My roommate and I departed the ferry in Tanger. Returning from a few days in Sevilla, we walked down the road to hail a taxi, so as not to be confused with gullible tourists. Three taxi drivers in a row told us that the price for a ride to the train station was 20DH—10DH over what we knew the fare should be. “Too much,” we said in Arabic, getting out and slamming the door before they could drive.
“It’s not like I don’t have the 20DH,” I said as we walked further away from the port, “it’s the principle of it.” “We’ve been here for four months,” my friend agreed.
At last we found a taxi driver who would run his meter. We struck up a conversation of simple sentences in the local dialect. We are students, we are American.
“Do you know where the train station is?” he asked my friend, as we rounded a corner. I perched over her shoulder from the backseat.
“What does he mean he doesn’t know where it is?”
“He does,” she said, “he’s just playing games.” Oh. Right.
I leaned back and clenched my jaw. Two youths chased each other across the street, fists wrapped around gleaming blades. An old man crawled down the sidewalk on his hands and knees.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to come back to Morocco from Sevilla. We had spent an entire day walking, directionless, around the city--enjoying the feel of bare legs and wordless anonymity. We ate in an American themed diner just for the hell of it, and finished our term projects at Starbucks amidst a torrential downpour.
My term paper represented some of the best insights that Morocco had offered me. I liked watching the kinship of the February 20th Movement activists milling around before their meeting, the sort of bond that springs up from a shared cause and the risk of shared consequences.
I spent an afternoon with a foreign news correspondent, her laptop perched on her coffee table as she waited for her latest report to transfer. We talked about mixed identities and the fundamental incompatibility of democracy and illiteracy. Her friend Skyped in for boy advice, the conundrum: a playful dialogue involving an expensive watch--and a man’s coy shimmy around directly accepting a drink invitation.
“He says ‘the watch or my body,’” her friend read off her phone, laughing.
“Tell her to say ‘I choose a drink,’” I chimed in from the couch.
He responded “Choose life,” she told us a few minutes later.
We looked at each other blankly.
The correspondent and I had met a couple days before, when my interview with a TV (news) producer turned into coffee with his acquaintances. My head darted back and forth between the parties, following the invisible shuttle of political commentary.
“Morocco sees modernization as giving in to the white man,” my new friend said passionately. The group looked at me sheepishly. “No offense,” she added.
Despite the advantages of watching this casual debate, I was left with many of my research questions unanswered by the end of the night. The TV Producer and I agreed to meet again the next morning, in a restaurant across from the train station.
When he walked in I was drinking banana juice and reading “Tender is the Night.” “I have that book at home,” he said, “But I’ve never read it.” He frequents used bookstores, contributing to that pile of unread books that every avid reader is familiar with--a bottomless heap of “someday.”
He told me the story of Rachid Nini, a Moroccan reporter recently released from a year in prison. Nini’s every-man commitment to reporting on taboos earned him great popularity. When this commitment landed him in trouble, he changed his methods—turning to powerful allies for protection. These alliances, rather than his treatment of controversial issues, are what ultimately did in Nini.
My interviewee punctuated our discussion with trips outside to purchase this or that newspaper, meant to illustrate one finer point in the crash course in Moroccan journalism that he was offering me.
“Are you married?” I asked, “Is that a wedding band?”
“No, it was a gift from my girlfriend,” he said. Looking at down at the ring, he conceded that it looked like a wedding band—as if to say that he belongs to her.
“I think I am going to leave a bunch of stuff here,” I had told my classmates on the terrace as classes wound down in early April. “I’ll take that shirt,” one of them said. I looked down at the old Sears flannel that I found in the costume bin at my sister’s elementary school. At home and school it hangs on my bedpost, and the fraying left cuff suggests a shared dexterity with its previous owner. It is, without a doubt, my favorite shirt.
I looked back up at her, “Not this, anything but this.”
A month later I am frantically pawing through my suitcase at the airport. The flannel is safely checked, but avoiding the fee of 600DH to check a second bag will require me to downsize the remaining luggage. I look at everything in a new light. My running sneakers? Mom is always offering to buy new ones. These flats? I’ve had them since high school. The worst is the gifts that I promised my host family I’d bring to their cousins in Portland…mentally allotting them a share of the Moroccan tea and honey in my checked back I reduce the gift pile by a third.
I set off to find a trash can and have difficulty explaining what I am trying to do, getting frustrated and muttering about leaving it in a corner to be “systematically destroyed,” as the easier alternative…but inevitably the language barrier falls and I leave it behind the counter of the information desk. “Thank you, God bless you,” I say, feeling lighter already.
At the train station in Tanger my friend and I sipped coffee to the sound of a white cat mewling from his carrying crate. On the train we met an English teacher, who imparted a translated proverb: “He who travels much, is better than he who lives long.” And, later, “it is important to live among the other.”
The Alcazur Gardens in Sevilla reminded me of a dream I once had about discovering the ruins of an ancient library. To me, much of life is literary. I wonder if Rachid Nini would play a good Julius Ceasar. I recall the Sahara sand that finally choked the life from my camera in a booth at Peggy Sue’s American Diner and think only “Ozymandias.”