Saturday, April 07, 2007

Travelogue: March 26, 2007

The Face of an International Druggie

As of the end of today, I have been offered hashish on 4 separate occasions since arriving in Morocco. This is especially impressive when you consider that I've only been in Marrakesh for part of the time, and I don't think there's much of a thriving drug trade over in Telouet. There are few things worth noting. First, that these offers come in various parts of the city, at various times of day. Second, that no one else in our group has been offered drugs even once.

So what is it about me that screams, "Please sell me drugs!"? Let's break it down.

(1) Hair: Long, and totally unkept. Hasn't seen shampoo for a few days. Hasn't seen a brush for a few months.

(2) Eyes: Tired and sleep-deprived. Is this the normal fatigue of an active travel schedule? Or is there something else keeping these eyes open at night?

(3) Facial Hair: Unshaved. Splotchy and awkward...nothing you'd necessarily call a beard, but this face isn't going to any offices anytime soon either.

(4) Buttons: Vaguely indie style. Indie kids totally love drugs, right?

The peace-sign could count for a #5, but because I don't walk around with it at all times, I have decided to omit it from the list.

This Better Be the Best Dried Fruit Ever

So we're walking through the Djamaa El Fna, which is the Main Square in Marrakesh and a total circus. I see dried fruit and think, "Oh, that would make a nice dessert for lunch/snack for later. And we're in Morocco, it will be so cheap!" So I go up to one of the booths and start nosing around. The guy speaks no English, but he's offering me various nuts and fruits to try. Finally, I settle on a batch of dried apricots and one of dried figs. He hands me two huge bags, which are way more fruit than I actually need or want, but what the hell, I can chew on it all day, right? I pay the guy the 140 dirhems he asks for and start to walk away, but he's super excited. He seems I'm with some other tourists and motions for me to come over and stand behind the cart with him. He puts his arm around me and takes a picture with this huge goofy grin on his face (that picture is on Matt's camera and I haven't retrieved it yet). I sort of roll with it and finally get on my way.

Then I realize why he's so damnably happy: I just bought $17.50 worth of dried fruit. How do I go to a third world country and spend $17.50 on fruit? How do I hand over a bunch of cash and not stop for a second to calculate how much I'm actually paying? I consider myself a savvy traveler, and that was a serious personal and moral defeat.

To be fair, it was very good dried fruit, but I still think I got the raw end of that transaction. Nevertheless, I made sure none of that fruit went to waste. We ate it as we walked. We ate it as we hung out at the riad after dinner. We ate it on the plane back to London and we ate it in Heathrow while waiting for our bags to come to the luggage carousel. We ate it at Sek's flat in London. We ate that fruit till it was all gone. I was not about to buy all that fruit for naught!

I Hate the Phrase "It's a Small World"

Walking through the Bahia Palace, one of the big royal palaces in Marrakesh, we randomly stumble into Adam, a Scotsman, Cambridge alum, and Sek's coworker at BCG in London. Jaded as I am, that is pretty cool.

Long Line. Gonna Suck. Let's Do It Anyways.

The human capacity to stand in a line for no apparent reason, just because it's there, astounds me. We go to some fancy tombs, pay the dollar or whatever to get in, and run into a humongous line. We're looking around, we see what this place looks like. We can see some interior areas, though not the one to which this line leads. There is no question in our minds that whatever this line leads to, it cannot possibly be worth the humongous wait involved. We vocalize this thought to one another.

We get into line.

I am pleased to report that we were, in fact, right. Yep, that sure was a tomb. I mean, it's fine, it's a lovely tomb, but it's not a "pay money and then stand around for 40 minutes while the evening falls and temperature drops" lovely tomb. As we walked away from the little room (which we could not enter, but merely look at and photograph from the threshold), we immediately began to congratulate ourselves loudly on correctly predicting that the line would not be worth it. Which, of course, drew the attention of an attendant standing by, who saw fit to even more loudly reassure the nervous-looking people in the line that it was a lovely tomb and would be worth their while. Well, they'd figure it out for themselves soon enough.

This Coptic is a Bad Muslim!

The main square in Marrakesh, every night, becomes a humongous food festival of salmonella and E. Coli waiting to happen. We decided to put our intestinal fortitude to the test and try it out.

As we approached the carnival, we passed one vendor we'd met when we walked through the square on the night we arrived. He immediately remembered Matt. "Canadian!" he shouted out, and re-invited us to his booth. We glanced over, decided it might not quite be the level of sanitary we were looking for, and nodded absently as he insisted that, if we eat in the square, we come to his booth. Eventually, we settled on a place, had a pretty good meal that did not, in fact, make any of us sick, and trotted of contentedly (note: newcomer Adam is featured in this photo, second from the left). As we headed back across the square, though, we were confronted by that other vendor.

In Arabic, he proceeded to berate Matt about how he was a liar and a bad Muslim. Matt -- a Coptic, or Egyptian Christian (they apparently claim a lineage to the pharaohs, but Matt may have just made that part up to sound awesome) -- declined to explain that he wasn't in fact a Muslim, to avoid creating the inference that Christians were liars instead.

The Worst Part About People Who Are Wrong Is When They Think They're Right

We decided to close out the night by heading back to the riad, hanging out in the courtyard, hitting the hookah and eating some of my dried fruit (okay, the dried fruit wasn't part of the plan, but I made it part of the plan, dammit). Around 11 pm, some angry-looking, bleary-eyed Brit storms out of his room and cheekily suggests in a demanding voice, "You know, there's a perfectly good roof where you could go and talk loudly all you want. Some people are trying to sleep around here!" We just blinked at him confusedly and repeated "Sorry" several times as he continued to rant at us over our apologies.

11 pm is early enough, but I won't contest a man's right to sleep at that time if he so chooses. I don't think we were being especially loud -- certainly laughing a bit, but I wasn't doing too much of the talking, so my booming voice wasn't an issue -- but I'll concede that for the time being. But I hate that he decided to storm out in a huff and start bitching at us without at least having given us a polite, "Excuse me, would you mind keeping it down?" first. Had we ignored that, he'd be fully justified. But as it was, I just sat there, steaming, cycling through British insults in my mind: "Fuckwit. Tosser. Wanker." That was as far as I could get, actually.

The part that really grinds me on, though, is that I just know that Angry British Man trotted back to his room, looked at his wife, and made some comment about how he told us a thing or two. He settled back into bed, self-righteous, convinced that he was the representative of good in that little altercation. But he wasn't. He was objectively incorrect, and totally unaware of that fact, and that part gets to me most of all. All I really wanted to do was to knock on his door and inform him of that fact, to deny him the smug satisfaction of falling asleep, thinking himself righteous and victorious. I restrained myself. The fuckwit.

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