As I finished my tea, a voice called from the kitchen which adjoined the courtyard in which I sat.

"Are you hungry?"

Fully expecting my host to emerge with a hot plate of cous cous, I replied enthusiastically: "I'm starved! Haven't eaten all afternoon!"

The steaming dish with which he appeared, however, was one of disappointment.

"No problem," my host continued, "I'll have [your guide] take you back out to the square."

More comfortable sitting hungry and safe than satisfied in the madness that waited outside, I nearly declined. But the temptation offered up by the smell of kebabs as I entered the square proved too much, and I felt much better knowing I had a leader I could trust. I left the hostel once more, inadvertently carrying with me all my cash.

My guide and I walked back in the direction we came, and I made sure to take note of my surroundings; I wanted to memorize the treacherous route as quickly as possible.

We walked under the arch that marked our exit from the complicated back streets and headed towards the light and sound of the piazza. I felt like a Californian mosquito approaching a Bug Zapper that just loves to burn Americans.

100 meters later, my guide stopped unexpectedly. Deep in concentration trying to remember the left-left-right-left-right of our walk thus far, I didn't even realize he was behind me until he started mumbling incomprehensibly in what I think was a mix between French, Arabic, and good old fashioned Jibberish. He waved his arms toward the now-almost-visible piazza. Before I understood that he was leaving me, he had already darted down a dark alley to our left.

"Merde!" was the first word that came to mind. Maybe my French is better than I thought.

Alone, but confident in my ability to get back to the hostel on my own, I ventured on. Within ten minutes I was thoroughly enjoying a hot, cheap, kebab avec frites. The only way I would have been more satisfied with the thing is if my dread for the walk home wasn't growing with every bite.

Stomach full and hands greasy, I started back in the direction I came. I pulled my hat down, casting my eyes in shadow, puffed out my chest and threw on a scowl in an attempt to look as intimidating as possible. I knew I could get back unscathed as long as everyone left me alone.

The homeless were still moaning, the stray cats were still eating garbage and if anything, there was more trash piled up in the street than there had been the first time I walked this way, but I gained confidence with every step. The path that seemed so terrifying just an hour earlier was almost familiar already, and I made it back to the arch in no time.

I knew I wouldn't make it through the maze of alleys on my first try, but that didn't bother me. The only thing that worried me was the possibility of any further human interaction before I got back to my hostel. I tried my best to look like I knew where I was going.

With every turn I made, I noticed familiar graffiti that solidified my knowledge that I was going in the proper direction. The only thing keeping me from getting cocky was the fact that I could feel the weight of my wallet which I regretfully had forgotten to empty prior to my little dinner jaunt. The feelings of fear associated with these particular alleys still hadn't quite left me.

Every once in a while I would pass an inevitably sketchy-looking person, but I was doing a great job of keeping my mouth shut and my hands in my pockets, eyes on the ground. The words "just don't talk to me, just don't talk to me" looped through my brain; that seemed to be helping because no one did.

At least for a while.

I instantly knew it when I made my first wrong turn, but before I could turn around a voice called at me from the shadows:

"You speak english?"

Not wanting to look lost, I kept on in the direction I was going without responding to my unwanted acquaintance.

"Parlez-vous francais?"

I kept walking.

"Hablas espanol?"

I could hear his footsteps behind me, but more than scared, I was impressed by the fact that this guy could speak at least four languages. Still, there was a creepy Moroccan following me down a dark alley, and my pace quickened a bit, despite the pitch black that lay in front of me.

"Deaaaaaad end...."

File that under "things you don't want to hear coming out of Moroccan strangers' mouths."

I took a few steps forward before realizing that he was right. The alley ended in the darkness, and I had nowhere to go.

I turned around to walk back, but the polyglot punk blocked my way. I had to say something, but I didn't know what.

I blurted out "Parlo italiano," surprising myself with what I thought was a pretty clever response. My self-satisfaction was dashed pretty quickly, though, as he instantly replied "Ah! Dove va, signore? [Where are you going, sir?]"

I told him that I knew where I was going, but he wouldn't leave me alone. As soon as he figured out where I was going, he sped up to a distance of about 5 paces ahead. He wanted to make sure I knew that he was leading me; I figured out his little scam pretty quick, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it.

We arrived at the hostel minutes later, and with a smile, my "guide" asked for "a little gift." Upset and exhausted, I argued with him a bit before Jiminy Cricket caught up with me. I realized that this was an obviously very intelligent guy that must not be in the best financial shape to be scamming tourists. For the first time in the night, I forgot about myself and recognized the humanity of those I had so spinelessly avoided. I pulled two bills (one 20 dirham note and a 50) from my pocket that I very thankfully had left out of my wallet after dinner, and handed him the 20. I knew for a fact this was a very generous "gift." Bowls of soup in the piazza could be had for three dirhams; thats a lot of meals for this guy.

As I handed it to him, though, his look was not one of appreciation.

"Give me 70 dirham," he said.

Any sympathy I had for this guy flew right out the window.

"No, I know 20 is already more than I should have given you."

"20 dirham?! That is nothing! That's not even two euro!"

"I know how much its worth."

"You Americans think you know everything! Give me 70 dirham!"

Apparently my Italian isn't all that convincing. But, as soon as he said the word "American," I realized that, yeah, he was right. 20 dirhams didn't mean much of anything to me, but I was still outraged at his lack of graciousness or courteousness.

I knocked on the door to the hostel and waited to hear footsteps approaching from within before I grabbed the 20 from his hands. I had enough of this guy. I looked him in the eye, handed him the 50, and told him, ever so delicately, to "get the hell out of here."

I don't like getting scammed.

The hostel owner opened the door, inexplicably energetic and cheery given that it was surely approaching one or two in the morning. He wanted to chat over more tea, but Conversational Mike had left the building.

My mouth said "good night," but I couldn't help to think, "arguably."

I crawled into bed, ready to wake up bright and early to meet the girls, who would be arriving in Marrakesh at 8:00AM the following morning.

Or so I thought...

To be continued.


  1. Matt said...

    Such a ridiculous storrryyyyy. I can't wait to find out what happens next!

    On the bright side, now you have a great story to tell at parties.  


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