Danger in Casablanca 1.2.14

January 2nd, 2014

The trip to Morocco was a piece of cake. Everything went well. My rowmate was a middle aged heavyset woman who spoke English well. She seemed to take an interest in me. I couldn’t tell if she was flirting or not, but she kept touching me when she talked. When we arrived (at 630 am), she let me share her taxi and didn’t let me pay (ok I didn’t insist too hard). She said she wanted to show me around Casablanca and maybe I could stay with her cousin. I never saw or heard from her again. The hotel was 1 star ( is zero stars possible?) but actually it was clean and fine except that they were doing construction on the roof and the cutting of tiles and other terrible sounds kept waking me up from my jet lagged sleep deprived state. Around 2 pm I was human again and went out to explore. I made some friends at the local stationary store just across the street. Thay had everything there and even hooked up my phone. The main guy there was so nice, I even asked him about hashish and he told me he didn’t smoke, drink, or do any drugs, because he was a good Muslim, but I could see he didn’t judge me at all. This is what I had heard. Although it was technically illegal, marijuana and hashish were tolerated here. After all, it was a big cash crop.
I found a pedestrian zone where I could play that night, and found the old medina (market area). Everyone I met, I pumped for information. I was finding out about Morocco in my own way.
I really wanted to eat couscous,the famous Moroccan food, but it seemed to mostly be a side dish. The places I saw wouldn’t let me order it. I settled for a chicken dinner (you have to be flexible when traveling) and drank the water they gave me in a pitcher. The plane woman had told me the water was good to drink. That was a mistake.
I wasn’t sure what the streets would be like at night. My neighborhood was starting to look a little seedy, by the time I started out to play. It was about 7 pm and I made a mental note to start earlier next time. The streets were still crowded with people bustling about. Some of the people looked western, some were women in full burkahs, some looked scary and some were upperclass young people out for a night on the town. I found a good spot near a guy who was selling cigarettes (1 or 2 or a pack). I asked through sign language if I could play here and he shrugged. I took that for a yes. I had seen another street musician earlier, singing traditional Arab songs, so I knew they knew about street music and it was ok. I set up and started playing. Right away I could see that this was very unusual. The passersby had never seen someone like me and it jolted them. They did a double take, looked surprised, curious. I loved it. After a while, another street person came by. He was collecting recyclables in a big plastic bag. He started making hand gestures to me and I thought he was telling me to stop playing. Maybe I was violating some Arabic law. I looked closer and then realized he was doing a strange kind of dance that involved mostly his hands. He was looking at me intently and I realized he wanted me to lead him. So I watched his dancing and I played with him, to lead his next move. The results were amazing. For a few moments, we were in perfect sync. People walking by stopped to notice this strange confluence. After about 30 second, the spell was broken and he started laughing. I wondered if he was serious about the dancing or if he was mocking me.
My hat was out and some people were throwing change and an occasional bill in. A dinwah is about 15 cents. Again, I didn’t really care about the money, but I did want people to recognize me as a street musician.
It was great, a few people were listening and curious, most people ignored me (which meant I fit right into the background), and some came up to talk and be friendly. One woman said she wanted to hire me to play at her party. A group of young cool tough street kids about 20 came up and were hovering around for awhile. At first I wasn’t sure how to take them. Maybe they wanted to rob me. I couldn’t really interpret their gestures and body language. After the 3rd song though I decided they liked me. I stopped playing and they came over to talk. They spoke to me in French and I understood only a little. They asked me what country and I said San Francisco for simplicity. “San Francisco…oh USA” as if it were a quiz. They were fun and challenging, joking with one another, attacking feinting like a bunch of puppies. I decided this might be a place to solve my hash problem. So I asked the leader about it. Right away I realized, that was a mistake. After all it was illegal, I could be set up, blackmailed. Soon there was a lively discussion going on about me. I had no idea what they were saying, so I just played another song. At the end the leader came up to me and whispered conspiratorially, ” you want hash?” I nodded. He pulled out a small pice from his coat and handed it to me. It was the size of a dime and so small I just interpreted it as a gift. I pulled my glove out of my pocket and stuck it in there and started playing the next song. In all the excitement I had misinterpreted the situation. The boy backed up a bit but seemed upset. I didn’t know why. I finished the song and he came up and started yelling at me. From his gestures it sounded like he was telling me to stop playing ” quatre dinwah sanc” he kept saying. I became indignant, completely misinterpreting the situation. Who do u think u are? Are u the police? Now a large crowd gathered. After much loud discussion, they found someone who spoke English well. He translated. “Give him back the hash. He wasn’t giving it to you, he was selling it for 40 dinwah.” I felt so stupid, of course, that’s why he was yelling. And I put myself at risk in front of all those people. I would have to be much more careful in the future. Suddenly all the parent type warnings that are stored in my brain started swirling around. ” Don’t trust anyone, don’t go anywhere with strangers, don’t go out after dark etc…..I took out my gloves and looked for the hash. Where was it? I couldn’t find it. Finally the boy grabbed the glove and found it in the pinky of the left glove. After that the boys were ok. They stayed and listened another song then waived goodbye. Nothing bad happened and I played the next song.
After just a few minutes, 2 30 something well dressed men came up and listened and smiled a lot. When I finished he came over to talk. He said he was a public relations man and worked for various restaurants in Morocco and that he had a client who would like to meet me. Would I come with him now? After my recent bad experience and lapse in judgement, I was leery. I told him ok, but that I wanted to play 30 more minutes. The man, named Adil said he would come back. I went on playing and was having a good time. People were gathering and putting in money, someone put in a 20 dinwah bill, so I forgot about Adil. I was a little surprised when he came back. “Are u ready?” I gulped. Now I was in a corner. I didn’t think he would come back. “ah where are we going?” ” Not far from here. I will drive u in my car.” “what? why cant we just walk.” ” No it’s too far for that.” I felt like I had little choice and as we walked to his car, all those fearful thoughts loomed large. Now I was riding through the dark ominous streets of Casablanca with two strangers going who knows where. Maybe they were criminals or terrorists or weirdos. All along the way, Adil spoke cheerfully, but could I trust him. We made so many turns that I had no idea where I was, or how to get back to my hotel. We went through some scary neighborhoods with tough looking individuals hanging out. Jumping out of the car at a stop light was not an option. To be continued……


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