Before I go on a trip, I receive well wishes from friends that go like this: “Have an awesome trip! Take lots of pictures. Please don’t get kidnapped! But seriously….” That may sound like it’s a joke but when it comes to me, it’s a legitimate concern. Not only am I a convenient kidnap-able size at 5 foot 4 inches but evidently I never got the memo about not speaking to strangers. Home or abroad, I’m the first one to wander off and make friends with a bartender in Frankfurt or dash off in a rickshaw pulled by a friendly, redheaded Scottish local.
Despite my seemingly carefree attitude towards strangers, I’m pretty vigilant and I’m usually travelling with friends. While it’s generally safer (and more fun!) to use the buddy system when you’re exploring foreign lands, sometimes they’re the ones putting you in compromising positions for their own personal gain as was my experience in Morocco.
It began on the second night my friends and I arrived in Marrakech. After settling in at Le Riad Yasmine, Jackie, Kelly and I braved the darkening streets to find the infamous Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Along the way, we became distracted by a shoe shop that was tucked away in one of the many caches of souks in old Marrakech. We were welcomed into the store by the owner, Ahmed, with the customary glass of fragrant mint tea and he encouraged us to peruse the hundreds of shoes that bedecked the walls – ceiling to floor – from gem-toned barbouche slippers to lace-up sandals to sequinned, kitten heeled pieces of art.
I made the mistake of looking at a pair of deep purple slippers too long and was urged to try them on. I protested that I didn’t want to untie my sandals which Ahmed took as an invitation to whisk them off my feet and replace them with the barbouche slippers. While it was a very Cinderella-esque moment, I felt very anxious because without my shoes, I couldn’t run away. Clearly my dusty, unshod feet inspired romantic feelings in Ahmed since he turned to my friend Kelly and said:
“I will give you three thousand camels and this shoe store if you leave your friend here to be my wife.”
We hurried away from the store with false promises of returning, continuing on our way to the main square. While we laughed over my marriage proposal we didn’t suspect that it was merely the starting bid.
Jemaa el-Fnaa was an assault on the senses. The streets were an overwhelming hub of activity, bursting with performers, tourists, and resident Moroccans alike. Our trio navigated the melee carefully, making our way towards a stall with a delicious aroma of roasting meat that seemed to be favoured by the locals. After we sopped up the last of the gravy from our plates with crusty bread, we went to pay our server, Sami, who was managing the tables. As we turned to leave, Sami gestured Kelly aside for a conversation:
Sami: I like your friend. I will give you three thousand camels for her.
Kelly: I was offered three thousand camels AND a shoe shop already.
Me: What is it with the number three thousand?! Is that like the universally agreed upon jumping off point for offers in camel currency?
Sami: I will give you three thousand and ONE camels and a shoe shop AND free mint tea!
After that incident, I could almost see the metaphorical wheels turning in Kelly’s head. She was starting to warm up to her role as Moroccan Wife Herder and future as a wealthy camel owner, eyeing our other friends to try and gauge how much she could fetch for them after she bartered me off. Even when we were in a group of five ladies, would-be suitors would always defer to her with dowry negotiations, as if she were our keeper or in this case, our pimp.
No longer content to wait for bids to come in organically, Kelly began soliciting random people we encountered. One man informed us that unfortunately he was not a rich man and didn’t have 3,000 camels but he could offer his “bleeding heart”. While poetic, the offer was rejected because bleeding hearts don’t pay the bills.
While asking a nomadic desert dweller whether he wanted to place a bid, he brought up a pertinent issue: What exactly is she supposed to do with 3,000 camels? Technically she’d be set for life but buying land for those camels would cost a fortune that she did not yet have. Over the course of the trip, we formulated a plan for her new camel-wealth: With half of the herd she could open a fast food camel burger joint – complete with a camel-sized deep frier – and with the money accrued from that venture, she could buy land for the other half. Did you know that a group of camels can also be referred to as a “caravan”? Once again reminding you why you read this blog at all….
In the end, Kelly didn’t succeed in bartering me away but we DID get a really good deal on shoes! This was not the first time that I’ve suspected that there’s a price tag somewhere on my person and I’m sure it won’t be the last.