Friendship in Marrakesh

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Back in February I learned that just like the currency exchange rate, one can easily leave Morocco with much more than they went with.

On Thursday, February 8th (after sleeping on the airport floor), I left Milan-Malpensa Airport with Michael Morrison and Daniel Smalls heading for Marrakech, Morocco for our first of our two mini-spring breaks. The original plan was to go to Marrakech for two days and then move onto either Rabat or Casablanca for a night, before training to Tangier to cross the Straight of Gibraltar into Tarifa, Spain and then bus onward up to Seville in order to catch our flight back to Milan.

However, the trip did not turn out quite like the original plan (Travel Tip #1: Always be ready to be flexible when traveling internationally, especially in underdeveloped countries or regions), but it ended up still being fantastic!

After getting off of the airplane in Marrakech, I quickly realized how cold and dry the air was and that it smelled of a mixture of dust and various spices. Another near instant observation was how friendly, yet cautious everyone seemed to be when interacting with “Americans”.

After getting on the number 19 bus that took the group to the closes bus stop to the “Jamaa El-Fna” (also know as “the Fna), we headed through the utter chaos of the Fna and its weaving pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, trucks, donkeys, snake charmers, musicians, and shopping stands (at this point I found it very interesting to consistently watch Michael and Dan’s faces since it was the first developing country either of them had been to). Although I must say that for being in Africa, it was much more developed than I had expected, even though the rural outskirts of the city did seem much less developed than the Fna district.

As we walked through the crowded Fna staring at everything we passed with curiosity we noticed that the locals became curious as well. I will admit that we were probably pretty easy to pick out since we were three young, white males with English text on our clothing, carrying suitcases and backpacks through the streets turning our attention to almost everything in sight for at least a couple of seconds. We quickly learned that when the Moroccan people become curious they take that as a prime opportunity to sell something, anything! We had people trying to show us to our Riad (basically a traditional hostel) for a small fee, to sell us street-crafted food, traditional Moroccan clothing and goods, sunglasses, postcards, snakes, pictures with monkeys… They were trying ANYTHING that could possibly make them a dollar! It was a bit overwhelming at first, but easily controlled after the first hour or two in the city. The strategy that seemed to work the best was to wear sunglasses and ONLY use our peripheral vision, look slightly upset, and to walk with purpose. This worked especially well when we were in denser areas and there were weaker looking pray around (as bad as that sounds).

The streets were chaos! A narrow alleyway could at any point have hundreds of humans, motorcycles, cars, horse-drawn carriages, and various other roadblocks that had to carefully be maneuvered around to reduce the risk of being hassled by store owners or by getting hit by the irresponsible and almost always speeding motorcycles that plagued the city.

One afternoon Michael and I were walking around just exploring and found a small music shop that was owned by four brothers. As we explored the shop we knew that we had to bring Dan, our groups musician, back to the shop. So a few hours later, with Dan, we went back to the shop and once again started talking to the brothers who were extremely nice! After several minutes of looking though their shelves of drums, stringed instruments, and novelty instruments they offered to make tea for us, which we gladly accepted. We then spent the next couple hours jamming out on instruments and talking about the differences (and similarities) between Marrakesh and our hometowns. At the end of the evening Dan ended up buying a traditional Ghanaian instrument that slightly resembles a bass guitar and one of the brothers named Chafiq took us to his favorite local restaurant for dinner where we could get “real Moroccan food.”

Me, Chafiq, Dan, and his Chafiq's Brother

The Music Shop (Chafiq is between Dan and I)

This got me thinking …

We all knew Chafiq was a business man, and that by being nice to us his chances of a sell increased exponentially. However, we are now Skype friends and we have shared several e-mails full of pictures from our trip and kind regards. So at what point was this kindness his marketing strategy versus his sincere kindness/interest towards us? He had been taking English classes and said that talking to us helped him with that, but I guess this asks an even bigger question; what is friendship (I know that this question is much bigger than I can possibly answer in a couple hundred words, but it is still worth discussing)? How self-centered can friendship be, and still be a “true friend?” Even in the states this seems to be a colossal issue! So many people network for the sole purpose of self-interest, but where has the compassion of friendship gone, or did it ever leave? Is this just the nature of friendship and an acquaintance only turns into a “true friend” after the long process of developing  mutual compassion and respect for each other? That is what I am currently leaning towards, but that means that most of the time that people become friends it is because they ask “what is in it for me to become this persons friend,” and find something worth while even if the product they desire is only knowledge. In Chafiq’s case, or anyone else’s in that matter, can they be blamed? If they are just trying to earn a dollar, whether they want to be friends or not (although, in this case I honestly think he did), to support their family; Is there anything wrong with that? These thoughts, over the past few days, has really changed they way I have been interacting with people, although I am not fully confident that it should…

What are your thoughts?