Stopping to drink
by Evans Yonson
Barcelona – Marrakech (or Marrakesh) is the first African city and the second Muslim-dominated city that I visited in my life, so far. The first Muslim city being Marawi, in Lanao del Sur, in the Philippines. The similarities are everywhere. The minarets, the adhans, the muezzins, the time of prayers, the hijab-clad women, and the religion, of course.
I could not very well describe what I have seen in Marawi for I was only there less than 24 hours. Even less if we don’t consider sleep as staying hours. How can I describe what I have seen when it was pitch-dark in the city where the infamous Lanao (lake; the Maranaos are called people of the lake) that is the source of electric supply of Mindanao. Marawi was a spur of the moment trip. I was not doing anything at all that day so I went. It was out of boredom and the agony of academic humdrum that drove me to go where everyone would not dare go. It was a good thing that my parents have exposed us to anything and everything Muslim when we were younger. Our Nanay brought us to a weekly madrasah islamiyyah. But this did not take long because eight weeks later, they tore down the school and built a new mosque. I have had Muslim best friends. This early exposure made me liberal and unbiased. Everybody is always happy and gay.
When I decided to go to Marrakech, it was out of disheartenment. I was falling in love with the wrong person with the wrong circumstances at the best time of the year to be in that state of being. I felt there was a connection at that point of our encounter but I knew that in the end I would be making love out of nothing at all. So I went off and flew to Africa days before Christmas in 2009.
The immigration officer at the Menara International Airport scared the hell out of me. I knew that as a Filipino I can enter Morocco anytime I want without the need for a visa. He gave me this perplexing look as if asking me what country I am from. He glanced back at my passport and stood. He went to ask his fellow officer. I was ready to go ballistic since I hate low quality service especially coming from a government employee. Add to the fact that they were talking in a language that only a Miss Universe translator would want to engage in. It must have been French. Or Arabic. Or maybe Berber. Not a slightest clue I had there. In the end, my immigration officer came back, gave me a smirk and handed me back my passport. I don’t need a visa, dammit! And I know the difference between a visa and passport.
The cool African breeze welcomed me as I went up the airport bus. The are eighteen stops before I arrived at my hostel. In between stops, the driver would bark at rude passengers as if telling them to slow down and behave. After the 17th stop, the driver was already looking at his mirror and throwing me furtive glances. He stopped in one corner and stood. He approached me and said, “last stop!” The 18th stop was the last and I already got to see the whole of Marrakech in almost two hours of stops. The bus ride was longer than the plane ride going to Morocco. I have already seen what I came here for. But I have to stop and ponder on.