This past September, I discovered that I had a heart condition that could have dropped me dead at any time. An 80% blockage of some fairly important plumbing and, as an added bonus, heart disease caused by shitty genetics and aggravated by the anxiety and frequent panic attacks I get down with thanks to my PTSD. My cardiologists told me that I was lucky: normally, this was the sort of thing that folks typically don't find out about until after they've suffered a heart attack. My medical team got invasive. They plopped a stent in me.
Finally, a piece of metal in my body that I actually want there.
I was awake and hopped up on fentanyl during the procedure. During the course of the angioplasty, the surgeon bumped up against the inside of my heart: it caused the first angina pain that I had ever experienced. I was filled with fear of not having more time with my partner; that I hadn't finished my novel; I had not traveled far enough to understand the world in a satisfactory manner. I had always wanted to step foot in the Sahara. Angina pain removed from the equation, I found my heart absolutely aching for it. After they got me settled into the hospital's CCU for the night and leaned on my groin for 30 minutes to stop an arterial bleed that was definitely trying to kill me, I told my wife that I wanted to go to Morocco.
"Why?" She asked.
"The desert. I need to see it. I want to get lost in a culture I don't understand, again. I want to hear the call to prayer in a place where it defines the ebb and flow of whole cities."
She gave me my wish. Tickets were purchased in November. We endured the frozen hellscape of an Albertan winter until the end of January. Then, we flew.
Our time in the air was notable only in the fact that it was a fucking misery. I've flown over long distances in coach before, but never so uncomfortably. The 787 we were trapped in was hot and unfriendly, like a Tibetan Mastiff on a chain during a Mexican summer. Because of the width of my shoulders, I was slammed into, unrelentingly, for the entire trip, save the amount of time that my partner switched with me in the hopes that I might be able to get a bit of sleep. I couldn't snooze, despite her kindness.
Discomfort often serves me well. By the time that we landed in Marrakesh, we'd been awake for so long that, after a single night's sleep, we were certain that we'd bypass the jet lag we were due.
Passing through customs in Morocco, was a painless but jarring experience. A police officer presented us with paperwork that was designed to track potential Coronavirus carriers entering the country. At the time, there were no cases there. The Moroccan King and his government planned to keep it that way. The border guards were efficient and aloof. We handed them our paperwork. They stamped our passports and sent us on our way.
The riad we'd booked ourselves into for the next two days was located in Marrakesh's Old Medina: a walled maze of shops, homes and market space that newcomers are guaranteed to become lost in. To ensure that we made our way to him, our host arranged for us to be picked up at the airport and dropped off just outside of the Medina walls, where he waited to guide us through lanes and plazas measured in centuries and millennia.
The way from the airport to our drop-off was only 15 minutes long. Out the window of the van we rode in, we saw a modern, clean and well policed city. No fuckery was afoot. In the late night dark, the buildings along the avenues we wheeled through were dimmed to a menacing dark red.
Our riad's proprietor, Basal, met us on the street to walk us through the maze of the Medina to his home. The back alleys would be intimidating at night, were one timid. I found the quiet isolation of the narrow, winding side streets to be calming. The silence of the alleys was broken, frequently, by the sound of passing mopeds and scooters. Basal, has lived in the city for nine years. He's quick to mention, without prompting that he hails from Brussels, of Greek heritage. Bringing us to his front door, he warned us of his body guard, before allowing us to enter. Upon opening the door, a golden retriever pup greeted us with an enthusiastic tail, sniffing frantically at the last traces of our own dog, carried from Canada on the legs of our pants. Sweet mint tea was poured. In return, we gifted Basal some aged cheddar we'd brought with us. Basal seemed quite grateful—cheese is difficult to come by in Morocco.
Before heading off to bed, my partner and I decided to wander out into the night. As promised, we almost immediately got lost. A man, perhaps 40 years old, named Mustafa, offered to show us the way to the night market. He was too friendly; too willing to lead us along. His wide smile tightened into a serious slit as he demanded payment for his help with our navigation, even though the night market was no where in sight. We refused at first as hadn't struck a deal with him. But the from Canada had taken a toll on us. We hadn't the energy to defy shifty bullshit. We eyed a vendor selling fresh oranges and bought a small bag of them to make change for Mustafa, in the hopes that he'd bugger back off into the night. It cost us a Euro to send him on his way.
We gave up on scoping out the market that evening, choosing instead to get back to our cool, cozy room at the riad while the getting was good. Before bedding down, we ate our oranges. They were sweeter than anything we'd tasted in a long time.