On the ferry to Ceuta, I am restless. I want to stand in the sun but am worried I will burn. The truck driver gives me his sunnies. I stand inside, outside, in the shade, by the railing. I hope to see the dolphins, but can’t keep still to wait for them. The truckie doesn’t speak any English, we use a lot of hand signals. As we come into the port, a guy approaches and they speak Spanish for a while. He is driving to Tangier and offers me a ride. I accept, and once we have established with hand signals that no, I am not a drug pusher. We get in his car. It is first in line to come off the ferry and as the big door beeps and rises, my stomach is all a flutter. Africa!
His name is Ali, 28, lives in Marrakesh. Speaks Spanish and French and Arabic. The wait in the car is long at the border into Marruecos. There are many police. I have my temperature checked and repeatedly show my passport. Then, we drive. He drives fast, over taking many cars. I don’t have time to capture all the new things I am seeing. All the buildings are white, for the heat I presume.
There is construction everywhere. We are near the coast and the streets are lined with freshly planted palm trees. He is driving the long way to Tangier. We stop at a restaurant and he buys me a big tuna salad, many fresh veges. I ask if I should change out of my singlet and into something that covers more of me. We sit outside the cafe and there are no other women, only men. He has a tall glass of hot mint tea, crammed full of leaves. It is sweet. He buys me bottled water and we drive. There are police standing around at every intersection. We stop at clothing stalls; energy flows through me and I briefly shuffle on the pavement to the techno music pumping out of the shop. He starts looking at the male clothes while I browse the female. 99.9% of the Moroccan population are Muslim, yet the fashion doesn’t seem so different. I choose a modest shirt and a white dress and ask where I can find an ATM. Ali pays for all the clothes together and we leave. We stop at his friend’s house and 2 women wearing hijab’s (head scarves) join us. One of them speaks a little English. The females will take me into a local ‘hamman’ to take showers. I am clueless as to how this works, I ask if I take my toothbrush and they laugh at me. I am expecting big communal bathtubs but it is an ordinary shower, with dodgy water pressure. Get clean, put on the new shirt, it feels good. Back in the car, the woman and I speak, French and English. Ali’s friends wife, she is a Capricorn as well. She shows me a photo of her husband, wrinkles her face and tells me he is a baby. He is 23, she is 19 and they have been married 7 years. She tells me, he is in Marrakesh with his other wife. He tells me her husband believes the woman belongs in the house. (I wonder if Ali has the same views about the world). She makes stabbing motions to her heart when I ask how she feels about it. I ask if they have children and she tells me no, trying to explain to me why, I don’t quite understand. She tells me she doesn’t take tablets, and makes stabbing motions to her stomach. I show her my map of where I have been and where I will go. Her eyes widen and she says, alone? Holding up one finger. Alone?
Everywhere I go, I meet this same question. You are alone, just you? Again and again, ‘Alone? Just 1?’. Wei. Sei. Nodding my head and shrugging my shoulders. She asks why, and I respond, ‘Pohkwa non’, (why not?). Ali returns, we say goodbye to her, and drive again. We overtake a donkey too quickly for me to take a photo. Ali sniggers. Morocco passes in a blur. We stop again at another male dominated shop. Many eyes on me. I use the bathroom. A man is sitting outside it with pieces of ripped up sheets of butcher’s paper, to dry your hands on in exchange for money. I left my wallet with Ali; I dry my hands on my pants. There is meat hanging and cooked cows heads sitting and steaming. I stare and take photos.
He buys meat on metal skewers and when I taste it, it doesn’t taste like the meat I know. There are hungry small cats around and I rip my meat into pieces and feed it to them. Ali watches me closely. He is eating other meat as well, tells me it is ‘bueno’ (good). When I ask him what it is, he draws a picture of a penis. We talk in an odd mixture of Spanish and French, developing a common language as time passes. In the car I ask him, ‘Quest-ce du faire?’ (What you do?). He shrugs and says, Nada. I say, ‘Du faire nada, du nada deniro’ (you do nothing, you no money). He laughs and taps my head, says that I am intelligent… but doesn’t answer the question.
The sun is big; low in the sky, large, orange. I can look straight at it and see the outline.
We drive past red flags with a star on them- the Moroccan symbol. I’ve loved that star, my whole life; I draw it everywhere, habitually, over and over again. As we come into Tangier, I pull out the Lonely Planet, request an Aubergue. Ali talks and finally I understand- Casa means house in Spanish, and he is inviting me to stay. I am uneasy, pull out my list of French words and ask, who? As in, who else lives there? He is staying with a friend and tells me, non problema, non problema. I want to say, I don’t want to marry you, but I don’t have the words. He carries my bag up the stairs and we enter a 2-room apartment- my first of many Moroccan experiences. The window is open and the walls and floor are covered in cockroaches and bugs. We stamp them away. I use the toilet and there is no paper. He tells me he is going to the berber and will be back in half an hour. He hands me the TV remote and leaves me wondering how I became a woman sitting at home waiting for the man so quick and effortlessly. I watch some animal planet and sort my things. He returns with strange cuts in his haircut. I request a net café; it is closing, I change my status. (Ha.) I request dairy free ice cream, we get some, meet up with his friend- I like him. Ali’s phone rings a lot, at one point he meets some guys, pulls out a wad of notes and exchanges euro for dirham. They speak Arabic to each other and it reminds me of Rami- Arabic is so guttural and always sounds aggressive. People are constantly bargaining with one another and do it so loudly.
In the centre of town, the weather is warm and there are many people out late at night. By the beach, my eyes widen at horses running along the sand. Ali sees this and points to me. I am unsure but excited. I pick a small horse and get on it. First time in a long time. The man holds it and leads it along. I don’t want him holding it and nudge him to let go. When the horse starts running I scream and yank the reins. The guy seems alarmed and thinks I will fall off. My knee starts hurting something chronic when I kick the horse and say ‘ya!’. The horse doesn’t seem to want to go and I worry that perhaps it is tired from doing this all night, perhaps its feet hurt. On the sand I look across and Ali is riding too, although he seems much better at it then me. Get off the horse and can hardly walk. I thought my knee was all better since snowboarding in Norway; apparently not. Sit on the stairs for a minute. The boys look concerned and I feel like a dickhead. We drive for a while, up onto a cliff with an amazing view. Drink beers and laugh; I like his friend. Ali drinks, drives, speeds, doesn’t wear a seatbelt- we get stopped by the Policia. They take his licence and hold it out of his reach. Everyone speaks loudly and what seems to me, aggressively, in Arabic. At the same time, it seems like part of a long rehearsed game. Ali slips them money and we are on our way. He tells me, this is why they can do what they want, cos they just pay and get away with it. He seems happy with the arrangement.
The boys have hopefully suggested ‘discotheque?’ and once they agree to return home for me to ‘cambiar’ (change) I agree. Put on the new white dress and boots. Before we enter the club, I hand Ali a piece of paper and ask him to write his phone number on it. Why, he asks (pohkwa?). I say in case I get lost (Donde est Angela?). He tells me, you will not get lost, because I will not take my eyes off you for one minute.
At the club, he walks with his hand guiding my back. ‘You’re free as a bird’, he says, like they all will say, though that is clearly not the case. I want to run away, along the beach by myself, free. The club is lush, red velvet seating; a beautiful woman in a black dress sings Arabian songs. The waiter brings happy hookah and they pass the pipe. A little unsure, I sit and smoke some of the bubbly apple flavoured smoke. I eat nuts; Ali asks if there is anything at all I want. I am hungry. The other girls in the group only speak Arabic; they try to show me how to dance with my hips. Ali puts his arm around me and it is heavy. I push it away a few times then ask if we can go outside. I can’t fucking breathe in here. The courtyard has a big pool with gorgeous comfortable shaded cushioned beds. We sit on one and he asks me, Ka Pasa? I am upset, I used both my hands to weigh down his hand, tell him this is how I feel. I want to be free. He goes back inside for a minute and I sit with my legs in the pool. The attendant talks with me in french: when Ali comes back, he tells him I can swim if I want. I want. Strip down to bra and undies, float on my back and look at the night sky, thinking, I am in Morocco! Wrap myself in the towel, get dressed at the attendants request. He brings a white silk napkin to wrap around my hair. Back inside, I dry my hair with the bathroom hand drier and ditch the napkin. Shortly after, we leave. Somewhere along the way, Ali kisses me and tells me he loves me. I tell him not to say that. Back at the apartment, his friends girlfriend takes off her headdress, she is pretty. They tell us, they will sleep on the couch and we can have the bed. No no no no, I don’t want the bed. They insist, worst luck. Ali lays on me, he is heavy, I tell him no, I do not want. I give an inch and he takes a mile. He is upset with me, sulks. He asks me why. Always with the why. (Hasn’t he bought my love?).
The next morning, I am up and packing. I will go (Je voux alley). He doesnt want me to. He tells me, Guapa, solo, no bueno. He tells me I am loca chica. His friend thinks I am crazy when I want to eat the leftovers out of the fridge, bring fresh meat and salad. The meat includes all parts of the cow and I just can’t stomach it. We got to the train station and there is a train at 2 o’clock to Fes. I am unsure where I want to go, but sure, Je voux alley. I realise I have left my lonely planet at the flat and am not going anywhere without it. Back at the flat, Ali’s friend is kneeling on a mat on the ground praying, we wait and do not disturb him. I get the book, I have missed the train. What now? I spend a while looking at the map and trying to figure what to do. I want to go to fez, and I want to go to merzouga, the desert, the sahara. I want to get the bus. Ali and his friend tell me to stay. Next thing the old landlord is coming, I think they have fetched him.
He is telling me he speaks many languages and has travelled much. He tells me to stay, that we will have drinks. I politely and gently, and then more firmly, tell him No thank you, I will go. (Merci beaucoup, Non, je voux alley.) They ignore me, tell me we will go for drinks. Je voux alley, je voux alley. My words fall on deaf and stubborn ears. The landlord tells me I am stubborn. He tells me I cannot go alone. Just fuckin watch me. I pick up my things, walk to Ali. Please. (Por Favour). I thank them, we leave and drive to the bus station. He puts on sunnies, isn’t looking at me, makes stabbing motions at his heart. He asks me, Fes? Or Merzouga? Merzouga. He finds an overnight bus, buys my ticket, and checks in my luggage. We have a few hours, I tell him, icecream and swimming. There’s no sorbet and we drive along the coast for a while. We stop at an outlook with cannons and security guards, we talk to one for a while, he teahces me French and I teach him English. Ali leans against a brick wall with me between his legs overlooking the ocean. The view is pretty, there is a small puppy; I’m happy. On the way back to the car, groups of men sit around on fold up chairs under the trees. Moroccan driving is insane, chaotic, I love it.
At the beach, we walk along the water. I have trouble spotting another female. There are groups of guys playing soccer everywhere and I want to join in. We reach a little enclave surrounded by rocks where males of all ages are flipping and diving off the rocks into the water. Ali looks around and says we will go to the other one. I plant my feet and ask why. He looks around and communicates he does not feel safe leaving his things. It is pretty here and I can’t be bothered moving. I wait. Some children leave, gradually there are only a few. I point to the rocks near the water, tell him to put his shorts there. I trust. I demand he trusts. My swimmers are in my pack at the station, I am wearing the long, purple, modest shirt he bought me. I took my bra off so it doesnt get wet, he notices and chastises me. Tells me I am in morocco (in case I hadn’t noticed). He thinks I have no idea, he thinks I intend to take off the shirt. I roll my eyes and take off my shorts. We count (un dois treis!) and jump in the water. It is crystal clear and bloody freezing, I squeal and stand on the rocks. Many fish swim around my toes. I grab him and jump in and swim out again as quickly as I can. Dressing on the rocks, I want to ask him for advice, I want him to tell me about Morocco. I say, un chica Moroc, ke problema? We list them on my fingers. Solo, Alone. Gaston (men). Pocito Deniro (little money). He thinks I am ‘loca’ for wanting to go to the desert, tells me we will go together to Fes. I persist, ask- moi problema, ke faire? (If I have a problem, what do I do?) He tells me, if men grab me, there will be nothing I can do. But isn’t that the same anywhere? I tell him, Australie, moi papa, dice, gaston problem. (In australia, my father says exactly the same thing).
We walk back and stop for fresh orange juice. Everywhere through Moroc, there are stands with oranges. He stops by the side of the road and returns with strange, sweet, weird fruit (Figs). I like the way he just does things, assertively. I wonder that perhaps here, the male active energy is entirely in the male, and the female receptive energy is entirely in the female, and maybe thats how the society balances itself. Rather then a assorted ‘whole’ individuals, a mass of halves, fitting together. Ali stops to get pizza, I wait in the car, feel stifled by the culture, by the male dominance. He buys me a kebab and we drive around looking for an Internet cafe, I want a map. He doesnt want me to go, so strangely enough, we don’t find one. Nevermind, I will go without the map. At the bus station, he gets on the bus, speaks to the people, and finds me a seat next to a woman. I get the feeling I am being handed from one set of hands to the next. I hand him some euros to change into dirham, he hands them back to me with 200 dirham. He gives me his phone number, tells me not to sleep. I roll my eyes at him. He says goodbye, awkwardly hugs me.
The bus is full, and hot. The roof window is propped open with plastic bottles. All the women wear Hijabs, the lady nexts to me speaks only Arabic. I feel out of my depth, and guarded. I’m relieved when some guys at the back start talking English to me, I reply in as much french as I can. I am asking questions and attempting to tell them my plans. The sun sets, the bus tears through the country. Empty water bottles rattle around the floor, the conductor opens the door as we drive and throws them out. At one stage, he walks down the aisle and pours soupy water everywhere, to make the bus smell better. Moroccan people usually smell good, I have noticed. But the country itself stinks of meat, cooking cow intestines and polluted waterways. I feel nauseous just thinking about the smell. The conductor, if you could call this guy that, makes many announcements in Arabic, the bus stops and goes again. People get on and off; everyone is awake in the streets. The warm night atmosphere feels quintessially summer. I am afraid to stray too far from the bus in case it goes again without me. The buses go throughout the night rather then the day heat. We stop at cafes with the doors open and meat hanging in the air, people approach me quickly, madam? to ask if I want tissues, if i want to eat at their cafe. At one stop, I spend a while trying to ask how long until the bus will go (quanto es tempo akei?? How many is time here? Voux alley quanto es? Want to go time is? *Hand signals*) and then venture to the toilets. I am not wearing shoes and it is a squat toilet, with no toilet paper. I shudder, pee and wash myself. Walk straight past the toilet attendant, a guy from the bus tips her for me. He asks, Angela, and points in disbelief at my feet. Sei, no bueno!!! I agree. Sleep a little, the sun rises. At some point along the road, I notice many rocks sticking up out of the earth, and wonder at this type of desert landscape. Then I realise, the rocks are grave markers.
7.15am at El-rachidia. Thankfully two guys from the bus are also going to Erfoud, tell me we will share a maxi taxi. I’m still feeling so guarded, but trust one of them. Tell him to wait, inform the women I am leaving. I am not sure if they had a different plan for me, or perhaps they don’t care. $3.50 for the longest maxi taxi ride ever. The guy in front is sleazy and I ignore him. Tell him, no! when he asks what my name is. I quickly tire of strange men asking me what my name is, where I am from. At Erfoud, as soon as I am out of the car, people pounce on me for camel rides. 200 dirhams (30 bucks AUD) to Merzouga. There are no other people going in grande taxis to Merzouga, it is too early. If I wait a few hours, perhaps. Men begin to approach me, madame… They offer me hostels, ask if I want to ride a camel, tell me to come to their agency. I walk from the crowd and sit on a bench. A man bothers me for a while. I buy some watermelon and share it with him.
I ask him lots of questions; there are 20 aubergues in Merzouga. I refuse his offer to go to his agency to see his camel pictures. He can see I am tired and confused and offers me rest at his agency. I ask my pendulum, and tell him I will sit for a while and maybe to go the markets. He zooms off on his scooter and I wonder if that was the right decision. Another guy approches me with the same deal. He tells me, a car has come from the auberge to the markets and will go back to Merzouga soon, if I want a ride. I know it will come with a catch, I ask him, what if I don’t want to stay? He tells me I am free. I ask the pendulum, and go with them. On the way, they repeatedly ask me if I want to take pictures. I decline. They give me a spiel about the desert and the sights that I am sure has been repeated many times before. We are in a FWD that drives along dusty paths. We arrive at a sand coloured building plonked in the middle of the sand. They go to carry my bag inside, I tell them wait. And ask, Combiien? How much? Leave the bag, inside sit on a couch. They bring mint tea. He starts selling to me, drawing diagrams. I don’t touch the tea and interrupt him, how much? A room for the day to sleep in, a camel into the desert, dinner and breakfast. Four different trails, 300, 500, 700, 800. (46, 77, 108, 124 AUD) I tell him, I want the 700 hundred, for 500 hundred. As he sells to me, I nonchalantly play with a gorgeous silky black kitten. I consult the pendulum and we settle on 600. I drink the tea. Shower, ask a woman to wash my clothes, sleep for a few hours. The room smells like the soap used in mens toilets. I wake and go to the desk for change for a hundred-dirham bill. They tell me there isn’t any, I don’t believe them. I go to fetch my clothes from the woman, offer her 20; she wants a hundred (surprise surprise). I give her fifty, and wonder if I have just exploited Africa for the first time. Or is Africa exploiting me?
Outside, there is one camel waiting for me. I had imagined a whole line of camels, but it is quiet. Going into the Sahara with 2 Berber boys… uneasy. They tell me the camels name is Bob Marley. He stands up with me on him, and they start walking. I ask, where are your camels? They tell me they will walk, and that they won’t get tired.
I am suprised, it is 8km and I feel guilty for riding the camel. They ask me questions and I am guarded, certain they have asked these questions many times before. When they ask me my name and I refuse to answer, they say they will call me Fatyma. The most common Arabic female name, for Mohammad’s wife. Either that or Aisha, which means ‘she who lives.’ I prefer Aisha, definately. They keep asking me if I want to stop and take pictures. They have lived in the desert their whole lives. Mustapha is 28 and the younger guy with long eyelashes is only 17. We cross from black pebbly desert into red sandy desert. At some point, I realise my bag and the clothes in it are soaking wet; the lid was not on my drink bottle properly and the water has spilt. I hang the clothes from the camel reins and they are dry within minutes. I rearrange positions throughout the two hours, sitting sideways and crossing my legs. We stop for pictures and Mustapha tells me he will ride the camel with me. He puts his hands on my legs, my hips, rubs my shoulders- I feel violated. I ask to walk for a while and then get back on the camel alone. I take my sand filled shoes off and the way Mustapha looks at my feet makes me squirm. We stop and they drink water from a nomad. We reach the oasis and Mustapha ties a piece of rope around Bob Marley’s folded leg so he can’t stand; I hate it. I ask where the other people are, there are none. They put out mats and we sit and drink tea. I ask for water and they give me water from the well, tell me to let it settle first, it is cloudy. There is no wind but the sky is overcast, which means although it is silent I will not see the stars. There is no sunset, but I climb a hill anyway.
Back at the tents, the boys are playing checkers with camel poo in the sand. I lose to Mustapha.
It is getting dark and I am uneasy for sheezy. I ask if we can make a fire, if we can have dinner. Mustapha invites me to help him and I can’t stand to be in the enclosed space with him. I lay outside. He joins us with loud Arabic music blaring from his phone that grates on me. I want to lie quietly and find some calm for my fast beating heart, he asks me questions and wants to talk. There are 6 smalls cats and I watch them run around, listen to them meow. They are hungry. We eat ‘Tangine’, cooked carrots and potato, bread. I avoid the chicken in the centre. Afterwards, melon. I am full. The boy with long eyelashes goes outside and mustapha tells me jokes. He starts to touch me and move closer. I tell him, Non. He asks if I am married. He tells me it is hard being in the desert with no chance with women, offers me a Berber massage. I say no, I do not want. He asks me why, I say, I do not want. He asks why I will not help him. I passionately speak, about being free and making my own decisions and about the culture- the woman kept in the houses and the men in the streets. He falls into silence. I tell him that I have an ‘ami’ in Australia, and I left him to come here and be free. It is becoming clear to me how important my freedom is. How much I hate to be told what to do, to feel dominated or compromised or controlled. Eventually I ask where the bed is, and to my relief, it is not in the same tent as the boys. He walks me there with the light of his mobile. I did not bring mine and I ask for a candle. He says goodnight, apologises for earlier. Asks me, one final time, Berber massage?
I change into pyjamas and get into the bed. Just in time, the candle burns out. I lay in the dark and my heart beats fast. There is wind and it whips the tent. Surprisingly, I quickly sleep. At 5am, they wake me to the rising sun. I lie on the sand and watch it come up. There is bread, marmalade and cheese (nah) for breakfast. I ask where is Mustapha- he has gone to find Bob Marley. I laugh, he got away! What a champion. A while later Mustapha returns, Bob Marley walked back to the aubergue in search of breakfast, Mustapha walked all there way there and back to bring him for me to ride. Mustapha ties his leg again. As we eat, bob marley hops up and starts walking off with one leg. Mustapha yells at him in Arabic and goes and ties his other front leg as well. I look over and Bob Marley is dragging himself along with his two front knees. Fucking hell.
On the way back, there is no small talk like before; they seem to be in a hurry. Suits me just fine. Mustapha leads Bob Marley, dragging him slightly too quickly across the edges of dunes and he nearly falls over. I wonder why he does that, Bob Marley is hungry and will get there as quickly and efficently as he can. I ask him to hand me the rope and let Bob Marley walk himself. I am curious to see which way he will walk when left to his own devices.
We arrive and they pull out fossils to sell me. I am not interested but like a granite elephant. They ask me how much I will pay and I say, How many hours does it take to make this elephant. They tell me a week. I tell them bullshit. An hour a day for 5 days, perhaps. They ask for 160 ($24), I tell them to put it away. Back at the aubergue, I take my time, shower and repack my bag. I have diarrhoea, no bueno, am not feeling so good. Leave the room, return the key. In the common room tell the boys I am ready to talk. Sit with one of them (Josef) who tells me there are no taxi’s back into town and they will charge me 160 dirham for a ride. I tell him, screw that, I will walk to another Aubergue and share a taxi there. He tells me, you are in the desert. He tells me, it costs 100 dirham for them to pay for fuel there and back. I tell him, well, I will pay 50 then. He laughs and tells me I am intelligent. I hold my pendulum while we talk. I tell him, 600 for the bed and food, 10 for the bottle of water, 50 for the fuel, 35 for the salad. 60 for the elephant, makes 750. The boys refuse to sell the elephant that cheaply. We decide on 800 and leave to drive back to town.
On the way, we talk in Spanish, French, English. I share. He had said the silky black kitten was his, that its name was Dark. That kitten was affectionate and playful, and I think you can judge people by their animals. He asks me if I have a boyfriend, why I am alone. I tell him, I had an ami in Australia but I left to come here. Why didn’t he come with me? Because I told him not to. Because I wanted to be free. My ami may or may not be mine again when I return home, C’est la vie. I ask if he has a girlfriend. He tells me, he has no chance. I tell him, if you think you will go then you will go, if you think you will stay then you will stay, if you think you have no chance then you have no chance. He tells me he did, but that she died 2 months ago. The way he interacts with me is different to the other men, and this is why. She died when Ariel died, my heart goes out to him. My eyes well up, I stare out the window and struggle to control myself. I ask what happened, he says her stomach hurt and she went to hospital: that it is hard but he tries not to think about it. We reach El-rachidia and I want Internet, and I want to get the bus out of here. I am sleep deprived, sick, and emotionally exhausted. He tells me the bus goes in a few hours, that I can rest at his uncle’s house where there is Internet. He sees the doubt in my eyes. I ask the pendulum if he is good, it says yes. We go. The house is nice, but all surrounded by dirt. It is very hot. In the garage on a mat on the floor lies a tiny baby.
We sit with her, she is so beautiful. I notice that all through the house there are no beds or chairs, only cushions and mats. I like it. I go upstairs to use the Internet. The urge to write my way through everything that is happening is strong but Josef sits close and curious. The feeling of male domination returns. He brings tea and sweet desserts. I stand on the roof and view the hot, barren landscape, there is more construction, this time houses.
Food is served downstairs. We sit around a low circular table on small stools. In the centre of the table is a cow’s head, with eyeballs and skin. They rip the skin with their hands and dip the bread in the eyeballs. His cousin (?) speaks english, ‘Disgusting, isnt it?. I am unsure what is appropriate and try to be polite. I don’t eat the cow head. Meat on metal skewers again. I eat some and pass the rest around. Try and fill up on salad and chicken. Afterwards, lots of melon. In the kitchen, the young girl tells me about her passion for learning English, how she was going to school but when the baby came, she quit and came here to help out in the house. I like her and want to encourage her. There is so much crap in the kitchen; they prepare the meal like it’s a feast and I wonder if they always do that or if it was because I am visiting. I go upstairs, Josef is on the computer, I feel uneasy. He reaches out to touch me, and I move away. Downstairs the youngest daughter is walking on her fathers back, massaging his toes while he lies there like a giant slug. She seems heavy and silent with resentment and anger as she walks on him, bored. I ask the pendulum if it is time to go, it says yes. I ask Josef to take me to the markets to buy a blanket (‘Je voux alley’). His sister/cousin seems upset I am going, I get her address and tell her I will write. We drive to a shop and the man says the carpets are 2000 dirham. He has to be joking! I look at josef and ask, ‘how much would you pay for the carpet?’. He answers 1500 and I don’t believe him. I bargain and when the guy won’t go below 1000 ($150), we leave. I ask the pendulum if I can trust josef right now and it says no. He says to me, at the end of the day you are just a tourist. He stops to buy a chicken from a hole in the wall chicken farm. I watch them, white and overfead on hormones, they can hardly walk they are so meaty. The guide tells me to move out of the way and I realise, we are not taking the chicken alive. They are killed and defeathered in a boiler less than 2 metres from the others, all waiting for a similar fate. I step over fresh chicken blood and sit in the car. I can’t fucking take this, all of this. I sit outside the car and don’t move.
He asks what has happened, I ask him to drop me to the bus station. I am feeling so emotional, I just want to leave. We drive across a river, and the stench of the polluted water doesn’t help. The bus is going at 8.30. I wander through the shops for some retail therapy. I stop at one where the same carpets are 200 dirhams. They offer me sweet tea, a sales tactic, and I accept anyway. I browse, and bargain, stubborn in my exhausted state. The men are suprised at my boldness. I buy a beautiful red and orange blanket. I tell them I need an ATM for bus money and the younger man walks me there. On the way, he talks about the police corruption, how he does not have a democracy. He begins by asking me, how do you like Morocco? I can’t think of anything good to say, my heart hurts. I tell him that in Australia we sing ‘For we are young and free.’ I am proud to be Australian, after what I have seen. I see so many things that I want to take pictures of, but don’t want to make it any more obvious then it already is, given the colour of my skin, that I am a tourist. A foreigner. That I don’t speak the language, and that I have no idea how much things here are worth in Moroccan money. In Morocco, I have no idea the value of things. He is a merchant as well and takes me to his shop. We talk for a while, and I became exhausted of it again. He offers to buy me a Koran, asks what I believe. Am I Christian, Buddhist, Catholic, Islam? Nope, nope, nope. I tell him there is a god, for me, but there is no book. He says, yes, but one god?? Holding up one finger, Only one! He tells me his woman is free to do what she wants and wear what she wants, that people come to Morocco with preconcieved notions that aren’t true. I tell him No, my experience right here and right now, is that there are no females in the street. That the men call me ‘Guapa’, tell me I am pretty and ask if I am married, everywhere I go. They seem to take my energy, whether I like it or not. Here, as a traveller, I am hustled, which in my experience, is to have people always wanting something from you. I have felt not only reduced as a woman but reduced as a tourist as well. No longer a person but something to be transacted. I sigh, stubbornly bargain with him, and buy some of his jewellery for gifts.
I have missed the 8.30 bus and go to see if there is another. I am relying almost solely on the pendulum now to make decisions. Outside the bus station I ask it what to do and a man approaches me and starts a conversation about it. Suprise suprise, he has a shop. I go with him and sit; whenever he starts to sell to me I shake my head and say, please (s’il vous plait). He laughs. He asks how I find Morocco. Like many Moroccans, he wants his pride patted. I am not going to lie. I pour everything out to him, no judgements just what has happened, experience after experience. His eyes grow sad and he nods. We have a good conversation, though I don’t remember the details. He is a good person, someone who I would ordinarily like and trust, but I am in his shop, and I am a tourist. I bargain, say I will leave without the necklaces when he won’t sell them cheaply. I am not bluffing, I am fed up. He gives me them for 52 dirham each (arbitrary number the pendulum suggested) and I walk back to the bus station. Approach the 1030pm bus to Fes, the men tell me it is full and turn away. There are people milling everywhere, they send me to the other bus. They tell me it is full. They tell me, I can get a maxi taxi for 1000 dirham instead. I tell them, no, I only have 150 dirham for the bus. I ask if I can sit on the floor of the bus, like I have seen other men do when the bus is full. They tell me, we can show you aubergues. I point to the ground and tell them, no, I will sleep here if I have to until there is a bus for me. In desperation I lie and tell them I have a plane to catch in Fes tomorrow, that I cannot wait. A man moves, and there is room on the bus. He gives me the window seat; I wrap myself in my red and orange blanket and sleep restlessly. My stomach is killing and I need to go. This bus is direct, and when it finally makes a stop, the diarrhea continues. My belated realisation, I drank water in the Sahara, Africa, where there are no hospitals. Ameteur. I get bread; I never want to eat meat again. The blanket smells like smoked flesh, Moroccan flesh, intestines and brains and liver all mixed together. Standing outside the bus, the women eat yoghurt and throw the rubbish on the ground where they stand. Where are the garbage bins? I remember my bookmark from Vienna ‘Be independant, Be careful, Do not waste.’
So I am in Fes, infamous Fes. The place I wanted to come and get lost in. I begin by leaving my bag of preciously bargained for souveniers on the bus. I return, look for the bus. With the help of some guys who speak American computer English, find the driver. He says to come back in an hour and he will have the bag. I call my mother- she tells me to go to the doctor. I want Internet. I walk into town, past a goat. Above the walls of the Medina, behind which lay the city, many black birds circle. Down the cobbled lanes, there are cats everywhere and early morning market stalls opening. I see a tiny kitten, I pick it up. I look into its eyes and realise it is very sick and will die soon. I put it down, keep walking and start sobbing. I hate this place, I hate this place!! Imogen Heap loops in my head ‘Get me outta here, get me outta here, get me outta here… get me outta here get me outta here get me outta he-ere’.. Men ask if I am okay, if I need help, if I need a hostel. I can’t tell who are hustlers and who are not, I keep my guard up as I cry, rather aggressively responding, Non! Merci beaucoup, si’l vous plait, non. My strong will and intellect put me in a good position to bargain but my compassion feels like such an archilles heel, I wondered what would happen if they could see my utter vulnerability for them. Perhaps they can. I sit on a step, cry and watch the people go by. I let the tears pour down my face, a small boy watches me curiously. I want to vomit. From fear, bad food and water, and compassion that burns. Sleep deprivation making it harder to hold it together; craving time and space to fall apart.
Morocco, putting the ‘cunt’ in country. Irresponsible, chattering like a desperate and attention starved child. Compassion tells me, perhaps the people are just trying to claw their way out of a dog eat dog world, like dogs. But I am human too. I have been manually breathing since I have been here and I don’t know what any of this means. Je ne se pa. Afterwards, they will ask, how was it. They will say, Morocco, how exciting! The truth is, Morocco is a little bit of a head fuck. This is the experience I have been waiting for- to mull over for months and years to come. And yet, there’s more.
At the airport, I try to figure out where to go next. I want to go to Latvia, but the flights are expensive. Maybe can fly to Paris or London, and then what?? I consider hitching the ferry to Barcelona. In a travel agents office, she feeds me salad (I decline the meat). I fall asleep on beautiful couches for a few hours while she looks for flights for me. I am exhausted and struggle to keep my eyes open. My body is shutting down. I wake to a security guard asking me my name, I tell him no and look away. When I am able to rouse myself, she is saying she can find me a youth hostel and I can fly to Paris in the morning for 40 euro. I feel the suck of the place, everyone always wanting me to stay, to spend more money. I want to get out asap!! I go outside and ask the pendulum, again. It says, the 6 o’clock flight to paris for 100 euro. I think fuck it, and decide to get it. It is 6 o’clock now and she has closed her office. No Paris tonight. I get the bus back into Fes, and then a mini taxi to the centre.
I walk through the city and the hustling begins again. Hostel, madame? The truth is, I do want a hostel. I ask for directions to an ATM and a guy walks with me, tells he will take me to a hostel. As we walk his friend joins us and I do a double take. Familiar. Dreadlocks, brown skin, understanding eyes. Green shirt, sandals. Out of his mouth comes something I like, though I am sure has been said many time, ‘no hustle, no bustle’. First hostel cheap rooms are full, I briskly say Merci beaucoup, leave. Then number 56, family run, students. I ask if I can sit. In a room with curtains, cushions and mats, I collapse, bury my head and try and pull myself together. Mustapha gives me space. The hostel dude shows me the room. On the roof terrace, we stand silent and wait as the bargaining goes on. He says 140, I say 100, consult the pendulum, I will pay 120. I shower, Mustapha offers me tea. Yes, on the roof; I put on the white dress. I smell clean and feel good. On the roof, the sun is setting and he tells me what I need to hear. Words to remind me what I already know, words which even immediately after are gone with the wind. The realisations, the Moroccan jewels of wisdom slipping through my fingers like grains of sand in the Sahara. My eyes are welling with tears and he asks Ka pasa, what has happened. Je ne se pa, I don’t know. I walk to the edge of the terrace and watch the black pottery smoke billowing above Morocco. He stands behind me, murmurs, nuzzles my neck. I had asked the pendulum if he would touch me, it said: if I wish. I push him away and let him come close again. He asks again, Ka pasa. He crouches in front of me, waiting, and then he kisses me. He whimpers; kissing him is like crying. We sit with our heads in each other’s necks.
One of the men, with a white shirt and potbelly, comes up the stairs to the terrace. Mustapha is on his feet and saying, We will go. They move quickly down the stairs and I don’t immediately follow. There are raised voices. I wait for them to subside but they only get louder. I return to my room and change out of the dress. The voices continue, loud and in Arabic. I return to the roof. An American student is there. ‘You know what there’all yelling about?’…’Me.’ He says, Sounds like quite the adventure. Over the railing I watch Mustapha leave. Minutes later it begins again and there is a scuffle. The man with the belly comes to me and apologises, says his family is about respect. His chest is heaving and he is sobbing and struggling to control himself. Downstairs the old man in the white hat and green robe knuckles are bleeding; he was holding the men apart. The man with the potbelly says ‘…dice…amigo’. He wants me to talk to my friend. I stand outside the door, Mustapha runs to me; they talk in French and Spanish. He tells me to get my luggage. I tell him, I want to stay. His eyes flash at me and he asks if I trust him. I ask the pendulum and suddenly I understand, I am being asked to leave. I repack my bags, the American says I am crazy and gives me his phone number.
Mustapha is upset with me. I grab him, look into his eyes until I see them get clearer and we smile. Mustapha carries my bag, and a young boy come up and begins to hustle him, thinking he is a tourist.
I love it! Laugh at him, pick him up and carry him down the street. He squeals and giggles. We go to Mustapha’s sisters house and leave my bag. There is a little girl, with tiny frizzy hair. Her name is Na’ima (Comfort, amenity, tranquility, peace). She holds my hand and we play with her. I have found something in Morocco I like, the children. I realise I have left my wallet in the hostel, we return and get it. When we leave, Naimah looks up to me and speaks in Arabic, don’t go, don’t go. Mustapha tells her I will come back. He is distressed about my wallet, I am non-plussed, I know where it is. I don’t know where my pendulum is though, and he tells me, you are losing everything! He is angry. He doesn’t know the irony, that I thought I would get lost in Fes. I drop my jumper and he picks it up for me. I am exhausted and hungry but feel playful around him. We walk through the streets; I eat Bean Goulash from a stall in a pottery bowl. I run into games of soccer, laughing and kicking the ball. Naimah comes with us for a while and we count and swing her into the air between us. I tell him to tell her, I love her hair. We make animals noises, chase her through the alleyways. Mustapha sends Naimah home and I buy a 10kg watermelon for 20 dirham. He carries it for me. I stop and buy some scarves. He sees a friend. I tell her she can have the watermelon, I only want one piece. At her house, there is an open courtyard in the middle with big wooden doors. We eat the watermelon. She is talking in Arabic to Mustapha and I know she is talking about me, she is saying I cannot come here and travel alone. I look up and say, Sei, sei, entiendes. (Yes, yes, i understand). Mustapha raises his eyebrows.
Back in the street and Mustapha is telling me he will not let me go alone. I am telling him, you have no choice! You will have no choice. Telling him, things for me are not the way things are in Morocco. I am free to do as I wish whether I am a man or not. He keeps putting his arm around me protectively, using to to steer me, to push me, to hold me back. I can’t stand the weight. I hold his hand by the pinkie instead. The streets are deserted; I am raising my voice and the Policia walk past. They stop me and ask for my passport. It is in my bag, I cannot be on the streets without it. They tell me to come with them, ask me my name. I wonder if they will rape me. I need to pee. Mustapha returns with my bag, I show my passport, they speak to Mustapha in Arabic and won’t let him translate to me. He is angry, furious, he has to pay them 100 dirham. I tell him I will pay it and he tells me not to talk to him about money ever again. Once again, the Moroccan pride melts away and underneath there is a pain, a hatred for the corruption of the country. I cannot stand to be near his anger, I cannot listen to his rant. He tells me he sits on the roof and cries about his country. He tells me, just feel for me! He doesn’t know the problem is I feel for him too much. He tells me, I will sleep on the terrace of his sister house. I ask him where he will sleep and he says, at his parent’s house. We go in, I use the squat toilet, my stomach hurts. On the roof he lays out a blanket on the cement and asks me, oddly, to help him. I lay down, he sits up on the roof for a while. When he comes back, he asks if he can sit on the blanket, then lays down. I say to him, you said you will sleep at your parents house. He asks me, do you want me to wake them? I repeat, you said to me you will sleep at your parents house. I feel I have been manipulated by a Moroccan yet again. He asks if he can watch me while I sleep and I feel like a Moroccan is trying to take my energy again. He tells me, he has never been to school, ever. He rolls over and turns his back to me. I don’t reach out to him. I need to sleep so badly.
The next day, there is distance between us, no more playfulness. I want to leave. It is summer solstice and I wanted to be in Latvia today. The family are poor- I walk into the room where they all sleep and when Naimah opens her eyes, the first thing she sees is me. She reaches out her arms, I pick her up, hold her on my lap. Mustapha keeps taking her off me. I don’t like it, and decide he must be jealous. Naimah fetches an egg. She was supposed to get three, Mustapha tutts and I laugh. I eat breakfast with the family, salty egg and crispy bread; it is delicious. Naimah hits her brother with a stick, and says ‘la, la’ (No, in Arabic). Mustapha takes me to find an ATM that will accept my card. He walks ahead briskly, I want him to slow down and smell the roses. When we are near the police, he sends me ahead, angrily asking me if I want him to get in trouble with them.
At the bus station, the 11.30 bus to Nador is leaving. Quickly Mustapha arranges for a space and puts me on it. He angrily says, not even a thank you? Before I have even had a chance. I rip out a page of my Lonely Planet, scrawl my name, phone number and email. He tells me, if I try to call you and it doesnt work, it’s your fault. Kisses me on the lips. As the bus pulls out I am both releived and upset, I wonder if he knows how to use email, if I will ever see him again… And I didn’t say goodbye to Nai’mah.
Morocco passed as such a blur, I longed to sit still for a moment, write, and let the experiences pour from me. I have been flattered, surprised and warmed by the responses to my writing, my journey, and was uneasy to write again lest I disappoint. I write to clear my head and heart, and to calm my anxiety that I will forget my experiences and my journey will be lost. Above was my attempt at describing the sensory digestive and emotional overload that was Africa. In the wake of it, I have many many questions. Watching Mustapha, I surmised that perhaps yes, all people are good, except when they are scared. And maybe we are all afraid. The Moroccan people seemed to be desperate, frightened, hungry. In pain. In Morocco, I was very scared. I manually breathed for 4 days. If I create my reality, what the hell was that? A friend tells me, you will see reflected in the outer what is in the inner. The pollution, the fear, the starvation, the manipulation, the stench of death: all within me? As I write, my back hurts. In Morocco, I reached the conclusion; to be open is to be assured of the strength of your position. To be closed is to be defensive because you are unsure or afraid. Thinking back to Mustapha, I must live with the fact I closed myself to what was potentially the opportunity of a lifetime to share, to grow. For this, I must learn how to forgive myself. Why was I so scared there, when I haven’t been before? The country left me so confused, I looked outside me for answers, to the pendulum. When the world is at your feet, and your inner voice too quiet to hear, how do you make decisions? Though I spoke forcefully, and bargained steadfastly, I was edgy and jumpy, afloat. The hustling was relentless and I found myself lying as the guidebook suggests. Found myself saying that i have an ‘ami’ waiting in Australia, when I tired of bashing up against their repetitive, senseless questions. Part of me hoped maybe i do- but mainly, i just wanted to escape them battering me with their words. I wish I could leave this entry with something more poignant, with a sense of closure on something that will take a lifetime to digest and revisit.