I need to clarify something up front. I suffer from the affliction of Attention Deficit Disorder. That means at times my mind flies from one activity to another with a reckless abandon akin to a wrecking ball being swung to and fro by an intoxicated construction worker dabbling at the helm. It’s not that I can’t concentrate at all. When there’s something important happening, about 4% of the time I act quite normal and get things done in a reasonable way. The other – slightly higher percentage of the time – I flail wildly upon the task at hand. So when I heard Marrakech was an exotic, bustling, fast-paced city with much to explore my mind began to rev its engines, craving the fuel of multiple simultaneous endless distractions. This was right down my alley.
We had heard and read that in Morocco the quoted price of goods and services are negotiable. Basically you ask someone how much something costs and they say it’s worth five times its actual value, and then you work your way down from there. We got our first chance to barter at the taxi stand outside the Marrakech airport. Armed with the info that a ride to the medina should cost 6-10 euros, my potential driver informed me it would be 50 euros. I was firm; we settled on 10 euros. I felt a swagger come over me as I settled into the back of the taxi. If this was how it was going to be, I would be more than a match for teeming Marrakech.
As we headed into the heart of the ancient Islamic city, I hadn’t the foggiest clue that this taxi ride would be my first and last negotiating victory. Throughout the next ten days I would be reduced to the usual tourist fodder, running a gauntlet of tricky merchants, shady peddlers, dishonest taxi drivers, and diabolical tour guides. Ignorance is truly bliss. However, I would eventually leave Africa with an obvious truth – give me 100 Moroccans and a viable product to sell and in three years I would rule the world.
As we passed through the new city things seemed normal, but when we neared the gates of the old city a group of men, varying in age, approached us. I thought they were competing for the taxi we were leaving, but instead they wanted to be our guides. They spoke over each other, vying for our attention, grasping at our suitcases. I swatted their groping hands away as gently as I could; now I know how Pamela Anderson feels. Finally realizing there are 1,000 streets in this labyrinthine old city and zero street signs, we caved in and paid one of the guys to lead us to our riad (inn), an impressively tiled 18th century building with a courtyard at its center located at the end of a dark, dank alleyway.
The first thing we noticed as we wandered around was an endless stream of cars, bikes, buses, donkey carts, and motorcycles. There are no traffic lights in the old city, so if you want to cross the street, do what everybody else does, say a prayer and adopt the strange local practice of heaving yourself into oncoming traffic. I cheated death; or rather, death drove around me as I froze in the center of the street. Eventually, as we crossed, unbeknownst to my girlfriend, (I’m not worried, she never reads my stories anyway) I accidentally positioned myself behind her and other potential victims, creating a human shield for myself.