People say different things about Morocco and since it is a Muslim country there are many misconceptions but little know that it was a top destination among Post War American writers, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg or Paul Bowles. Of course, Emerson has never made it to the North African country but being a young woman reading ¨Self - Reliance inspired me enough to set out on a journey where I could still explore and investigate what it means to be out of my comfort zone and really rely on yourself only.
After a visit to “Marrakech” a Berber name for the “Land of God”, so full of hustle and bustle, a few days of peace and quiet in the Atlas mountains, was worth its weight in gold. During a car journey of around three hours, I was given the time to reflect on the memories of all the I had seen so far. At first, literally holding onto my transcendental reading, I believed that, all human interests centre in the cult of human individuality. We are convinced that in each of us dwells something noble, worth development. We regard the perfection of the whole as depending on the unique perfection of every single individual. Yet, being in Morocco, made me feel that there are still some places where ideals can be forced upon us. Yes, the peculiar nature of this country, as developing one and attracting lots of migrants, including refugees, creates a nonconformist spirit. However, as a woman, I had to make sure my shoulders and knees were covered. God seems to be in a paradoxical position here, as people acknowledge his position as something ideal but must still bestow on establishing the connection among themselves as a universal principle of socially restricted relations.
When I close my eyes I can still remember the colours of raw earth, brick-like red rocks and dust left behind ever moving vehicles. Finally, when we arrived I was first and foremost invited to eat. The Morrocan driver told me way before in a most friendly and open way that because it´s Friday most of the places including hotels or restaurants are closed. On Friday, Moroccans usually go to the mosque and pray.
As soon as I came out of the taxi, this guy in a djellaba on a very much packed scooter came across the street. He just asked what I was looking for and when I've explained that I´m hungry, he called a friend and I was told to rush inside one of the houses. I entered through large wooden doors and saw a picturesque garden and fountain. A skylight was bathing the downstairs entryway, highlighting geometrical forms of tile design. The white bannister leading upstairs, looking especially white but not harsh. I found myself in a Riad. An old stone building designed around an enclosed courtyard.
I knew that Riads are an integral part of Morocco´s exotic allure, but it isn´t often to find a place that transports you to another world and I knew then and there that this wasn´t just any type of place. With a sound of chirping birds and running water, it felt like being separated from the rest of the big world. It reminded me about the connection between the past, and now and it felt like life does stop for a while. I was able to evaluate every little movement I´ve made on my journey and even before I set on it.
I was given mint tea to drink, tajine with couscous and chicken to eat. Moroccans favour eating with a piece of bread rather than cutlery. I had some training from Marrakech already so I knew that I should just use my fingers instead. Later, I was offered a room to stay in. I must have fallen asleep shortly after. I woke up fresh and ready to discover new surroundings.
When I came outside the building, I realised that the house was almost surrealistically situated. It was perched on the red rock, set against an endless stretch of The Atlas mountains.
The guy on the motorbike from a day before, Nassim offered to be my guide today. We set on a journey to the highest peak, Toubkal. Riding together, I couldn´t believe where I was and how easy it is if you allow yourself to experience something as metaphysical. Soon, I´ve learned that Atlas mountains are rich in natural resources. They are full of iron, copper, silver, rock salt and marble but also provide routes between the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines to the Sahara desert. They are a connection between two contraries. As if rationality met feelings and demonstrated itself through tectonic plates breaking into pieces.
Haggling is like a national sport for Moroccans, so Nassim was very happy to hear I was going to buy a rock salt from him if he finds it for me. At one point he stopped, pointed at one solid surface of the earth, smashed it with the other and we saw the most beautiful crystal opening in front of our eyes. He gave it to me as a gift.
As this whole experience was enough overwhelming, maybe the actual perception of Atlas mountains was only possible when dwelling on the morphology of its naming. In the days of ancient Greece, this stretch of land seemed like a very west of the world and therefore it was believed that the titan called Atlas, might be there holding the sky from falling. To be honest, going on a trip to Morocco was more like revolting against falling myself and looking for a less comfortable and consumerist lifestyle I carried in London. I needed to find an alternative and it took me coming here to learn that one of the ways to understand yourself is to ¨ Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events…´
Here I was looking at the vast stretch of plain and plateau, perceiving the reality through intuitive senses. Trusting myself and not letting go premises but understanding it as a necessary milestone in encompassing culture different than your own.
Text: Marta Marszalek
Images: Paul Conradi