The first thing I do when I wake up is mix a white powder of antibiotics that tastes vaguely like pineapple with a heavy dose of aspartame and chalk and mix it with about 200 ml of water. Then I usually spend a few minutes coughing and spewing up gobs of greenish-gray phlegm from somewhere deep in my chest cavity.
It’s just another morning for me in Tangier, a stone’s throw from Tarifa, where I was last month before hopping on a plane and coming to Morocco. This is the most serious illness I’ve dealt with since I was struck (perhaps body-slammed would be a more appropriate way of conveying the amount of force) with a case of mononucleosis while in Panama visiting family back in 2010.
While experiencing shortness of breath and massive amounts of congestion are not the ideal way to see a country, it has restored a certain amount of humility that I had gained from walking the Camino de Santiago but had slowly lost as I traipsed around Europe.
Without the extraordinary hospitality of my host Faisel I would not be enjoying the basic comforts of home, like a soft bed, warm blankets, and full meals. Last night he brewed hot milk with ginger to ease the soreness in my throat.
Of course, I haven’t been completely bedridden here, and with the coaxing of Victoria and Alina we have still managed to enjoy what Tangier has to offer. Each night since we have been here we have ventured into the city for tea and coffee. As usual in Morocco, the scummy underbelly of Tangier has thrust a not-so-suave Moroccan man into our midst.
We actually met Ahmed on the bus going northwest from Chefchaouen, and when we made it to Tangier he asked if we would like to meet up at night. Apart from the fact that he talked our ears off the whole ride to Tangier he seemed harmless, so we agreed.
The first night we met him in the main square, but he was running a bit late so we basically talked with him on the way to the taxi stand. The next night we rendezvoused in the same place, but this time he insisted he take us out for coffee at a place called Cafe de Paris. Things got off to a weird start when he showed up late and told us it was because he had donated 2,000 dirhams (about 200 euros) to some Syrian refugees who had been turned away by a local church.
Mind you, Ahmed told us he was getting his final accreditation to teach English, so he didn’t exactly strike me as the type who was rolling around in money. Then again, he also claimed to be a translator to the royal family when they came to Chefchaouen, so apparently this explained where he got the cash for such extravagant acts of charity.
This wasn’t the end of his story; he was planning on loaning another 1,000 dirhams to a “friend” who was supposedly shipping 10 kilos of hashish into France. Seemed like a perfectly worthy venture. When Ahmed turned his attentions to the lovely Alina–as almost all Moroccan men do–and made clubfooted attempts at flirtation I was starting to reach the end of my rope.
Somehow conversation segued away from our poor embarrassed Russian comrade and he brought up that he wasn’t such a big fan of the African immigrants who camped out in Tangier before smuggling their way into Europe. Or maybe he said he didn’t like them because he felt they didn’t contribute much to the social fabric in Morocco. We’d all had enough at this point, excused ourselves, and left Ahmed behind.
Our encounter with Ahmed aside, Tangier really has been good to me. A few days ago we went west to the Atlantic, to a place called Hercules’ Cave, and we watched waves slam into the coast before exploding into a tiny grotto etched into the cliffs.
I have a few days left in Morocco before flying to Barcelona on April 4th, and I guess this will probably be my last post while I’m here. I feel like I may have overstayed my welcome; my body couldn’t hold up to the rigors of traveling every third day or so, which is a blistering place regardless of where you happen to be but especially in a place like Morocco. I will miss the genuine hospitality I have experienced from hosts in Marrkaech, Zagora, and Rabat, the adventures I have been on with my friends in the desert and by the sea, and the pre-dawn cries of the Muezzin reaching out to God with the strains of his voice. And yes, even the sleazy Moroccan men who try to pick up my travel companions: comic relief will always have a place in my life, even more so when I wake up feeling like an asthmatic chain-smoker. As a poor Jewish kid named Brian once sang, always look on the bright side of life.
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