Monday, July 2, 2012

Minty mint-tea

The fresh mint is growing well in my herb garden and I decided to make a cup of mint tea, like the kind we drank in Morocco earlier this summer.  It is made from black tea and fresh mint leaves, and it is always generously sweetened.  I’m sipping it now- minty, sweet, tea-ey goodness.  We were only in Morocco for 2 days, but the place, as well as the tea has made a lasting impression.  That tea was our first greeting in the Riad Princesse Jamila, a sort of bed and breakfast where we stayed in Marrakech.

Morocco was the first place we have visited as a family where signage does not use the Roman alphabet. Traveling through Europe we have always been able to find our way around because even if we don’t know the language well, there are enough related words that we can usually figure things out.   Clearly, Morocco, where the primary language is Arabic, would be a different story.

Al had made pre-paid arrangements with the Riad staff to meet us at the airport and take us to the hotel.  As we emerged from passport control at about midnight, we saw a guy holding a sign that said, “Riad Princesse Jamila” so we figured we were all set.  Our driver, who spoke no English and not much French, put our bags in his car and we set off for the hotel.  Of course, it was dark, and as we entered the old part of the city, we found ourselves in a labyrinth of dark narrow streets, shared by scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, and cars.  Lane lines were mere suggestions and traffic seemed to flow according to constant  non-verbal communication between drivers. Our driver calmly navigated the maze until he could go no further.  He stopped abruptly, took our bags out of the van and drove away.  We looked around and saw nothing that looked like a hotel, a bed and breakfast, or any type of lodging. What we did see was a parking lot, a few small stores still open, and numerous small groups of men playing games and talking.  

Suddenly, a young man said “Riad Princesse Jamila?” He beckoned for us to follow.  Al and I looked at each other, uneasy about following this unsolicited stranger through the dark and spooky streets.  However, we really had no choice. We would not find the Riad alone, that much was clear.  So, the four of us, each dragging a suitcase, followed him on foot as he led us deeper into the jumble of ever darker and ever narrower streets.  We had no idea where he was leading us; certainly the surroundings did not give us any reason to suspect we were getting nearer to our hotel.  Our imaginations began to stir with the knowledge that not everyone likes American tourists and that we were pretty vulnerable.  Still, we had to trust him- there was simply no other way that we could find our way through or back out of the confusing web of narrow dimly lit passages.

This is a daytime photo of the narrow passageways near our hotel.  You can imagine how much darker it was at midnight!

The stranger stopped walking at what initially appeared to be a dead end, but then he pointed to a rounded door to our left.  In the dim light offered by a small sconce, we could read the words  “Riad Princesse Jamila” over the doorway.

The Entry way to our Hotel in broad daylight.   

 He rang the bell and a young woman in traditional Moroccan dress answered the door.  “Welcome,” she said, “Come in.”  She led us to an atrium area and motioned for us to sit down.  “Would you like a cup of tea?”  Meanwhile another young woman appeared and with the help of our guide took our bags and disappeared. We assumed and hoped that they had brought our bags to our rooms.  A few minutes later, they  reappeared  and stood watching us as we awaited our tea.  Finally the woman said, “Would you like to pay him?” We gave our helpful stranger a nice tip, he smiled, nodded,  and left.  It was our first exercise in trust in a land that seemed both exotic and dangerous, but turned out to be warm and friendly, as well as very tip oriented!

Behind that little door lies a beautiful atrium, the site of several cups of mint tea!

Zara, the proprietress of the Riad, emerged from the kitchen with a silver tray with a silver tea pot and a four small tea glasses.  Using silver tongs, she placed a sugar cube in each glass and filled each with the hot and delicious mint tea that we have come to love.  Our first taste of Morocco!

Today I am grateful for safe travels, warm hospitality and delicious tea.  And yes, our bags were in our room, the candles were lit, and we settled in for a good nights rest.

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