Globally it's spelled Marrakesh with an "s". That's anglicized.
Locally it's spelled Marrakech with a "c". That's authentic.
To actually see and experience Marrakech
authentically, you have to give up something. You could hear what I
just spoke as a tourist. To a degree, that's apropos - not to
mention useful. You'd have to give up, for example, counting on finding
your way around using a map relying on signs showing street names
because there aren't any signs showing street names. You'd have
to give up, for example, counting on finding your way around using
directions relying on businesses and restaurants displaying their
street numbers because businesses and restaurants don't display
their street numbers. You'd have to give up, for example, English
to read signs and to make conversations because English is hardly
spoken here (classic Arabic and Moroccan French is).
And that's just for starters. This is a different world, a
totally different world, a slower paced world, a
third world. When I first arrived in Marrakech I noticed
everything is painted the same brick red color. I first
noticed the same reddish color of the surrounding desert sands as our
(my daughter Alexandra
and I decided to spend some quality time alone together here)
approached Marrakech's surprisingly modern airport. In the city itself
(appropriately known as "The Red City"), it seems as if everything -
walls, fences, buildings, markets, stalls, art, pottery,
everything - is painted or glazed the same brick red
My western leanings got the better of me as I found myself wondering
how I could buy shares in the company selling this single color paint -
odd thoughts, in the midst of abject poverty in which beggars
proliferate. This is a very, very old city, a fascinating
blend of ancient and modern. Looking down from hills and monuments, I
noticed literally thousands and thousands of satellite
dishes mounted on the roofs of the city. They're sprouted up
everywhere like a forest of mushrooms - on the swankiest,
poshest hotels (and there are a few of those), on the most pitiful
hovels. Again - in spite of myself - I wondered about buying stock in
the company installing satellite dishes.
All these observations stuck with me, having a profound effect on me.
As a traveler, they're impossible to avoid. However, this essay isn't a
travelogue - as much as I'm tempted it should be. It's a
So rather than merely rattle off, rote like, what there is to see and
do in Marrakech as a tourist, and what you have to give up as a tourist
to see it authentically, here's something that's really worth getting,
leading to what's really worth giving up - not just in Marrakech but
rather across the board in Life as well, wherever you are.
When we hailed a taxi, we showed the driver our map and pointed to
where we wanted to go. I don't speak any Arabic. But I understand
enough Arabic to realize taxi drivers in Marrakech may not be able
to read maps!
("Shouldn't all taxi drivers be able to read maps?")
And even when taxi drivers spoke some passable English, if we told
them, for example, about a restaurant to which we'd like to be taken,
having read about it being recommended in our guide book, taxi drivers
in Marrakech may not be able to find restaurants by name.
("Shouldn't all taxi drivers be able to find restaurants by
Both of the above wouldn't be allowed by any
taxi licensing commission in any American city ...
And that's when I noticed it: the constantly pernicious
comparing to the way in my opinion it ought to be, the
constant judging of what we should get, of what we should
expect - indeed, the constant expectation about
how things should work
here: streets should have street signs, businesses and
restaurants should display their street numbers for easy
locatability (which should match maps and directions in
guidebooks), English should be spoken (yes, that's really
arrogant I know ... but Man! I noticed I had it going on -
big time), taxi drivers should be able to
read maps, and should definitely be able to find
restaurants by name - even if it required me mustering my basic French
to convey it to them.
"Should!". "Should!". "Should!". I was seeing it
everywhere in who I was being: in my thinking, in my
speaking, in my listening, in my expectations. Furthermore I realized
until I saw it, I was totally blind to it ongoingly
shaping my thinking, my speaking, my listening, my expectations (that's
the embarrassing part). And suddenly, with a blended mix of chagrin,
frustration, sadness, and wide eyed innocence, I experienced a
I realized I wasn't having the authentic Marrakech experience at all.
In fact, although technically I was here within the city limits of
Marrakech, within its walls, within its medina ie within
its geographical location, I hadn't yet really arrived in
Marrakech. Rather, the experience I was having was my
already always ongoing
into which Marrakech was somehow expected to fit.
That's what I had to give up to actually see and to actually experience
Marrakech authentically: I had to give up having
Laurence's experience of Marrakech, and instead I had to
allow Marrakech to have its experience of Laurence.
"Shookrun" (which means "thank you" in Arabic) Marrakech.
Shookrun for being awesome. Shookrun for being ancient and
marvelous. Shookrun for already being authentic - exactly
the way you are and exactly the way you aren't - and for showing me how
easy it is for me to miss that. Shookrun for
not being the United States of America. Shookrun
for not being what I already know, for not being what I'm already
familiar with, for not being what I'm already comfortable with.
Shookrun Marrakech for calling me on my act - that is to
say thank you for calling me on my arrogant, American, tourist, act.