ILL GANDER
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NYT

WRITER AT LARGE

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1AM on a Saturday night in Marrakech, Morocco.

I’m alone, weaving through a swarm of Moroccan locals, all congregating for a weekly elixir of music, mint tea, and masterfully spiced food. I wander through a fragrant cloud of grill smoke and emerge halfway down a 50-yard long aisle in an outdoor market, vendors all around me holler about their offerings. Strings of bare tungsten bulbs light the way.

I grasp my camera tightly, scanning left to right, top to bottom, looking for the images I was sent here to take. I sense a tinge of disdain around me as I search for a subject. A soul to trap as pixels on a memory card. An unfortunate and poisonous mindset.

A kid working one of the food stands calls for me, commenting on the craziness of my beard. The remark catches my attention and I walk his way. A conversation in broken english ensues and after some hesitation I accept an offering of mint sweet tea. I sit. He sits. We chat and then it's 30 minutes later. 

Two glasses once full of sweet mint tea now sit on a dirty plastic table. An enlightening conversation lingers in the air.


As I continue my exploration of the evening I realize that it is with an astounding level of ignorance I have embarked on this trip. Knowing nothing and thinking I’ve got it figured. It's a shock, something like jumping into a freezing cold swimming pool on a hot summer day. Only after you feel your empty lungs and excruciating panic are you able to experience revitalizing refreshment. 


I’ve been in Marrakech for 21 hours at this point. Arriving at Hotel Mogador after a 35-hour travel day. Three connecting flights in progressively smaller planes and progressively exotic airports. My first passport stamps. Back alley currency exchange. A restless night of sleep. 

Marrakach inspired an overwhelming inclination to openness that I have found to be the most important aspect of all subsequent travels.