What I learned on my summer vacation. Part 2.

little girl in chefchaouen, morrocoFrom Tangier we took an old, un-airconditioned bus to Chefchaouen, a small town in the Rif mountains. We slept on colorful beds on the roof of our hostel in the medina. The loud, melodic 5 am prayer woke us with a start and lulled us back to sleep. We wandered through the maze of blue-painted buildings, our path crossed every now and then by a scrawny feral cat or a group of shy, scrappy Moroccan kids with a soccer ball.

We haggled for 45 minutes with a young merchant and ultimately ended up with a big, beautiful traditionally woven blanket. After walking away and being called back at least 3 times, Jordi talked him down from 600 dirham to 175 (about 17 euros). Moroccans always say about the Dutch (in Dutch), “Kijken kijken, niet kopen,” essentially, “always looking never buying.” Their reputation for being cheap is world-renowned. But Jordi stuck to his price, and we got that blanket.

That evening, we took a bumpy 5-hour bus ride through the mountains to get to Fes and, although we arrived late, easily found a cheap room in a hotel right inside the medina. The center of Fes is a labyrinthine tangle of little, unmarked alleys and crowded market streets. A map does no good, so you have to pay a little kid to show you the way, or ask a new person for directions on every corner. After a dizzying few hours of exploring, dodging the relentless advances of vendors, we sat down for a lunch of olives, couscous and sweet mint tea. The rest of the day was spent finding ways to survive the heat and buying small treasures before indulging in big pink and green ice cream sundaes at a delightfully garishsweet shop.

In the last little stall we went in, full of painted ceramic bowls, the shop owner sold us a small carved wooden box. It’s a special Moroccan design that only the owner (and the guy who sold it) knows how to open. There’s a little key hidden inside, but you have to know where to look. We’d had about enough of the typically aggressive sale tactics, but this man was kind and tactful, so we gave him our business. Like many Moroccans we spoke to, he said over and over again, “You are welcome,” and it somehow meant more than just the stock reply to a thank-you.

We thanked him and walked off after he said “You are welcome” a few more times, and holding the secret box, locked up tight at my side, I wondered what I’d ever been so worried about.

Next time, I’ll be sure not to ask “What if?” quite so much, because the best thing I can do to calm my inner worrier is pack my bags, leave the neurotic planner in me at home, and give the world a chance to prove that it can actually be very accommodating, if you just know where to look.


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"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
July 2009
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