Entry #005: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 (Meknes, Morocco)

[Note, this was really running too long, so I split it into two posts, #5 and 6. For some reason, what's written here, which I wrote offline in a Word doc, disappeared, so advance apologies if I sound rushed at points. Maybe it's for the best, so you won't have to read as much.]

While I was on a bus ride yesterday, it hit me - it's only been a week since I took off from the United States. I was wondering at first how I could only be at my fifth post. But yeah, it genuinely seems like I've been gone a long time; well longer than a week, at least.

Anyhoo, I'm currently with my fourth Couchsurfing host. My third one was...a mixed bag. Not because of any problem on his end - I'm giving him a positive reference - but more because of myself and my personality. But I'll get to that in a second.

I woke up on Sunday, and allowed myself to be a bit leisurely, since I had told my upcoming host, Anass, that I would meet him at the bus station at noon. I packed all my things, did some reading, had a one-point-five hour hotel breakfast, most of which was spent nursing two glasses of tea.

Quick aside - Moroccan tea is delicious. It's actually pretty funny, because none of the elements are particularly exotic. You pour hot water over loose green tea leaves, then steep some mint leaves in there, and finally, add sugar to taste. But despite the simplicity of these elements, they converge to form something greater than the sum of their parts. I don't think your actual location matters, so give it a shot when you have the chance!

Anyway, when that was all said and done, I left the hotel (and despite literally everything telling me that this would happen, I was still surprised when they would only accept cash as payment) and went to the bus station. I called Anass, using my international SIM card for the first time. It was a bit of a trying experience, as I wasn't used to the fact that there is a delay between every response, which made the art of finishing these expensive phone calls quickly even more of a challenge. Anyway, he said he'd leave for Tetouan in 20 minutes. So, I waited. And waited. And waited. For almost 90 minutes, I waited at this bus station, all the while telling (well, trying to tell) all the taxi drivers that I did not need them to take me to Martil, because a friend would pick me up. Finally, I saw Anass. We shook hands, we exchanged pleasantries, Anass asks for my forgiveness because English is his third language, and I asked him where he was parked. "Oh, no," he said, "I took a taxi." I simultaneously felt guilty and stupid.

But whatever, what was done was done, and we took a cab to his place in Martil. As we were driving, the place looked fairly clean and modern, at least compared to Tetouan. We got to Anass's apartment, and we went inside. It was then that I realized something: Anass was a college student. I think staying with folks older than myself made me forget that there are people who are still studying. And apparently, Martil is two things: a beach town, and a university town. Anyhoo, the reason I realize this is that Anass lives with three other guys. They all shake my hand and go back to their laptops.

Anass, then, says "You are welcome!" He then sits down and speaks with his friends in Arabic. For at least three minutes. Meanwhile, I'm just sitting on an ottoman, trying to think of something to do or say. I almost immediately begin longing for the hotel; I was alone there, but at least I knew what was going on. Anass turns his head to me. I thought that maybe he sensed my discomfort. "You are welcome!" And before I can thank him in response, he's back in Arabic mode.

After another five minutes of contemplating my navel and not saying a word to anyone (I wanted to, but couldn't get a word in edgewise), I finally ask if there's Wi-Fi in the house, or at a nearby cafe. Anass says that sure, we can go to the cafe, and he'll show me the town, too.

Here's something that I've forgotten: "beach town" does not equal "beach paradise". I don't know why I was expecting some sort of Maui experience, but what was there was more like one of the lesser SoCal beaches, or maybe even a MidCal beach. Also, did I mention it was a gray, overcast day? Because it was. And because of that, the beach looked as inviting as you'd think a gray, overcast beach would look. As for the rest of the town...well, that was it. I realized that this was the reason why Martil was only listed on websites as a side venture for Tetouan. After the beach, there's nothing there. I was suddenly happy that I wasn't spending three days there. Even if the weather had been more favorable (which it had the previous two days), there was really no culture to this town. I asked what they did for fun in Martil. Anass said they drank and smoked hashish with friends. Lovely.

Now, Anass had brought a friend with us, and as we were walking up and down the beach, they were chatting it up in Arabic. I was more proactive in stepping in with questions, about the city, about their language, etc, but I kept getting back very simple, one-sentence responses. I upped my game at the cafe, trying to build a real rapport with Anass, hoping that maybe he would ask me some questions about myself. (Here's an interesting, if somewhat vain-sounding note: I am at my absolute best when I'm answering questions, be they about myself or whatever. It gives me a reason to talk, I guess.) The only thing that really got thorough, I think, was the fact that I worked on Street Fighter, something he would later mention to each of his friends. So that's something!

As we were going back, I asked if there were any restaurants where I could get a traditional Moroccan meal. Anass said, "No, I am going to cook you dinner myself." I thought that was a great idea, and asked if I could help. He said sure, and we went out to buy supplies. While we were in the market (and remember, "market" here almost always means an outdoor market), and while shopping for supplies and hearing chickens being slaughtered, he asked me if there was any traditional American food I'd like to prepare. "There's not really any traditional American food," I reply, "But I have seen a lot of avocados here. They're used on everything in California, so maybe I'll make guacamole." Anass says that avocados (or "avocas") are only used in one thing here: a mixed avocado/milk juice. Heresy! As it turned out, none of the avocados were ripe enough anyway, so I decided against it.

As we were walking back to the apartment, Anass noticed that a Barcelona soccer game was on. "Actually, I have to watch this. My friend Nazir will cook the food. So, he drops me off at the apartment, and I'm left there with a new fellow, Nazir. Feeling a bit abandoned, I join Nazir in the kitchen. For the next hour-and-a-half, I connect more with Nazir than I did the entire time with Anass, most likely because there was nobody else for him to speak to. As we cook (or rather, he cooks and I pass ingredients), we discuss his education, his family, his home, religion, the fact that he also doesn't drink or smoke, the difficulties of being a Moroccan trying to find a better life than what you're born with, his dreams for the future. It really was an enjoyable experience, and seeing how they cooked was very interesting as well. We made tajine, which is the classic Moroccan dish. I would basically qualify it as a stew with almost no liquid, and with each ingredient added at a different time.

Later, Anass and his other friend come back, and one of the other roommates wakes up. Based on the kinds of calls they were making at him, I began to assume that he was the obligatory wacky dude that exists in every college bachelor apartment. "Andrew, this is Hamiss, but we call him Quittah! He's a cra-azy guy!" Bingo. Anyway, he does the obligatory wacky guy things, like singing annoying songs really loudly, trying to convince me of things that are clearly not true (remember, I'm the ig'nant American), and discussing his distaste for police. Charming fellow.

Then, one of the others takes a cigarette, disassembles it, takes out some hashish from some plastic wrap, mixes it in the tobacco, takes some special paper, and then rolls a ciga-weed. Really, it seemed like way too much effort for what you got out of it. As the trail of smoke hit my nose, I suddenly felt like an Resident Assistant again. It took legitimate willpower to avoid asking them to put it out. They passed the thing around, and one offered it to me. I decline with a smile and a wave. The guy offered in again, with a bit more force in his gesture. Once again I wordlessly refused, but this time my eyes were narrowed and my smile, waned. He got the point and finished it off himself.

Thankfully, when dinner started, all burning sticks were put away, and we enjoyed what turned out to be a very delicious meal (which I made to note to Nazir). Prior to the tajine coming out, there were peanuts, dates, and olives to eat. It actually was amazing how all these kinds of things that you'd see in some period piece (or Raiders of the Lost Ark) were still alive and well with a bunch of college students. Then came the tajine, which was picked up from a central plate and eaten with pieces of bread. It's amazingly similar to Etheopian food, except the bread is more like western bread than the flat, spongy kind found in Ethiopian cuisine. During this time, everyone is mostly ignoring me, but then someone starts clucking like a chicken. I have no idea why, and I don't care. "Can you do a goat?" They muster a fairly muted goat sound. I respond with my own goat bleating, which sends everyone into a tizzy. That's the second time I've been able to use that ability, so it's serving me well. They then do some other animal noises, and for a little while, we are able to communicate without language barriers.

After the meal, more friends came in. These guys are really the social butterflies of this town; there were like nine other guys here. Some were on their laptops, some were smoking hashish, and all were speaking Arabic. I occupied myself by reading, but it got more and more difficult as each new ciga-weed (and normal 'rette) was lit up, as all the smoke seemed to find itself to my direction. I tried blowing it all away, but before long, my eyes were starting to burn, and my teeth even hurt (I was convinced that was related). Finally, Nazir called me over for some help with a game. (Man, Nazir was winning all the points here.) It was a game about recognizing corporate logos, and me being the corporate American tool could (and absolutely did) serve me well there in being an integral part of their group.

On a side note, seeing the Capcom logo made me a bit wistful.

Most everyone left after that, leaving just Anass, Nazir, and myself in the living room. I helped clean up, and then wrote most of everything you read here for the first time (which is why losing it burns so much). I then realized that I hadn't used the restroom since getting there. As I start to walk in, Anass says the light in there doesn't work, so I have to use a candle. This is a unique experience, and as I'm moving the candle, trying not to drip hot wax all over myself whilst keeping my pants from touching the floor. Yeah, definitely glad I wasn't staying here three days.

At some arbitrary time, we go to bed, me telling Anass that I should get to the Tetouan bus station by 11:30 the next morning. Unfortunately, while I get up by 9am, Anass doesn't get up until noon. I'm forced to take the 1:30 bus and lose two hours. Anass brings me to a taxi, we say our goodbyes (I wish I could have said goodbye to Nazir) and I'm on my way.

Now, don't let this paint Anass in a bad light, despite how the brushstrokes look. He was a genuinely nice guy, and he did everything he could to make me feel welcome, as far as he could tell. There were just two issues which really prevented this from working. First, he's a very social guy with many friends. In theory, this is great. More people to meet. But they're all comfortable speaking Arabic, why should they change for me? Unfortunately, that creates a barrier that I am uncomfortable with. The second thing is that Anass and his friends are college bachelors. A lot of what I described, from the messy environment to the smoking and everything, could just have easily taken place at UC Berkeley. But it's just not my style, and it never was, even when I was a college student.

Having new experiences can't change who you are, but they're worth having anyway, so I am thankful for this one, even if it wasn't my cup of Moroccan tea.

1 comment:

  1. Always interesting adventures, Andrew. It is funny how much similarity there is between college students. The scene you described is pretty reminiscent of the American college experience. From young people being glued to technology to hang outs in which a lot of people are doing random things even to the John Belushi-types. It goes to show that division lines develop as we get older. Perhaps its because we have more at stake in the world, but perhaps its because we get too set in our ways and our beliefs.

    On another note, the word of the day is now "Ciga-weed."