If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
So… my cover was blown. Last weekend I lost my huge floppy hat—the one I wear to shield me from the sun and would-be purse-snatchers. Gone are the days of tucking my hair in its crown and hiding behind sunglasses and in clothes bought in the souks. Of being so incognito a friend passed me in our courtyard, took a double take, and asked, “Is that you Cindy?” as I headed out to the grocery down the street. Though I laughed at friends from home who told me to darken my hair, I must now admit the only other person here I know who has been accosted (euphemism for mugged) was my blond teacher- friend across the hall. Add to that a Southern accent and you get being double-teamed in a narrow souk with a thirty-something man and a thirteen-year-old boy. Because the man on the motorcycle was following me so closely I feared he’d hit me, I turned and motioned him to pass. When he laughed and refused, enjoying his game, I turned to walk on, almost tripping over a boy kneeled in front of me. He was making a lewd gesture with his empty water bottle as if he planned to push it up my skirt. As I jumped back, startled and disgusted, he sprung out of the way like a cackling Jack-in-the-Box. Motorcycle Guy and two other men guffawed, enjoying the sideshow.
Pressing on, determined to keep the blond hair I’ve had my entire life, I decided to fulfill another fantasy. I’d be Grace Kelley. Though I have no convertible to zip around in– hair scarf blowing in the breeze–I’d be 60s chic (though without the period-perfect handbag I bought here but can never carry when alone). Thing is, pulling off Tippi Hedren is hard to do when wearing clown clothes. Genie pants, which I live in on the weekends, are comfortable but not flattering. Try to look like a local by wearing a loose smock with M. C. Hammer drawers. In disguise I am no longer a soft target, a lone lamb cut off from the herd, but I don’t look anything like the Princess of Monaco either. Not even the romanticized version of myself I saw tripping lightly down the street of my new French-flavored neighborhood.
But, honestly, whether I’ve been in a getup or not, there have been some shenanigans. Like last Friday when the cab driver agreed to 20 dirhams (less than $3 and a fair price here) to get me to the bus station where I needed to buy a ticket for the weekend. He later charged me seven times that amount after taking me on a no-joyride. When I arrived at the bus station, he insisted on waiting for me rather than my hailing another cab, chatting me up in English about what I was going to buy at my next stop, Djemma el-Fna Square. When I said “lanterns” he sped off, taking me to a friend on a deserted alley who owned a lighting shop far from where I was meeting friends for dinner. When his friend leaned into the car, confident I’d follow him inside, I told the driver again to take me to the square. Seemingly obliging, he sped off, this time stopping before another shop on the back forty, equally far from the square. Fed up, I said I’d just walk to the square, which he assured me was only a few blocks up the street and to the right. Thrilled to escape, I paid and trekked a half an hour in scary territory, burdened by an invisible “Kick Me” sign like the ones kids taped to peers’ backs in grade school. Not only did he dump me far from my destination. He charged me 150 dirhams for “assisting” me with shopping. Had I not been so desperate to escape, I’d have argued.
Still, of the countless cab rides I’ve taken these last six weeks, only three have been frustrating. In another case of Medina mayhem, my friend and I were taken for a ride. Literally. We showed our driver the address of a riad we’d read about tucked away in the souks. We knew he could only drive us so far, but when he dropped us off on a deserted dead end and assured us we were only two quick turns away from the restaurant, we trusted him. Once we turned that first and only corner, we realized we were in some back alley of a souk so narrow we had to walk single-file. Too late to turn back given there were no cabs where he left us, we were mice in a maze of 12 feet walls, unable to find any landmarks when we looked up. Twisting and turning several times–not the two he promised– for awhile without another human in sight, we feared what lay around the next bend. It was the stuff nightmares are made of. When we saw a group of guys coming toward us, we plowed through, picking up speed till we were running to the beams of light ahead. Finally spilling out into a main souk, we went into the first hotel we found, starved and scared. The clerk said the riad we sought was far away and his hotel was full for dinner, but with a flick of the wrist he signaled a white-robed man hovering in the alley to take us to a place he—this stranger—recommended. We followed the mysterious man with a camel-sized grin down another alley off the artery of the souk we’d finally found. Just as we wondered if this, too, was a trick, we rounded a corner where a heavy ornate door swung open to another world. Inside a secret garden awaited. I don’t recall where we were headed, but loved the serenity of Le Riad Monceau, where we landed.
One of the last pieces of advice I was given before I moved was to be wise about who I allow into my garden. Ah, to be known– unmasked, unafraid, undaunted. Being admitted into a garden, an oasis, particularly in the commerce and chaos of the souks, is rest and freedom. Happiness is to find beauty everywhere. So is remembering sometimes when we feel terribly lost and confused, relief is just around the corner.