An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
COLUMN FOR MRR 550
Christians raise the armies. Muslims raise the buildings. Jews raise the money. – Jeraldine Brooks
TANGIER, MY FIRST STOP? LAST STOP?: Before leaving New York, I'd planned to write: The first thing you notice about Africa is that there are a lot of Negroes here.
That's not the case. Tangier is whiter than Paris and only slightly more Arabic.
I'm staying with Zayd, my Moroccan couch-surfing host. We talk politics and religion.
“So,” I tell him, “Muslim's don't eat port. Women can't show their hair. Animals have to be killed with a slit throat and drained of blood. You need to pray several times a day. Men are snipped at the tip of the good part. Some Muslims don't follow all the rules. Kind of reform.”
“That means,” I say, “that Muslims are a kind of Jew.”
He laughs... puts a finger to his lip. “That's right, but don't say it too loud.”
More talk. How religion can be a prison... especially if religious laws become the laws of the land... like in Morocco, Israel or The United States.
“I don't know about Israel or the U.S.,” Zayd says. “But here, we have a law that says if a woman is raped, she must marry the rapist! It's incredible. Women kill themselves because they don't want to live with a rapist. Can you believe it?”
“Well,” I tell him. “among Jews, if a woman's husband dies, she has to marry her dead-husband's brother.”
“That's bad,” he says, “but not AS bad.”
I have to agree with him.
“What about Arab spring?” I ask him. “Aren't people getting riled up... demanding change?”
“Arab spring touched Morocco,” he says, “but then it went away. The king is too smart. The whole thing started in Tunisia and spread. Just one guy setting himself on fire. But in Morocco... the king knows how to handle it. Focus the problem somewhere else...”
We're out looking for for a couscous restaurant. Quick, name two Moroccan foods. Yeah, I can't think of another one either. It would be a pity to leave Tangier, my first outpost in the country, without trying couscous.
Couscous places: All closed, changed to fast food... or “sorry couscous is only for lunch.”
One last chance, in the Medina... the old city by the port... twisted streets, shady characters hidden in robes like ghetto boys in hoodies.
We head for a restaurant Zayd knows. There are cops everywhere. The streets are closed to traffic.
From somewhere far away comes chanting. Not religious, but like at a demonstration. A dumb chant... like
WHAT DO WE WANT?
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
“It's a manifestation,” says Zayd. I guess he means demonstration.
Down the street flags wave.
“What's it about?” I ask.
“I don't know,” says Zayd. “Let's go see.”
The demo is split into little blocks. One section, then a space... another section... another space.
I don't notice at first, but Zayd sees it right away.
“Look,” he says. “It's men... then woman... then men again. Not both together. Maybe it's a protest against the rape law. The women want their own space.”
Whatever it is, it certainly is vehement. Chanting, flag-waving... some dancing... in a big circle... like a man-only hora.
After a while, Zayd turns to me.
“Now I know why the men and women are separate,” he tells me. “It's conservative. Islamist.”
I raise my eyebrows... the universal language for just keep talking.
He looks at me and gives an oh-well-I-guess-I'd-better-tell-him shrug.
“It's an anti-Israel demonstration,” he says. “It's pro-Palestinian. I hate it.”
“Are you a Zionist?” I don't ask him, but he knows what I'm thinking. He shakes his head like a math teacher explaining calculus to a retard.
“Mykel,” he says, “Israel is on the other side of Africa. We can do nothing about it except make noise. That's what I was talking about. The government loves manifestations like this. It stops people thinking about what's going on here... what we CAN do something about... like the rape law...”
In disgust, he turns from the demonstration. We go to a restaurant for a fine dinner of Moroccan pea soup-- served so hot it continues to boil while you eat it-- and a sweet green mint tea-- the tastiest drink I've had on this trip.
After dinner, we return to Zayd's place. He hasn't let me pay for a thing! No food. No taxi. No nothing. Here I am the rich $20 an hour American and this Moroccan guy, an intern at an insurance company, zero salary... nothing... pays for me!
Yeah the streets are dirty... the air dusty... and they don't drink (in public, anyway)... yet these people are the quickest friends this side of Trinidad.
Friday is Zayd's last full day as an intern. On Saturday, he'll be home by noon... as a free man!
Flash to Friday 11AM: I'm in a park, near Zayd's place. I sit on a bench, soaking up the clouds, alternately writing in my journal and reading Tropic of Cancer.
I put stickers all over the cover of the book. It showed a breast. Most of my travel will be in Muslim countries where they're not too fond of breasts on book covers.
On another bench in the park is a young man(early 20s?) with two women about the same age. One of the women wears a headscarf. The other, has a freer, more bouncy look. I see them looking at me, giggling, looking away, then looking again. I look back and smile.
Both girls come over and start speaking to me... in French. The one in the headscarf asks, “Est-ce que tu es un philosof?”
“Philosof?” I ask, “Pourquoi?”
“Tu escris.” she says.
“Je suis ecrivain,” I say. “Mai je ne suis pas philosof.”
We talk a bit more. As soon as it comes out that I'm from New York, they call in the boy. He's a big guy, bad skin in an adolescent way, with a very friendly face and big smile. He introduces himself as Joussau.
I explain to the crew that I need to go to the train station to buy Sunday's ticket to Agadir. Only I have no idea where the train station is, let alone how to get there. They speak to each other in Arabic. The guy speaks to me.
“The girls will take you to the train station,” he says. “You can go by bus. They will show you.”
“Wow, that's great!” I tell them. Yeah, Moroccan instant friends.
We walk together to the bus stop. They're students, they say. They show me a text book. One book: science, math, French, English... two pages of irregular verbs.
“Before we go,” I ask. “can I have a picture of all of us together?”
They giggle, but agree and stop an old lady who takes our picture.
Joussau asks me, “Can you give me your face?”
“Huh?” I don't say. “I've only known you for half an hour. Isn't that a bit quick?”
What I do say, in French, is pardon?
“Your name on Facebook,” he says. “We should be friends.”
Not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed, I write Mykel Board on a scrap of paper and give it to him.
“Let's meet again tomorrow,” says Joussau.
“Sure,” I say, really liking these guys.
I give them my phone number and point to the building I'm staying in. “I'm right over there,” I tell them. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
The bus shows up. The girls and I get on. They wave good bye at the train station and go on their way.
I buy my ticket, then go back to Zayd's to give some Face.
Flash ahead: Back at Zayd's apartment, I upload the picture to Facebook, add my new friend Joussau and wait for Zayd's return.
In the meantime, I start this column, keep up my travel blog, and check out my next couch-surfing host.
You know how those little numbers pop up over the Facebook tab? By the time I'm finished couch-surfing-- 15 minutes at the most-- the number is up to 37.
I go back to Facebook. It's the picture I posted from Tangier... with the tagline “Can you give me your face?”
There are a ton of comments.
- Those girls are hot.
- Mykel, you should give them all your face.
- “Wow, Mykel you move fast.”
There's also a message from Jousau.
TAKE OFF THE FOTO. TODEE! NOW! THE GIRLS ARE OFFENDEDED. THEY DON LIKE IT. WHY YOU DO THAT? TAKE OFF NOW!
One of the comments under the picture is from a friend of Joussau's.
Hey man. They make fun of us. You see man?
I immediately take down the picture and write a fawning letter of apology... I'm sorry... I didn't realize... I didn't mean to...
I don't get an answer. I guess they're still pissed.
Flash to Saturday: I was supposed to meet those guys today... hang out... but that won't happen now. They're mad because of the picture.
Ah well, Fayd will be back by noon, so I'll have something to do. Maybe find a couscous place.
I walk downstairs to get some coffee at the local cafe.
On the front porch, with two friends, is Jousau. He's all smiles... introduces me to his friends... we shake hands.
“Hey Mykel,” he says, “we still meet you at 4:30... after school.”
“Sure,” I say, a bit shaken, but happy I ran into him and saw that everything's okay. “I'll meet you right here in front of this building.”
I think about Zayd. “Can I bring a friend?” I ask. “He'd like to join us.”
Joussau is startled by the request, but agrees.
We part company. I go to buy a toothbrush and some water. He goes to school. Then I sit in a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee with an omelet. I rip apart a piece of baguette, and use it to soak up the yolk. The yellow stain, slowly seeping through the bread, inspires the deadly insight. A finger snap: Of course!
It was no coincidence that Joussau was there on the porch... exactly when I walked out. What are the odds on that? No! He and his friends were there all morning... just waiting...talking... planning their day. They needed to be sure they wouldn't miss me... to trap me... catch me off guard... guarantee I'd meet them... no way to give 'em the slip now, right?
Are they working with Al Qaieda? Is there a bounty on my head? Sure meet me at 4, get me in a car, and Pow! Off with my head.
What doesn't make sense is taking Zayd. Maybe they didn't want to arouse suspicion. He'll be a sacrifice for the cause. He'll go quick. Not like my rusty scissors castration.
Jeezus! I'm gonna be murdered here... head shipped to Barack... maybe they'll name a war after me.
I finish my coffee and return to Zayd's apartment. It's time to get my affairs in order.
The phone vibrates. A text... from Zayd... Sorry Mykel. I won't be home until later today. Something has come up.
Fuck! He's in on it. Part of the conspiracy. Probably told them about my Is a Muslim a Kind of Jew joke. That should up the reward on me.
It's noon now. Joussau will be waiting for me at 4:30. At 3:35 he texts me: Don't forget about meeting me today!
Yeah, like I could forget.
Zayd is back by 4. Maybe he's not part of this after all. He's just in time to meet the carful of young men downstairs... waiting for us when we leave. He gets in the car. I get in the car. There are already three others inside.
Joussau introduces me to them. The ones who will do the actual beheading, castrating, or worse.
“This is Mehdi,” he says pointing to the driver. “He speaks English very well. He commented on the your Facebook page.”
Fuck! That's the guy who said, They make fun of us. He hates me! I shake hands with him.
Then he gestures to the guy sitting next to me... dark-skinned... extremely handsome... and a giant... six-six at least... hands bigger than my face.
“This is Rachman El Batoum,” says Joussau. The guy takes my hand in his. He can touch his thumbs to his knuckles on the other side. He does.
“Rachman is a boxer,” says Mehdi, “one of the best in Africa.”
So, he's trying to scare me. Well, I don't scare very easily.
The car starts and we're on our way... to Al Quaeida headquarters? To the tree stump chopping block?... To the rusty castration scissors?
Maybe the cops will find something. I wonder if I'll make the history books... a footnote at least?
ENDNOTES: [email subscribers (firstname.lastname@example.org) or blog viewers (mykelsblog.blogspot.com/) will get live links and a chance to post comments on the column]
-->Told you so dept: In the last column, I wrote how boycotts are a bad way to deal with speech issues. If you use them, others will use them against you. So Starbucks supports gay marriage. And... here comes the boycott. The National Organization for Marriage is organizing it. Will Starbucks apologize like Rush did?
-->You should know dept: Couchsurfing.com is a great website. It has members from everywhere. You can stay with people around the world... for free. I've stayed with people in Italy, Morocco, Trinidad, France, and Australia. People from a dozen countries have stayed with me, including a pair from Lebanon, who cooked... on my own stove... the best meal every cooked there.
Even with punkrock cred up the urethra, you still need couch-surfing. Give me your face there.
You can read about Mykel's African adventures in more details on his travel blog.
You can read about Mykel's African adventures in more details on his travel blog.