Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another day, another continent

Tuesday, May 25--

Our excursion from Costa del Sol to Morocco made for another very long day—a couple hours of bus ride to the port, not much waiting around time, since that bus driver took us slightly to the wrong place, an hour on the ferry, another bus, two border crossings, and of course, reversing all that to return to a late dinner. But still, our afternoon there gave us a good slap-in-the-face introduction to North Africa.

We had a lively guide who knew how to put on a show, including his claim to have 3 wives already, and his flirtatious, funny, just-shy-of-sexual-harassment proposals to Ericka. When her brother, Steve, offered to barter for her, our guide gallantly said there weren’t enough camels in all of Morocco to buy such a beauty. (In Egypt I was offered first camels, then a whole silver shop for my niece. Might have been a good deal).

We stopped for quick camel rides, 1 euro a ride, without the problem we had in Egypt of being semi-kidnapped and having to bribe the camel guide to let us return. I didn’t need to repeat this experience. (I’m still working on trying out all modes of transport—car, bus, train, planes, ox-cart, camel, elephant, hot-air balloon. Still haven’t made it onto a dirigible. Is there still a dirigible at some of the MU football games? Can anyone sneak me aboard?)

Robert has already written about the markets, the open-air stalls in the winding streets which create a kind of community very different from our more rigidly separated lives. What seems a barely-contained chaos to us is highly structured, personal, traditional. And we were much out of place, taking pictures that were sometimes resented, sometimes welcomed, rushing in our long string through the close walls, our guide, his helpers, and several security guards in dark sunglasses and leather jackets making sure there were no “problems” with this lucrative tour.

And so, we rushed through the markets (I managed to buy a couple loaves of bread to pass through the group, but no time to pick up a bag of dates or select from the dozen different mounds of olives), stopped for a Berber woman to dress Ericka in a traditional costume, saw the locals kick too-slow cats out of their way, saw no dogs at all, and listened to our guide’s very good explanations of the market and the principles of Islam. For instance, he talked about each district in the market having public access to water, a Koranic school for very young children, and a mosque. We also learned the outer facade of buildings may be very plain, while once past the outer door, each household is oriented inward, toward a central courtyard, and often very richly kept for generations.

And so we arrived at the rug shop, certainly, yes, plain outside, but huge and ornate within. We were quickly ushered upstairs, and a new show began. The head salesman, at least for English speakers, explained the quality of the rugs, their Persian style, the way to examine both sides, how they will not burn with a lighter, the value of such an investment. Then he began unfurling rugs, the largest first in a dramatic fling, then more and more. When he finished, he began asking who might be interested in each rug, and at the slightest hmm... a rug would be stacked at the lucky person’s feet, for later pricing. Well, this took a while. It was an early day without sufficient coffee for me, and I nodded off a few times. The same for Ann and a few others. But rugs did pile up, and several people made purchases—and from what I could tell, these really are high-quality rugs. In some richer life, I might bring home a Tree of Life or one of the brilliant red rugs.

While all these negotiations went on, I tried on a white gellaba (traditional loose robe) downstairs, and felt ready to walk onto a movie set, but at 180 euros, well, no. And just as well, no pictures of me in my gellaba have yet surfaced. Then the group began to disappear down through the market for dinner. I saw Kelly still in the dark corners of the rug-domain, and then Dennis leaning over the balcony upstairs, so I waited on them. They had been almost ready to buy, but were about to turn them down, when the real pressure began. The sales folk weren’t at all happy to see me, and tried to steer me away. Fortunately, we managed to escape and find the rest of the group.

Lunch consisted of soup, beef-kebabs, cous-cous with carrots and chicken, a coke, sweets and hot mint tea. A nice touch was the cake and candles for Kristina’s birthday.

Our last stop was at an apothecary shop. The main, um, doctor, showed us various remedies—sniff this bag of black methol for lungs, snoring; rub orange-and-something-else oil on your temples for stress; an aphrodisiac; skin creams and musks. A quick demonstration and quick sales, while Robert and Kelly got back massages, and Chrissy and Liz had henna designs painted on their arms, the thick paste “dried” with a shower of glitter that spread everywhere by the end of the day.

And then back on the bus, through the two borders—while the poor people on the ridge above stared down at all of us.

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