Initially there is confusion as to what is covered in the price. Food is covered, but not water. A place to sleep the night after the camel trek, a hot shower, lunch after, the ride out to the Kasbah. It’s unclear. Nordeen keeps turning the napkin around and around on the table. The napkin on which he has drawn the Kasbah, the Erg Chebbi dunes, the black desert, the Algerian border. It’s a treasure map, and the four of us, the tourists, keep looking at it. Mystified.
TinnerhalLandscape
We sit around the table, Danielle and I, Thiago and Nelma, negotiating with Nordeen and Mustafa for our camel trek. We are sipping tea and waiting for the “transport,” and languages cross the table like transoceanic travelers. Nordeen and Mustafa speak Spanish, English, Arabic and Berber. Nelma and Thiago speak Spanish, Portugese and English. We, as any good Americans, speak English and understand the gist of the Spanish for the most part and laugh when the French say oui.

The Moroccans lapse between them as they talk to us, the Brazillians, and each other. Each team uses language to communicate or obfuscate. Berber when Nordeen and Mustafa want to confer, Portugese for Thiago and Nelma. When Danielle and I want to talk and not be understood we speak quickly with slang and colloquial phrasings.

“These dudes seem legit they’re just bungling the deal.”

“WTF, I don’t know. They’re shifty. We should bail.”

It is amazing how easy it is to shift back and forth, talking like you would speak to a kindergartener to be understood, and like someone from a David Mammet movie when you don’t. The coolest thing I learned in Morocco is that language isn’t the most important part of communication

We’re just waiting for the transport.

Mustafa had said before we got off the bus, that they have “transport” for 7, including Nordeen’s Sweedish girlfriend. “A Toyota,” he said. I had only seen Toyota flatbed trucks and landcruisers. So I figured we were cool. They had a landcruiser; might be tight for 7 and luggage, but should be fine.

The negotiations were stalling. We got the price to something I thought was reasonable, but Danielle wasn’t happy with it. She was still a little skittish about them and freaked out since we were in a town that wasn’t on our map with no bus, train or steady flow of taxis.

“OK,” I said, “all we really need is the transport then, when is that getting here?” I figured we could stop off in Risani, where we were going to get cash from the ATM, and we could ditch them there if necessary.

“The car is here,” says Nordeen subtly motioning to the street in front of the café where there was a dry and dying bush, a dog lying in the dirt, the lonely highway and an endless desert backed by late afternoon light. In front of all that, like an enchanted jewel we’d just become aware of, was a shiny, new, bright looking Citroen C3 that had, in fact, been sitting there the whole time.

I looked back again. Morocco is generally a tight and crowded country filled with a rich texture of sights, I rose slightly in the rickety chair. Thiago, Nelma and Danielle looked at me and back at the Citroen. “What,” I said, “behind the Citroen?”

Nordeen and Mustafa looked at each other, not understanding the sarcasm. “Yeah,” said Nordeen, “That is the car.” Mustafa nodded with a confident swagger of an African Camel Man who is used to clown-car style transportation.

“Seriously?” I said? “THAT is transport for 7? You said you had a Toyota!” I was exclaiming, but more laughing than mad. These guys played it pretty tight up to that point with the Black Desert this and Algerian Border that and Traditional Cous Cous Hand Made by Real Berber Nomads, but this was a rookie move.

Mustafa turned to look at the car. “That is not Toyota?”

“No,” said Nordeen. “Citroen.”

Mustafa looked back at me about to apologize…

“Dudes,” I said, giving my best buddy-from-America wry smile and half wink, “how many seats does it have?”

Though the napkin is still there, showing the way to the desert in mystical cartoon, and dust is blowing off the wide open landscape of Eastern Morocco, we suddenly feel very far from the dunes; far from the camels, the Kasbahs and the Berber oases that sit like a prize at their foot.

They faltered, and finally broke. Their plan hit a wall. While Nordeen and Mustafa sorted their shit out in Berber, I sat back, letting my Morroccan Whiskey go cold in the cup, and in as speedy English as the Brazilians could handle the four of us began talking through plan B’s.