I was just back from two weeks of vacation that turned into three and working through the pile of work that had accumulated while I was gone. Ed Ryan walked into my office after having been in organizational meetings all day. "Do you have a passport?" he asked. I quickly reached into my top drawer where I keep my passport and slammed it down on the desk in front of me in an affirmative response. It was Thursday night and he wanted me to leave for Morocco on Saturday morning.
Morocco! I had known that the sales meeting for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) was coming up and had purposely avoided it. I knew that our group was going to be tasked with answering some tough issues about product definition and positioning that I didnt particularly want to be on the hot seat for. Since IntranetWare (our product) is the companys flagship product, people all over the world expect us to drive the mission statement and strategy for the entire company and try as we might to get one that everyone could agree on, the internal thrashing and dysfunction just doesnt allow it. In summary, I didnt want to have to stand up and commit to or cover up for things that I had little control over.
But Morocco! Every since we met a Moroccan on our trip around the world and he had described it to us, I had wanted to go. The conference was to be held in Marakesh. After the conference, there was a trip to Casablanca and then an overnight in Madrid. As much as I didnt want to go to the conference, I couldnt resist the adventure of the location.
Travel to the northern African country was fairly routine for air travel. We had about two and a half hours in Paris and we saw it all. Coleman, Willy, myself and a couple of other Novell folks were on the flight. Bill offered to watch our bags while we went into the city so we piled them all on a push cart, sent Bill to the lounge, and darted out the door for a taxi.
The weather was chilly and overcast with a little rain. The small taxi with all three of us in the back seat raced into the city with Willy and the cab driver pointing out areas of interest as we went. In the distance we saw the Eiffel tower through the clouds. We drove past the George Hotel where Pattons headquarters were located during the war. (Willys dad was on staff at the time and had been there.) We turned on to the Champs Elysees and drove past the fashion shops and outdoor restaurants right up to the base of the Arc de Triumph. One circle and then back towards the government offices. The state building, the church, the square where Marie Antionette lost her head and then through the back streets to a place called Harrys Bar.
Harrys bar is the oldest American bar in Europe and was also a great hangout during WW II. The walls and ceilings are lined with pennants from Americas national and college sports teams. Willy and Alistar had been there once before and talked to Harry himself. He said that if they would send him a pennant from BYU he would put it on the wall. Alistar had delivered it and Willy want to see if it had been hung. We searched high and low, asked the unhelpful fellow behind the bar but couldnt see it.
We walked around the corner and down the street to the Louvre. The line to enter was a serpentine tail so we strolled around one of the large glass pyramids and then through to the Siene River for a look at the steeples of Notre Dame.
Traveling with Willy is always entertaining. As we passed a scarf shop near the museum Willy pointed them out and then told Coleman to ask him if he could stop and buy a scarf. When Coleman did, Willy said, "No, we dont have time!" creating an excuse that could be used in Colemans defense. Looking down the river, Coleman saw a older, lavishly architected building and asked what it was. Willy immediately turned and confronted an older French lady that was walking along the bridge and asked her in English what the building was. She looked so startled and confused and then tried to explain in French. Coleman and I were keeping a distance and when Willy returned we asked him what she said. "Its called the, unh fragh la unh fragh le fragh....", he said. We asked him if he had ever read The Ugly American. At the airport we were trying to find the Moroccan Air lounge and he just walked up to a policeman and shoved the map in his face. The policeman told us to go to information but he looked as though he could have just as easily pulled his gun on us.
The flight to Marrakesh had several Novell people on board. I was in an isle seat and couldnt see much of the countryside but did notice lots of fields and orchards. As we approached the city, we could see almost all the homes and buildings were of a reddish brown stucco. Rectangular buildings, two to three stories. Many of them had what appeared to be rooftop patios and many appeared to be vacant.
The Royal Moroccan Air jet was an older Boeing 737 and there were only two at the airport. We landed and walked across the tarmac to the terminal building which was framed in rectangular arches and glass and surrounded with tiles in mosaic patterns. The terminal was small and we were soon through it and standing at the entrance, surrounded by natives dressed in traditional kafutas (large night shirt looking robes) and holding signs that said "Novell". We boarded a bus and watched our luggage go into the cargo bay on one side of the bus and out the other into an old open market truck. A little unnerving but we were assured that there just wasnt enough room on the bus and that our luggage would appear at the hotel.
We drove the short distance from the airport to the city. The roads were lined with stucco walls of varying heights and beyond them were palm trees and olive orchards. As we arrived, the forty meter walk from the bus to the hotel was a path of red and crimson carpets. The path was lined with men, women, and children in native dress to greet us. There were men in long white shirts with white pants, colored slippers and turbans. Women were in brightly colored dresses. Several boys were dressed in royal blue and red and were creating a pyramid three levels high by standing on each others shoulders. The sound was festive. There were drums, cymbals, horns, flutes, and high pitched wailing in song. The sounds and excitement built in tempo and volume and at the peak, two horsemen raised their long barreled rifles and fired into the air. It was quite a welcome as we strolled to the front door.
On checking in, I found the balcony of my room looked directly over the entrance. The ritual was repeated as a couple of other Novell busses arrived. As night fell, and the arrivals finished, the locals all crowded together and sat on the ground. They sang and danced and laughed together, obviously not tied to any time clock at work for performance.
Our group met downstairs near registration to plan for our presentation. As we were talking, I looked across the room and saw my good friend Steve Saunders who happened to be there from Switzerland. I hadnt expected him as he isnt in the sales organization but was delighted to see him. I walked across the room and put my arm on his shoulder. He was a little distant and said he would talk to me later.
We talked over the materials and our strategy for presenting and then headed out with the entire Novell group (about 250 people) to the Chaiz Ali for a royal Moroccan feast. We soon left the lights of the city and traveled through the countryside. Ahead of us were horse and donkey carts, bicycles, motorcycles, and even trucks all without lights. The Chaiz Ali, though by all standards is a tourist trap designed for tour busses, was an experience. We dined in a large tent with silk walls and ceilings, fabric wrapped poles, and hand woven carpets covering the ground.
Each course of the meal was served in large round silver platters with tall, funnel shaped covers. Our servers would bear the dish out over their heads and then place it in the middle of the table. They would then place their hands on the handle at the top, wait a couple of seconds building anticipation, and then lift off the cover with a dramatic flair. The courses over the evening included carrots and curried squash, rice, lamb, cuscus, olives, and fruit. It was interesting to see the reactions of the surrounding tables. The lamb platter was a collection of bones and meat and for some there was just wasnt enough dissimilarity to the living creatures to make eating enjoyable. Our table however, attacked the meat with carnivorous enthusiasm.
During dinner there were musicians, drummers, dancers and afterwards there was entertainment in the large arena outside the tents. Horse riding tricks, gunshots, fireworks, and even a flying carpet across the night sky. As a finale, they had the letters, WELCOME NOVELL, lit up in fire. Someone from the audience jokingly yelled, "Novells burning!" which struck a tense but funny chord with many.
The next morning, the conference began in the Congress Center, a beautiful conference facility that adjoined the hotel. President Clinton had signed the GATT treaty in the main theater it was said. We missed the opening kickoff as we were preparing for our breakout sessions. The first one went as well as it could for a first time presentation with four people taking part. During the second one, my apprehensions about coming started to materialize. Some very direct and pointed questions struck a chord of discontent that resonated through the group. "Whats Novells vision and strategy for the Inter/intranet? How do we reach CIOs and decision makers? Whats the 30 second elevator pitch?" By the break for lunch, there was a buzz of the bombing of the IntranetWare team. Efforts to reign in questions and control the next sessions only served to dilute what positive momentum we did have going. We switched roles and so again had new people working through material new to them. It seems to be a pattern we have replicated at every sales meeting I have attended so far. We met after our sessions to work through a new strategy for the Americas meeting next week. A very frustrating process and I made a mental note to avoid attending (as I had planned) if at all possible.
The Marrakesh market (or souks as they are called) is incredibly fascinating. The old part of the city has existed for who knows how long. The narrow streets wind in no particular symmetrical pattern. Some are covered and some are not. Some are wide enough for small cars, some only for mopeds, and others only allow foot traffic. The assortment of market goods is very diverse. Leather goods (bags, belts, coats), footwear (Moroccan slippers), native clothing, brass, silver, pottery, plates, and exotic boxes made from cedar wood and camel bone.
The pharmacies, as they called them, included spices for cooking as well as medicinal supplies. There were curries for lamb and chicken, curries for fish, spices with 35 ingredients for general seasoning. Saffron, cumin, and others. Perfume smells from jasmine and other things which they called aphrodisiacs. The nut and date vendor stalls were the most interesting. The entire stall was a produce tray which sloped from low in the front to high in the back. It was sectioned off with piles of many different qualities and types of dried dates and peanuts. In the very center was a square hole where the shop vendor stood. He could reach around him in any direction and gather nuts or dates into a paper sack, weigh them, and then hand them to the market goer in the street.
Shopping can be a grueling experience. From the minute a foreigner steps into the market, they are accosted. Shop keepers run out in greeting, hello friend, jus look, you like rug (or whatever), bes quality, look for free, and so on. Slowing, glancing, or heaven forbid stopping, signals its ok to grab your arm and pull you in. To make progress you have to learn to strongly and decisively say no and then walk on. Even then, many will continue to follow you. Even if they dont have a store, they will lead you in somewhere in the hopes that you will buy and they will get a commission.
Our experience started with the carpet vendors (we were lead there by the tour guide). Just sit, rest, and have tea he said. Then came the carpets with explanations of where they came from, what they were made of, how long it takes to make them, and how they were woven and the yarn dyed. The entire performance is designed to build excitement and eliminate barriers to purchase. As you start looking and touching, the carpets become more beautiful and the fervor builds. Pay in dollars, travelers checks, credit card, we ship", etc. If everything is too expensive (and the big ones were $1500-4000) then came the smaller carpets. Having been through this several times in India, I helped my group escape without purchase by just leading them out. Our tour guide looked shocked and I am sure was disappointed he didnt get a commission.
Next came the cooperative, a collection of all types of things from clothes to pottery to silver to wood. The place was packed with tourists again. Our guide soon saw that we were market savvy and just turned us loose to wander on our own for a while. One fellow, sort of crippled, picked up on us and wanted to take us to a coat shop. We kept walking and he showed us some good parts of the market. We found the chicken area with live chickens of all sizes, turkeys, pigeons, doves, and stacks and stacks of brown eggs. One area had clothes, and so on. In the large open area there were snake charmers, fortune tellers, and food vendors. The snake charmers had boas wrapped over their shoulders and cobras were coiled around them on the ground. We kept walking and exploring until it was time to meet the bus at the Glacier Cafe.
Out little guide still wanted us to go to his coat shop so I left the group and followed him. The leather shop had racks of black, tan, and brown leather coats and I tried on a few but none of them fit well. The prices were falling as I walked out the door to about $85. Outside I tipped the boy since he wouldnt be getting anything for hauling me in. He seemed relieved, probably because he didnt have to go back and extract a commission from the shop owner.
Back to the conference for more presentations. That done, Willy and Chip were scheduled to leave the next morning and wanted to go back to the souks (market shops). I had already gone with a guide gone with one of the groups during the day and had scoped out the general market area enough to get them to a few shops for souvenirs. Haggling was new to them and it took a few purchases to get the hang of it. Because of the shortness of time and the few number of shops that were open it was a crash course. They bought bags, lamps, knives, fossil collections, and a small silver cup for Larisa our admin. At one point, I told Willy to just give the poor guy the money as he had him at his no profit point.
The next day, Coleman wanted to explore before he left. We had been on the same flight on Wednesday but he wanted to leave a day early since things had wrapped up. I was hesitant to change international flight plans because delays or getting new flights can be difficult. As we walked out of the hotel, we were approached by a young man who said he would take us to the market. At the taxi, he said the rate to the market would be 20 dihram (normally it is 30). When we told him that we were not going to buy anything and just wanted to ride around the price went to 100 D. That was ok.
The first tourist thing we came to, we did. It was raining but a small herd of saddled camels needed riding. Nice smooth transportation but we did it mostly for the pictures. It was starting to rain and I had to pay extra to get him to gallop. Next we drove through the kings palace and gardens. Again, made of the same high stucco walls with the occasional grand doorway. Many of the doors were huge, wooden doors made in the shape of the arab arch and point at the top. The gardens were a mix of pomegranate, olive, date and palm trees.
We drove through the meat area of the market. Leg of lamb and rib racks of raw meat were hanging from the open doorways and windows. Just as the chicken market had a distinctive smell, so did this one. Our driver pointed out a couple of other landmarks like the ancient Muslim mosque tower and the Club Med Marakesh.
The taxi driver parked us at a narrow entrance to the souks and we started in. It was a different area than we had been on earlier occasions. No sign of foreigners here. The shops were more dense, the goods more richly stocked, and the maze of passageways more complex. We assured Mohammed (our guide) that we were not going to buy anything and that we just wanted to look. This time we were almost true to our word. Coleman bought a pair of earrings for his wife. My eye caught on a beautiful wooden box. It was of very old wood, trimmed in silver, and simply set with a few precious stones. The cost - 120,000 D or $15,000. Prices dropped to $9000 just while talking but I couldnt make a serious offer.
Back to the hotel so Coleman could leave for the plane. My phone rang and it was Steve. "My presentation is done and I thought we could blow off the group activity and go to the market this afternoon. Do you want to go?" Absolutely!
Steve wanted to leave inconspicuously so I arranged to meet him outside beyond the hotel entrance. By the time he arrived, Mohammed had found me and was hailing a taxi. We again assured him that we would buy nothing and that the taxi didnt need to wait. Steve just wanted to walk, talk, and look. Mohammed obediently stayed several steps behind us as we walked through the narrow streets and passageways. The rain was falling and the tin over the alleys channeled the water to one side or the other. We ambled past shops with large pottery plates, brass pots and vases, baskets, and leather.
Our resolve to not buy was short lived. Not too far into the maze, I spotted a large leather carry bag. I pointed it out to Steve and immediately the action began. Two shop keepers were pulling the bag down, emptying it of its stuffing and pointing out its virtues. Mohammed was right in there with them. Camel skin, soft, hand made, high quality, very durable, etc...." The bag was rad looking, sort of like something an explorer would carry on an expedition. Big leather pockets, dark rugged color, lined with silk, with several straps and buckles. I queried the fatal, "How much?" We were immediately pulled into the store where the bags virtues were extolled again. The hand stitching was pointed out and Mohammed kept striking his cigarette lighter against the leather to show that it was real quality and not succeptable to flame (everyone did this and I never could figure out why - does synthetic burn and real not or does quality just mean flame retardant?). I cant remember where the price started (or ended) but we started walking away several times before we were finally pulled back to shake hands, prepare the bag for travel, and exchange money.
Now that we had a bag, I guess we needed to fill it. In the spirit of barter, we started looking for other things. Steve wanted some little Moroccan shoes for the kids. They have pointed toes and backs that are folded over and walked on so they can be worn like slippers. He picked out little gowns that are traditional dress but could be used as night shirts. While he was looking for camel dolls (made out of real camel skin) I was haggling for poofs.
Poofs are like small stools made of a tooled leather shell and filled with the stuffing of your choice. The demonstration is always the same. They are usually folded flat and hanging on the walls. The shop keeper unfolds them and then drops them from chest high to the floor. As they ascend, they fill with air and hit the ground fully inflated with a poofing sound. Ill take two of those."
What kinds of gifts would kids like from the land of Aladin? Genie lamps could be a possibility. Mohammed, where can we find some good lamps?" We followed him through the maze to a small shop with brass, silver, and porcilan. We climbed the stairs to the second floor where there were boxes, vases, old knives and guns, and all sorts of treasures. It took a couple of trips to the attic before we found what we were looking for - a small hand made brass lamp in the traditional shape. "How much?" "Two hundred dihram." That was almost twenty five dollars apiece. Quite a bit higher than the two dollar limit on the family Christmas gifts for nieces and nephews. If I could get him down to ten dollars, it would be worth it to give them each something with magical powers. "How much for thirty of them?" The price came down to twenty dollars a piece.
Now the negotiation began. I started at 2000 dihram. Back and forth, back and forth, with Steve and Mohammed chiming in. We finally agreed on eleven dollars. But he only had three lamps and had to go gather up the rest in the market. We waited for a while and he soon came back with eleven more. "Still need 15", we said. "Cant do it for that price." Apparently the lamp market wasnt as soft as he had anticipated so we agreed to go up another dollar.
While the shopkeeper and boy were out scouring the other shops we visited a bakery a few alleys down. The open fire was visible in the large brick oven. Men and boys were scrambling with mixing and cutting dough, and stacking the buns from the large cooling trays. Ten dihrams to take a couple of pictures and snag a hot piece of bread. Then to the pharmacy for some of the fresh spices.
The cost of saffron was very high. One hundred dihrams ($13) for one gram and not sold in any smaller increments. Not worth it to me and who knows when I would use that much saffron. I just know it is hard to find in the states. We got a pouch of fresh cummin and one of curry and started to leave. "Wait!", Mohammed said. "Because you are friends, he will sell you in smaller size." We got half a gram of the deep red substance.
Back to the lamp shop we ascended the stairs. Spread out on the table and stools were thirty lamps. They were all different. Three different general styles, all hand made and uniquely crafted. All were brass but there was one silver one. Steve picked out three and then we counted and put the rest in the bag. Since the purchase was for more than we had cash, we elected to put it on credit card. The shop keeper hadnt much practice and it took him four tries to get it right. He then wanted an extra five percent for credit card - "No - you already raised the price once after we agreed." We finally settled on a 100 dihram present for him and he let us each pick a small porcilen pot as a present to us.
One more stop at a cooperative for a few final gifts. The stash of goods on the counter included some puzzle boxes, a leather fire bellow with tortise shell, and a native mens robe. Mohammed guided us back to the open market area where we could get some film. As we started into the open he hesitated. He pointed out a place to get film and then stopped. "Many police there and I not official guide," he said. Apparently to take us around like he did you needed to be official and legal guides wore a little medallion which he didnt have. This is where Mohammed got off. We thanked him for all his help and each tipped him a hundred dihram. He had been a great help and saved us a good deal of money.
Back to the hotel to change for the final dinner. It was a dress up event with jackets required. We left the hotel in a torrential downpour. The buses wound their way into the city in the darkness. The large crowd filtered through the narrow streets hoping whoever was at the head of the line knew the way. Left turn, right turn, through an alley, through a tunnel with men standing sentinel holding flaming torches for light. In the middle of long solid wall was a single doorway which we turned and stepped through.
The contrast from outside to inside was dramatic. We passed through the marble floored hallway and into the center room of a palace. Fifty foot ceilings and marble walls sculptured and carved in Muslim designs. Off of the main room were alcoves and sitting rooms. In the center of the main hall was a fountain with a pool at floor level filled with rose petals. A column rose out of the pool and the top was decorated with a large layered arrangement of roses. The entire place was filled with ornately decorated tables at which Novell people were sitting and talking while a live band played contemporary music. Grand atmosphere!
As the meal progressed, we were served by a legion of young Moroccan men. All dressed in crisp white turbans, shirts, pantaloons, and shoes with a bright yellow sash around their waists. Dinner was again served on large silver platters and we feasted through vegetables, rice, curry, lamb, bread, and pastry.
The music mixed contemporary with Moroccan, ballroom dancing with belly dancing. With food and wine flowing, the crowd became more entertaining. From the South African table came the chant of a countdown, four, three, two.... On the count of one, they all put their napkins which they had folded into hats on their heads and laughed uproariously. People were dancing with the band members and posing for shots with the belly dancers. Soon everyone was up line dancing in a chain winding through the palace rooms.
Before it got too wild, Steve and I left. We started out through the darkened alleys only to come to a junction with no idea which way to go. An old turbaned, toothless man was sitting wrapped in his robe. As we started in one direction, he came to life pointing in the other so we about faced and were soon to a place where we could catch a taxi.
The next morning was a routine departure. Air Morocco to Casablanca where we could see the open country side through the windows and visit duty free shops in the terminal. The airport doesnt look at all like the one in the movie although we did have to walk across the tarmac to get to the plane. Then on to Madrid.
By now, there were only three Novell people traveling this leg and because we were all three in different divisions, we ended up at different hotels. I was lucky and ended up at the Ritz, a grand old hotel located right next to the Statue of Loyalty and the del Prado Museum. Once settled, I called the other two, Adam and Carol, and we met at the royal palace for an evening stroll.
It was chilly and rainy but we found the Plaza Mayor, a large open square with lots of shops (geared for tourists) around the perimeter. There was a stark contrast between the shopkeepers in Madrid and those in Marakesh. You almost had to vocally demand service to get attention. We strolled the shops looking at fans, figurines, and soccer shawls until we found a shop where Adam and Carol could buy umbrellas.
Nightlife in Madrid goes late. The local Novell people had recommended a restaurant but like all other restaurants, it didnt even open until nine p.m. Don, the local manager said we could, Go to the restaurant at ten, go to the pub at one a.m. and then to the disco at three, coming home around six or seven a.m." To stave off hunger pangs we slipped into a pastry cafe for hot chocolate which had the consistency of pudding but was rich and potent.
The restaurant was trendy, not Spanish and I just picked something on the menu. It turned out to be something tare tar which looked like a half pound hamburger that hadnt been cooked. Not quite as good as sushi but edible. By the end of dinner we were all ready for bed and so passed on the rest of a typical Madrid evening.
Next morning, I slipped over to the del Prado Museum. All the famous Spanish master artists are there. Lots of Goya - lots of Goya! How could he have painted so much stuff? Greco, and a few Raphaels. My favorite was by someone whos name started with V.... It was a scene of the Greek gods in a blacksmith shop.
A quick stroll through one of the many gardens and fountains and it was time to head for the airport. The weather was warmer and a little sunny. As the cab started through one of the large traffic circles, we were pinned in gridlocked traffic. When we finally moved forward, we found ourselves in the middle of a student protest. Thousands of students were marching towards the government buildings with banners, signs, and shouting something. The cab driver didnt understand English and I didnt understand Spanish. I just hoped it wasnt anti-American!
The rest is tedious travel trivia. The typical flight - two movies, meals, one stop in Atlanta and then home to big cars and no donkey carts or camels. During our time in Marakesh, I had tried to convince Willy to go phantom. If you were ever going to leave the company, this would be one way to do it in style (something different from everyone else that is leaving). Just dont come home from Morocco - disappear. We could by mopeds and head into the Atlas mountains. Maybe work our way over to Egypt. Morocco produces an intriguing sense of adventure that invites exploration. Going phantom was tempting.