It was such a blur of human activity in Taroudannt, and Jess was so distracted by the death of the Australian girl that I can’t exactly remember if we were guided to the Arab or Berber souk by our new ‘friend.’ Of course we had a map, just like the one that had not been much use in Essaouira, but were easy pickings for a well-dressed confidence trickster.
The young local man was dressed in Western-style clothes, and kept cheerfully asking trivial questions as he rushed us down so many back alleys with the promise of bargains. It’s not as if I even like shopping, but it was me that gave this stranger our trust despite some dirty looks from Jess.
We found most Moroccans so welcoming to their fascinating country, forgetting that there must always be petty crooks (and worse) in every society. How could I have lived for more than forty years in this imperfect world of ours and still remain so gullible when it comes to a friendly smile ?
It would have been fairly easy to break free from this man, but for some reason we continued to chase after him down so many grubby streets. Eventually, he took us in to the darkness of the market, and to what he claimed was his father’s shop selling herbs and spices. Because he had actually brought us to one of the labyrinthine souks I felt some obligation towards him, which was exactly what he then played upon.
With the help of his ‘father’ a variety of items were shown to us, including a large lump of perfumed sandalwood and a mixture of spices for tagine cooking; any sensible person would have just walked away, but I still felt we owed this person something for safely guiding us to the market. He then quoted some ridiculously high figure in dirhams, which they supposed any tourist would easily be able to pay without even noticing. It is to be expected that you will always be charged more than any local, but not so much more.
Even though we didn’t want any of their products, at least it was possible to negotiate a small reduction in price, and they even threw in some roughly made pottery scrubbers for removing dead skin from feet. I handed over my wad of notes with a strong feeling of being cheated, but there was always at the back of my mind the awareness that things might turn nasty if we didn’t go along with the charade.
This event was certainly trivial in comparison to what had happened to the Australian, but it was more the fear of things getting out of control in such an unfamiliar environment that was disturbing my mind. For some reason I’d expected the old man to pull a knife and hold it under Jess’s chin until we relinquished all our money and valuables; as it turned out my own vivid imagination had exaggerated the seriousness of the situation.
Fortunately, we were not far from the main square and the Hotel Taroudannt – the only place in town you could buy alcohol. We went through the dark entrance and corridors to a jungle courtyard of faded splendour, sitting near a soothing fountain and eventually drinking some basic red wine.
‘That was an expensive waste of time’ said Jess.
‘I’m sorry, I thought he was helping us at first. At least there was no violence.’
‘Will you ever learn ?’
‘Learn what ?’
‘About human nature.’
In that particular subject could you ever successfully pass a final exam ? Surely, there was always room for more learning and a few surprises where people are concerned.