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Bargains and a Blue City

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [161] | Scholarship Entry

“We paint them blue so that the mosquitoes don’t bite us,” declared our guide, with a grand gesture at the walls that loomed over us. “They don’t like the color blue. See? I have blue eyes and I’ve never been bitten.” His grin betrayed few teeth and much gum, and his blue eyes twinkled like the talismans he swore they were.

Chefchaouen is a brilliant, cornflower blue town settled into the Rif Mountains of Morocco. The city seems to have been flooded by a coursing sapphire sea, as Chefchaouen’s definitive paint splashes up walls and creeps under doorways – etching itself into the town’s character. Each street is part of a grand maze, and strangers would be lost without the eager instruction of a guide. My guide, chuckling, led us through pounding rain and up a winding stairway. Our beleaguered umbrellas bobbed brightly against the blue walls, and our feet timidly squelched across the threshold of a rug weaver’s studio.

The rain fell away, and the yarn exuded a peaceful warmth as we listened to the artist explain his loom. This was a far cry from my harrowing experience in Tangier, where, seeking a souvenir, I dove precipitously into the world of bargaining. The salesman, upon seeing my interest in his wares, herded me into another room, away from my traveling companions, and demanded that I make an offer. My English and his Arabic butted heads until, fumbling, we managed to find a frail common language in Spanish. Though I walked away clutching a new silk blanket, I felt I had lost hold of my safety net. Plunging into the unknown alone can be thrilling, but being dragged there unwillingly is utterly destabilizing.

For the rest of my days in Morocco, I abstained from souvenirs and instead soaked up the culture that my guide shared with me. The astonishing walls of Chefchaouen threw back echoes of laughing children, scampering to avoid the rain, and silent men in djellabas watched us pass from their doorways. Meanwhile, ever-diligent donkeys trudged to and from the vibrant marketplace, heavily loaded with food and firewood. At our final lunch, the middle-aged traveler next to me poked at her stew. An unfamiliar vegetable appeared to dismay her, and she shoved her plate aside, declaring that she could never eat a hedgehog! Some of my other companions and I smiled at each other. None of us had any idea what was in the stew, but we were hungry and plunged our forks into the unknown. Besides, if the residents of Chefchaouen had the secret to preventing mosquito bites, I was willing to trust them with a meal.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011

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