This is a short experiential piece I wrote after a near death experience trying to find our hotel in the medina of Marrakesh GPS was our only hope and she was not in a helpful mood. Spoiler alert: we made it out.
Looking back, I don’t know why we followed the Garmin GPS’s commands. In 30 feet turn right! Continue on Rue el Gzaa! Turn left on Rue Bab Doukkala! She was domineering. Demanding. Relentless.
We should have known that she was intent on destroying us. She was taking us directly into the pedestrian-only part of the medina. A medina is the ancient center of many North African cities. The streets are winding, narrow, and as far from grid-like as it is possible to be. They are also full of life and energy and are amazing places to be…on foot.
Each turn put us deeper into pedestrian territory. Narrower and narrower streets. Watermelons and spices and kabobs crushing us like a fragrant fist. Hooded collaborators waved us through narrow archways looking guileless in their white djellabas.
We moved slowly, and even as the sea of people opened for us to move through they closed behind us. Until we stopped, our way blocked by a mule piloted by a blind man. We were tightly bound on all sides. The GPS, jubilant, went dark. Honking, shouting, pounding on our car. Our chests tight with inevitability, we prepared to die.
From the depths of surrender came our voices, quiet at first, then louder until we were chanting out the window, “Salaam Aleichem! Salaam Aleichem! Salaam Aleichem!” As if we could part the sea of people by wishing peace upon all.
In the end, our lives were saved for 20 Moroccan dirhams. Two dollars. The blind mule driver was led away. The orange cart moved. The crowds shoo-ed to the side so we could turn. We made our way to a safe place breathless and drenched in sweat. And because we had no alternative…turned the GPS back on.
Check out our Morocco reading list to dive headlong into the medina for yourselves. I suggest some Paul Bowles.