_____8:00 am- It's actually around 1am in Dallas (No daylight savings in Morocco). What a long flight. I am now in the Casablanca airport. It is very nice and clean. Of course I got no sleep- A perfect zombie. On the flight I sat next to a beautiful Moroccan woman and her daughter. They only spoke French. so there was interesting non-verbal communication when someone needed to get up. All of the instructions on how to work the life jackets and hoses that fall from the ceiling were given in three languages: French, Arabic, and English. This is such an adventure for me and I will only be here for two weeks. I can't imagine what an adventure this must be for Mom.
Well, I finally arrived in Marrakech. My flight was an hour late and my luggage didn't make it. We went up to the lost baggage office and the lady said that my baggage "may come tomorrow, Insh 'allah." So we decide to go see some sights in town and call about my baggage later. All I have with me is my toothbrush, my camera, and a backpack full of peanut M&Ms. As we walk out of the airport Becky says to me "Now we have to haggle for a taxi, this is the part I hate." Really, how bad can a getting a taxi be? So we walk up to the collection of petite taxis located in front of the airport. Mom begins a conversation in Arabic with one of the drivers. A few words are exchanged and then this guy starts getting pretty angry and a few of the other drivers start yelling at him. Meanwhile, Mom is still talking to this guy and he is now really pissed. He starts yelling at Mom and she starts raising her voice! This goes on for a few minutes until a gendarme wanders over and says a few lines to everyone and then opens the door to a nearby cab and forcefully points for me to get in. So I get in. Mom comes around to the other side and gets in too. Then the really angry guy kicks this other guy in the butt and then climbs into the driver's seat. We peel out of the parking lot and the screaming argument continues between Becky and our driver in Arabic. They are both spitting out sounds so fast I can't even tell that they are using a language at all. This lasts for the duration of our ride into Marrakech. At this point I have no clue what is going on. I have not slept, I have no baggage, and my normally reserved mother is in a full blown screaming match with some guy who is twice as pissed as anyone that I have ever seen. He is driving like a maniac. What have I gotten myself into? We get out at the Plaza Djmaa el Fna, which is in the center of old Marrakech.
Mom then explains that our cab driver had been waiting in line for three hours for a fare, and that she had asked him to turn on the maganna. He said, "I will not turn on the maganna." Typically, cab drivers charge tourists 50 Dhs for a ride into the city, but if the meter is on then it only costs about 18 Dhs. The police officer came over and said, "You WILL turn on that maganna!" So our driver was angry because he had waited so long for a tourist fare and ended up with us. He kicked the other guy because he was being laughed at. He went on about how he couldn't feed his three kids if he used only the meter and how Aid el Kebir is coming up and he needed the money. If you know my mother at all you will find it hard to imagine one of the world's nicest and most idealistic people in a knock-down drag-out argument with a taxi driver in Arabic! She ended up giving the guy 40 Dhs- $4. Not a lot of money for a rich tourist, but a lot for a Peace Corps volunteer living on $200 dollars a month!
The plaza is amazing. It is filled with tons of people. There are snake charmers and guys with monkeys; mopeds and cars go screaming by. There are these crazily dressed guys wearing baskets on their heads selling glasses of water and crowds of people listening to story tellers (Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Big Trouble in Little China). There are also tons of vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice for 2 Dhs, guys with olive carts, date stands and whole sections of little shops with anything you could possibly want.
After we dispatch our disgruntled cab driver we head for our hotel. Mom tells me that it is one that is favored by the Peace Corps volunteers because the guys who run it are honest and the hotel is beautiful. So we leave the Plaza Djmaa el Fna and head down a side street that is lined with shops. There is a bakery, an internet café, a furniture store, and a bank with an ATM. Then she says, "Oh, go left here." So we go left down this little alley that is no more than eight feet wide. There are two ladies at the entrance who seem to be blind and each missing a foot. They ask us for money. Mom blesses each of the women in Arabic. They smile great big smiles and thank her profusely. She says that the dishonest beggars get angry when you bless them so that's how she tells who to give to. After all, giving alms to the poor is one of the pillars of Islam. Every 10 meters or so there are these giant sturdy wooden doors that are lavishly decorated. Becky tells me that families live here and that inside these large doors the homes are large and very nice. We go for about 50 meters and then take a right. Then a left, then a right, then another left, and then another. Soon I am lost. Around every turn there are kids eating dirt or some big guy on a little donkey and the occasional woman slumped over asking for money. Mopeds go speeding by inches from your hip. By this time I am truly overwhelmed. Then she says, "Here it is! Hotel Eussuera." It is just like every other door except for this little hand-painted sign over the door. We walk in and the place is magnificent. Wall to wall hand-painted tile like you read about. It is designed around a central courtyard that goes up for three stories. The walls are really neat and the ceilings are all painted in detailed patterns. On the roof of the hotel is a tiny café with a great view of the city. All this for just 20 Dhs a night!
That afternoon we went out and explored the plaza and the souks. The plaza is constantly changing. People and merchants are coming and going all the time so the character of the place shifts as the day progresses. Mom and I wonder through the maze of covered souks. The souk here is covered and is basically a bunch of small storefronts that line a narrow walkway. There are merchants and tourists everywhere. It's about as crowded as Camden on the weekend. Little kids say bon'jour to everyone who passes and the older merchants start speaking to us in French as we walk by. First we walk through the trinket section. Here all of the merchants have plastic trinkets and other colorful western garbage including fake designer clothing and athletic apparel. As we moved deeper into the fray jewelry shops start to predominate. Then the clothing merchants, leather merchants, and then the fabric merchants. We are really lost by this point and end up in the 'used item souk'. Here in a small open courtyard are about thirty women sitting on the ground each surrounded by semicircles of used junk. Broken radios, tattered shoes, beads, and lots of other random stuff. Mom asks one of the women for directions to the carpet souk. The woman ends up telling a colorful story of how her husband died in a war in Western Africa a few years ago and how she doesn't miss him one bit. This as she mimes running someone through on a bayonet. We laugh and head off towards where we think the carpet area is only to find ourselves back in the jewelry section. Mom asks one of the merchants where to go. It turns out that we were right around the corner from where we needed to be. The carpets from North Africa have held my fascination since I was old enough to know about magic carpet rides. Here I was about to get my chance at a test drive. Anyway, we walk around the carpet section and end up speaking with one of the merchants about how and where his carpets are made (In French and a little English). Mom then cranks up her Arabic and the whole tone changes, and I mean instantly. The next thing I know we are sitting down with this guy in his shop and some little kid appears out of the woodwork with a silver tray filled with tea fixin's. This guy is off and running about who knows what and Mom is right there with him. They are talking so fast it makes my head spin. Then after a few glasses of tea we begin eying blankets and carpets that we like. The game is suddenly on. The fox and the hound are at it again. Our guy names us a price on a few blankets and then steps out for a few minutes to let us talk about it. Mom tells me not to show any interest in the blanket that I really want because then the price will double. Instead she says to pretend to like the ugly one and then get him to name an inflated price on the ugly one and a more reasonable price on the one that I secretly like. When our guy returns I ask about the ugly blanket. Sure enough it is twice as much as the one that I am interested in. This sort of thing goes on for about forty-five minutes. Back and forth. Finally we arrive on a price for three blankets that we liked. The merchant assured us that were getting "the price of the brother." Once you arrive at a price that is agreeable for both parties the deal is considered sealed and it is considered rude not to finalize the transaction at this point. So we end up buying three blankets for 900 Dhs ($90). As we walk away Mom expresses her ambivalence about our purchase, "For all I know these blankets could be worth five dollars. But they are worth at least $90 to me so I am happy!" What a great way to think about it. We were to later find out from one of the Peace Corps Small Business volunteers that we had actually gotten the "price of the brother" just like our merchant said. A fair price is around 300 Dhs/square meter of fabric and we were a little under that. Not too bad.
I am amazed at what Becky has done. A full out screaming argument with our cabby in addition to driving a hard bargain with a battle hardened carpet merchant! Is this the same woman that raised my brother and I?
That night we met up with one of Becky's Peace Corps friends and went to dinner on the plaza: Omar #18. She was a nice blonde girl named Gabby and she is fluent in both Tashelhait and Dereeja. Needless to say she was a hit with everyone at dinner. Again I was amazed at how friendly the people are here. It's like nothing I have ever seen. It was at dinner that I realized how interesting and amazing the next two weeks were going to be. After a long day I put myself to sleep with a little melatonin and woke up the next day free from jet lag!
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