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January 17, 2003
At last, toward about 4:30am, there are pockets of silence, then a brief stretch of calm. I have practically given up hope of any sleep, but think that perhaps I have one last chance. I am breathing steadily and trying to clear my brain of the clutter that has built up in it overnight, when a bird chirps outside my window. And then another, and then a dozen, and then a few dozen, and then there is a great whirring of wings and a few hundred birds descend on the palm in the courtyard to herald the morning, all bleating their morning greeting. I sit up in bed, looking ruefully out over the courtyard, and at that moment, the call to dawn prayer clamors out of mosques 1, 2, and 3 and I abandon all hope.
As a fitting finale, when the dawn prayer has ended, the city’s World War II air raid siren goes off for a full minute--JUST IN CASE YOU WERE THINKING OF SLEEPING IN, YOU INFIDEL!!!!
From journal The Road to Marrakech
It’s around 11:30pm when P and I climb into our respective beds and turn off the lights. A perfect crescent moon shines through the latticework of my window. Here and there a cat’s meow can be heard from one of the thousands of feline denizens of the city. A motor scooter passes through the alley, the muffled voices of passersby fade into the crevices of the city, and just as I am drifting into dreamland. . .
"Holy sh*t!" I hear from the other end of the suite. The prayer continues for several minutes, then silence. I turn over and prepare to begin the descent to sleep again, but within minutes there is a swelling sound in the streets of Marrakesh. A drum begins to beat. A crowd is clearly forming somewhere nearby in the medina. Soon there is chanting. Then waves of smaller crowds passing by the hotel street, singing and cheering. Then hordes of children can be heard and, soon after, fireworks erupt throughout the city. Dogs are barking everywhere, and soon there’s the sound of a violent dogfight. A cat is either outside my door or on the windowsill, plaintively meowing. And who knew that Marrakesh was a city full of roosters? They prepare to crow the night away. The cacophony swells and recedes, but never dies down enough to hope for sleep. I try to sort out the sounds and rank them from most to least annoying--the drum wins hands down for the former prize.
Somewhere around 2:30am, when the roar has died down to a fervent din, another prayer begins. This one is long, complex, and with the bits of Arabic I can recall from long-ago study, it seems to be reciting the five pillars of Islam. The words "Ramadan" and "mecca" are audible, but with my brain in an exhausted tizzy by now, it also sounds like snatches of a CNN report: "MULLAH OOOOMMMAAAARRR!!" "JJIIIIIHHAAAAAADDD!!"
In fact, there are three mosques competing at once in this orchestra. Oddly, the prayers are different coming from each, and the tone of each is different, creating a godawful discord on top of the pure noise of it all.
It’s just about sunset now, and we have arrived in Marrakesh on the first day of Ramadan, so we expect some activity to occur at sunset. We wander back to the great square and sit down at a café and order coffee. It’s not two minutes before a man approaches us with that unwanted but sometimes fruitful geniality of the North African male and tells us he’s a French teacher and a Muslim and he’s about to go pray (he’s got a cell phone that’s got the exact time of the sunset this evening programmed into it), but he wants us to wait for him and he’ll buy us soup and talk to us further after he returns from the mosque, which is right opposite our café. At the exact minute of sundown, the mosque erupts in the evening prayer: ALLAHH-UH-AKHABAR!!!!!………
He runs to the mosque, removes his shoes (how do they get the right shoes when they come out, we wonder?), and disappears inside for a few minutes. In the interim, the chef of the café we are sitting at is busy piling up bowls of harira, the chickpea-tomato soup that is the traditional breakfast soup of Ramadan. Our friend has ordered a bowl for himself and one for each of us, too. He re-appears five minutes later, and the soup arrives in front of us, fragrant and filling.