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Thursday, April 05, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 10: Slapping Myself in Tangier

Chapter 10... Surprise!

It seems wherever I go there is drama. --Henry Miller

To those who commit evil through ignorance and afterwards repent and mend their ways your Lord is forgiving and merciful. --The Koran

I write this on a non-moving train, in the station in Marakesh. No idea when we're leaving. It's almost 5 now. I'm on my way to Casablanca. I hate arriving in cities at night, but that's what I've been doing... a lot so far. I'll be staying in my second hotel tonight, probably for three days.

I'm coming from Agadir, Tamri to be more exact. I wish I had a map... I could draw a picture. Found one! I'll put it at the end of this entry. Ah the train started moving. Now where was I?

Oh yeah, at death's door. I'd insulted some young men in Tangier, posted their picture with some girls on Facebook, where they invited me to join them with the invitation: Can you give my your face?

The girls didn't like the picture. I apologized, but there was no responce. Then, I met the guys by “accident” on my front steps. All friendly, they invited me to go out with them. I could even bring my friend Zayd if I liked.

I soon realized that the meeting was no accident. They had it in for me... were waiting all morning, just for me. It was the end. I insulted their women and would pay with my life... or at least my testicles. They show up: three very big guys in a car. Zayd and I get it. They take us to the chopping block.... NOT!

They take us to The Largest Arab-African Manga Festival in the world. It's sponsored by the University. My friend, Soufiane, (how could I have doubted him?... He is one of the heroes of this trip!) knows everybody. He introduces me around. Then, one-by-one his friends try out their English on me. Mostly not bad. I have so much fun at the festival that I make a Picasa album dedicated to it. Here it is.

Tangier Manga Festival and Martial Arts show

Then it's a tour of Medina... the old city. It's the most beautiful part of the town, over a thousand years old.. older than I am. There is a narrow gate that is the entrance to the old city.

That's the gate and I didn't want to spoil it with our pictures, but here it is again, and I WILL spoil it with our pictures. That's Zayd, Mykel and The Boxer, Nawfal! 

The rest of the day was sight-seeing in the Medina, including an art gallery, where we met the artist, old buildings (where I learned about Moroccan style windows, but did not learn WHY they were not straight on top). Then we go to the edge of the embankment where I intentionally stand very close to the cliff as a sign of complete trust in these guys. They join me... the ultimate suicide pact? Nah, you can see us all here at the edge of the world... or at least at the edge of Tangier. But we hop back to safety after the startled stranger snaps the picture.

“Hey,” I ask, “can I put the photos on Facebook?”

“Sure,” says Ben, our driver... and the guy who commented on the first picture. “There are no girls in them.”

Mykel and Tangier pals at the edge of an extremely high drop

Ben is like a chauffeur. “We need to go here.” Pow! Here we are. Outside of Trinidad, I never met a nicer crew of strangers than I met that day in Tangier. Maybe it's T-places. Trinidad... Tangier..I donno. Of course, I gave them all my face.

Ho ho... (pause here to slap myself)... I learn a big lesson today. Don't follow your feelings. When that death-wagon pulls up to your front door... get in!! You might just find yourself having a hell of a good time.

THANKS GUYS! I won't forget you... see you in New York.

Another day. Another evening actually. I'm staying with Zayd, my friend and couch-surfing host. We talk politics and religion.

“So,” I tell him, “Muslim's don't eat port. Women can't show their hair. Animals have to be killed with a slit throat and drained of blood. You need to pray several times a day. Men are snipped at the tip of the good part. Some Muslims don't follow all the rules. Kind of reform.”

Zayd nods.

“That means,” I say, “that Muslims are a kind of Jew.”

He laughs, but puts a finger to his lip. “That's right, but don't say it too loud.”

More talk. How religion can be a prison... especially if religious laws become the laws of the land... like in Morocco... or Israel.

“I don't know about Israel,” he says. “But here we have a law that says if a woman is raped, she must marry the rapist! It's incredible. Women kill themselves because they don't want to live with a rapist. Can you believe it?”

“Well,” I tell him. “Among Jews, if a woman's husband dies, she has to marry her husband's brother.”

“That's bad,” he says, “but not AS bad.”

I have to agree with him.

“What about Arab spring?” I ask him. “Aren't people getting riled up... demanding change?”

“Arab spring touched Morocco,” he says, “but then it went away. The king is too smart. It started in Tunisia and spread. Just one guy setting himself on fire. But in Morocco... the king knows how to handle it. Focus the problem somewhere else...”

We're having this discussion while out looking for for a couscous restaurant. Quick, name two Moroccan foods. Yeah, I can't think of another one either. It would be a pity to leave Tangier, my first outpost in the country, without trying couscous.

Couscous places: All closed, changed to fast food... or “sorry couscous is only for lunch... on Friday.”

One last chance, in the Medina... the old city by the port.

We head for the restaurant.

There are cops everywhere. The street's closed.

From somewhere far away comes chanting. Not religious, but like a demonstration. A dumb chant... like


“It's a manifestation,” says Zayd.

I guess he means demonstration. Down the street flags wave.

“What's it about?” I ask.

“I don't know,” says Zayd. “Let's go see.”

We do.

The demo is split into little blocks. One section, then a space... another section... another space.

I don't notice at first, but Zayd sees it right away.

“Look,” he says. “It's men... then woman... then men again. Not both together. Maybe it's against the rape law. The women want their own space.”

Whatever it is, it certainly is vehement. Chanting, flag-waving... some dancing... in a big circle... like a man-only hora.

After a while Zayd turns to me.

“Now I know why the men and women are separate,” he tells me. “It's conservative. Islamist.”

I raise my eyebrows... the universal language for just keep talking.

He looks at me and gives an oh-well-I-guess-I'd-better-tell-him shrug.

“It's an anti-Israel demonstration,” he says. “It's pro-Palestinian. I hate it.”

“Are you a Zionist?” I don't ask him.

He shakes his head like a math teacher explaining calculus to a retard.

“Mykel,” he says, “Israel is on the other side of Africa. We can do nothing about it except make noise. That's what I was talking about. The government loves manifestations like this. It stops people thinking about what's going on here... what we CAN do something about... like the rape law...”

In disgust, he turns from the demonstration. We go to a restaurant for a fine dinner of Moroccan pea soup (served so hot it continues to boil while you eat it), and a sweet green mint tea-- the tastiest drink I've had on this trip.

After dinner, we return to Zayd's place. He hasn't let me pay for a thing! No food. No taxi. No nothing. Here I am the rich $20-an-hour American and this Moroccan guy... an intern... paid zero, nothing... pays for me.

Yeah the streets are dirty... the air dusty... and they don't drink (in public, anyway)... yet the people are among the quickest friends ever. With Zayd, Ben, The Boxer and Soufiane, I've met some of the greatest people in the shortest time!! Yahoo!

Next stop AGADIR, I think. It's just down the coast a bit, I think. Just follow the water from Tangier to Casablanca, keep going to farther along the Atlantic, I think. And there it is.

Easy, right? Yeah, right.

Here's a map of the journey so far:

This is the 10th entry of my travel blog for this trip. Here are the past enries:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Episode 6 here

Episode 7 here

Episode 8 here

Episode 9 here

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