Sunday, November 4, 2012

Morocco: The Red City

Our trip began with Marrakech, The Red City. Surrounded by African desert and thick red walls, Marrakech was more foreign even in the approach from the airport than I had been expecting. Because Morocco is so diverse and so close to Europe, I had begun to think before leaving that it would be more like a trip to a European country than an African one, but Marrakech quickly shattered that idea.

In a country as foreign as Morocco, it can often be difficult to break down the barrier between tourist and local: you don't want to be seen as another tourist, and they don't want to be seen as an exotic native. Being blonde and white makes me visible to every salesman from halfway across Morocco, so every person on the street is competing to try to sell something by the time I get there. It's often an overwhelming experience, and one that made us shut down a few times just from the stress of finding a restaurant.

I think that drawing on location often offers a unique experience to be able to interact with people in a different way. Because you are doing something new and exiting, people often drop their usual tourist routine and both groups let down their guard a little. While wandering around in the medina, Chris and I came upon a neighborhood that was completely residential, with not a tourist in sight, but still bustling with people. The walls of the quarter had been freshly washed with "Marrakech Red", and bright red and green flags hung from every building.

As we started to draw, people would smile as they passed, which was very reassuring in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Soon a gaggle of kids began to crowd around us, hopping up to see the drawings and asking to have each one of their portraits drawn. Some men and women came by to peek as well, and one man even shooed some of the kids away to help when he thought they were getting too boisterous. It is one of my fondest memories from Morocco because when you can engage with people on a personal level, where the differences aren't so great, it makes you feel more at home.

We stayed and drew there until sundown, under the latticed roof of the tiny maze-like alleyways, watching people and mopeds pass by, and kittens scamper down the dusty streets and across the rooftops.

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