By Heiko Eser
I had caught a bug in Coimbra and two days before my flight to Marrakesh I ended up in the hospital. I couldn’t think straight. I called my friend Brendan, which I had planned to meet in Marrakesh:
“I’m not coming!”
I put the phone down. Flabbergasted.
Where where the pleas? The demands of You better get yourself in that plane tomorrow, this was planned ages ago!? Where was the voice of reason? Had Brendan deserted me? Couldn’t be.
There was obviously something gravely wrong with him. The poor fellah needed help.
I picked up the phone.
“Right. Now we’re talking!”
I landed in Marrakesh in so many pieces. No point assembling, I thought. Let’s just pile them all into a taxi.
Two hundred Dirham. Twenty Euros for a twenty minute ride. My couchsurfing host didn’t bother to argue with the driver. I had already started that after sitting in the cab for thirty seconds and had a full blown argument by the time we eventually arrived. The driver was a nitwit. As I found out later, this seems to come with the territory. Probably with some exceptions. Well…hopefully. Taxi drivers seem to try to keep a mental balance by moaning and overcharging.
Brahim paid part of the somewhat reduced fare which I didn’t understand and I sorted him out later. He gets me to his lovely flat and sure enough, tempts me with a biffder. One of those local herbal concoctions. Well…I think…when in Rome…
I take a few cautious puffs and realize: Oh Jeepers. Boooom. Effect size XXL.
“Ready to meet your friend in the Medina now, are you?” Brahim says. In a somewhat insinuating manner I somehow feel, but of course can’t really be sure, seeing the state that I am in.
I give him a slow smile and start making my way to the bus stop.
All types of buses turn up. For what seem hours. None of them going to the Medina. After probably an hour and thirty minutes I guess, but can’t be sure, I’m on my way. Brendan is wondering what’s happening. I am already about two hours late and don’t know where I am and how long it is going to take me to get to Cafe France where I am supposed to meet him.
“Sorry, Bren. I’ll be there in about half an hour!” At least it sounds good.
The bus is slow and full. A man in his twenties comes in. He starts intoning what feels like a work-up to a dramatic event. He seems in pain and there is a hypnotic seriousness about him. Then suddenly he pulls up his shirt and, putting his voice into a higher register, he reveals a huge festering wound. Yellow with puss and tubes sticking out left right and centre. I nearly keel over backwards. His voice is like a knife. Cutting through the bus. He is begging. I try to edge away from him and turn my back. I don’t give him anything and feel bad.
After what feels easily another hour ( Hey Brendan) I exit the bus at the entrance to the Medina.
I text Brendan, that is by this time fairly pissed off with me, a happy and encouraging
“Nearly there!” and enter the gates.
What happens then is somewhat hard to describe, but of course I shall try.
Seeing my altered state, the travel, the sickness (food poisoning through a rancid salami) and my cultural unpreparedness (didn’t read a sentence before about what I was getting myself into) I am possibly not in the most stable of conditions, but sure…
An explosion of color, shape, sounds and smells is trying to overwhelm me. Plus every single seller has just been waiting for me in particular to sell me a rug, some clothes, a tea pot, some jewelry, a watch, some herbs, some sweets, a live chicken, the head of a dead goat, some oranges, bananas, a wooden door, a wooden stool, a wooden table, an iron lamp, some leather shoes, all of that made of recycled tyres (except the bananas and oranges, maybe) and god knows what else and miraculously all specifically price-wise customized for me, because somehow all of the sellers are somehow my friends. I can’t for the life of me remember ever having met any of them, but hey, I am under the influence and we all know how this stuff meddles with the memory, so…
I decide to do what most foreigners do when they arrive in the Medina in Marrakesh. I focus on a point straight ahead of me and speed through the alleyways. I’m coming, Brendan. I’m nearly there.
The whole onslaught is on the verge to overwhelm me. It’s a bit like running on a high wire. You just try to get to the other end as quickly as possible. Hoping not to lose footing. It’s insane. It’s fun. In a kind of mad way.
So here I am. Running for dear life, but of course, I don’t have a clue which way to go. I grind to a halt now and then, to ask for Cafe France. Everybody knows it, but nobody can really explain it in a way that makes me trust their directions. Must be me. Or the gear. Paranoia creeping in. I just have to find it on my own, I decide. Let’s just keep running, I tell myself. It will appear like a mirage in a dream. Like an oasis in the desert. Well…it doesn’t really. I speed up and seem to be moving only in time, but not in space. The alleyways blur into one big market stall that seems to go on forever. No landmark visible. Too much detail and somehow everybody seems to sell the same stuff more or less. I don’t think I am actually moving. In space. What about in time? I ask myself and have a look at my watch. Holy wahcamoly. I am now three hours late for my appointment with Brendan. Plus I am lost as can be.
After another hour of deliriously sprinting, dodging, ducking and diving, I see the sign. Cafe France. I made it. Waves of satisfaction and relief wash through me and sure enough, there, sitting at a table with his silly glasses and beard, surrounded by a gang of kids with handkerchiefs and black dudes with fake watches, is my lovely friend Brendan. I have never been more delighted to see the fellah. He sees me and starts screaming. Beautiful, I think. He is just as delighted and start running towards him. Well…actually…as it turns out, he is severely pissed of with me, letting him wait for over four hours and his are screams of anger and annoyance. We collide and he starts to throw me around the market place, hurling abuse at me. I don’t care, really. I am full of joviality. Yes. I am a little late. My goodness, Bren. This is Morocco. I am only trying to blend in. Acclimatize. I can’t take him serious. I am just too delighted to see him and to have finally arrived in Morocco.