Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Moroccan Intrigue

Today is our last day in Morocco. We are setting out for Madeira. It should be a four to five-day sail to get there. What a time in Morocco we've had!

We met another cruiser who was willing to look after Märzen, and that enabled us to make an overnight trip to Fez. The medina in Fez is a World Heritage site. They still make leather by hand using pigeon poo for the tanning process. It's an amazing labyrinth of old world skills
and traditions with a satellite dish on every roof.

It was a long day with a four and a half hour train ride followed by a cab ride to our lodgings then a four-hour walking tour of the medina. Afterward we made our way to a large fountain outside the walled medina to get a cab. The plan was to have the cab take us to a store that sold wine (none to be found in the old city) then take a cab back to the room. There are two types of people waiting for cabs at the fountain. Those that are smiling as they are being driven away and those who left standing on the curb thinking, "It's elbow time for the old lady behind the veil."

Another empty cab approaches and we lunge for it. A man to our right arrives at the cab at the same time and begins speaking Arabic. We do our best with French and English. The stranger to our right then starts speaking English. Oh yeah!

We tell him the name of the super market (got the name from the guide) we want and that our goal is wine. He tells the driver and the driver agrees. It is common to share a petit taxi in Morocco, so the English-speaking native takes shotgun and Shirlee and I slide into the back seat. As we start circling the fountain the English-speaking native suggests a closer store for buying wine and asks if we'd like to join him at a bar for a drink so that we could have a conversation about culture, life, and everything. We agree.

First stop was a Moroccan version of a liquor store. You point at what you want and it is wrapped and bagged then handed to you after you pay. BTW, Morocco makes outstanding Cab Sav. We get two bottles of wine then it's back to the waiting cab. Then a short trip to a hotel with a bar. Inside the hotel is a very smokey, dimly lit room with mostly men filling the tables. The tables are covered with 25 cl empty green beer bottles. Up to a case of bottles on some tables. There is also live music provided by a keyboard playing singer doing the latest in pop Moroccan tunes.

We get a table and a round of beers. The automatic round is two beers per person for a grand total price of eight euros. We continue our conversation from the cab about sailing, his business, food, etc. All the while I'm looking around the room and noticing the few women who
are there. Not only are their heads not covered, but they're drinking, smoking, and displaying a whole lot of cleavage. I figure out that there is a symbiotic relationship between the hotel and the women. Shirlee does not notice.

We finish our beers and Abdelmalek (yes, we have his name by now - Abdel for short - and have learned that he's a Berber) invites us to his shop for tea the following morning. We get the approximate location of his shop in the medina and accept his invitation for 10 a.m. tea. His shop is near the Blue Gate and next to the Banc Populaire. I buy the round, and we pile into a cab and he takes us to our hotel. What a day!

Next day after breakfast we head out to the medina in search of Abdel's shop. We find the bank and Abdel's assistant finds us and invites us into the shop to wait. Abdel then arrives and sends out for tea. We sit and visit and sip our sweet mint tea. I mention that I need to get some Moroccan olive oil before we leave, and Abdel offers to act as our buyer to get us the best price for the "best olive oil in the world." After some time we decide that we should have lunch
together before our 4:50 train. It is also decided that we should meet at 2:00 and go for chicken tangine. Shirlee and I wander off into the medina and the souk with visions of the fine Moroccan lunch to come.

Promptly at 2:00 we arrive at Abdel's shop and Abdel leaves to get the oil. He returns with a 1.5 liter bottle of olive oil and two 0.5 liter bottles of argan oil. Abdel explains that one of the argan oils is for external use only and the other is to be used sparingly on food like sesame oil. He asks me for 250 dirhams to replenish the stores working capital and we'll settle the entire transaction over lunch. I don't have the exact change and give him 300 dirhams. Then we go off to lunch.

Together we starting walking in a direction that leads out of the medina. As we pass a street food vendor in an alcove in a building Abdel stops and begins a conversation with the owner and employees. He is smiling and chatting away when suddenly a man lunges at him and hits the right side of Abdel's head with an open hand. Then an other man joins in the attack. Both are hitting him about the head and shoulders and pushing him into the food vendor's alcove.

There is much yelling and flailing, and a crowd quickly grows. People are trying to intervene and separate the attackers from Abdel. Ultimately the initial attacker is pushed out by a woman who is yelling at him and the other attacker is pushed out by two men. The two attackers head off in a direction that leads to the heart of the medina. Then Abdel emerges from the alcove, shaken, but under his own power and not bleeding. He tells Shirlee that he is OK and says that
he'll meet us at the station. Then he quickly starts walking out of the medina.

At this point we are standing there in slack-jaw shock trying to assess what just happened. Abdel disappears into the crowds, and I'm wondering what station: the police station or the train station. It also occurs to me that my oil purchase is with Abdel. We decide to head for the train station. We walk out of the medina and get a cab. The cab driver is an interesting fellow who wants to speak Russian with us.

We get to the train station and get our tickets and settle into a café that has view of the entrance to the station. We get some train station food (not chicken tangine) and wait. There is 10 minutes left before our train leaves, and Abdel rushes into the station carrying the oil. I wave him down and he joins us. There a couple of bumps on his head and his lower lip is bruised. He says he is more emotionally upset than physically hurt. He explains that he has been at the police station filing a report. He also said the the initial attacker was from a large Berber family in Fez and that he wanted Abdel to provide him an alibi for a theft. Abdel refused to lie to the police.

At this point we are out of time. We say our goodbyes and wish each other the best. What a day!

1 comment:

peregrins2 said...

OMG! I am slack-jawed reading this!! Wow, what an adventure that turned out to be.

I am so sorry Bill and I missed going to Fez. I would really like to go back some day (by plane) and have something like a real experience there. Some of the cruisers in our group spent a week hiking in the mountains even.