Atay Maghrebi: Walk-on Roles
That evening I paused for while on the top terrace of the Argana to drink more atay. In the orange half-light of dusk, Jemaa el-Fnaa, with the adhan for Maghrib prayer being called from the Koutoubia mosque and a wave of other smaller mosques following suit, was transformed into something almost otherworldly.
Whilst locals dashed to the multitudinous mosques squirreled away down every narrow passage of the medina, and tourists lazily continued their sun-beaten wanderings, I took out my red Moleskine notebook and thought about the assortment of people I was beginning to unearth in the hostel.
Arriving in my shared dorm room at Equity Point Hostel that afternoon, there was, who I assumed to be, an American couple canoodling on the bottom bunk of one the beds. Upon reflection, she sounded more American than him, and I suspect that he may be in possession of one of those Americanised accents that many young Europeans have when speaking English.
Feeling a little guilty for breaking up their 'moment', I asked them which of the bunks was free.
The guy had his own bed, but was now sharing with her. I realised that their relative youth and slender frames would make this possible, along with the fact that they were next to the air conditioning. There was one other bed with a neatly folded pair of green swimming trunks laid on top of it.
After a few minutes, another dorm mate arrived: enter, Grouchy Frenchman. He was around forty years old, was in possession of a portly belly and wore a trilby hat.
Gathering their stuff together, American Guy asked me, “Would you like the door left open?”
Before I had chance to reply, Grouchy interjected. “Non!” he cut in, “fermé la porte because the AC will otherwise not work!” He then continued to mumble something under his breath that sounded very grumpy and exceedingly French.
American Guy looked awkwardly at me and retired backwards out of the door, as if edging slowly away from an angry dog. I was worried that they may have had a 'cultural difference' already and imagined my peaceful night’s sleep ebbing away over multilingual invectives.
I tried, albeit falteringly, to engage Grouchy in a little small talk about the weather, failed miserably and decided to sleep off the early afternoon’s unplanned ramblings.
Later on, I was already beginning to feel a little less isolated, a little livelier and my annoyance over being fleeced by guides was fading.
Outside of dorm 108 at the hostel, set on the ground floor of two interconnected riad-style courtyards, was a swimming pool. This was a definite draw for this hostel when compared to others I had researched in the medina.
When I had fully awoken, Grouchy was in the pool swimming some short lengths – I was half-trying to avoid being in his company as he really behaved like a localised cloud of doom. Luckily, the moment the big toe on my left foot hit the water, he jumped out and I had the water, and the last remaining spot of sunshine in the courtyard, to myself.
A short while later, a young Dutchman in his second year at University got in. We talked a bit about where he’d been around Morocco now that his trip was drawing to a close.
He had actually come into Morocco via Spain with his two friends, and had worked his way down the country by coach: Tangier, Rabat, Fez, “But avoid Casablanca whatever you do!” he said. I didn't enquire why.
He was studying Business Administration and wanted a future career in logistics management. Not overly exciting, but at least it didn’t have to pay anything near to what his UK counterparts have to pay in terms of tuition fees. In fact, even with reduced government funding in Dutch Universities, he was still only paying €2000 he said.
After returning from Argana, I lay on the roof terrace of the hostel staring up at a whole load of empty nothingness. The sun had long gone down, but the warmth still permeated the air and I was fighting off the urge to ask myself for the tenth time: “What the hell are you doing here alone?”
I had been beginning to think that travelling to Morocco, alone or otherwise, might be a young person’s game; young Dutchman and his mates, giggling hordes of young French women in abayahs bought from the souk and the canoodling American-sounding couple all stood as stark counterpoints to me and Grouchy Frenchman.
Sat crossed-legged on the one of three semi-circular seats was an American woman in her late 30s and an Irishman in his late 20s. Clearly they hadn’t been travelling together, but they were having a major existential heart to heart about where they were in life – lolling around on the planet somewhere between lost and listless.
It seemed the woman was trying to escape the fallout of a relationship breakdown in New York and was now trying to find some peace, albeit by disturbing the peace of the Irishman. His responses seemed to hint that he may have just been humouring her and her woes, but he seemed to be sharing a bit of his recent challenges too.
She was having her very own 'Eat Pray Love' moment, but in a manner that was desperate for someone to overhear it all. I was curious as to whether everyone here around my age would be on the run from something.
Heading back downstairs, I went into the dorm to find another new arrival: Théo.
As I walked in, I casually said, “y’alright!”
He leapt up, looked at me in shock and said “yes” with a heavy French accent. At first, when I saw his eyes I was concerned that he may be under the influence of something very strong; there was something wild about the way his eyes appeared. A few minutes later, I realised what it was about him – he just had a really strong prescription in his glasses and the lenses magnified his eyes rather spectacularly.
We stumbled through a Franglais conversation about Africa for half an hour or so. As he disappeared into the en suite, Grouchy Frenchman shuffled back into the room after what seemed like his twentieth swim of the day. He grumbled something about the AC again. This time Théo bore the brunt of the mumbling, I ignored him and the Americans lay feigning sleep.
I didn’t know what to expect from staying in a hostel, especially as a thirty-something, but what I found on the first night was that it is just a bit like an alternate version of Big Brother, peopled by a cast of equally divergent characters. Your prize may be that elusive inner peace, your motivation may be to get discovered, or may just be to discover yourself, but it’s generally all harmless fun.
Argana is the ideal people watching spot at Maghrib prayer time in Jemaa el-Fnaa – unless you’re meant to be praying.
Always shut the door if you have the AC switched on and a Grouchy roommate.
Embrace the strangeness of any potential roommates. You are probably equally as weird to them – or they be long-sighted.