Monday, 9 December 2013

7th November, 2013. Bicho

My grandfather called me "bicho" (bug) as I always had something to buzz about. In my incapability to sit still and shut up I terrorised old swedish ladies, distracted classmates in kindergarten, bugged my friends into a greenteam, gave headaches to heads of school about the female uniform and have done a whole lot of talking when I should have stayed quiet. Well, now I have one more thing to buzz about but I am not sure it is favourable.

Things happened this day in Marrakech that had me confused, enraged and in shock. Things that feel bigger than me, that put in doubt my skill to tell it with the integrity that it deserves. I promised myself I would blog everything: the good and the bad, so I can do nothing but tell it honestly as I observed it happen. Here goes.

After I poured the tea for breakfast, I taught Daoud and Ibaz how to dance bachata. An old man must have heard us as he poked his head in the room. He seemed concerned when he saw me. Later I heard him say in french: "University is only for men, not women. If women do university it foments prostitution." Daoud apologised to me about his landlords behaviour. He has crazy old-fashioned beliefs and wanted to know if we were married. I felt sorry for his granddaughters and tried not to let it get to me.

Soon, Daoud and I set out to do all the touristy things in the heat of Marrakech. He took me first to the Bahia Palace, a 19th century, Islamic-Moroccan brilliance. I marveled at the pacing flow of corridors and patios and envied Ba Ahmed's four wives and twenty-four concubines for living in such a peaceful palace.

Plan of the Bahia narrated with our route through it.
Click image to expand.

On our way to catch the bus we stopped by Jmaa el Fna so I could hold a snake. Strangely, the anticipation of holding one felt better than clenching its tiny levitating head between your huge index and thumb. After handing the snake back, the man in traditional white dress demanded 50 dirham (5 euros). I held up 5 dirham (50 cents). "No, that's 5." "I know. 50 dirham is too much." "No, 50 dirham, 5 euro." "10 dirham." He started to complain but held out his hand anyway. After walking away I realised I had just haggled for the first time. I turned to tell Daoud when I realised he wasn't there.

This is where things started getting strange. Daoud was a few steps behind me being pinned up by the collar by two men on a white moped. I walked back to find out what was going on. The men looked aggressive, shouting and looming over Daoud. Daoud looked collected, answering back patiently. He showed them his national identity card. I quickly picked up that they were undercover policemen and remembered how in Morocco it's illegal to give tours without certification. Was that why they were holding him up? Surely if I cleared up that he was a friend of mine and I was not paying him they would go away.

"Do you know this man?" "Yes, he is my friend." "What nationality are you?" "Spanish." "Where are you staying?" "With him. He is my friend." More arabic. His voice is very violent against Daoud. "He is not a tour guide, he is my friend," I begin to say but the policeman quickly shuts me up with his finger in my face. "Be quiet, please." "How long have you known him?" "Two months." His face changed. "It is not ok for you to stay with him. He could be dangerous." "No, but I know him. He is not dangerous. He is my friend. It's ok." I had spent about 43 consecutive hours with Daoud and he had been nothing but respectful. Was this policeman discriminating against us based on gender? "It's ok in your religion but not in ours." And with that they put Daoud on the moped and drove away. Daoud signalled for me to follow. I started chasing the moped, rucksack and all.

In Spain or the UK, policemen tell you what you have been accused of. Here I just got vague answers and a vibe of hostility, sprinkled with the notion that they wanted me to go away. I chased after until I lost them from sight. A nearby man pointed "La Police". When I nodded "Merci" and ran he shouted after me what I guess was "Pay me for helping you". I had no patience to deal with tourist-moochers at this time.

I waited at the entrance, wondering, when one of the policemen from before walked out. "You can't wait for him!" He was way too close to me. "He's my friend. I must." "No. You cannot stay with a boy!" His face was way too close. "Where are you meant to go?" I felt vulnerable. He was towering over me, staring at me straight in the eye with an authority and hate I couldn't understand. I saw a bully in him with no way I could convince him that I would never abandon Daoud, who over the last few days had become more than a friend but a brother. This man had no respect for me, the capability to hit me and worse of all authority. My eyes were stinging with held-back tears at this point. "The train station." "Go to the train station." "OK, I go, I go." He moved to his motorcycle. I slowly turned my back to the police station and started walking away. When I saw him disappear round the corner I dashed straight into the entrance.

What I am going to describe next is a reflection of some Marrakech policemen. It is not a reflection of Morocco as a country. There are lovely people everywhere you go in the world but there are also some real pricks out there. Sadly, I was unfortunate enough to encounter these people at the bureau of tourism.

Daoud was at the other side of a reception desk with a few men who had also been detained and seemed to be waiting for verdicts. There was a lot of shouting. I talked over the counter with Daoud, asking him: "Are you OK? Why are you here? What can I do?" "Stay," was all Daoud said. The policemen told everyone to step to the furthermost corner from the counter. I stayed at the counter. It was then I realised I was the only woman and foreigner in the room and everyone was staring at me from two meters away. I moved to a bench on the other side and watched silently. It dawned upon me that I might have made matters worse saying I was staying with Daoud but he gave me a look that said: "It's ok. Stay. Please."

Things happened around me that confused me. A boy a bit younger than me was thrown in red eyed and crying. He waved money at the policemen, begging. A policeman was sitting at a desk next to the prisoners, writing calmly into book of names. The boy and another man made the international hand-sign for food out the window. The policeman slapped him across the face so loud, the others cowered into a corner and I almost jumped to my feet. A few times I tried to find out why he was being detained. They gave me vague answers, said they didn't know Spanish or English, one said the reason was because he was seen with me. When I asked how that could be incriminatory he replied: " He is a man and you a girl. You cannot stay together." Followed with, "There have been a lot of rapes in Morocco. A girl shouldn't be with a boy unless they're married. He could be dangerous," after I inquired some more. I didn't understand. He hadn't even lifted a finger against me and I was a witness to that. It is more than I could say about some of the men in the room. I moved back to my seat.

After what felt like ages, the man on the desk called Daoud over. He wrote on a paper, gave him half and let him go. I wanted to hug him, pat him on the back, ask if he was ok but he was cold. "We cannot walk together. I will walk in front, you follow behind." And so we did for a long time until he was sure we weren't being followed and he explained everything.

When they first grabbed him they thought he was someone they were looking for. He showed him his ID. After they saw it wasn't him they asked him how much money he had on him. "10 dirham" he answered and the policemen laughed. "You're coming with us then." When I came around they asked Daoud: "Is she your wife? Are you paying her?" They threw me the excuses they did and took Daoud with him. Daoud explained that the reason the police was so eager to get rid of me and he so determined to keep me close was because they did not want me to see what they did and have the word leave Morocco. He told me that me staying was a political move that figuratively saved his life. The police have the authority to keep someone in jail two days or more without food.

I finally understood why that boy, apparently accused of selling camel rides to tourists, was crying and signaling out the window for food, why he was waving money at the policemen to let him go. The man that was so calmly writing into the book was deciding who would stay for how long and who would go. Because I was there, Daoud could go.

We soon tried to forget about it, grabbed a taxi to the train station and he waited with me for the train. He kept practicing "All You Need is Love" and we talked about how I would have to come visit him in the desert where there are no corrupt policemen. His mom would make me tajin and his aunt could paint some henna on me. When I had to leave I hugged him, glad he was safe and in one piece, thanked him for everything and promised I would keep practicing my Berber songs for when I come back.

It was a wonderful time in Marrakech yet I wish I could speak better of this last day, say stereotypes were broken, but sadly Daoud and I faced too many situations of discrimination partly because I was a single woman and partly because of corruption. I apologise to you, Daoud, not for being female but for having to go through all those situations with me. I thank you, you are a wonderful person and the world needs more of you.

On the train I was sitting in front of a girl of about eight as I wrote today's happenings in my notebook. She was reading a newspaper in arabic and started doing the crossword puzzle. We smiled at each other a few times and I offered her some cookies. She offered me some of what looked like turrón. I talked to her mother and her lady friend who spoke really good english and also spanish. I finally made it to Ayoub's in Casablanca where a huge dish of spaghetti was waiting for me and the company of very friendly people. By the time I prepared the mattress in the living-room and crawled into it, my mind was a blank slate again, ready to be filled with new experiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment