It was our first morning in Marrakech and with the assault to our senses from the previous night still fresh it was time to brave the streets on our own. Jemaa el F’naa, the famous market square, was our destination, apparently only a 15 minute walk away. With some apprehension and as much of a mental map as possible, the Riad vanished as we turned the corner. The tourist map was buried deep in my camera bag. All the travel blogs warned not to take the map out in public as it was a signal that you were lost, a prime target to a Marrakechi that you needed directions for a fee. This advice was puzzling to me. Without the ability to read the map I knew I would most likely be lost anyway. Chances were that even with the map in my hand the maze that is the Medina would be unnavigable.
Within minutes of leaving the Riad a boy about 11 years of age cycled up beside us and with a grin informed us his name was Moustafa. “Where you come from?” he questioned affably. Chatter ensued and somehow we ended up with a guide. We knew he would ask for money at some point but if he got us to the Square I was more than happy to part with a few Dirhams. Off we trotted with stilted talk about his family and his life in Marrakech. My inner GPS was uneasy. I heard it saying “turn around when possible”. Sensing we were going the wrong way I repeated our wish to go to the Square. “Tanneries” was the response. I’d heard about the tanneries where cow and camel hides are bashed and softened in clay pits full of water and stench and had decided before our arrival it was not a place I want to see or smell. Moustafa got the message and somewhat reluctantly changed direction for what we hoped was Jemaa el F’naa. Within minutes we were in narrow laneways bordered by red clay buildings with iron doors. At each corner I turned around and took a photograph in a vain attempt to provide a breadcrumb trail for our return. It proved useless, every corner looked the same.
Moustafa maintained his pleasant banter. He was a likeable little fellow. A taller, older boy stood in the doorway ahead. As they past, he and Moustafa exchanged words in Arabic. It didn’t seem like a social exchange but to my ear Arabic is not a particularly melodious language. A couple of corners later another boy walked towards us. Moustafa stopped and with what appeared to be complete sincerity explained he was late and had to get home, could we spare a few Dirham for him. His friend, Khazin, would take us the rest of the way. I had a 10 Dirham note ready (AUD $1.20) and on seeing it Moustafa implored that 10 Dirham was nothing in Morocco and could we spare some more. After giving Moustafa 20 Dirham we were entrusted to Khazin. Khazin was not as talkative and before long he made his excuses too and we were palmed off to another Marrakechi. Seventy Dirham later we were abandoned amongst the donkeys and the dust with a “Go straight, turn right”. We were lost.
We did find Jemma el F’naa eventually and once we knew what to look for we realised it was quite well signposted from every direction within the Medina. Perhaps Moustafa and his cohorts were working in collusion or maybe each boy had their own territory not to be encroached by another. We never worked it out but we were thankful that we did find the Square. We bumped in to Moustafa several times later. Not once did he ask for money. We hope he does well. At only about 11 years old he had the charm and the street smarts to succeed even though he didn’t get us to the Square!