The tangy smell of goat makes me bury my head in the sleeping bag in which I sleep, but what makes me finally get out of bed is the water dripping onto my pillow from the leaking roof above. It is my fifth day in Morroco and to my friend Andrew this is nothing unusual. I’m still getting used to village life, but I don’t let on.
The previous night, seven of us ate with our hands from a communal plate in a mud house with packed dirt floors. The meal was impressive, served on decorative china plate sitting within a metal platter three feet in diameter. It was a baked chicken buried under olives, carrots, fava beans, and many spices. To eat, we tore off pieces of freshly baked round bread, and pinch food between our thumb and the piece of bread. We do this ONLY with our right hand since the left is reserved for other, less sanitary tasks. I brushed off the thought that the woman with the kind face, beaming smile, and baby nursing on her breast that cooked for us wiped her ass with her hand. I take a big chunk of bread and dig in.
Before we ate we washed our hands while a family member poured water from a pitcher into a catchment bowl, but even so I know it’s just a matter of time until I get sick. While I eat heartily I think of the animals living side-by-side with these people (cows, goats, dogs, chickens) and what they leave behind and think water drizzled on my hands is not enough. I hope it’s not tonight that I find myself waking to stomach cramps, recognizing that it’s inevitable. Andrew has told me stories of waking face down in his own excrement that makes think starvation is a possible solution to the lack of sanitation.
It was six days ago that I was relaxing on a roof-top hot tub in London, wondering how my time in Africa would pass. In all honesty, this is what I expected. What I didn’t expect was the beauty of this place. It is nothing like I expected. Two days before we took a taxi (with 5 other people in one small car) to a village 10 km away from Admam (Andrew’s peace corp village) and picked up Andrew’s dog, Hope. From there we walked through a valley rimmed with limestone cliffs and fields of wheat, the sun breaking through holes in the dark sky with temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. We walked past goat herders, ridges lined with pine and cedar trees, and children playing in the fields. After talking it over with Andrew, I’m not sure why Peace Corp was there, he wasn’t sure either.
Not all of Morroco is like this though. On day two, we woke from our night of sleeping on the floor of a roof in Marrakesh to prayer call and took a train to Muhamedia, with a stop in Casablanca. As I gazed out the window I noticed a stream that intersected the railroad tracks. This was no ordinary stream, it was thick and deep purple. Imagine a stream of purple paint and you;ve got it.
We stopped in Casablanca for a vaccination of all things. Andrew told me I could save $100 if I got my yellow fever shot in Morroco. After paying, which took some time since the cashier was praying (don;t ask), the syringe was unsheathed. Apparently, the waiting room doubled as an examination room. I reasoned this out after the receptionist took the exposed needle and worked her way through the crowd towards me, holding the needle pointed up, for ‘saftey’. I remember the words ‘fuck me this wasn’t worth the 100 dollar discount’ scrolled across the billboard of my mind, just before she attempted to plunge the needle that was rightly mine into Andrew’s arm… ‘Fuck show’ flashed momentarily on the billboard.
We spent the night in Muhamedia with friends. Andrew warned me not to even mention topics like alcohol, drugs, or the fairer sex. With my severely limited vocabulary, I stayed quiet most of the night. Andrew’s friend Mohamed introduced us to his cousins Safia and Nora, two high school girls that were pretty intrigued with us, hey life is slow in Muhamedia. The words of advice my friend Travis gave me before I left cycled through my head, “don’t screw around with any girls over there or you’ll get your nuts chopped off” occasionally cycled through my head. It wasn’t until 1 am when we were alone with the girls that their uncle busted in and the girls shot out of the room that I guessed that some of the Arabic hurled our way had at least the words ‘nuts’ and ‘chop’ in them. We left the next morning relieved and ‘intact’.
The concept of public transportation in Morroco probably doesn’t conjure up relaxing thoughts in even the most provincial of American minds, but I’ll reinforce that notion for my readers. With one glaring exception, the rail system, public transportation in Morroco is uncomfortable. The words taxi and bus have very different feelings associated with them than before, even after my brief bout of experience. To ride the bus means standing side-by-side with 99 other people in their collective body heat and odor, while the bus driver takes a 10 minute break, leaving us in the sweltering sun with the windows rolled up. Taxis are at least as uncomfortable. A taxi will go nowhere until it has reached the minimum rider capacity of 7 souls. It’s important to remember that I’m not talking lincoln towncar, I’m talking about a small mercedes from the 1970’s. Cab drivers are also kind enough to remove the crank levers with which one would roll down the window, in case the tight conditions, direct sunlight, and greenhouse effect of the car windows caused one to get uncomfortably warm. Luckily the numbness in my seat and legs provided some distraction, enough to let my mind melt in my skull.
A great part of traveling with someone who speaks Arabic is that people open up to you. They love it that a whiteboy from America can speak Arabic. An example of this was when we drove to Souk in Taza. I asked Andrew how to say something in French. He didn’t know so he asked the driver. The driver told us he was illiterate and had no idea. He went on to tell us that he was a mechanic and to prove it too us he pulled the steering wheel off of the steering column turned around with it in his hand to show me in the back seat. Mind you, we weren’t parked on the side of the road, we were driving through traffic. Thank god he got the steering wheel back on before he had to use it,