How Moroccan B-boys taught me to never give up
Some years ago I travelled with some of my fellow Rain Crew members, Clint, Chilly and Sharifa, to Morocco. It was supposed to be a non-dancing holiday, one of those vacations where we jump off of waterfalls, swim in the ocean, enjoy the sun and sight-see whatever sights there are to be seen. And while we did do all of those things, when we found out there was a battle in Casablanca the following night, we couldn’t help but go.
We took a train from the beautiful old town of Fez to the modern city of Casablanca where we met up with Hicham. We met Hicham at IBE, a Hip Hop dance festival in the Netherlands, where he told us to come visit him in Casablanca. People often say that to each other in the dance scene, I have even said that to people but in all honestly, I hardly ever mean it. However, we are the type of people that will take that offer seriously and will take you up on it and will come to your house. Luckily Hicham and his beautiful family welcomed us with open arms and we enjoyed a lovely authentic Moroccan meal before heading to the battle.
The battle is held on a patio in front of a car dealership with an impressively large turnout. It seems the entire Moroccan dance community has come to this battle on a quiet and dark street in the middle of Casablanca. Midway through, the battle is rudely interrupted by two fighting homeless women. I have no idea what they are yelling about but I think the message is that they don’t like each other very much. The commotion has attracted the attention of the police and we are told to shut the battle down. They break up the fight by handcuffing the two screaming women together and wait till they cool down, an interesting method..
We assume everyone is going home now. We are wrong. The large group of dancers all grab their bags, leave the still-fighting handcuffed-together women behind and walk for about 20 minutes to a new spot they had collectively decided on. Within minutes of arrival, the music is playing again, the host is back on the mic and everyone is ready to dance like nothing ever happened. We are in a big open space, so the music is not as loud, it’s gotten really dark and there is hardly any lighting, the cobblestone floor is far from ideal to break on. But, everyone is happy.
After a few battles, we hit another obstacle; the speaker gives up. That has to be the end of the battle I thought, but no! Someone pulls out their phone to play music and holds it near the ears of the dancers while everyone else silently cheers the battlers on. I’m in awe of their persistence. But only a few minutes later the guy’s phone dies. Do you think they end the battle? No. Of course not. Everyone gathers around and starts clapping their hands and stomping their feet to create (a questionable) beat. Nobody has lost their excitement, nobody has lost the will to compete and they are still throwing down some incredible runs. They don’t even try to quickly finish the battle, even though it’s well past midnight by now. The four of us sit down on the steps and realise how spoiled we are in London and question if we have the same love and fight for dance as the people here in Morocco. This battle didn’t even have prize money…they are literally there for the love of breaking.
The next morning, we get on a train to Marrakesh. Marrakesh is crowded and touristy and as we yearn for that same authenticity we experienced last night we rent some mopeds and get the hell out of the city. We googled waterfalls and found one that looked incredible just a 3 hour drive away. The four of us, on our two mopeds, head towards the mountains and the waterfall. Three hours into our journey, there is not a waterfall to be seen and we realise we are most definitely, incredibly lost. We stop at a gas station and ask for directions but our non-existent Arabic skills makes communicating not as smooth as we had hoped for. The helpful gas station attendant eventually takes a pen and due to a lack of paper, draws a map on Chilly’s forearm, a large X marking the location of the waterfalls. We hop back on our mopeds hunting for our treasure. We are now 5 hours into our 3-hour journey and still no waterfall. It is not the most comfortable mode of transportation and our excitement has made room for irritation.
We stop at another gas station and sit on the pavement. It is Ramadan in Morocco which means it is incredibly hard to get food during the day so we bought some crisps and some bread and pretended it’s a meal. We had been travelling for over 5 hours now, we do not know where we are and we have to return our rented mopeds in 2 hours. What do we do? Do we go back or do we keep going? This was a pivotal moment in our journey and looking back at it, also our friendship.
We are reminded of the dedication the Moroccan dancers had showed us the other night, and it gave us the will to commit to finding this waterfall. We keep going! Chilly does a back flip. A celebrational back flip. I don’t know why I remember that flip so vividly but it really marked our emotional transition from irritation to blissful perseverance. We call the moped rental place and tell them one of our mopeds overheated and we are now stranded without a way to return. We tell them will try to get the mopeds back the following morning, buying us some extra time to find this damn waterfall. Fuelled with new energy we hop back on our mopeds; our moods completely shifted, the uncomfortable moped seats have turned into luxurious comfy lounge chairs, the long and monotone road turned into a beautiful rolling landscape of hills and trees and quaint villages and the hot burning sun is now a lovely caress of warmth on our cheeks. Though we are still lost, we are enjoying the ride again. I realised the way you experience life is a mindset and if you choose to see the beauty in things, eventually you can’t see anything but beauty.
We stop for a second as we stand on a mountain, we take some bites of our crisp sandwiches (DM me for the recipe) and drink some water. We have travelled for 7 hours now, and though my butt is sore and has taken on the shape of the moped seat, the sun is definitely burning my legs and it is getting dark quick, I feel extremely content. We overlook the valleys when a caravan filled with hippies stops next to us. Thinking we broke down they ask if we need help, we explain we are fine and ask for directions to Ouzoud, to the waterfall. The hippies happen to live right next to the waterfall we had been trying to find all day and tell us to follow them.
When we arrive we prepare food together and when the sun sets and the prayer call echoes through the mountains we break fast with our new found friends. By now the sky has turned pitch black and we blindly follow the hippies down to the waterfall, which is where they murder us. Kidding. We get to a narrow path with little shops on either side and are invited to sit down for a cup of tea. Some of the shop owners take out their drums and start serenading us with beautiful Moroccan sounds. We end up dancing to the sound of the drums under a starry sky. But we can’t stop thinking about this elusive waterfall, the whole purpose of this trip. They tell us to follow a frog-covered path and out of nowhere we are welcomed by the deafening roar of the water, we feel it splashing on our face. It’s been a long day, an emotional day, and I can’t help but tear up at the sight of this incredible force of nature. The journey was so worth it.
We walk even further down, to the base of the waterfall, and lay down on some rocks watching the torrents of water aggressively pour over the edge of the cliff, magically framed by the most amazing night sky I have ever seen. A perfect moon, galaxies, milky ways, constellations, falling stars, all thanks to those crazy Moroccan B-boys who just would not give up.