The Old City of Marrakesh is a place of vibrancy, that holds the soul and identity of Morocco. With the area known for its beautiful Riads – like the rest of Marrakesh – we chose to stay here to visit and speak to some of the locals to get an idea of what it is like to live in the Old City of Marrakesh. “It is beautiful, and not too hot at the moment. Until the weather gets up to 50°C we live comfortably. We fast the month of Ramadan in this weather and it is hard but we do it”.
The Old City is also worth a visit to also see the souks owned by locals. It is easy to find the same goods elsewhere, yet some of the shops which are located in the Old City hold tailor-made services, which are paired up with shops full of fabric for you to choose from. It also has stores of ready-made traditional Moroccan clothes for men and women. This souk is also a nice change from the busy market places elsewhere. It is a place where you can enjoy a relaxing walk down a short souk and browse one of a kind goods hand-made by locals.
Bab El Khmiss
Khmiss is a market to be avoided in Marrakesh. Its’ size mirrors that of the Grand Bazaar in Turkey yet its content looks more like scraps from a junk yard. Before the entrance to the bazaar itself there are piles and piles of clothes and shoes that look like they have been filtered from charity shops in the UK. Some of the goods are broken and still being sold at retail price.
If you would like to see where a lot of Marrakesh’ goods are manufactured, some of these places are in the bazaar of Khmiss. Contrary to my review above, we had the pleasure of viewing locals who were making tagines and doors with intricate wood-work. Other goods being sold in this bazaar were items from old and cheap furniture to material for sofas and beds. Here is an alternative review to Bab El Khmiss.
Guelize – dubbed the “Knightsbridge” of Marrakesh – is located in the new city. It is an alternative to the normal shopping experience that you would find elsewhere in Morocco. It’s a place of relaxation, and to avoid hagglers trying to con you into buying something which can become abit tiring after a while quite tiresome. It offers clean and wide roads, with open cafes and mainstream fashion shops from names like Mango to Adidas. Its’ shopping centre also holds a carrefour for those tourists who would like to take some groceries back to their Riads.
The area holds a sense of liveliness that can be felt through the atmosphere. Its streets are always busy with people looking for designer clothing or a fine dining experience. The back-streets of Guelize also holds a local mosque and an Islamic book store which are both worth a visit.
Jemaa el Fna
Jemaa al Fna is the main place any tourist gets told about upin their arrival in Morroco. Similar to Khmiss, the Bazaar seems equal in size to that of the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, yet you find that after walking down three to four different alleyways that all the shops tend to look the same. Indeed it does get a little boring after a while for a shopper who is looking for something a little different but keeps on running into different market shops all selling the same thing.
The shop-owners also tend to change to price as soon as you show interest in an item of theirs. This happened twice to me in one day. After speaking to a few different tourists who have also visited Jemaa al Fna, I learned that this practice among shop-owners is quite common. The real beauty which makes it worthwhile to visit is the atmosphere at night. It becomes alive with music, lights and different smells. It is said that people come from all over the world to visit this square at night and it is due to the many soothsayers, story-tellers and even dancers who like to entertain the visitors in the main square. There are also many food places but eating in a pop-up restaurant can be a bit risky due to how fresh the food is. If you would like to see every aspect of Morocco, then Jemaa al Fna is the place to see.
My heart was pounding. I looked down at the pregnancy test, mentally preparing myself for what I would see. And there it was: “2-3 weeks pregnant”.
I had already known from the moment I’d conceived, however this didn’t waver my shock or excitement. I was sat in a Sainsbury’s toilet cubicle in Salford, with the rest of my life vividly playing out in my mind. I had just finished university and was on my way to meet my husband for a conference at the University of Manchester. I had to tell him, but didn’t want to wait till I got home. How could I hold in my excitement for a full 3 hours?! Instead, I asked him to meet me in the girls’ area of the prayer room at Manchester Metropolitan University, and he begrudgingly did so!
This memory, like many others throughout my pregnancy, will never be forgotten.
I was 20 weeks pregnant and lying on a hospital bed being prepped for my second scan. I and the husband had already decided we wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise, so we didn’t ask. Yet there was another surprise of which I wasn’t expecting. The midwife informed me that I had a low-lying placenta, a symptom formally known as “Placenta Previa”. She encouragingly told me not to worry, yet telling an expectant mother not to worry is like telling the weather to go easy with the rain in Manchester. I also had this odd feeling from the tone of her voice that Placenta Previa was something serious, and a little far from the norm for a first pregnancy.
Being a journalist, it is my job to look up information on different subjects on a day-to-day basis. As soon as I sat back in my husband’s car I looked up the term straight away, even though I had been booked in for a meeting with the consultant at 32 weeks.
It was as I feared, if not worse. I read all the definitions, statistics and personal accounts on Placenta Previa. However, it was something I felt I could deal with. “It is normal at this stage in your pregnancy” a lot of specialists had told me. One gynaecologist who was visiting my mother when I was 25 weeks told me it is common at this stage of any pregnancy, and that it will “sort itself out”. I heard this term many times, so many times to the point where I had all but forgotten about my low-lying placenta, and thought it really would sort itself out and not get any worse. I still ask myself about whether I am right in being so bitter about how things turned out, or if it was because everyone I spoke to told me I would be okay.
95% of cases with placenta previa are lucky enough for the placentas to move. This is naturally caused by the baby growing and, in turn, the placenta moving away from the cervix allowing the mother to have a natural delivery. Cases of low-lying placenta or similar means you are unable to give birth naturally. This condition also affects a lot more than what is just written on the internet, and this is what I slowly learned during my pregnancy.
Because I had a low-lying placenta which was discovered from 20 weeks, wearing anything that had a slight waist band or anything similar was a no-go. I was rendered incapable of wearing any type of maternity pants or jeans, no matter how loose. Everything was uncomfortable. I was lucky enough for the weather to be quite nice throughout my pregnancy, as this meant it was warm enough to wear dresses. I had one dress which I bought from a shopping centre close to my university. I brought it, and changed my clothes in the stores’ changing room due to feeling so uncomfortable. The strap around my new size 12 jeans were just too tight. I was originally a size 8.
Other problems it created was feeling as though I couldn’t really discuss my pregnancy, like it was something taboo that there was something wrong with my placenta. I felt as though speaking about it would raise suspicion about me having done something towards my body or my baby that caused me to have this condition. Surely enough, I had told some people who were very close to me early on that I was Suffering from this complication. “It is because you were doing such and such”. No to-be mother wants to hear that their baby’s life and theirs is now in danger from something they did. Suffice to say the only support I had received was from my husband – who repeatedly told me that I was not responsible for the situation I was in.
I had been so upset by this statement from others, that to be sure that It wasn’t my fault that I had placenta previa, I looked it up online for the causes, and was immediately put at ease. Though making me search thoroughly for the causes put more questions in my mind. Some of the facts were that you were more likely to have placenta previa if you had had a precious miscarriage; a previous caesarian; drug abuse; old age and other internal problems. None of which I had. I was 25 years old, what wished for a normal water birth, yet it seemed this was too much to ask.
As above mentioned, I had been told so many times that my placenta would rise enabling me to have a normal birth. By 32 weeks – before my consultant appointment – I was scheduled in for another scan. “Let’s just get this over and done with” I thought, thinking that my placenta would be fine. The midwife frowned while looked at the screen. “It’s lower than it was”. I had never felt the feeling of my world coming crashing down. It’s like I was plunged into a cold dark lake where all the hope had been suffocated out of me. I was speechless and tearing up in front of my husband and the midwife. I quickly wiped myself from the cold gel on my stomach and jumped off the bed. While my husband went back into the waiting room, I ran into the corridor and balled my eyes out hoping no one would see.
The doctors had previously told me that if my placenta was in the same position that I would have to be admitted into hospital because the risk of me bleeding out would be too high from this many weeks. No one mentioned that it could get worse. My placenta was now completely covering my cervix, which meant I had what is formally known as “complete placenta previa”. From what the doctors told my at the consultation post 32-week scan, that the placenta itself now had a 2% chance of moving, and that most likely it would be better for me to start preparing myself for a c-section birth. The doctor then booked me in for a 34 week scan and a 36 week scan. The additional scans would just be to see how close to my placenta was to my cervix; if they had to cut through and if it had moved at all (as there was still very little chance).
In my 34-week scan, the doctors had noticed that the growth of the baby was not as it was. So they now had to do more regular scans to check if the baby was okay. At 36 weeks I was admitted into hospital. I came bright and early for my scan (which was not near my last) and had a suitcase of my clothes, books, shoes and other bits and bobs to keep me occupied throughout my stay in the hospital. I had been booked in for a c-section at 29 weeks – yet this date had been moved to 28 weeks due to the growth of the baby. My doctors’ conclusion was that it was just too dangerous for the baby to remain inside my womb. It was as if I was taking one pinch after another with this pregnancy.
My birth story – which is also very long and detailed – is something I will leave for another blog post. Let’s just say for now that I never made it to 28 weeks.
Looking back now – with a beautiful, happy and healthy six month-old daughter – I can honestly say that if people weren’t as nice to me, it probably would have helped me prepare for what was to come. The sugar-coating definition of placenta previa which I was given from doctors and strangers had me living in a fairy-tale where all things are merry. I wish someone had told me that things could go very wrong – yet everything will be fine. Instead of this, I heard this everything will be fine and normal and you will have it easy. This was not an easy experience and not one I will forget ever. I will have more children, yet my fear of having placenta previa again will always be there. I will be holding my breath for next time and I will expect the worst in order to prepare myself.
And one more thing – there is not enough information about placenta previa online. 1 in 200 women suffer from this condition yet it is not taken as seriously as it should be. In my research, I found that some hospitals aren’t even equipped in dealing with this type of complication. It is not treated as severe as pre-eclampsia yet sometimes the worst of placenta previa can also lead to death. One is more common than the other yet this is not an excuse for one to be given more awareness over the other. I also found that some specialists didn’t even know about this condition. I am just glad that I didn’t have to explain to a doctor about what it was – like some women had to. Though it was always difficult explaining what it was to others – which is why in the end, I didn’t confide in anyone except my husband. It just became too personal. And in my culture, people try to put two and two together. “It’s because she ate this”. Please.
Below are some of the links listen for various groups offering support. These groups mainly contain women who are going through the same thing. What helped me the most is knowing I was not alone.
Many of these groups are closed so you may be required to ask to join.
A Syrian family speak of the horrors they faced before fleeing Syria, and how they are coping with building a new life for themselves here in the Manchester.
The parents, who both asked to remain anonymous for fear of their relatives lives in Syria, were separated once the father left Syria in search for a new home. He travelled to the UK to find work and a suitable place to live for his family.
The mother explained that while her husband was away, she had become the mother and the father of their two children. “I feared everyday for them as we were living alone. I had neighbours upstairs and downstairs but we all feared for our lives”. Her husband also said that before he came to the UK, both his brother and his father were killed by the war.
The reason they decided to leave Syria was because they feared for their children’s mental health. Seven-year-old Alaa, daughter of the parents, was in a near-fatal car accident that left her traumatised. Since the car crash, her mother described how she feared for her psychological state. “Whenever she is in a car, she gets scared, even at night she still struggles to sleep and it is because of this car crash”. Although the car crash she was in was not a direct result of the war, she and nine-year-old Hussein, her brother, still had to witness “seeing dead bodies on the street around them”.
Now the family live together in the Greater Manchester area having been reunited after a year. I asked the father about the welfare of the family, and how they are able to cope with house bills.
“I do whatever I can. I do little jobs. In Syria, I was always out to sea and I would hardly see my family. I would be out to sea sometimes for almost a year”. The father, who worked for an import-export company in Syria, said that he will build up his work and look for little jobs to do around the house for anyone that needs help. Since moving to the UK, he has had help from his local job centre in order to find work. He has also taken up English language classes which he attends three times a week.
The mother tells me how she fears for the family she left behind in Syria. “I still have siblings in Syria, and they are there with their family and I try to keep contact with them as much as I can”.
She said that from the early stages of the war between President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syrian Rebel Army, it became very hard to live. “We had no gas and we had no electricity. It was always cold and we had to find new ways to cook our meals. We could not even find any places for groceries. After a while it became too dangerous to go outside so me and my children remained inside. it was just war, war and more war.”.
Since arriving to the UK, her children have been able to attend school and are also learning English. The father said that for his children, it has been harder to adapt to life here Manchester.
Marwa Ammar is a construction student at the University of Salford. She tells me she’d been a victim of five Islamophobic attacks within the space of three months. She informs me that these attacks took place while she wore the head-covering, formally known to Muslims as “the Hijab”. The most recent attack involved her being pushed into a bus by a commuter. “I took off my hijab after this”.
A total number of 328 Islamophobic hate crimes were recorded between November 2014 and October 2015 by the Greater Manchester Police Department. The number of attacks throughout the UK rose by 45% in the wake of soldier Lee Rigby’s murder in Woolwich. However, these figures don’t show the true scale of how many Muslims fall victim to hate crime occurring across the UK.
Muslims who suffer from verbal or sometimes physical abuse feel they have no support if wanting to approach the police. Since Islamophobia became its own punishable category of hate crime in October this year, the amount of people coming forward to record attacks has increased. Although some, similar to Marwa, make a decision not to approach the police in fear that their claim won’t be logged as a serious offence.
In an article published by Society Matters, the report stated that “the most common reasons victims give for not reporting hate crime to the police was because they felt the police could not or would not do much about it”. Dick Skellington from Society Matters writes “there is a significant difference between police-recorded hate crime and the Crime Survey because hate crime is still massively under-reported. Under-reporting is still one of biggest challenges that the police and the criminal justice system face in reducing the harm caused by these type of crimes. We are committed to increasing the reporting and recording of hate crime”.
People who feel the police will not record crimes committed against them as serious offences choose not to report it. This creates a problem with attacks bring under-reported by the police and, in turn, create inaccurate statistical figures.
This is why a small number of Muslims-lead organisations have recently banded together to make sure victims of hate crime always approach the police.
Establishments like MEND and Tell MAMA are now campaigning to make sure people speak up about any hate crime they have faced. MEND are currently working with the Myriad Foundation, a Manchester based organisation that set up an event in Manchester to raise awareness about unreported hate crime. The launch of their campaign “Hate is Hate” was held within Islamophobia awareness month in November this year. There hashtag “IAM2015” was widely used on social media while the event took place.
Speakers on the night included Member of European Parliament Julie Ward, Rhetta Moran from RAPAR and Ghulam Esposito Hayder, one of the members of the Myriad Foundation.
Ghulam, who was one of the main organisers of the event commented on why he thought it was crucial to hold this event in Manchester.
“We decided to start this campaign due to the recent wave of an increase in xenophobia. It seems that certain types of hate against ethnic, racial and religious minorities are becoming acceptable and we wanted to highlight that this shouldn’t be the case. All types of hate crimes against any ethnic, racial or religious minority are abominal. It doesn’t matter what type it is, hate is hate”.
Ghulam also feels that official statistics are not a true reflection of the reality of hate crime. “It is because of false statistics that the government will never understand the true gravity of Islamophobia which could lead to a relaxed attitude towards dealing with it”.
“It’s heartening to know that the lobbying of organisations like MEND has finally resulted in an announcement that all police forces around the UK will now be legally bound to record Islamophobic incidences and attacks as a separate category of hate crime. Now we need victims to use this opportunity and report it. Just look at the recent incident in London where due to the mobile phone footage of Kashif Samuels abusing an elderly Muslim man, the police were able to arrest him and it lead to a 16 week custodial sentence. We need more arrests but it can only happen if we start reporting. I urge all victims to call 101 and report Islamophobic incidences and attacks”.
The event concluded with the Myriad Foundation putting together a spoken word poetry, which they released on their own website.
Creating dialogue between people from the three Abrahamic faiths and those of no faith.
Earlier today, I had the pleasure of attending a discussion which was organised by the organisation FODIP. Chairing this discussion was brother Pasha Shah, someone who I had met previously while working for Radio Ramadhan at the British Muslim Heritage Centre.
Pasha was one of the founders of FODIP, and has started up many different initiatives and organisations throughout Manchester, all, to my knowledge, with the aim of improving peoples education of human rights and political issues.
One of these subject areas is the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel, which is what FODIP is all about. The organisation invites women once a month – Muslims and Jews alike, to ponder upon different narratives they could think of which would catapult and evolve the mass perspective of citizens on the conflict area.
Breaking boundaries and ideologies was also a focus of the groups. We heard from Pasha a touching story of how a certain company was wrongly boycotted because of false information, when in fact the company in question had helped Palestinian farmers by buying their produce. This, in my view, is down to poor research and an increase in collective anger upon a particular group of people.
Following the discussion, we were split into groups and were asked to come up with different ways in which we could help people from the Uk to understand the conflict from both sides. We understood from previous discussion that “the voice of anger is a reasonable one however it does not resonate with people on the ground”. We were urged towards changing the status quo, in finding a third resolution, and that there are still “hidden voices” which are waiting to be heard.
Once put into our small groups, we each spoke about our target audiences and then, our social action plans we would like to come up with. We were told that only one idea from the collective many would be chosen and carried out over the rest of the academic year. I hope my idea is chosen, however I shan’t share what it is just yet.😉.