Marrakech has left me feeling two entirely different emotions; great sadness and immense joy. I have thought long and hard about whether I should share the experience that brought me to tears and finally decided that if this blog is to be a true reflection of my journey and the effect it is having on me, then I have to include it.
In the center of Marrakech is a huge square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. Along one side of the square is the Souk, while the remainder is surrounded by hotels and cafe’s which primarily overlook the square. Dozens of horses and carriages are lined up on the outskirts of the square and venture onto it to entice tourists.
During the day the square is used by the locals to display their wares, along with snake charmers, henna tattooist’s, water carriers in costume and all manner of people trying to part you from your dirhams. At night it fills up with dozens of food stalls, story-tellers, and musicians.
On the first night in Marrakech I ventured onto the square, but thankfully I was not alone (more of that later). Had I been so I would have quickly departed, as large (tightly packed) crowds make me feel very uneasy and with mopeds speeding along playing dodgems with tourists, it is not for me. However I have to say with company it was not so bad, except of course for the chicken tajine from one of the food stalls!
Next day I decided to return to the square, camera in tow. My interest was in the various animals being used as props while tourists took photos. First up I came across a very sad looking bird attached to a blue box. On trying to get a photograph I was asked for money and then (un)politely asked to leave. As I passed the bird at various times during the day, it was still on the floor.
So onto the snake charmers, of which there were many. Again I struggled to get pictures as every time you point your camera, a ‘helper’ accosts you for money. It was also pretty obvious (because I did not want to be in any photos) that I wasn’t your usual tourist and once again shooed away. The snakes were out in the sun all day and when they did not ‘stand up’ were poked into action.
OK so maybe the monkey vendors would be more accommodating? Err no… not only was I asked to leave, two ‘helpers’ threatened to break my camera and my arms!
I was however undeterred by what I was witnessing and switched to ‘stealth mode’. So apologies for the lack of sharpness in some of these photos, but I was taking a huge risk.
The monkeys are kept in a mobile cage on wheels (pictured below) and taken out on a seemingly random rotational basis. I could have maybe confused the odd monkey and counted it twice, but even so I counted 10 (yes ten) separate monkeys from this one cage and I’m pretty sure there were more.
I chose to follow one particular monkey in the following photos, as this would then correctly document it’s treatment. For some reason it had been made to wear a small child’s skirt, which quite frankly looked ridiculous. You can’t see it from the pictures very well, but she was covered in sores and bald patches. Let’s call her Lucy.
At this point I was openly weeping and getting strange looks from onlookers, so had to take a break from photographing. I watched as Lucy was made to stand tall, clutching at the chain being lifted higher and then made to dance like a performing bear. I left.
When I returned some time later, there was no sign of Lucy. However now it was the turn of the smaller monkeys (with nappies fastened on them) who were screaming at being lifted around by the chains around their necks.
Then they are ‘presented’ to potential customers and made to perform for the photos. I’m not going to comment on the next series of pictures, they tell the story better than I could.
I make no apologies if this post has upset you, because what I witnessed has affected me deeply.
In my next post I’ll tell you all about what was good about Marrakech, so stay tuned.