like this.
Omar and Meghan below:
I’ve never seen so many natural colors organized on display. There was something artistic about the way they were showing off their wares in Marrakech. This is one of several shops located in this crazy maze they call the Souks. Between the walls were about 6 feet of space that gave your room to walk between other people, animals and motorcycles. You did your best to avoid getting hit or stepped on. It was almost like a trap to get hurt. My eyes would wander from the path to see the colors and then I’d run into someone or get hit by someone’s cart.
The difference in architecture and civil structure was hard to go unnoticed. My head would brush close to the edges of doorways, I’d trip on stairs because of their different heights and was always smelling something I’ve never smelled before. It was almost overwhelming at certain points. I remember thinking that I really didn’t want to die in this country for some reason.