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July 6, 2008 Marjane

I’ve heard about “Marjane” for the last four months. Apparently, whatever you want in Morocco can be found in Marjane. Anything. (Except brown sugar, chocolate chips, or molasses.) It’s often described as “The Moroccan Target.” Every major city has one, and I went to the Marjane outside of Big Apple.

When I first walked in, I thought it was more like a rural mall than a Target. There were a series of small stores lining the walls, most with names I’d never heard of (although Lacoste did have a store of its own). But after the first hallway, it opens up into the superstore I’ve heard so much about.

There are housewares. Clothes. Major electronics. Food. An entire array of cheeses. Fish, nearly all with the heads still on. A butcher section, with hanging carcasses. I walked through the toiletries aisle, and thought I was back in America: an entire aisle full of shampoo. Garnier Fructise. Pantene Pro-V. It’s all here. Not long after the dizzying array of haircare products was the pasta aisle. After I passed 15 linear feet of Barilla pasta, in the blue boxes I always reach for at grocery stores in the States, I had a moment of genuine disorientation*. It was surreal, in the most literal meaning of the word: I didn’t know if I was dreaming, or if the past four months had been a dream and I was really back in the Safeway in Silver Spring, Maryland. I was talking in English to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed friend, walking past box after box of Barilla pasta. Was I in Morocco at all?? J** sensed my confusion and turned me around, pointing me towards the cans of tomato sauce, labels printed in Arabic and English. The Arabic characters regrounded me, and with a rush, I realized that I really am in Morocco. Whew.

I bought a few things that I can’t find at my local market (Snickers, peanut butter, hot cocoa powder, a bread pan, a hot pot), but held myself in check because (1) Zahara left me a mostly-furnished apartment, so there’s not a whole lot that I need, and (2) Marjane is reeeally expensive. As in, anything available there is 2-3 times the price that it would be in souq, the open-air markets, or taHanoots, the small bricks-and-mortar shops. Well, if what you’re looking for is available at a souq or a taHanoot. But the prices do make for the sharpest difference between Marjane and Target or Walmart. Those guys drive the little stores out of business by underselling them. Marjane makes no attempt to undersell anyone; its big draw is both the American/European items that expats long for, and the fact that everything is available under one roof. It’s easy to imagine cash-heavy expatriates deciding that the convenience of one-stop shopping outweighs the higher prices. Also, the prices are really pretty normal by American standards. It’s just that souqs and taHanoots are dirt-cheap.

* I learned not long ago that the word “disorientation” actually has its etymological roots in this part of the world: Westerners came to Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries looking for the “Orient” as described in 1001 Nights and Marco Polo’s notes, and they couldn’t find it. They found interesting cities and people, but nothing to match the lurid descriptions of harem girls, potentates, and sexual debauchery that they were anticipating. They literally couldn’t find “the orient”: they were “disoriented”. :)

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