When I was nineteen and living in southern Spain, I convinced my friend Lokelani to go to Morocco with me.
When I say “convinced,” I mean I told Lokelani that we were going windsurfing in Tarifa, a small town in southern Spain, when I knew there was no wind, and then expertly shuffled her onto a boat headed for Africa.
(Expertly shuffling gullible friends onto large boats headed for random continents is a life skill we should all endeavor to master.)
I could tell many tales of our time in Morocco, Lokelani and I skipping down the white-washed streets of Chauen with curly-haired Spanish boys and eating too much couscous, but I’m going to fast-forward to our last day in Fez. What’s important for this story’s purposes is that Lokelani and I ended up in this iconic Moroccan city, which is home to the largest medina in North Africa.
Being that it was our last day in Fez, Lokelani and I sped off in the early afternoon to find a Moroccan man that we had met the night before in a hotel basement full of prostitutes with our Dutch Brothers. (I know, I know. This story will come later.) Our new Moroccan friend, Mohammad, agreed to take us into the Fez medina, which is why we were hurrying through the city to meet him.
Going into the Fez medina by oneself as a traveler is quite precarious, as it’s nearly impossible to navigate, and once night falls, it’s inconceivable to find your own way out. This is how Lokelani and I ended up with Mohammad. This was not an act of altruism on Mohammad’s part; his impetus to guide us through the medina was to encourage us to buy things from his friends’ shops from which he clearly earned a commission.
Lokelani and I were quite happy to buy a few knick-knacks in exchange for a guide, but we were quite adamant that we did not want to buy a carpet, the one Moroccan handicraft that nearly every tourist purchases in Morocco. I was nineteen years old at the time, and I was a vagabond. What the hell was I going to do with an ostentatious, hand-woven, North African carpet?
As Lokelani and I entered the medina, I reiterated to Mohammad that we did not want to look at any carpets.
“No problem! Let’s just go to my friend’ store,” Mohammad said as he led us through a low entrance so small we had to crouch down to enter.
“What does your friend sell?” Lokelani asked in her peppy, innocent California intonation, as Mohammad led us into the “shop.”
“Carpets,” said Mohammad.
“We’re not going to buy any carpets,” I said, converting immediately to my fuck-you face.
“You just look. Just look! Looking free!” ensured Mohammad. Sure, we would just look.
The store was a carpet cave. A cave of carpets. It literally felt and looked like a cave. I scanned my surroundings for hibernating bears.
Mohammad motioned for Lokelani sit down. Lokelani obeyed, still smiling with complete politeness, unable to shed her innate Californian optimism. I plopped myself down on the sitting carpet, arms folded, perfected scowl on my face as three carpet salesmen brought out carpet after carpet to show us.
“Oh, that’s nice. Oh! Very pretty,” said Lokelani, trying to humor them.
“What do you think?” Mohammad asked me.
I moved my scowl temporarily to look him in the eye. “I think I don’t want to buy a carpet,” I said, resolute.
Then shit got weird.
I don’t really know at what point the energy shifted in the Carpet Cave, possibly when the four guys realized we really were not going to buy a carpet, and if they weren’t going to get some of our money, then they were just going to get some. All of a sudden Mohammad was sitting next to me, as Lokelani continued to humor the carpet salesmen with questions about their designs, and put his hand on my leg. I squinted, looking at the hand in confusion, and then up at Mohammad. What was going on here?
“So, you have boyfriend?” Mohammad asked, eyes oozing sketchiness and evil.
I paused. Was he hitting on me or trying to rape me?
[ continued: Part 2]
- tramp goes west
- travel stories
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