I’m starting to adjust to the constant demands for tipping, and to everyone anxious to demand my money with the slightest excuse. The beggars are easy… a few times a day I will press a 10 dirham coin into a beggar woman’s hand. It’s about a dollar, and brings baraka (good luck.) Islam calls for alms, so it’s part of the culture. A little harder to adjust to are the demands for tipping from others… a dirham for a photo, or 10dh for someone giving you directions. It’s not a lot of money, but it leaves me feeling abused. I have decided that this is silly, and I’m going to try to move past it.
Then there are the outrageous demands… a request of 200dh for wrapping a package I had purchased in a shop, for example, is outrageous. I gave him 2. He followed me out to the street, complaining, his hand held out. I ignored him. Experiences like this leave me feeling guarded, waiting for the next local to try to fleece the rich american.
Luckily these are the exception. While tipping and haggling is part of the culture, most moroccans stay within reasonable limits. They start high, and you can quickly talk them down. If you don’t feel western guilt, you can quickly reach a reasonable price. The important thing is to remember that they won’t sell if they’re not making a profit, and no matter how much you talked them down, their profit from you was most likely considerable. (I’ll leave it for Dan to tell the story of his epic Haggle that occurred today.)
In the medinas, passers-by shout out to me “Hello Ali Babba!” I thought that this was because of my Mr. Clean style earrings, but I learn that this is a generic nickname for any bearded individual. My two earrings do attract attention, however, often open flirting. I like it.
As you would expect, the food is good, but especially in the medinas, where street stalls sell meat carved right off a cow’s skull, a mixture of tongue and cheek, put into a thin almost pita-shaped load of bread fresh from a wood oven. Then salt, paprika, cumin are added as spices, followed by some moderately hot sauce and rice to finish the sandwich. They also make some wonderful stews and little fried potato croquettes which are amazingly taste.
Foods we’re avoiding include luscious-looking cheeses (not pasteurized) and boiled snails (for some reason, they are supposed to have a high rate of Hepatitis A infection.) Oh, and the usual ‘unpeeled fruit’, though I’m finding it harder and harder to avoid the lush figs and ripe plums of the medina. Oh, and the golden cherries, which roll by in cartfuls, swollen with juices.
We’ve been foraging street food for lunch and dinner every day. That will be less likely over the next 5 days… there are very few restaurants or food vendors in the Sahara.
Not sure if there will be internet cafes either. The cafe is quite the thing. Filled with boys chatting with girls clandestinely, each machine has runs Windows XP, IE6, and has a headphone, video camera, and mic. (I refuse to use IE6 except as a springboard to install Google Chrome. A boy needs to have principles.)
It’s easy to see how the internet is changing Morocco (and for that matter, the Arab world.) Things that would otherwise remain unknown (girls & boys, pornography, western news) can easily be accessed. In Morocco, the only thing censured by the government is any criticism of the king. Other than that, it’s anything goes.
And so it goes. Tomorrow, we head south for 8 hours to the desert town of Merzouga, the foot of Erg Chebbi, Morocco’s largest sea of dunes.