Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mayhem in Morocco

Lynne, me, Jess
Every expat I met in Morocco regaled me with stories of attempted robbery or mugging or some other gloomy tale of felony woe.  For the first time in all my years traveling, I really felt uneasy in a country, in my mind, it even beat out Colombia for unsafe.  

One weekend I went to visit Sefrou, a small town 35km southwest of Fez, with Jess, an adventurous woman from England who organized art exhibits and local art festivals in Fez. Her ramshackle house, perched alongside a river close to the souq, was quaint, and we stopped in to drop our things off and collect her dogs for a walk. Reaching the outskirts of town, we came to a muddy path that led into a marshy, wooded area, and as we stepped around watery potholes, tins, bottles, broken glass and plastic bags filled with rotting muck, Jess chattered on about how much she loved the place. It was quiet, the people were fantastic, the souq was brilliant and there was freedom for her beloved dogs, which stopped to sniff at the debris and wolf down soft snacks before sniffing the air and bounding off again, wagging their tails and barking in delight. She didn’t seem to mind that they were eating from this particular dung heap, nor did she seem worried they might slice open their little paws on all the glass. I made a mental note to not let the hounds near me once we got back to her place. She then related she had been assaulted here once by five men who tackled her and attempted to pull off her clothes, with every intention to rape her and perhaps kill her. Luckily, she fought them off and ran away but apparently attempted rape, possible mutilation and beheading wasn’t enough to cancel her show, as she continued every day to walk the same woods alone with her dogs.

Sefrou medinaLater, we met up with her friend Lynne, an American from L.A. working with the Peace Corps, to have coffee and stroll through the souq before buying wine for the evening. Jess’ next door neighbor Angel came along, an older man of about sixty who acted as sidekick and general go-for guy. While I was looking at some items on a table, an addled gasoline sniffer locked his eyes on to me and limped over, slowly extending what looked to be a hand out to me as if to make friends. There are hundreds of addicts sniffing either glue, gas or shoe polish in Fez, but I didn't think there would be any in this small enclave. They wander around the city filthy and stunned, their minds idling with the fumes and there is very little help for anyone who finds themselves addicted. It's particularly heartbreaking to see how many orphan children are wandering the streets with handkerchiefs held to their noses. The specter that now confronted me looked like he’d been thrown from the seventh floor of an apartment building and hit a few obstacles on the way down, his skin was purple and distended on one side, his hair greasy, matted against his scalp, his mouth a gaping black hole filled with broken, yellowed teeth and his clothes were torn and gummy. I shook my head and smiled and moved off quickly to join Jess and Lynne.  Jess had some roasted peanuts and I also wanted some, so I retraced her steps to the vendor to get some of my own.

I was searching through the various stalls for the peanut vendor, not paying attention to people as I passed when all of a sudden POOF!. Some enormous force hit me dead center in my chest causing me to gasp and fall backwards into the people behind me and past them, my hands waving crazily in circles beside me as I struggled to stay on my feet.  I wound up in a crouch beside a stairwell leading into a dress shop.  A loud ooooohhhh rose up from the onlookers who had seen what happened and were now forming a circle around me. When I could finally stand up, I searched the crowd and saw the crazy glue snuffer I had rebuffed earlier; his eyes burned at me with hatred and he stood defiantly mocking me. I backed up and the bastard started to come at me, albeit in slow motion because the gas that he'd obviously been sniffing put him into low gear. A few fellows pushed him back as I stood there in shock.  Lynne, Jess and Angel came back when they saw the commotion and when they saw it involved me, Jess took my arm and led me away.

gas sniffer
My hands were shaking and my chest felt like it was going to explode, as if he had separated my heart from its moorings. Full. On. If he had hit 12 inches further down I would have died, or had numerous ribs broken or lost my spleen. As I struggled to comprehend what had just happened, I spotted him again further off, craning his neck over the others who were restraining him in order to continue staring at me.  His eyes sent shivers down my back.

We finally moved off and the crowd dispersed, but I couldn’t stop looking around, wondering if he was returning and from what direction. Later on we went and drank wine while Angel went back to the souq to discover the madman had been arrested and would stay in jail for one month for busting up a tourist. He also said the police advised it would be best if we didn’t come down to the station as dude might try to get revenge.