Nordeen is telling us what we’ll see in the desert which he draws on a napkin at a Tinnerhal café: the dunes, the Berber nomads, the Black Desert, the Algerian border which looks like a demilitarized zone, a defensible space, a silent dry and desolate line of danger and intrigue.
We’re waiting for the car. There are 6 of us. Danielle and me, after 7 hours of a 9 hours bus ride that included 2 mountain passes, and several vomiting Moroccans. There is also Thiago and Nelma, the Brazillians who i had already begun referring to in my mind as those who “got us into this mess.” Nordeen and Mustafa, the other two at the table, approached them first about taking a short cut to Merzuga, the place we were eventually heading to make a camel (dromedary) trek into the Sahara dunes of Erg Chebi.
While we wait at the café for Nordeen’s Sweedish girlfriend we are discussing our desert trip on camels we later find out are really dromedary. One day or two? One night or two? The first price he quotes us is high. Too high. And the shiftiness and impatience of him and Mustafa, who is wearing a blue Tuareg wrapped around his head with a tail dangling down his chest puts us off and makes us doubt what they are telling us about the Kasbah, and camels and guides. Nordeen is in modern hipster clothing with necklaces, styled hair and an Adidas shirt. He’d look like a normal kid in any big city except for the yellow leather Moroccan slippers that he and 9 out of ten other men in the country are wearing. They have pointy toes and a hard leather sole and do not match the rest of his outfit.
I remember when Thiago and Nelma got on the bus in Ouarzazatte, which is pronounced wharzaazaat like a strange beast from a Dr. Seuss book. They looked a little flustered and big eyed like I imagined we looked when we got on in Marrakesh. We exchanged brief looks of the fraternity of strangers in a strange land and they took the only empty seats further back in the buss.
Excuse me, they keep saying, excuse me. “We are good people,” they say. “The bus driver; he credit us; he said to you.”
It’s true, at his insistence I asked the bus driver if Nordeen and his friend could be trusted. The bus driver spoke no English or French, though his rotund face, attentiveness and his tight government sanctioned uniform gave him an air of authority, and benevolent uncle-nss that made me want to trust him despite the obscurity of that recommendation. There was no way to translate except for the universal thumbs up, which I asked for with an inquisitive look holding up my thumb. If Nordeen was a movie, he’d have passed the test.
That’s when we got off the bus and sorted through the luggage hold for our bags and pulled them out onto the dusty ground in an alley behind a café. In Morocco any place that sells beverages and has at least one plastic chair is a café, this was more of a quickiemart, but it did have tables.
Nordeen and Mustafa look happy, like they have won, as we unzip the straps for our convertible travel bags and heft them onto our backs. They lead the four of us Nelma and Thiago (who turn out to be very good people) Danielle and me to the corner café as the bus honks once, blows the airbrakes and roars away into the sand.