Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Guéliz - the old and the new

I went to visit a friend’s flat in Guéliz, the so-called ‘Nouvelle Ville’ of Marrakech: called this originally by the French when they built it in order to provide a modern alternative to the old medina (they did this in most Moroccan cities). One of their first constructions was a Catholic church and the story goes that ‘Guéliz’ is a Moroccan corruption of the French for that – ie, église.  Nowadays, Guéliz is only modern in a few choice areas, with some shiny cafés and boutiques and a couple of malls, but most of it now is not so very modern … and many of its attractive 1930s buildings are falling into complete disrepair (an old cinema going this way really grieves me - see below, the cinema and an artist's imagined queue).

Anyway, my friend told me to take a taxi to ‘Victor Hugo’, and this turned out to be a large grammar school which lies at the end of the long and busy Avenue Mohammed V.  It was quite a new area for me and I phoned her for more directions when I arrived, but struggled to hear what she was saying as suddenly I was surrounded by a seemingly non-stop stream of kids pouring out of this school, screaming and shouting at each other, revving up noisy scooters or heading for fancy cars.
From her sunny balcony on the fifth floor we gazed down at the corner opposite the school, full of inviting-looking salad bars and patisseries. My friend explained that it is the city’s rich kids who go to Lycée Victor Hugo, the only purely French-speaking school in Marrakech, private and expensive. And as these kids are all free between 12 and 2 – no lunch is offered on the school premises – many pour across the road to the salad bars to spend up to 10 euros a day on their lunches … quite a lot for a school lunch! If they do NOT stop in the zone for lunch, they are picked up by mums or drivers in expensive Range Rovers and the like.

Then I found out that the flat actually sits between TWO large secondary schools – one the exclusive Victor Hugo, and the other a big state school called College la Princesse Lalla Meriem (Lalla Meriem is the King’s big sister). So there is quite the event at midday each day when a huge, noisy outpouring of youth emerges from both these two establishments for lunch. The rich kids are either collected in 4x4s blocking the road and blaring their horns, or they leave on motos and scooters. Meanwhile the state school kids emerge on bicycles (two on each) or run down the main boulevard in the traffic. Others hang onto the back of trucks (which they grab at the traffic lights) in order to get a dangerous but free ride down to the military zone where most of them live – my friend said that in many cases their parents were probably not from Marrakech originally. The area where they go is called Camp el Ghaoul, which was an old military encampment even before the French built on it.

So, the state kids make their chaotic way down the road as rich kids make their way up it, but – and here’s the weird thing – my friend commented that although both groups often fight amongst themselves, they NEVER clash with the other set.

It as though, coming from two completely different worlds, they just do not see each other.

And this dichotomy is repeated in the eating situation in the area. As I said, many rich kids sit eating in the fancy salad bars, but the state kids head for home. Meanwhile, a mere two streets up – where the situation changes dramatically and there are many smaller older cafés and stalls – tables are full to bursting with workers from offices and building sites nearby. And here you can buy a tasty tagine for just 20 dirham (2 euros).

But we went to eat in one of the trendy salad places near my friend’s home, fighting our way through the neon-coloured backpacks and roaring motos. You could hear some of these kids deliberately speaking French to each other – a type of status symbol, as Moroccan Arabic is almost certainly bound to be their mother tongue.

‘In this part of Marrakech,’ said my friend dryly, ‘it is all “regardez mon Range Rover” … but you don’t have to move far before you get back to the “donnez moi un dirham” …

This is Marrakech today. I think I fancy a 20 dirham tagine.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

A dream for our children

There is a place I like to go in Marrakech of an evening to have a glass of wine. I have been going there for years now and I know all the people (all men!) who work there well. Over the years some of them have got married, had children, been to places we have talked about, shared stories about the pink city with me – we always have stuff to talk about. And I have learnt most of my more colourful Arabic expressions from them too …

One night I was there after visiting a Book Fair in Marrakech with my friend from the Musée de la Femme. We had been looking specifically for books by Fatima Mernissi – as an ‘Islamic feminist’ in the early days of Morocco’s independence, she lectured in sociology at the Mohammed V university in Rabat and cut quite a controversial figure, analysing the role of women in Islam, through history and on the contemporary stage.

But that night I took one of her ‘lighter’ books to the bar, a memoir of her childhood spent in a harem in Fez, during the early days of the French protectorate. The book is called Rêves de femmes – Une enfance au harem’ (‘Women’s Dreams – A childhood in the harem’ … but actually translated in the English version as ‘Dreams of Trespass’). This book, in addition to having a beautiful cover of three women in the inner recesses of the palace where they live, also contains a wonderful quotation, which you can see on the wall of entrance to the Musée de la Femme:
‘Dignity is having a dream, a strong dream that gives you a vision, a world where you have a place, where your participation, as minimal as it may be, will change something.’

I show the guys at the bar the book, and then the quotation – and I ask Fta, the barman, what his dream is, how he hopes he will change something. His answer comes so quickly it seems he has already given it a lot of thought. He says he dreams only for his children, that they will grow up to be intelligent like me. 

Like ME? I say, but I am just a useless woman who comes and drinks WINE here every evening …

No, says Yusuf (one of a trio of friends I call the Three Musketeers), ‘the wine is not important and for us you are more than that. We were just talking about you when we started work today, saying that every time you come here you bring bits of outside knowledge and interesting information for us, photos and books and stories about history and people – and things you have noticed about our language and yours – you know so much about the outside world and we want our children to grow up like you.’

Ooooohhhh, I say I think I am gonna cry – only I actually say ‘I think I am going to rain’, because I am talking in my terrible French and I mix up the verbs for rain and cry … they will NOT want their children to grow up talking languages like I do!