Monday, 22 March 2010

Morocco: Lost in Space

Morocco: 16 - 23 June 1987

As I’d vacationed to Gran Canaria during May, I was reticent to go on vacation again so soon. Gary and I had discussed a trip to Sweden and had gone there the previous Summer; but with my imminent possible return there to work in August, I decided to change tack and go elsewhere.

We made a quick decision and decided to go on a cheapy to Morocco; 10 days at the exotic sounding, Hotel Flangria at Tangier, for the bargain price of £ 149 inclusive of food.
As I had gone alone to Gran Canaria, I was looking forward to a “mans” boozy holiday abroad before setting off for a six month job in Sweden. I knew that I would not vacation while on contract in Göteborg. Too much money to lose.

But things did not turn out as planned. We set off in good spirits from Luton Airport, only to arrive in Tangier where Gary was refused entry into the country due to the fact that he had a passport which was valid for only one year and not the required ten. And the thing that really pissed Gary and myself off is that we actually asked the fucking Thomson assistant when booking if a one year passport was valid and we were told "yes". Consequently, Gary returned home on the same plane that he arrived on later that day. Not only that, but he took with him my duty free fags, which pissed me off even more. So I was alone.

The hotel, which was in the centre of the town, was very basic and noisy. It was also soon apparent that on leaving the hotel you would be accosted by the locals constantly for you to buy anything from bracelets to their 12 year old sister for half an hour (or brother). After being hassled on the first night they arrived, one party of ladies from Sweden refused to leave our hotel on subsequent evenings.

At that time the Dirham was valued at 14 to the £; so with, for example a beer at 9 dh, it was cheap for entertainment. And so was the local hashish which you could order from one of the waiters or bar staff during the day and they would deliver it to your room later, usually after six pm. Then, in England I was paying around £10 for 1/8 ounce of “black”. Here in Moroccan “black” country I got it for 150dh for ½ ounce. Same price, four times as much. It was even cheaper on the street.

During the evening, as you strolled along the beach, you would be offered it every 100 metres or so, along with sex, especially if you were a man walking alone. Then, you were generally accosted by good looking teenage boys. It was by sheer coincidence that I had purchased Joe Orton’s “Prick Up Your Ears” who narrated about his sexual experiences in Tangier, so I was not surprised by the attention.
The thing though was, not to be aggressive with them . Telling them to “fuck off” was not the way to go. If you politely said “Oh, not tonight, thank you. Maybe some other time”, they left you alone to go on your way.

I had met a Brummy, Mark, at poolside during the afternoon. He was there alone; but not. He had booked the holiday with his wife, prior to separating, and neither would forego the holiday. So they were both there. A very pleasant situation!

We ventured into the hotel disco later in the evening with two Moroccan girls that we assumed we had “pulled” in the hotel bar. The girl I was with, who was from Rabat, was called Maria.

It was after midnight, and I realised that the girls had not in fact bought, or offered to buy, a drink all night. I assumed that they were just girls leeching off of the tourists. In my naivety, I failed to realise that they were in fact hookers. I looked around the disco which was a reasonable size with an long bar around 12 metres, in front of which, was a dance area about 10 square metres.

Due to the fact that I had been “accompanied” for the time I was there, I had failed to notice the array of young women, all basically dressed the same in tight, shimmering, short dresses similar to that which Maria wore. In fact looking around at the various tables was looking at a kaleidoscope of our own.
All pale faced men with dusky, tanned women.

It was then not hard to suss out how the room was operated.
The owners of the place employed the girls to accost, and entertain any pale skinned boy looking for a good time. This, not only reaps money from the punter but also doubles the income with the drinks he will buy the girls; which is usually very bad, but expensive, Champagne. Meanwhile; any of the girls who are “working” but have no punter, are administered free drinks at the bar until a client turns up.

Sex is an obvious extra. As long as you are plying the girls with drinks, the management doesn’t care. If you don’t, the girls will move on. Having now the understanding of the format, I asked Maria how much she would charge for sex. She said it would be 30dh ( around £2 50). It sounded a bargain.

She assumed that I had made a proposition and rose to “just go powder her nose”. On her way out, she stopped to briefly chat to a bald headed, suited, meathead, near the door. She indicated to the guy, and looked towards me. He was obviously her pimp, and her security in case anything untoward were to happen to her. It wouldn’t, and didn’t.

On her return, I thanked her for the evening and bid her farewell. As I had already contracted a nasty little disease a couple of years earlier, I was not going to risk another. I could not imagine how many Johns these “ladies” entertained over the period of a year, but I was not to be one of them. I must actually be getting for sensible as I get older.(You don’t believe that!)

I returned to my room where a small package had been pushed under the door. I opened it, pulled off a portion, placed it in foil , cooked it, spread tobacco from a ripped up cigarette, joined two cigarette papers, mixed the hash and tobacco together, skinned up. Took a glass, opened my Jameson’s and got stoned. Bliss.
I had met a girl, Sue, at the hotel the previous day who was together with a Moroccan man, Mohammed. We had talked of going to the Kasbah (local market place) as she was going to buy some articles of leather. Mohammed owned a stall apparently.
So, as I was interested in maybe purchasing a leather jacket, when Mohammed met Sue that morning, I accompanied them.

The Kasbah is a completely different world. A covered market for food. Fish market, meat market. The stench was awful. We then went through narrow meandering streets and passed shops selling copper and brass goods, carpets etc until we came to Mohammed’s place which was small, only about eight metres square but was chock- a- block with all manner of leather goods. I purchased a leather jacket for1080 dh (£79). He then escorted us out of the Kasbah and we returned to the hotel.

I had told Mark of my visit.
The next day we decided to go there together. We had been told not to go to the Kasbah without a guide. As you went to the edge of the Kasbah the paths led down into the maze of streets. We were approached by several “guides” who offered to show us around for 35dh which seemed to be the going rate.
As it was now the weekend and the banks were closed, and the hotel will not accept my travellers cheques, I was a little short of cash, and so was Mark.
We plundered into the unknown thinking it can’t be that hard to find your way out. It was. We got hopelessly lost, going in completely the wrong direction. We were hot,irritated,and had been wandering for an hour when we were approached by a swarthy smiling man who knew exactly our problem.

You lost?
We lost.
You come with me.
We’ve no money
says Mark
Come, I take you out. Where you stay?
Hotel Flangria
I take you. Come!

And off we go, and he’s chatting merrily away and we assume that we have found the only non money grabbing Moroccan in the whole of Tangier. Wrong.
First. We stop at my uncle’s house. He give you tea,refresh you.
Er…I’d rather just get back to the hotel…er…my mother, she’s sick.
Yes, yes, wont take long.

Yes, I’m sure it wont, I muse. We wandered along the narrow streets. Our guide knew every stall owner that we passed. And they greeted each other with what sounded very much to me like “More Eeengleesh idiots” though I hoped that I was mistaken.
After ten minutes more, I was really losing my usual placid temperament:
Er…how much fucking further is it?

He indicates down another bric-a-brac ladened street. It looked exactly the same one that we had started out on with this cretin. He turned and walked into a shop. It was full of rugs and carpets.
Look, just guide us out of here will you!?
Soon. Come we meet uncle, have tea

The fixed smile had not left his face since we met him. He’s fuckin’ mocking us, I mused.
He led us to the rear of the shop where he indicated a flight of stairs.
Come, we meet uncle.
Now, I’m angry, and a little afraid. No one knows we’re here. We could disappear without trace.
He indicated us to precede him, and we climbed the narrow staircase. On the floor above we heard the sound of machinery. Stepping from the stairs we saw at least six women at their weaving machines making all sorts of colourful rugs of all shapes and sizes.
There was no uncle serving tea.
So where’s uncle?
He had not entered the room but stood in the doorway. There was another staircase
Fuck this, I’m out of here!
You no leave without tea! Very rude to leave now.

The smile had gone, and in the light of the staircase, our guide looked ten years older; a good deal of lines had somehow materialised on his face. We climbed another staircase. I was now frightened and, as I was wearing white shorts, hoped that I would not have an uncontrolled bowel movement.

There was a raffia curtain at the top of these stairs, I pushed it aside. The room on this floor was smaller than the lower one; around 8 square metres. I am staring at three bearded men aged between 40 to 50 years. They are seated on the floor on cushions. They stare back. They are smoking and drinking tea.

One of the men exclaim to our guide. At least we now know his name. Our guide mumbles back a greeting, and then a narrative that leaves the three men looking at us, and pensively nodding.
So, sit, says Aziz. Have tea.
We sit. We are furnished with a small glass of sickly, sweet, green tea. I retch.
You no like? Says the guy I assume to be uncle.
I know that I should not appear to be unfriendly but my facial muscles have frozen and my mouth is so dry, I cannot speak.
What do you think of these merchandise?
Uncle indicates at the walls covered with his merchandise.. Good ,eh, you like?
No, I don’t fuckin’ like, you fuck!
Yes they’re very nice, I squeak. Please let me go home, you cunt!
You buy a little something for your girl?
No I don’t want one of your fuckin’ rugs, shove it up your arse!
Well, I can have a look. I don’t have any money today, but I can come back tomorrow.
Uncle chuckles at this. I’m amusing him.
You Eeengleesh! there’s that word again. You all have money!
Maybe, but not to spend on this shit.
How much you want for shirt?
Uncle indicates my “Dire Straits, Money For Nothing” tee shirt. Fuck me, he wants the shirt off of my back!
I not sell shirt
God I’m starting to talk like him now. It’s bad enough being with a Brummy. After a couple of days you start talking all nasal loik.
Then buy rug. Then you go!
I’ve no money.

Mark has said nothing the whole time we are there. As I am bigger, and older, all conversation is aimed at me.
You got any money, Mark?
He stares at me. Quizzical. Terrified.
Don’t YOU want to buy a rug, Mark?
Speak you worthless piece of crap! He says nothing. Seeing that this would either go on until we were, or I ,was forced to make a purchase or we were beaten and mugged I took out my wallet from the rear pocket of my shorts. I had my last 200 dh.
O.K... How much is that small rug?
I point to a mat which was 12” x 24”, the smallest I could lay eyes on. I’d have to carry the fuckin’ thing back to the hotel, so I wanted the smallest.
How much you have there?
That is the price.
And Aziz will then guide us out?
But of course!
Aziz has his fixed smile back on his face. I picked up the rug and was thankful that I had purchased the leather jacket the previous day when I had a far greater amount of cash in my wallet.
Aziz led us out into the searing heat and dazzling sunlight and took us to the Kasbah entrance which was, of course, hardly any distance at all; if you knew how to get there.
Well, goodbye Eeenngleesh!
Fuck off you robbing bastard!
Were my parting words.
I turned to Mark. And that goes for you. You can fuck off too!

I returned to my hotel room: showered, rolled myself a large joint and, wanting to speak to a comforting voice, tried to connect to my girl Jan in England. No reply.
I was on the way to oblivion: I opened the hotel room window, picked up the rug from the floor, snorted up a large amount of phlegm from my throat, spat on the rug, and threw it out of the window.
I watched the rug as it pirouetted its way to the street below and fell back into the room convulsing in childish laughter having seen it slap into the face of some poor unsuspecting soul.
I then slept.

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