The crowd spilled out into Jamaa Lafna Square like a waterfall into a lake. One moment, we were elbow to elbow in a narrow walkway, and the next, I found myself thrust into the bustling and vivacious town square.
There was something to capture the eye wherever you looked, from monkeys doing tricks and somersaults at the end of the chain, to street performers playing traditional Moroccan instruments. During the daytime heat, dozens upon dozens of kiosks were set up across the Square, hawking fresh orange juice and cold smoothies prepared on the spot! For only 10 dirham (the equivalent of about one dollar) you could buy the freshest and most satisfying juice made from orange, pineapple, mango, strawberry, or any combination of the above!
The kiosks themselves were fascinating to look at in and of themselves, with the juicers perched above a veritable mountain of fresh fruits. However, be careful not to catch the eye of the juicer, or they would never leave you alone!
Taking videos as I walked across the Square, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the more traditional musicians who played in the Square would hide their faces or turn their backs to me as the camera swung towards them. I later learned that some Moroccans are actually pretty uncomfortable having their picture taken or allowing their kingdom to be photographed! There have even been cases where photographers have experienced outright aggression from doing street photography: several researchers attribute this behavior to superstition and fear of being exploited by tourists. Especially in rural Morocco, photography is associated with witchcraft and the fear that if someone takes your photo, it can be used to put a spell on you. However, I believe the most common grievance with western tourists taking photos is simply that the people are tired of the thriving tourists in the trade itself, with the people feeling a bit used.
You will note that in the video to the left, one of the musicians uses his instruments to hide his face. This is something to be aware of when traveling in Morocco: if you must take photos or videos of the people, be sure to do it surreptitiously so as not to invoke their ire or further discontentment with the presence of tourists.
Regardless, don’t feel guilty about wanting to capture the beauty of the country, for they truly have such a rich culture that is, I think, rather underrated by the world!
Following the musician’s reaction to my video, I became much more aware of the cultural differences regarding photography and adjusted my habits accordingly. Nevertheless, I continued exploring the Square, fascinated and delighted by the variety of activities to witness and participate in.
In the center of the square, people began putting up long rows of tents that would later serve as outdoor restaurants and seating areas – every individual tent served a different kind of food, from seafood to tajine to traditional Moroccan dishes, they had it all!
Often, the outdoor restaurants hired workers to stand in the walkway to entice passers-by with the menu and to even grab their arms and pull them in! If nothing else, Morocco is a great exercise in helping the meek (like myself) develop a backbone: shop owners and restaurant workers would be so insistent and sometimes even outright aggressive to those who displayed any signs of discomfort or uncertainty.
My tip for anyone who seeks to explore these tent restaurants: do not make eye contact, and for the love of all things holy, do not allow yourself to get surrounded by these restaurant workers! At one point, I was at the center of a positive mob of men pushing menus in my face and pulling me left and right, and finally, I had to exclaim “Laissez-moi tranquille!” (leave me alone) and elbow my way out to escape! Don’t allow this to daunt you, however; they are, after all, just doing their jobs 😜
However, you should be aware that these restaurants are only popular with tourists: no self-respecting local would find himself dining at one of these restaurants! The reason being that the prices are rather exorbitant, and the food is often undercooked or out of date, increasing the risk of food poisoning!
Two of the companions that I had met in the hostel went out to dinner with me to one of these tents on my second night there, and unfortunately, after ordering some fish and seafood, she came down with terrible food poisoning and was sick all night long, eventually having to miss our cross country trip to the Sahara (which I will provide more details about in a different post 😜). Likely, the only thing that you can safely eat at one of these tents is vegetarian tajine, which you would be able to find for much cheaper elsewhere!
When we tried to pay our bill and leave that night, the shopkeepers at the restaurant present us with a tab that was much higher than we had anticipated, then threatened to call the police and throw us in jail if we didn’t pay it! As soon as we had sat down, servers began bringing us naan and various dips to try, which we had assumed were free, like chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, we were gravely mistaken. The server continue to bring out various small dishes that we assumed were complements of the kitchen, only to find out that they were not free, and that our partaking of them indicated an unspoken agreement to pay for them.
We told the restaurant owner that no one had indicated that those items would be an additional fee, but his rebuttle was that since we had eaten them, we must pay for them. While I don’t believe that he would have actually called the police, I did not want to risk being wrong and spending the night in a Moroccan jail, so eventually we settled up the tab and vowed never to return.
Despite our unpleasant experience with the restaurant tents in the Square, we really had quite a pleasant time afterwards exploring the new kiosks that had been set up in the juicers’ place following nightfall.
Everywhere I looked, I saw blankets spread out with gorgeous Moroccan lamps glowing warmly from the firelight within, and on other blankets, they were piles of spices, herbs, and oils that they are vendors swore would turn back time on your skin.
I especially loved seeing the wide variety of lamps that could be found on every different blanket: with intricate designs and different shaped holes on each individual lamp, they all gave off the glow of magic and wonder that one can only find in Morocco.
If you hope to get a nice glass of wine or beer to wind down the day, finding a libation to slake your thirst may prove a bit harder than you might think. Public opinion of alcohol is constantly in flux, and the social rules regarding drinking vary from person to person. The easiest way to get a drink in Morocco is simply to ask someone where the nicest hotel is: tourists are the primary drinkers of alcohol, and so restaurants and bars are your best bet to find something to drink!
In Muslim culture, alcohol is considered haram (prohibited or sinful), and so the sale and drinking of alcohol is more regulated than you might realize. While it is available in places like bars, restaurants, hotels, and resorts, drinking in public is strictly forbidden, including outside terraces or in the street. I personally found it relatively difficult to find anyplace that sold alcohol, being unaware of how and where to find places that sold it, and so I spent my evenings dry and enjoying the Moroccan whiskey tea.
Instead, we found a lovely little restaurant tucked into the corner of the Square that served gourmet juices and teas, with an upstairs seating area that opened to a gorgeous view of the square! We watched the sun set from this patio, all the while sipping delicious strawberry-kiwi juices and Moroccan whiskey tea.
Next week: Jardin Majorelle! Subscribe to receive notifications on new blog posts, and be sure to follow me on Instagram at @lifeofbusynothings! À la prochaine!