Saturday, January 19, 2008

berber charm and babouche madness

January 14, 2008, Marrakech Morocco.

I arrived in Casablanca at 11 am after accidentally disembarking from my plane when it made a brief stop in Sierra Leon. Consistent with my symptoms of vehicular narcolepsy, I seemed to have slept through the announcement that we were going to stop to let some passengers off (only 1 short hour after we took off). When we landed I naturally disembarked. Even though I can admit the flight felt exceptionally brief, I was under the assumption it was a direct flight from Monrovia and and was a little disoriented from my 4 am departure. THe plane landed and I simply got off. Immediately after I entered the customs station I realized my mistake and was forced to beg an attendant to allow me to re-board. Luckily I was able to go out an ‘employee only’ side entrance, hustle down a restricted section of the tarmac and reboard. I was so ashamed of my wee little misstep I’ll have you know I did not make any more mistakes like that for the remainder of the trip to Casablanca. Upon arrival I had a brief 45 minute lay over and then was quickly whisked off to Marrakech - my 3 day holiday destination stopover.

Marrakech is a quaint little market town near the Atlas Mountains. Home to the infamous Argan oils that hold amazing medicinal and cosmetic powers, Marrakech is charming, romantic and invigorating. After checking into my exquisite little riad, I quickly signed up for a facial, massage and soak in the in-house hamman. Following a hot soak and painful/pleasurable exfoliation treatment, I had THE best facial and believed everyone I was paying for services and argan product when they informed me I was looking 10 years younger.

Next came the explo. Based on the fact I am directionally challenged and, as my mother would say, “can get lost in a paper bag” I will fully admit I was completely lost for the first 47 hours of my stay in Marrakech. The minute I left the front door of my riad, I was hopelessly lost and this lasted for two solid days. But it never seemed to matter because there wasn’t really anywhere to go and fortunately for me I quickly discovered there was always a young man nearby willing to point me in the right direction for a few dirhams which progressively got much cheaper as I became more aware of the local prices (my first human taxi took me for some serious money but hey it was late and I was a lost American – what can I expect).

A few of my saviors became so used to seeing me hesitate at any given labyrinth juncture, they would simply pass by me and without a word nudge me in the right direction or pass by with out making eye contact with a lifted finger pointing me in the right direction. How they knew where I was going I have no idea but they were always right and I never questioned them. While shuffling through the maze of cobblestone streets (at high speeds I might add if you are to keep up with the locals) you see shops full of Moroccan classics like colorful light fixtures, rugs, scarves and jewelry. You also frequently pass by local Berber tribesmen on donkey drawn carts weaving in and out of mainstream traffic.

The men in Morocco are relentless flirts and I have to admit I was taken aback by what first felt like an aggressive manner in which they expressed interest in the female passerbyer. But, my skin quickly thickened and I soon realized they were harmless; once acclimated, I had the honor of meeting a few very interesting and helpful individuals.

Moroccan store owners are notorious for their ability to bargain and I was quickly told by my riad attendant that I should use the rule of thumb of 65% to start my bargaining posturing. “65% I thought! How dare they try and swindle me like that!” A typical American, I had very little experience bargaining and quickly became quite tired of the ‘game.’ Rather than get frustrated however I came up with my own little trick. Instead of trying to bargain the savvy shop owners down in price as they expected, I would say I’ll give you a slightly smaller amount for two! I usually took them by surprise and had much better luck in my efforts to bring down the price and can now say I am the happy owner of two of everything I decided to purchase. A blue and a red silk scarf, a pair of orange and black leather babouches, a grey and a pink key chain……it’s that simple – two for the price of almost half of one! The shop owner very likely still made a huge profit on me but psychologically I felt as if I was playing the game proper and was oh so proud of all my loot…….now if I can only manage to fit it all in my luggage.

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