Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tangier, MOROCCO ~ Day 3

We left mid-morning, drove about one hour southwest toward the port in Tarifa, Spain, getting our first view of Gibralter along the way.

With all the castles we've seen in the last two years, I would understand if the children stopped taking special notice -- but they haven't. Every castle still has its unique appeal. This one in Tarifa, Spain?
"Oh cool! Look Zae," Eli points, "there's a catapult!"

So, we arrived in Tarifa, parked the car, (without a parking tiff between LeRoy and I! Isn't that cool?! Maybe we're growing beyond the parking issues???), and got to the ticket counter just in time for the lady behind the counter to tell us in a thick Spanish accent that if we hurry, we can catch the ferry just about to leave. She took several minutes to explain the "special tour" (which Rick Steves warned against) and in a momentary lapse of confusion, excitement, and rush, we purchased the tour package and paid just as she picked up her walkie-talkie, said something in Spanish, and then, with the ferry whistle blowing in the background she looked at us apologetically, "I'm sorry. I tried to hurry. But it's too late. You'll have to wait two hours for the next ferry." I used my Spanish -- ai-yai-yai!!

We decided to wander through the streets and alleys of Tarifa and find a place to eat.

At last we stepped off the continent of Europe onto a ferry to cross the Strait of Gibralter where we would step onto the continent of Africa!! Amazing!! Since it was a clear day, we were able to see Morocco from Spain.

I thought my children would think the ferry crossing would be kind of cool... I guess not... I even tried to tell them that the Strait of Gibralter was where the ancient civilization thought was the edge of the world and that to go beyond it would cause you to fall off the edge of the earth. They said, "Cool." And then proceeded to take a little nap. ~grin~

Our first views of Tangier, Morocco, as we came into the harbor. The children saw the skyscrapers and said, "They're not a poor country, Mom! Look at that city!" We had been talking about schemas and paradigms -- our expectations from what little we knew. But the children heard "Africa" and so they were thinking tribal villages with grass huts and people wearing loin cloths. Me? After reading a handful of books written by women in Muslim countries, my schemas were running along those tracks. And LeRoy was just ecstatic about being the man who was taking his family somewhere exotic like... Tangier. {warm smile}

We stepped off the boat, met up with our tour guide, Ben, and were whisked into a mini-van where we met the other members of our group. It all started off with a huge dose of comedy as an elderly couple, retired military, who boasted about "spending their kid's inheritance," climbed in the van bickering. I mean, having an all out heated argument. I can't even remember what it was about now, but we found ourselves covering our mouths in an effort to stifle our giggles. It was evident they were in love... and that the rose-colored glasses were removed long ago. Marty, the husband, was quiet, strong, and confident while his wife, Leslie, had an opinion about everything. I fell in love with her the moment she turned around and looked at our family, her face all skeptisicm, "I don't suppose you speak English, do you?" The children and I giggled while LeRoy assured her we could understand her. With that, she broke into a running monologue about their homestate, Kentucky, their stay in Spain, where they'd been the day before, "...had we seen a bull fight yet?" She was all love. There we were, being driven through the streets of Tangier by Sayyid, our guide giving us a quick rundown of Moroccan statistics -- about the present day King, Mohammed VI, quirky aspects of interest, asking us, "Would we like to ride a camel?" and before we knew it, we were stopped alongside a curb, a couple of camels awaiting our arrival.

Israel immediately ran over and climbed up on a camel while her brothers followed only slightly more tentative.
For one Euro a piece we were lead on a three-minute ride...

...but Israel went twice -- the second time with our new friend, Marty.
Sayyid drove us past the wealthy part of town and then we headed for the Old Town...

...where Ben lead us through the streets toward the restaurant where we would have lunch. I originally posted 89 photos from this day... and that was being selective. I wish you could have experienced this day with us. So often, I feel as though my life is being lived as though I'm in a movie... this day was no exception. (As I write this, I am narrowing down the photos again... I don't want to freeze up anyone's computer... )
Like stepping back in time, we made our way past the shops with vendors selling their spices, tapestries, vegetables... Women in their long dresses and beautiful head scarves framing lovely faces with dark eyes, children zig-zagging on scooters and too-small bicycles, men greeting one another with hands on one another's shoulders, a big hug, an exchange in Arabic, and then their heads thrown back in out-loud laughter... Hustling men, some young, some old, walking shoulder to shoulder with us, holding cheap plastic keyrings in our faces so that we have to push their arm to the side to see where we're going, "Four Euro, only four Euro, a good price, Madame." Me smiling, "No, thank you." Their persistent, "Two Euro." A nod. Eye contact. And then their pleading, "One Euro, Madame! Only one Euro! Name your best price!" Finally they fall out of step and a few paces on a new hustler steps in, this one selling pretty cotton shirts, embroidered and -- to me, anyway -- foreign. He begins in earnest as I try to dodge and weave to keep up with the group, "10 Euro! Good price!" I nod, this time with my hand up, avoiding eye contact. "7 Euro!" I pause. And then, picking up the pace to catch up with the children, he practically dances around me and I smile when I tell him 3 Euro. "Oh, no, Madame!" He walks backward while holding the shirt out to me, showing me the "fine work." We finally settle on 5 Euro and I find myself digging in my pocket for money that may be a meager portion of this man's wages for the day.
Although we were overwhelmed, we were intrigued. The sights, sounds, smells... all a treat to our senses... at times somewhat overstimulated...
At last we made our way down a street that was shared by cars, mopeds, and pedestrians all jumbled together lurching in a forward-stop-weave rhythm. Though chaotic, we felt swept up in the everyday-ness of it all. Our guide stopped to greet a man dressed in a handsome red and black uniform much like a genie in a bottle would wear, then directed us through a door and up a winding marble staircase where five musicians playing Arabian music met us as we entered the restaurant.

Exotic, foreign... Moroccan! How often we long to mingle with the locals, eat what they eat, listen to the language, know their stories...
We had a fabulous time!! Of course, we mostly listened to Leslie tell stories about their adventures... which was great because she was most animated and fascinating to listen to! She knew a lot about a lot and even nudged Eli at one point and said, "I'm going to just ignore him... is that what you do?" when LeRoy teased her about something.
They brought us bread and Cokes and Sprites... then a soup with the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon... then shish kabobs with delicious juicy meat that tasted like hamburger with exotic spices (we don't exactly know what kind of meat it was... smile)...
...but our entire family devoured it, complete with "mmmmm..."
"Mom, look at me! I'm Cleopatra!" Israel said as she reclined back on the couch.
At last they brought the main course: couscous, vegetables, and chicken... MMmmmm! LeRoy and the children were terribly skeptical. But when they saw me and Eli eating it and commenting like it was the best thing we'd ever tasted -- and when they considered their still mostly empty stomachs and factored in the unknowns further into the day -- they decided to try it. Much to their surprise, they too, loved it. Yay!!
The meal was brought to a conclusion with mouth-watering mint tea...

...and sweet, syrupy cookies for dessert!

With our tummies full and tastebuds more than satisfied, we descended the marble stairs and followed Ben back out into the busy streets...
Ben, our guide

How I long to be able to re-create for you the experience of walking, (much too quickly for my liking), past these lives... these people brimming with story, selling their wares...
...the Moroccan version of Bath and Body Works...

...herbs, grains, and spices...
...a closet-sized room full of boys playing racecar video games on four computers...

...and then the carpet store where we watched the purveyor put on a "carpet show."
At one point he invited Israel to sit on his "Magic Carpet" telling her it would take her anywhere she wanted to go. She sat right down and the man was so taken by her that he told LeRoy, "Ah! For you, you can have the carpet and the elephant as a trade for your daughter!" Everyone laughed. Except I did have some uncomfortable recollections which I had read in memoirs written by women raised in this culture... and Ezekiel about burst into tears when he leaned in and whispered, "You're not really going to trade Israel for a carpet are you?" What the?! I'd like to know what I've done as a parent to cause my child to actually worry that I'd make such a trade!! Anyway, it'd have to be more than just a little rug and an elephant...
In the end we were swindled, (I know, I sound like a victim... hello. What is it about the G-U-L-L-I-B-L-E written across my forehead?), into purchasing a rug for an outlandish price... but nowhere near the 160 Euro he asked in the beginning... Never in my life have we experienced such aggression! They made the Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner guys look meek and mild!! At one point he reached for LeRoy's money belt during the negotiations and said, "Give me 20 more! I need it more than you do!" And though I don't doubt that that might have been true, I can't say I've ever heard a salesman actually say that out loud.

This woman was taking her bread dough to the "bakery" which is really the communal oven. We had read in Rick Steves' guide that many locals cannot afford such luxuries as their own oven, running water, or phone line so they share a communal oven, water closet (bathroom), and phone.

This picture was taken as the call to prayer was being chanted from a speaker on the church in the background. Muslims are required to pray five times a day and I had read about this experience in different memoirs... to be there to hear the chant echoing through the streets... it all felt so surreal.
Although Moroccans know how to negotiate prices in English... Arabic and then French are the primary languages.

As our tour came to an end, we made one more stop at the bathroom (quite an experience! I helped my daughter the best I could and then decided I'd just wait...), before Ben rushed us to the van for our escort back to the boat. Except...
...when we got to the harbor, we realized that we were far from finished with experiencing Tangier! So, we found out when the last boat was leaving and turned to go back up the hill... we could sit and people-watch and have coffee (and hot chocolate). We paid 4 Euro for two coffees and four cocoas.
Suddenly, I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned around to see big beautiful dark eyes looking into mine. I smiled and said hello. A darling little boy, (not the one pictured above... upon further observation we realized that he was a co-conspirator scoping the area out), held out a 5-stick pack of gum and said, "One Euro." We melted. Into goo.
"Mom, give him two Euros," my boys said, "and don't take the gum. Just give him the money." Well, I paid him, but I took the gum in an effort not to dishonor him. (??) I'm not exactly sure how he would have interpreted it if I had not taken the gum. (Anyone have any insight on this?)

Later on our walk, we found the little boy who sold us the gum. Isaiah wanted to bring him home with us. ...Okay, to be honest, we all did. Isn't he adorable?

As we meandered up to the City Square, I stopped at a vendor and bought a gorgeous outfit like the ones I had seen so many women wearing all day long. (I'll take a picture to show you later...)
Moroccans are a very touchy, feely culture. Personal space is, well, there isn't a lot of personal space. As I stood there making my purchase, the woman kept kissing Israel on the forehead and on both cheeks, petting her cheek, another kiss, cooing and admiring tones in something Arabic. Israel was so sweet about it all and only told me later that it felt a little "awkward." At the Square, we asked a woman to take our picture. Again, more smiles. And when she handed me the camera back she gave me a little hug. All day -- much to the boy's chagrin due to sunburned shoulders and back -- the men around them kept slapping them on the back.
It was at this point in our adventure that a man, apparently waiting for someone with G-U-L-L--I-B-L-E written across their forehead, approached us and asked if we needed someone to guide us through the city. No, no. We were adamant. LeRoy looked at his watch and said we needed to head back to the harbor anyway.
Before we started back up the hill after checking on the departure time of the last boat, we had answered our eldest child's concerns about missing the boat, ( if that would ever happen! {knowing eyeroll and grin}), with, "Worst case scenario, Eli, we end up staying the night in Tangier and return the next day instead." Well, suddenly we weren't feeling so up for that kind of adventure anymore. So we turned to head back through the keyhole gate toward the harbor.
...with this man leading the way?
Well, we couldn't be sure. After all, he seemed to be heading toward the harbor, too. But he was pointing things out and telling us all kinds of cool information all along the way. Worried, we emphasized that we didn't need a guide. "Oh no, Madame! I'm not a guide! I'm definitely not a guide!" was all he said. Yet, he continued to walk with us. After several minutes, we turned in the direction we thought led to the harbor when he motioned for us to follow him. "This way!" he said. "Moroccans are gentle and caring," he said, "follow me and I'll show you a beautiful view of the Strait. All the tourists want a picture of it! It's extremely popular! Come!" He motioned and then strode briskly down the street. I shrugged. And followed. With my family freaking out behind me.
I felt like we could trust him. I asked LeRoy what time it was and then suggested that at a certain point we turn toward the harbor no matter what -- until then, why not just see what this guy seemed so eager to show us? I know. BIG risk. And, I admit, I was following my gut... which isn't always so reliable. But I also had a peace. And, besides, LeRoy wasn't exactly saying no.
So we followed him and this is where he lead us... to a view where we could see the Atlantic Ocean and the entire Strait... and the Mediterranean? Truly, it was awesome. (I'm not sure what LeRoy, Eli, and Zae were looking at.)

The whole time we were following this man, we kept telling him that we needed to catch the last boat. His response was, "Unlike you Americans, we Moroccans do not worry. We are happy." Hm.
So, after taking in the view and recording it on camera, we told him in our most unworried tone of voice... that we really needed to catch that last boat.

...standing at the edge of the African continent...

My children running through the streets of Tangier. How dreamy is that!!

Well, our un-guide -- our new friend -- did a most excellent job of leading us right to the harbor! And I'm pretty sure that we would've been completely lost if we'd try to find it on our own. And -- this is so cool -- but he continued to tell us all kinds of interesting things about the city during our half-jog, semi-sprint to the harbor. Things like, "This house here is where the American lady lives. She teaches English." (Why did this capture my heart so? Why have I entertained that thought repeatedly since? Visions of "Christy" come to my mind.)
Anyway, we passed through customs again, giggling to ourselves at the funny pronunciation of each of our names, except for LeRoy's, of course. They said his in perfect French: Le-Roy (with a short e)
Safely aboard the boat, we relaxed and got a great view of Tangier. See that spot on the hill that looks like a gravel landslide? We were standing on a ledge atop of that for those pictures.

So long, Tangier, Morocco.
The boys and I have been reading the book "Integrity" by Dr. Henry Cloud. In it, he talks about the wake that every one of us leaves as we go through life. So it blessed me that the boys commented about the "wake" and related it to our reading.

Inspired by my girlfriend, Lisa's, pictures of watching the sun set on the North Sea, I snapped these photos.

Looking back at Tangier...

Watching the wake...

Sunset on the Strait of Gibralter

What an amazing day!! What an experience! What a gift to our family! I told LeRoy I'd visit Tangier at least 100 more times -- but really I'd like to live there for a time.
"Why did you enjoy it so much?"
"I love story. All around me I felt like we were steeped to our necks in story."
We all loved it. Though we're all still processing it. We all would like to go back. Next time, though, (no commercial tours), we'll just wander, watch and listen to the people, linger, inquire more.
And yet, isn't that the longing of every day?
In His Grace ~
(I got it down to 57 photos...)


  1. Wow... I don't even know what to say... Africa... Wow!!! You went to Africa Sharron!!! It was like looking at into a book but I knew the people! So amazing. Love Cleopatra and don't the little ones hustling just break your heart?! The photos you took from the ferry could absolutly be sold as art! Amazing!

  2. I am awe inspired and so happy for all of you...what an awesome experience. What bountiful blessings God has brought into your lives.

  3. What an incredible day. Thank you so much for taking me to Morocco. I love Moroccan music and food, now I know what it is like to be there. I loved the descriptions and photos. It was a real treat to share it all.

  4. I'm amazed I spotted this because we just got back from morocco last week and I posted a couple of videos of Mohamed on UTube in case you're interested in reliving the 'experience'.