From Madrid to Marrakesh

On the EZ Jet flight to Morocco, I understood how the low-cost carrier makes ends meet. The crew members work as a sales team, advertising and selling a mass of products to their captive audience. Every few minutes a crew member announces over the loudspeaker yet another item for sale, rousing anyone who’s managed to nod off. They even collected money for a charity! Perhaps it’s cynical of me, but I suspect that the airlines gets a cut of the charitable contributions as well.

At the airport in Marrakesh, I approached the taxi stand and showed one of the men the piece of paper on which I had jotted down Faical’s address, which Faical had emailed to me. The man escorted me to a beat up taxi and told the driver where to go. How much? I asked the first man. 150 dirhams, he stated firmly. I was about to protest because it seemed like a lot of money. However, I noticed that he was the one assigning the taxis. What would I do if I didn’t get in this one? I deposited Osprey in the trunk and slid into the front seat.

We chugged off, the taxi sputtering and the old driver coughing and wheezing. There was a likeness about them, I thought in amusement. I wondered who was older, man or machine? After some time I tried to speak to the man. In my sparse Arabic, I asked him his name. Mohammad, he replied with a cough. Why is this always the case? I wondered. This Mohammad said something else, but I didn’t understand him. They speak a local dialect of Arabic in Morocco, and for one who barely understands Arabic, Moroccan is out of the question.

As we drove through Marrakesh, I was astounded by the number of tourists I saw and by the attire people wore. Given that Morocco is a Muslim country, I was expecting the clothing to be much more conservative. To my surprise, women were on the streets in tank tops, short skirts, and tight-fitting clothes that left little to the imagination. The city itself, as befitting one in a developing nation, is generally run-down. However, unlike other such cities I’ve seen, Marrakesh is quite clean. I didn’t see much trash on the roads.

I got the sense that we were near our destination when the driver appeared to have become lost. He drove this way, then that way, and evetually asked a man on the street for directions. I looked around trying to figure out how he was navigating through the streets when there were no street names anywhere! Finally the driver stopped in front of a building and said something in Moroccan that sounded like the equivalent of “That’s it!”

After some confusion about where exactly Faical’s place was, I called him with the taxi driver’s cell phone to learn that we were indeed standing right in front of his building. Faical came downstairs while I paid the taxi driver with the Moroccan dirhams I had bought at an American Express currency exchange in Madrid. I followed Faical upstairs to his family’s apartment where I met his grandmother and his cousin, Sarah. Later, I met Faical’s mother who is a very genial woman. She couldn’t stop grinning in delight when she met me. Faical resembles her in his looks, but his demeanor is a lot more serious. I left Osprey in one of the bedrooms, washed up, changed, and headed out with Faical to Jama Al-Fna, the famous square of Marrakesh.

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