You leave the boundaries of Marrakech airport, past the taxi drivers and stray men, slumped over the metal railings, waiting for their desired catch, to our pick up point. Stories, myths and accurate depictions about a place never find their way to airports. But, as you drive away, reality and you are sprung into another world entirely.
To enter Marrakech, you must first enter through the narrow gates of a vast city wall that runs around the perimeter of the historic medina districts. Then, as if by magic, you are transported to a world of mopeds, dust and staring men. Narrow streets veer off at every corner to another unknown part of the city. I want to walk down each of them and peer around the corner, no doubt greeted by a stray cat or hyper children, causing mischief and trouble.
Beyond the medina wall, the world sizes to exist, noise and smoke, forever rising from the street vendor's array of unknown meat, subject you to the goings-on at eye level only.
Riads are chosen over hotels throughout the city and offer a refreshing sense of peace. Each Riad is uniquely different and always found, untidily, down another narrow alleyway.
Past the wooden door of our Riad, lies two stories of beautifully crafted interior design. Orange trees bearing fruit overhang the central swimming pool. Around the perimeter of the ground floor, artwork of tropical animals, staring right at you, invite you to swim amongst them. The crevasses and hallways of the riad know not the antics outside these walls, where troubled monkeys dance on display, and stealthy women with henna needles hunt the tourist's skin. They only know of the constant passing of people within, the gentle clutter of cutlery and murmurs of distant convocations, the odd door slamming customer and the miserable couple in room 15.
After breakfast, we walked to our cooking class through yet more narrow alleyways. It was early, and men had not yet begun to clutter the streets on their way to work. It was quiet, unusually quiet. Marrakech was yet to wake up, half-asleep with one eye slowly opening.
With the streets empty, the eyes were given a rare chance to explore uninterrupted. Doors began to appear at the end of every alleyway. All remarkably different and all hand crafted, no doubt, within the city's great walls. Each door was enticing in its own way and led the imagination to turn the handle effortlessly. What was beyond those doors, another riad I would presume, but a city with so much history ingrained into the frameworks of the walls surrounding it, I couldn't help but imagine the entrance to another world entirely.
We met Najle, our host and teacher for the day. Najle hosts cooking classes in the heart of Marrakech, providing insights beyond the culinary scene. The ceilings in her house were rustic purple and a cat awaited entry to our convocations outside the front door. Nagle explained a step-by-step guide to surviving the first intrepid days in Marrakech, whilst pouring us a tea from at least a meter away from the mug. Tea, you instantly realize, has its place religiously throughout the day. We spoke of haggling, eating and everything in between.
Najl's cat braises the leg of the table whilst we discuss preserved lemons.
With every square inch of Marrakech seemingly dominated by men, I asked Najle what role women played here in Morocco throughout society and more simply, where they all were. "Women are at home with their husbands' grandmothers," she replied. When a man brings a woman home whom he intends to marry, she will then continue the work of the grandmother, whilst the grandmother seizes work immediately and therefore retires. The washing of the dishes and looking after the children then falls directly to the lucky newcomer.
It's not as if women can pack up and flee to freer climbs. The people of Morocco are seemingly notorious at seeking permanent refuge in the countries they are lucky enough to make it to, Najle tells me, making it impossible to retain a visa almost anywhere with brighter prospects for women.
Even regarding the Muslim faith, the very pillars of daily life in Morocco, women suffer discrimination. Periods are deemed unclean and are therefore forbidden to pray during this time. Women can't pray in front of men, which is impossible to imagine, nor can they be seen to pray within the walls of a mosque by another man. Although few women bother to venture to the mosque, a 'special' room is designated for the women, deeming it easier to pray at home, unjudged. With such restrictions on prayer, which is one of the critical pillars of the Muslim faith, it sure is difficult to show one's appreciation to Allah.
Despite all this, Najle remained positive, free-minded and hopeful for the future - "Tourists change minds; I'm lucky to live in Marrakech" she said. Tourism is the heart of Marrakech, and the cosmopolitan way of life is slowly inspiring the people living here.
Within the heart of Marrakech lies the Medina market. Plumes of smoke from various grills choke the air around you, and monkeys appear from the hurds of tourists, chained and bound to their owners unfairly. As you navigate through the noise, following aromas both pleasant and confusing and towards your dinner, men lay in waiting - ready to spring menus upon you. Gorilla warfare is at play.
Once you sat down, the men seized to disturb your personal space and instead began a game of eyeball roulette. There were many players, all men, and the prize was our hand in culinary marriage.
Goats' heads stood like trophies amongst the vegetables, coriander and sausages, I doubt they will ever make it to the top, no matter how delicious or more appealing.
To truly pick a Moroccan man, you must simply say that you are from Wales.
On the way home from dinner, we came upon two cats exchanging insults, one after the other. I couldn't help imagining that there was a gentleman's appreciation for their argument and respect for each cat's turn to speak. They finished with a stare off and I had no doubt they would still be there in the morning.
White birds, similar to that of a pelican and known locally as LakLaks, sit triumphantly on top of the city walls. Forever basking in the setting sun, these birds have chosen glorious places to call their home.
With our flight home fast approaching, I sit on top of the riad, overlooking vast golden buildings at sunset, summarizing my journey here in Marrakech. For what seemed like hours, drifting between distractions of noise, aromas and colour, I put down my pen and sighed with relief because Marrakech is forever moving, constantly in flux and just too busy to care for some traveller's poor attempt at a summary.
In such a vast city of culture, charm, smoke and bizarre goings-on, you are the equivalent of a star, amongst a galaxy of food, laughter, religion and history. Inshallah.
To give justice to the notebook. I have kept its format and unruly and random jottings down.