Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Morocco Journal - Part 14: Tangier Trip

So. My last weekend was spent in Tangier and Spain. Here are the details--but I'll talk about only Tangier in this post, k? Talking about Spain, too, will take a looong time and will make this too long a read for y'all.

Tangier is all the way at the top - see where Spain is now?
Friday evening, around 5:45pm, we left for Tangier, the birth city of Ibn Batuta’s. (Click here to read about him; he’s not a favorite scholar of mine, but definitely an important Muslim and the most important traveler of the Middle Ages--way more than Marco Polo, by the way--and one of the most important of all time. It's a pity he's not nearly as well-known in the West as Polo is.) The main reason roommie and I decided to go to Tangier, though, was to actually go to Spain ‘cause you can catch a ferry in Tangier and go to Spain. More about that in the next blog post, though, k?

The train ride from Meknes, our host city in Morocco, was about 3.5 hours and very interesting. We were in first class (not very expensive in American dollars), because we’d heard that if you’re taking a long train ride in Morocco, do NOT go for second class. And I agree now. There’s AC in first class, more privacy, it’s a private cabin instead of an open car, and so on. Overall, a great choice! So there’s these two people with us in our compartment, an elderly woman and a man probably in his 40s or so. For the first hour or so, we didn’t talk. About an hour later, though, a train official opens our door and goes, “Coffee? Tea? Water?” And I’m thinking, but it’s not time for iftar (breaking of fast) yet, is it? Maybe it is. “Yes, I’ll take a coffee, please. No milk.” I thought it would be free, man :p The guy returns with my coffee—and let me just say here that it was my first time drinking Moroccan coffee, and I LOVE IT!!! (I’m not a coffee person; in fact, I hate coffee. Thought I have one week left and should give it a try just to taste it.) The man in our compartment ordered a water. But he didn’t open his water, and I drank my coffee. A while later, the train dude returns, asking for money, haaaa haaa. We all, including the man who’d ordered water, go, “Whaaaaat, no way! Isn’t it free?” The guy goes, “No, no, sorry. 8 dirhams for the coffees” and I don’t remember how much for the water.

Anyway, the lady later looks at us and laughs, and I’m like, “Well, clearly, none of us knew they’d charge us, but of course they would!” So convos began among us all. They asked us where we were from, what we studied, where in Morocco we were staying, where all we had visited so far, and so on. I mentioned to them, of course, that I’m an Islamic Studies student, and when they asked what exactly I focus on, I listed Qur’an, interpretations, and gender as among my interests.

A while later, iftar time comes, and the lady offers us some of her snacks that she’d brought with her to break her fast. She insists so we all take some. After a while, I said, “You know, when that man came in offering us water and coffee and tea and stuff, I thought it must be iftar time so I broke my fast already.” She and the man laughed their heads off, and roommate and I joined along. And then the lady goes: “Yeah, I was wondering! Like how does she do Islamic Studies, even studying the Qur’an and she’s not fasting?! What a shame!” LOL!! Roommie and I crack up even more (it’s one of the things we talk about a lot—the many, MANY assumptions, expectations, and responsibilities that come with being an Islamic Studies student and with being a Muslim and what little boxes most people have created for us to fit into or else). I was like, yeah, no, no, I was fasting but just thought it must be broken earlier since the breaking-fast time varies from place to place. Khair, the lady eventually seemed to have forgiven me.

The sad thing is—and I hate this about so many Muslims—why can’t they just assume the best? Why can’t she have assumed that I must have some reason for not fasting, if hse suspected I wasn’t fasting? Why can’t she have thought, “Maybe she’s ill, maybe she’s on her period, maybe she’s not fasting since she’s traveling and fasting isn’t required during traveling (forbidden, even, according to some authorities)”? Upsettingly enough, this is too typical among too many Muslims. We just can’t seem to stop minding people’s business and think that, even IF the person’s not fasting, so what? And if they’re not, maybe they have a reason that we just don’t understand and don’t need to understand. People with the mentality of “tsk tsk, she’s not a good Muslim just because she doesn’t fit into the little bubble I’ve created for her because of my small mind” are such a huge turn off.

BUT! This lady, despite being so judgmental, wasn’t necessarily a bad or un-kind person. Of course, just because someone’s judgmental and expects you to follow Islam the way
they understand it best doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people or are your evil-wishers. I’ll explain why in a sec. So, while on the train, roommie and I asked her (the lady) and the man about Tangier and Spain and which routes were best for Spain and where all they recommend is a must-see and so on. Got great tips for them.

Other topics that we discussed during our train ride were—and get ready for this: how American parents don’t love their children (!!!!! DUDE! This is seriously too common a view in Morocco, Pakistan, and Jordan! In Pakistan, I grew up to this thinking, and some Pakistani parents I know still believe this, even after having lived here among Americans for years! It’s very unsettling. This topic has come up several times with Moroccans, and it used to in Jordan as well with people I’d just interact with.) So, here’s what they think: American parents are selfish, don’t love their kids, want to be alone and without their kids so they kick their kids out of their house when the kids turn 18. I’m like, no, no, no, that’s not how it works. I explain how there are many Americans who stay with their parents while going to college, and most who leave home do so for education or work purposes. I also explained how life there is so different that one needs to learn to be independent from a young age, and I have a friend whose parents had her live on her own *but close to them* so that she’d learn how to survive on her own because that’s the need of the day. NOT because American parents don’t love their kids! They weren’t convinced at all. Finally, I said, “Me, for example. I live away from my parents, and it’s for my education. My uni happens to be very far from them.” They, like the other people I’ve discussed this with, go: “No, no, Muslims are different.” I’m like, What the hell? It’s so hard explaining to them that there’s not just one way of expressing or understanding love and that perhaps they understand love differently than Americans do (which isn’t necessarily true in all cases). It’s frustrating.

Almost no use trying to teach them that, no, Americans are not “bad” people. But I’m sick of hearing the “We Muslims have our cultures and religion. We abide by Islam. The Americans, they don’t have values.” Uh. If your definition of values encompasses solely how a woman should dress—which, let’s be real, it often does—then you don’t understand the meaning and the purpose of having values at all.

We also discussed American and Canadian healthcare systems, President Obama and drones, Pakistan and Islam and Muslims overall, and so on. And since Moroccans aren't allowed to criticize their king or say anything even remotely critical of the king or the government here, many of them find it shocking that we can criticize Obama openly and not be imprisoned for it or that we have the right to criticize our government. Of course, I have made sure to also tell them that, no, no - it's not like we have absolute freedom there, since this is what happened when a friend of openly spoke the truth about the CIA (P.S. Her website, tanqeed.org, was shut down temporarily). And then I've also told them about Islamophobia and racism and discrimination against mostly non-whites and all. But the fact that I've the freedom to speak out again the government at least on paper is still something that I very much am grateful for.

So the entire time that we're talking about Obama and how different feel about him and why, the lady kept looking at my roommate, who's white, and making these weird gestures to me that I interpreted as "be quiet - don't say that out loud in front of her" or "Oh no! Should you be saying that out loud?" as though I, as Pakistani American, can disagree with American government but my white American friend can't. My Arabic teachers here, too, find it shocking that we can be critical of our government and Obama as openly as we'd like; they don't think it's a nice thing to do, though, because they believe that's a sign of disrespect towards the leader. We've had conversations about this - where we insist that there's a difference between disagreement and disrespect. 

Basically, the train ride was interesting and fun. I enjoyed it. I now know for sure that when I go to Casa Blanca for my flight back to the U.S., I'll definitely take the train. Coming Friday, y'all! I leave on Friday, inshaAllah!! :)

But listen. So when we're getting ready to head out of the train, we leave with our cabin-mates since they were also going to Tangier, right. So we get out, say bye to them both and stuff, and are about to get a taxi and are making deals with taxi drivers (they'll ALWAYS give you an extremely high price because they think you think in dollars/euros and Moroccan dirhams are nothing to you, so they totally exploit you - also, they do not use their meters; you've to push them to do it and insist and make it known that you're not a fool and won't fall for their lies). While we're trying to make a deal with a taxi driver, the lady, our cabin mate, comes to us and says, "Don't take a taxi; come with me - my son won't mind giving you a ride." We were like, "Oh, no, no - thank you; that's so kind of you! We'll take a taxi, no worries." She insisted, though, of course, and we agreed to hop along. Her son was a kind man as well. We'd told her on the train that we were gonna stay at Hotel Rembrandt, which is popular among tourists, and they took us there. I appreciate their kindness, and I wish them a healthy, peaceful, and beautiful life! God reward them for their kindness, aameen.

Go to Hotel Rembrandt, and OH MY GOD. BEST Thing ever in Morocco!... yes, yes, I know I'm being "such an American" by saying that, but seriously, where most things here are unclean, with no soap or toilet paper, with some hotels having ants in their beds and pillows (an experience from a friend here), and so on, this was just SUCH a joy!

Our hotel room.

 The street outside (and let me just say here that Moroccan streets are extremely busy at night in Ramadhan, after breaking of the fast - muuuuch busier than they ever are outside of Ramadhan times! And they commonly seem to be more lit than many locations throughout the U.S. that I've visited at night.)

 We then headed towards the restaurant since we hadn't eaten in hours.

The restaurant
The waiter who greeted us there was nice and all, but ... well, he started talking about himself and what all he's studied and where all he's been and stuff, and then he mentioned that he's done calligraphy and is a calligrapher, besides having done Islamic Studies, the Qur'an, Hadith, Islamic law and so on (I hadn't told him I was an Islamic Studies student, and I wasn't planning to). And so as soon as he said he's a calligrapher, he goes, "Do you know how to write Arabic?" I'm like, "Yes, of course, I've been studying it a while, I better." He leaves suddenly, returns with a piece of paper and pen, and asks me to write my name. I was like oh what the hell. I knew what he was going to do next: judge my handwriting! So I write my name nonchalantly, knowing he's gonna be not okay with the way I'm writing, and when I'm done, he goes, "No, no, no - that's not how you hold the pen and that's not how you write." I'm like, "Yeah, okay, okay, can I look through the menu now and get some food?" He said sure and all, but then says something about us adding each other on Facebook, and I'm like, "No, I don't have Facebook, sorry" (a lie, but, yeah). He goes, "WHAT! Why don't you have Facebook!" I was like, "Yeah." The waiter never returned and we never saw him after that, even the next day. Thank God.

Frankly speaking, roommie and I are getting tired of Moroccan food, so we decided to try something different, and I went for pasta (it wasn't good) and my roommate went for fish (she said it was good).  When we were done, we decided to go out to the swimming pool area. Gosh, it was gooorgeous!

As if things couldn't get any better, it felt like it rained (sprinkled) a little bit when we headed towards the pool. Ohhhh, it was SUCH a beautiful feeling! (I love rain, as y'all know, so.) But it didn't really rain, and the sprinkling stopped after a few minutes. It was still good, though.

We stayed there a bit and then headed back to the room. Slept there, woke up around 9:30am (breakfast was from 6:30-10:30am), went to breakfast (which was very elaborate and good, by the way), and when we returned, our room had been cleaned and my pajamas and everything had been folded (image to the right). Whaaat, I wasn't expecting they'd do this while we hadn't' checked out yet! Check-out time was 12.

So we checked out around 11:30am. 

Of course, one of the main reasons we'd gone to Tangier was to take a ferry from there to Spain (Spain is hardly 9 miles away from Morocco, y'all). So after checking out, we got online and made sure we were on time for the next ferry from Tangier to wherever--Tarifa is a big destination from Tangier. The website we were seeing told us that no ferries were running that day (Saturday), and we almost freaked out but remembered that we were right by the port and could just walk over and confirm ourselves AND even if the ferries weren't running today, we could just go ahead and explore Tangier and then go to Spain the next day, no worries.

Headed over to the port, and the ferries were in fact running. Such a relief. On our way to the port (we walked there), we saw long-ass hills with many, many flights of stairs.  We also saw a lot of construction on the way. We'd been told by the folks in the train that Tangier was originally much smaller but has developed and grown extensively over the decades and continues to grow. Here are some photos.

We finally arrived to the place where you buy tickets for the ferry to Tarifa, Spain (which were 390 Moroccan dirhams, or about 46 U.S. dollars). What the ticket folks didn't tell us, though, was that the port is actually another 15-minute walk from the ticket location! That, of course, freaked us out a bit because we thought OMG, did they just scam us?! But if they had, we knew that we wouldn't let them get away with it and would raise hell over it. So we try to get a taxi to the actual port to catch our ferry, which was scheduled to leave in like 10 mins from that time, and each taxi driver's like, "20 dirhams," and we're like OH HELL NO! You're getting no more than 10 but preferably 5.  Eventually, we settled for 10 dirhams.

When we arrived to the ferry and got on it and everything, it did not leave until some 45 minutes after it was supposed to! (It was to leave at 1pm.) But it was all good - we were happy and we weren't gonna let anything bring us down :) 

About the ferry ride and Spain and back to Tangier in the next blog post!

Peace, y'all!


  1. Waseem (Peshawar)July 23, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Thanks, Another nice blog. while going through this travelogue I wondered as if the writer is also a disciple of Ibne Batuta. Tangier is a very historical city and had remained center of several civilisations. I am curious whether presently the city depicts any of the influences of those civilisations specially when it remained under French and Spanish rule. The good thing about this piece is the pictures which make you feel as if you are yourself present there and enjoying the journey. Keep it up and looking forward to blog on visit to Spain.

    1. Pa khair, Waseema!
      Thank you for your response :) haha - na, I don't happen to be a disciple of Ibn Battuta, although I do hope and wish I'd travel at least a liiiiiittle bit throughout my lifetime, ka khairee!

      I saw only parts of Tangier, but, yes, the influences are definitely very much present. Throughout Morocco, in fact. When I went to Spain, much of the architecture was the same style as what I've seen in Morocco; details on sidewalks, too, even! There's the food, there's certain habits and customs, there's the language - all of it having retained its influences. Great stuff!


Dare to opine :)

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