He laughed, "In Cuba, we don't have that...that is safety, that is time, that is money. It is knowledge, power...it really is so incredible. It's within your reach."
A conversation about privilege, the breadth of technology and internet conditions in Cuba.
Claire and I were in the car with her daughter, listening to rock that would pop up on the commercial-less radio station. The windows were down and the air was whistling through the car, brushing up on my face with a warmness that was soothing. I peered out of the car at the changing landscape, the city shifting in my perspective, slowly being replaced by green and yellow foliage that clung to the ground. They stood still, rooted, though tall and I imagined that the tall grass would sway had there been a breeze. There were less of the huge vulture-type birds circling in the sky, as there was less trash to feed on outside of the city. Each person felt distinct, as I observed the few that were peppered within the new terrain.
We drove off on the side of the road, approaching the equator. There were no huge signs or large amounts of people. You would probably not guess that the equator was there if you hadn't been searching for it.
Arriving in Rwanda
The bus was speeding through the dark, hitting bumps that would send us all bouncing off the seat, and me who didn't weigh that much, would catch close to a foot of air sometimes. There was a group of women in the back, who would all giggle whenever a bump came around, it gave me the reminder to relax just a little, but this bus ride was one the time during the whole trip where I wondered if we would make it. My nerves were on fire, I had thoughts of crashing, going tumbling off the side of who knows what because it was too dark to see what was out there. This would be one of the many reasons why I would be hesitant to take a night bus again, though I did later on in Mexico and Colombia. It was late, I couldn't sleep and the bus absorbed all the shocks so it hurt when a bump would come, and I would try and purposefully lift myself up, to roll with the bumps instead of being lifted by them. Later on, when I recalled the story to one of my co-workers, she told me it was best to sleep on a bus because you are less likely to break bones in a crash when your body is less rigid. People really live like that?
Squeamish warning...this story includes a recount of me getting a hookworm. The pictures are included under "Read More".
I walked down the dirt road, carrying a blue felt bag filled with groceries in each hand. Avoiding the ditch that lay bordering the outer edge of the main street, I looked around to make sure I could walk across. That’s how it went here, there were no crosswalks, traffic signals, though later on some started to be created. “Ah!” I cried out in pain and stopped in my tracks. I put down the bags and doubled over, breathing steadily to manage the pain that shot through my thigh. What’s going on, I wondered, as the pain started to cool off. I had been getting foot cramps frequently for the past couple of months, and figured that something must be out of line with how my feet were resting in my sandals. Maybe I am wearing them too much, I have high arches and probably need some more support. Over the last week, the pains in my feet had grown, and I was constantly scratching at the underside of my left foot. There were a couple of bumps that looked like mosquito bites, and they itched like no other bite that I have had. I resisted scratching, knowing that there was already a level of irritation that happened by the level of contact the bumps had just by being on the bottom of my foot.
I wanted to sit down though, my legs felt weak and rest knocked at my door. I opened the gate to the house I stayed at, and entered in guided by a loud creak and a series of metal on metal bangs, who showed no shyness to scream that they had made contact. Sitting down on the couch on the porch, I put down the bags and kicked off my sandals. I bent in my left leg, forming a pretzel shape, and looked at the bottom of my foot. There were red lines covering the bottom, they were lifted and could be felt by running a finger over them. This, is not a normal mosquito bite, I thought. I can’t ride this one out, waiting for it to heal.
Toto’s Africa “and the wild dogs cry out in the night, as they grow restless longing for some solidary company”, reminds me of the dogs howling out here at night. Sometimes it felt kind of eerie. One night, I heard scratching and some knocking-like sounds coming from outside of my room, opposite of where the door was. The dogs were howling and howling, as if something had died. Something felt off, and I texted Jackie, who slept in the room next to mine, and told her of my eerie feeling. I didn’t want to freak her out, because she had only been here for about a week, but I thought, she might as well get used to the way it is here. Yes, that would entail that I would get used to knocking sounds against my wall and dogs howling an unusual amount, but the situation felt off. I think I was also scaring myself, but I knew that break-ins were common. Was someone outside? My door was locked, what about the others? I waited a couple of minutes and there was no sound anymore.
“I got your text this morning.” Jackie said as I was brushing my teeth outside the next morning. She had been sleeping, but I wondered how she could have slept through the howling that night. Previous people who had stayed at the house were kept up some nights by the neighbors partying or by the dogs, while there were times I slept through it. The same scenario of people trading off being kept up at night would ensue with future roommates.
I would hear the song, “Africa” so many times while in Africa. I heard it in clubs, on busses, on the porch with my roommates, as we all sat around singing along as it poured rain. I remember playing it in Morocco, but it was popular here. I think part of this tribute is that something about Sub-Saharan Africa felt more like the stereotypical picture of what Africa is. North-Africa seems more stereotypical of what the Middle East appears to be. At least this was my initial perception, and I had heard it from other people as well. Africa is a huge, diverse continent. I do like the way that the song seemed to romanticize the reality of being in Africa, though.
Running along the shore
Side stinging with the reminder
Of too much smoke inhaled
Feels good to move
Soft sand molds under my pull towards gravity
Feel the spray of the sea
The moisture of the mist
Cooling, while my face feels hot
I sit with what is
And allow myself to sit with the ocean too
Well!!! This week took quite the turn. I decided it was time to move on from Marrakesh, and I wanted to head towards one of the beach towns. Agadir looked lovely, but I wasn't wanting to spend the amount on the hostels out there, plus, I made a friend in Marrakesh who was headed to Essaouria. We took the bus to Essaouria, and both stayed at a hostel in the Medina.
The culture at that hostel was intense. There were nightly drumming fests, like there were in Marrakech, but here it was inside the hostel. I could hear the flutes of the snake charmers, and the nightly drumming that came with staying in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the Medina in Marrakesh, and in Essaouria, my nights were filled with the sounds of drumming and cheering.
Sherry and I walked over to the beach, and saw well over 200 locals running into the water and walking along the shore. Here, it felt like I blended in, I wasn't getting looks like I was from somewhere different, it felt like I was just another person walking along the beach, with my new Canadian friend. I looked ahead in the distance and my heart immediately jumped with excitement. Camels!!! Ahh! Sherry!! Camels!! There goes my blending in and not seeming like a total tourist. Haha.
After my initial exclamation, I ran towards the camels and horses that I saw in the distance, and then started to walk so I wouldn't totally ditch Sherry. There were multiple men who were leading these animals around, and we negotiated a price to ride the camel. Riding a camel was way different than I anticipated. I climbed on, trying to find a comfortable spot on top of the hump, and the camel started standing up. It unbuckled its legs and kind of unfolded, which resulted in its distribution of weight shifting back and forth. I grabbed on and laughed as it felt like I was going to be tossed off, in one direction or the other.
I had started school on Monday, and it felt like I had gotten nothing done in comparison to what I needed to get done. The hostel was a fantastic place for socializing, but not so much for getting work done. Music had been blasting for hours too, and I had a headache to go along with my distraction. I sat down at a table, and told this girl from New York that I was probably going to get lunch and head over to a café if she wanted to join. She looked at her computer while sitting at the table, “Yeah, I’ll do that, I’ve come to terms that it is going to be pretty noisy here.
As we walked over to a restaurant nearby, with plates of tagine chicken and couscous costing about 30 dihrams. It amazes me how inexpensive things are here. I dropped a container of salt and she picked it up and tossed salt over her shoulder as we began to eat “At this point I’m fed up. Fed up with people taking advantage of me and my kindness, Sick of being treated like a walking ATM. Usually I cover up a little more, but fuck it, you caught me on my rebel day”. She was wearing a loose fitting tank top and her black bra was visible from the sides. The attention varied, from “Oh shukran, thank you thank you, so sexy”, to “May God save you”.
New York and I decided to get some henna done, and I watched her bargain the price. She ended up paying 15 dihrams less than I did for a black henna tattoo (more expensive than brown), but I let it go because of how inexpensive it was already. I felt like I was pushing too much to go lower, but they were also pushing a lot to go higher. I compared it to a time when I was at the Taste of Colorado festival, and paid $15 for a henna maybe 1/6th of the size of the U.S. equivalent of $6 that I paid in Marrakech. New York also brought it to my attention that I could keep on comparing Moroccan Dihrams and prices to U.S. dollars, but that we were in Morocco, not the United States. Things are cheap here, so we should be paying the cheap prices, which are in fact regular here. Tourists do not get the same prices though.
New York and I sat down for a little bit near the henna artists, and waited for our henna to sit for a little. This was difficult because it was so hot that our arms were sweating, and the henna would slightly bleed. The lady who had done New York’s henna walked over and grabbed an older white lady and brought her over. I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on with them, but then the lady asked for 600dihrams for her henna work. The woman was livid, which was clearly noticible as she yelled in a frantic English accent, “600 dihrams, this looks horrible! Can you believe it?” To be fair, 600 is ridiculous, and it did look pretty bad. She walked away and from a distance it seemed that she had a 100dihram bill in her hand. The henna lady got in her face and forcefully pulled the bill out of the other lady’s hand.
Walking around with New York that day brought another reference point as to how people handle the haggling. She gave people attention accompanied with an annoyed tone, once they started to haggle her. “No, just no, go away!”, she would emphasize in a drawn out tone. This contrast reminded me of the couple that I had met on my first day in Marrakech. That example of how to be graceful about haggling will stick with me. It is not always a direct personal attack; this is the culture of the Medina. This is what people have been shown how to do through example, and it probably does work in many instances. The Londoners from earlier had responded with shy smiles and some playful laughs, this woman with hysteria.
Fill Your Mind and Heart
I was standing outside of a cinema, peering in at the different posters advertising movies that I assumed were playing inside, who knows, they could have been old. A man standing near the entrance who probably noticed my curiosity said, “It’s a cinema, you can come in, have a look”. He had a phone box in his hand, but I still went ahead because I was genuinely curious about what kinds of movies would be advertised, and he hadn’t completely jumped towards me to sell his products. After I had looked around, I went outside and stood next to the man. He told me said that his name was Moses and he was from Senegal. I told him that I had heard of the country, but I did not know where it was exactly. This brought a twinge of guilt within me, but I quickly told myself, "Hey, Africa has so many different countries, and you're just starting to get exposed, it's okay." He brought up the phone box, pointing to a picture of one of the apps. “See this, this is Maroc (Morocco in French), down is Mauritania, and then Senegal. Only one in between”. “Why did you come to Maroc?”, I asked. “I am a drummer”, he said while taking his hand and wiping his forehead, with drops of sweat falling towards the ground. “There is more work in Maroc, especially during the night when the city square is filled”.
We stood there in the dry heat next to the city square in Marrakech. The sounds of flute-like instruments used to charm snakes and the occasional kick up of dust filled the air, as people passed through the road, selling watches and sunglasses. I had been checking the weather in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit to become accustomed to the unit of measure, and it was 42 degrees, which is roughly 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Moses turned towards me. He told me, "In this life, you fill your mind, and your heart. I come from Senegal, and I am filled with what I know there. I meet people, and whatever I bring is of my mind and heart, and for them, the same. We share, and now part of them is me, and part of me is them. You fill up your mind with experiences here, go back to the United States, and tell them”. “Marroc is different than Senegal”, he said. “I bring my mind here and interact with others".
We had been standing in silence for about a minute, when a small boy with a bucket of nuts came up to me and said “Madam, merci”, and tried to hand me a nut. “Laa, shukran (No thank you)” I said. I suppose since he talked to me in French it would have been better for me to respond in French, but I had been excited to use some of my Arabic, and was on autopilot with what had been working so far. He looked at me with big sad eyes and put on a pouting face, and proceeded to stand there and beg. Moses said something to the boy and the boy went away after a couple of minutes. “See this is not a good life for the boy. Not good for his mind. But I think it is his parents, this situation. Listen, see? His parents save the money send him to school, where he can get an education. This, see this? This is no way to live.” I asked if it was similar in Senegal. Moses said, “This, this is similar across Africa”. I did take a humbleness and a pensive nature from that talk with Moses. I carry pieces of Moses's heart and mind, along with the influences that he has been exposed to, and the spirals of exposures that have collided within every life. A blended patchwork of individuality, is what I am, carrying myself and the products of my environment, folded onto itself.
I was walking in the market, weaving my way through a crowd of people which consisted of mostly of men, with some women peppered in. I was trying to scurry through the crowd, wearing my sunglasses to avoid noticeable eye contact while also keeping my eyes towards the ground half the time, looking out for my step along the dirt path. I was inhaling the aroma of spices which I could not name, while listening for motor bikes and comments directed towards me in general. When someone would yell something my way, I would pretend that I didn't hear them and then would proceed to continue swiftly walking. It was my first couple of hours in Morocco, my first time in a non-western type culture, and I was feeling overwhelmed with figuring out how to navigate it. I was too excited to stay in the hostel and relax after travelling here, knowing that I would be here for months.
I made my way through the busy part of the medina, and one older man had called out to me, ”Espanol? Frances? English?", he said. I thought to myself, “Are the people prepared to communicate in all those languages?” He spoke brilliant English, and asked where I was from. By this point, I started saying "America" more commonly than I did the "United States", which is a term I adopted to delineate an ethnocentric vernacular that the United States took on when only being one country in North and South "America". Using the term America to describe the United States seems to be more recognized on this side of the hemisphere, however. Some people look puzzled whenever I say the United States. I do not really have the energy to explain why I would say the United States instead of America, though I have a feeling a may get in somewhat of a habit of saying “America” on this side of the hemisphere. When I say America, people then usually proceed to ask where in America, as took place in this conversation with the older man. When I say Colorado and people respond with a nod and a, "Ah, oh, COLORADO...", it takes me by surprise how people are familiar with the many states in the U.S. Now, however, or at least here in Marrakesh, I have a growing skepticism that surrounds whether if people are actually familiar with what Colorado is. It doesn't seem like such well known place that I would expect, like New York or California. It seems that many of the hagglers are aiming to connect or draw you in as well, so I feel a little distrusting from the start.
After talking with the man for a little bit, he brought up the leather market. I had read about this online, how the Berbers hand-made leather goods in big basins. He called out towards a guy and probably said something to the effect of "Bring her there, no charge". The guy and I walked towards the leather basins, and along the way we stopped by a mosque and he showed me different buildings, calling me sister as we weaved through the many passageways and random turns that this city held. I wonder what it would be like to grow up here, learning the maze of the lines of walls and shops as a child. I looked over at the man next to me, he looked incredibly skinny, and didn't look like a teenager but if he was closer to my age I wouldn't have noticed given his tiny frame and weight. He started to tell me about the leather basins, how the people are from the Atlas Mountains and they come from the city to I started to grow suspicious that this was a guide who was going to ask for money, and I said, "No cost right?" "No, no cost sister."
Thank you for visiting! This is my personal blog, where I write about social justice, geography, culture, and my own encounters and reflections from around the world.