Computer hacker Roman Seleznev was already on the run.
As the son of an influential Russian politician, he had committed credit card fraud in 2008 against the Atlanta company ‘RBS Worldplay‘ and was suspected of cybercrimes all over the world. In all, he defrauded over 3,000 financial institutions and was suspected of skimming millions of dollars from over a billion suspected accounts. Powerful people had had enough.
Perhaps it was just coincidence that on April 28th, 2011, Roman walked into the Argana cafe in Marrakesh, Morocco just before noon to have his daily cup of mint tea when suddenly the building blew up. In all, 17 people were killed (14 on site) and although Seleznev suffered a head injury, he escaped death narrowly and continued his trade. A few years later, he was kidnapped from a Maldivian resort by US authorities, charged, prosecuted and now serving at 27 year sentence for his crimes.
Just a few years before that in popular culture, Indiana Jones’ golden idol was hoodwinked by rival archeologist Rene Belloq in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘. Indy pleaded to Marcus for funds to help him retrieve it. “There’s only one place he can sell it Marcus. Marrakesh. I need $3,000 and I can get it back.”
The reputation and sordid history of Marrakesh goes back much farther than George Lucas films and conspiracy theories. Its fabled square ‘Jemma El Fnaa‘ has been a place of business for over a thousand years and its 17 square kilometer medina and souks have hosted street performers, snake charmers, vendors and public executions going back to medieval times. The vendors are some of the most aggressive and persistent I’ve met in the world, and are equalled only by the Chinese for their bartering and negotiating skills and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Vendors in Marrakesh will pay commissions to street ‘ticks’ that follow you around the souk for hundreds of meters and direct you into shops for a slice of your money. Throw in donkey pulled carts, bicycles, and exhaust touting motorcycles ambling by you, and it’s quite a ride.
Still, there is a certain beauty to the way things are done in this city of pink. One cannot deny that Morocco is a country of traditions that have continued as the rampant globalization and automation has risen up and swallowed up traditional practices around the world. Here, agriculture and transportation is old school. Seamstresses spin thread in long ropes down alleyways. “Tangia” is slowed heated not in kitchens but by the boiler of the community hammam that only locals know about. There are practices that have endured here for thousands of years and this is the way they’ve always been done. So there.
Despite the market touts, people here are incredibly generous and display a particular joie de vivre to whomever they meet. We met ‘Salah’, a family friend in Marrakesh who invited us three strangers into his house for an evening feast with his mother. While there, he spoke proudly of his job as a teacher and travels in France and Canada, and hoped that his Algerian neighbors would find better times. On another evening in Essaouria, we met ‘Aziza’ a surf shop owner, who after selling Ava a new pair of sandals, proceeded to write our names in Arabic after their French pronunciations. The Arabic lettering of my name is so beautiful, you’d think it was a name of a God, but in French, ‘Gary’ translates to ‘Gare’ which is where people park their car. My name literally translates to ‘garage‘.
If Marrakesh is the city of Pink, Essaouria is the city of white. This small coastal town was our last lengthy stop before a quick stop in Oulidia on the way back to Casablanca and an afternoon flight out to Lisbon. The sea breeze and smaller medina and cheaper food stalls made for a refreshing three night stay after the sweltering heat of the desert. Moreover, the drive here was a breeze compared to the perilous Tizi n’Tichka pass of the Atlas mountains between Ouarzazate and Marrakech, which was so nerve racking that my sphincter muscle has yet to loosen up.
The Job Hunt Begins
Month four for us has ushered in a new challenge for international school teachers: job hunting. Whereas before we’d spend 3-4 hours of time on school work with Ava, it’s now more like 1-2, as we now send CVs and crafted cover letters to prospective schools most mornings and afternoons. The good news is that after teaching internationally for 17 years, we have friends at many of the top tier school institutions around the world who are vouching for us as candidates and much of your success in life is dictated by your personal and professional network. Despite our confidence, we lie awake in bed most nights playing the game of ‘What if?‘.
- “What if one of us gets a job at __________, but the other doesn’t?”
- “What if that school isn’t coming to that fair?“
- “What if we get offered jobs that pay $88,000 a year, but they’re in Saudi Arabia?“
Over the next few weeks, things are bound to get interesting for our family and depending on call backs and the networking conference in Dubai, we could be going anywhere in the world next July. It’s both the most exciting and terrifying feeling for teaching candidates; having the uncertainty build and after weeks of work, finally being given a choice. Smaller schools try to swoop in early grabbing top tier candidates before the larger schools get around to it, leaving teachers asking themselves: “Should we take this, or try to hold out for something better?”
Hopefully that choice will be an easy one for us.