Hope is both guiding light and cruel tool. Marrakech, an ephemeral dream of possibilities, met me at the end of a seven-hour (and much delayed) train ride from Fes. Older and more crowded than every other morocco train ride so far, this one included 18MAD sandwiches (expensive at just over $2 but unnecessary for me since I’d packed my own!) and a man whose breath was so noxious that I could smell it even while sitting beside him, the stench curling into my nostrils encouraged me to hold my breath. A futile defense as breathing is ultimately essential.

Still, once arrived, the hotel inexpensive, conveniently located, and pleasing to the eye. Things were looking up, but hunger had set in. after getting a recommendation from the hotel and following the directions to a little spot tucked away in a busy corner. A sign on the door, handwritten in Arabic with the exception of the date cemented the deal.

So now it is close to 5pm and my sugar levels are low. More than that, tourist friendly (and tourist bland) places all around mock me. We stopped and asked a friendly guy where he would eat…which lead to the obligatory sell on his family’s riad and a walk through the maze of streets and shops until asked if he expected payment. The yes ended that search for food and I was left to my own devices.

Desperate, I sat down at one of the shops that appeared to have at least a few Moroccans inside. It wasn’t bad…not glorious but not bad. And then before my eyes, I watched as people busily began to assemble tables and stoves for the night’s market. hope ignited anew as I wandered through the medina looking for anything I hadn’t seen before. The search yielded indigo and actual sandalwood (I’d never seen either in their natural state), a man bent over a foot powered drill of sorts making impressive chess pieces.

Later that night I emerged into the transformed square, now brimming with identical brightly lit stalls with men hawking their identical wares. The rush of hope filled me as I meandered. Irritation quickly replaced it.

The sell was as hard as it gets. “hey rasta, rasta, here. Obama, right here obama. California. New York.” All normal stuff, except it was followed by a man standing in my path, stepping in front of me so that I couldn’t pass. Or a hand on my arm or shoulder firmly pointing me in the direction of a particular stall. And when I nodded my head “no” or said “not right now” it was often followed by mumbled foul language, and at one point, “f&$k suck f&$k suck sex sex.”

It caught me off guard.

I actually stopped and turned around – instead of steadily walking away. It was a quick look back as I walked away. Shocked because it is vile anywhere it felt especially heinous in the context of this place. This place where women often cover most of their bodies- sometimes veiling their faces.

I finally settled on a place to sit. It really didn’t matter much – it was all the same. The shrimp and squid were mild, the olives vinegary, the bread uneventful. I paid and then wandered around for a little while – mindful of the clusters of people listening to music and stories because they are the haven of Marrakech’s notorious pickpockets.

I still wasn’t wowed. I’m not sure what it is I was expecting but this wasn’t it. Wednesday I am headed into the through the Atlas Mountains, into the Dades Gorge, and into the desert at Merzuga. Hope, though not eternal, springs again.

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