"Western Africa 2012" story # 8

Fez, Morocco           May 27, 2012

Lucas the American teacher and his friend Hailey drove me south from Chefchaoun.
     Red-headed Hailey was kind of a “wild child”, and she wanted to drink a beer in the car.
     “No, I’m not letting you do that.” Lucas reminded her we were in an Islamic country. “This is Morocco! Do you see how many police have stopped us this far?”
     Lucas got through the police roadblocks without any problem. He used a “humble-Arabic/no-French/smiling-waving-American” language combination which had the policemen loving him. “Oh, aren’t you cute?” said Hailey, pretending to be a policeman. “Do you want to hold my gun? Here, play with my gun.”
     Maybe I could’ve learned something from Lucas’ interactions with African police.

“He learned to avoid or get along with hostile police ...” - John Steinbeck, on a successful hobo

We visited some ancient ruins and saw old, old, old mosaic floors of dolphins, goddesses, and shrimp that were still bright red. Lucas said he’d like to name his son after these ruins: “Volubilis.” Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?
     Lucas taught in the town of Ifrane, which sat at 1800 meters (6000 ft.) above sea-level. I camped in the surrounding national park, beneath an Atlas cedar. The coniferous branches stayed close to the trunk of this mighty, tall tree, so that God (Allah) might’ve used it as a toothpick.
     I wrote, washed my clothes in a lake, and I read from my Arabic kids’ book. I was meeting all my goals. I felt like I’d succeed in whatever I’d endeavor. Energetically, I looked forward to Saturday the 26th: “The Day I Try to Get a Kiss” in May.

“He learned to ... evaluate a woman for her warmth of heart.” - Steinbeck

My plan was to go to Fez, to buy half a dozen roses, and to give them to women, for free, but in the hopes that I could finagle a kiss out of them. The city of Fez supposedly had “the world’s largest living medieval Islamic medina”. I was sure I was going to love Fez!
     On the 25th, I took a naked night swim in a lake to bathe myself. The next morning, I hitchhiked to Ifrane. I shaved in a hotel/restaurant bathroom. I was on my way to Fez.
     Before I could leave Ifrane, I observed a lone woman taking pictures of one of the town’s lakes. On a normal day, I would’ve carried on with my plans. But on “The Day I Try to Get a Kiss”, I stopped to offer to take a picture for her.
     If she was a tourist in wealthy Ifrane with its Swiss-chalet architecture, then she was probably pretty modern. Long bronzeish hair ran down her back. Through her sun-glasses, I could barely see her soft eyes. Purple lipstick covered her juicy lips. It was clear we both wanted to talk to each other. Speaking French, she introduced herself as: “Nadia”.
     She was a Berber, living in Marrakech. Marrakech was a much nicer city than Fez, she said. She was currently traveling with her mother, her sister, and her baby niece. Her family was pretty conservative.
     I asked if she was married? No. Divorced.
     Good news for me.
     I’d once been told, by an older woman, that divorcees might like my idea of “celibate free love”. Nadia’s marriage had been exhausting. She didn’t want to remarry. She seemed to know about “that side of (men’s) natures which wore out women’s hearts and lives” - which Thomas Hardy had written about.
     Okay. What should I say next?
     I said I preferred kissing to sex. Nadia responded that sex was an animal thing, that people doing it behaved like beasts. I was surprised and delighted to hear someone actually agree with me. (She did, however, wish she’d had children.)
     “Anti takooneena jameelah,” I said in Arabic. (You’re pretty.) It wasn’t very original. But, she laughed. She gave me her number in Marrakech.
     I made up some story about how, if we kissed, it would bring us good luck to see one another again. She just looked at me through her sun-glasses.
     I went to kiss her, and she gave me her cheek. I tried again, and I met her lips with only about 5% accuracy. Darn! She offered to give me a ride somewhere. I didn’t need one, but I accepted.
     In her car, we talked about dancing. I said I could teach her salsa, as well as English, and she could teach me Arabic. I went to give her a good-bye kiss on the lips, which I succeeded in doing with 0% accuracy.
     Oh, well. I’d attempted three kisses, and that was all I had to do on “The Day I Try to Get a Kiss”. It was up to the women, what happened next.
     With my day’s work done, I hitchhiked to Fez.

A spiky, sandstone castle wall surrounded the “old town” of Fez.
     A large aqua door led me into the medina. Like many doors here, the opening was shaped like a candle with a flame atop it, or like a rectangle beneath a wavy shell. White Arabic writing filled and decorated the aqua paint.
     Inside, a large man offered me his services as a guide. “It’s a labyrinth,” he said. “I’ll keep you from getting lost. With me, you won’t be hassled so much.” No, thanks, I told him.
     Getting lost sounded fine to me. I walked past outdoor restaurants and strolled into the souq, or market.
     Above me, squarish sandstone-colored buildings and rooms and windows hung over the market and concealed the sky. Rotting, wooden beams and shutters supported the hanging rooms and framed the windows. In the narrow pedestrian market, canvasses hung over merchants to shield them from what sun got in. Damp corridors and two-foot-wide alleys led away from the market, beneath and between buildings to hidden homes. Arabic music whined out of shops. I felt like I was walking through the Arabic Middle Ages.
     The merchants sold Arabic slippers, purple-and-red robes, tablets with Koranic verses written on them, tin elephants for one’s home, etc. But, other merchants sold Western sneakers, European football jerseys, factory-made toys. The Western name brands seemed ugly here.
     At some point, a fourteen-year-old boy attached himself to me. He talked constantly, giving me directions and asking what I wanted. He was determined to be my guide. I was determined to ignore him.
     “Where are you going, mister? The tannery is this way. It’s a good place to take pictures. It’s free to enter. You can see them mixing the colors ...” Talking. talking. talking.
     I took a picture of one shop, and the merchant yelled at me for not buying anything.
     About a dozen boys pointed to my would-be guide and said, “He’s a good boy.”
     Shop-keepers called me to them. People asked, “What are you looking for?”
     About thirty different people told me to go to the tannery.
     “I want you to leave me alone!!!” I finally got rid of the fourteen-year-old.
     I was not going to the tannery!
     I walked on. I wanted out of this place.
     But, it was a labyrinth. I walked up hilly roads. I walked past mules with mountains of cotton on their backs. I walked in circles. Then, I walked in the same circles again.
     Faces seemed to come out of the wall, directing me to the exit. Sometimes, they called it, “La porte bleu.” Sometimes, they called it “La puerta azul.” Sometimes they called it, “The blue door.”
     I didn’t trust any of them. An eleven-year-old boy who I ignored gave me directions I ignored. “Now give me something,” he said. I swore at him. He repeated the swear-word back at me, eight times, with a guttural Arabic accent. “F--- you! F--- you! F--- you!”
     I ran into the fourteen-year-old again. He greeted me: “You no good, you no good man. I gave you directions!”
     Aaaaaaagh! Oh, god ... Fez was hell.
     I found my way out. I went to a nearby garden. I relaxed for an hour, trying to calm down.
     In the garden, a friendly man befriended me .......
     ... for the purpose of selling me a trip to the bath-house.
     On the street, a young man befriended me .....
     ... to sell me something so he could buy milk for his daughter.
     Taking public transportation, I left Fez and returned to my tent in the forest.
     But, the day had been somewhat successful.
     Even though I hadn’t handed out flowers in Fez, I’d observed that the Moroccan girls - the ones without their heads covered, mainly - had senses of humor, the desire and capability to look beautiful, and eyes that watched guys.
     Hopefully, I was going to see Nadia again. Hopefully, Marrakech was indeed better than Fez ...

best wishes,
Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to 3 guys in a van; Driss; Mouhamed Stira & his wife; and Mouhamed for rides!

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