Moroccan Passageways
Eric Nusbaum

I. The Boy

Like everyone else's in the town, the little boy's clothes were a decade behind the European styles and like everyone else's, his shoes were of the most current fashion. They were white sneakers, brand new, and he was careful to walk lightly on the dirt roads while staying within a few paces of us. Every few moments he would ask us one of two questions in Spanish and English. Quieren guía? Do you want a guide? Quieren hashish? Do you want hashish?
No we told him in English. No we told him Spanish. La we finally told him in Arabic.
But he kept on following, kept on asking. He was relentless in his pursuit, but sometimes he would stop and bend over and slap the dust off his Nikes and trot up to his place a few steps behind. We wound through the town, past doorways dyed with indigo to ward off the evil eye, past women washing clothes in a small pool siphoned off from a freshwater stream. We tried to ignore him as we attempted to decipher the faded trail map posted in a clouded glass case. Finally, as we climbed above the town and hiked up the bottom of the mountain that rose behind it, the boy lagged further and further behind.
Adios, he said in Spanish as the distance between us grew.
Then Goodbye.
Then Salaam.
Then Sayonara.
At Sayonara my companion turned around.
I'm not Japanese, he said in English. I'm Korean.
The little boy stopped.
Soy Coreano, he repeated in Spanish. No soy Japonés.

II. The Medicine Man

All we had with us were large bottles of water and small bags of nuts we had purchased from a street vendor. At first, cutting through the farms marked by shacks and chicken wire fences and bored mules and undernourished cattle made us nervous. But after passing a dozen of the rundown properties the sparse fields gave way to dirt and rock and we took our first water break.
My companion removed his shirt and tied it around his head. We struggled to find easy routes over the loose and increasingly large rocks. After nearly three hours we reached the top of the mountain, or at least the highest point we were willing to risk. The entire way up, we barely spoke.
An old man sat cross-legged atop a boulder on the edge of the mountain's face. He looked like some sort of spiritual being and without communicating we climbed towards him. His clothes were as tattered as those of the boy, but he wore traditional shoes -- leather with flat wooden soles and open backs. The view before him was spectacular: in the foreground, the white-washed, red-roofed, indigo-stained architecture of the town, in the middle ground a valley that seemed to dip gradually and flatten into a plane and in the background more mountains. He gazed down at the town and spoke to us in Spanish.
Chefchaouen, he said, used to be two words. Chef and Chaouen.
Are you a guide?
I asked him, thinking of all the unsolicited services and information we had been offered.
No, not a guide. Just an old man. Chef means look and Chaouen means horns of the goat. This mountain and the one across. He pointed at the neighboring mountain. Together, from below, they look like the horns of a goat. He brought his fingers to his head as if they were horns.
Are you from here? my companion asked.
Yes, yes I was born here. I was born here and I shall die here.

III. The Rug Salesman

The walls were draped in rugs of all different sizes and patterns; every square inch was covered. But for a threadbare couch, low table, and small television playing Middle Eastern sitcoms, the entire room was rugs. Occasionally men entered from the alley and spoke with the salesman in Arabic. Some brought him money, some hashish, still others closed cardboard boxes.
The negotiation was long and the rug salesman invited us to stay for dinner. In the time between our deal and the arrival of the food, he smoked hashish and drank six cans of beer. The higher and drunker he got, the more excitedly he spoke to us.
Me: Why does everybody in this city have such nice shoes?
Salesman: Those shoes are not real. They are, how you say, counterfakes?
Me: But people take such good care of them. They must still be expensive.
Salesman: Yes. Most people here wear the sandals.
Me: The sandals are nice.
Salesman: Yes. Very nice. You want sandals?
And before I could respond, he yelled something in Arabic and a man emerged from the back room with boxes of sandals in hand. We tried them on and were ready to pretend they didn't fit when the food arrived. It was a stew and we ate silently. As he scraped the last of the chicken and vegetables and broth off the pot with a large piece of bread, the salesman grinned at us and began to rap his fingers on the table.
Then, without warning or musical accompaniment he began to sing "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers. He knew the whole song, not just the chorus. And when he reached the end, he leaned back in his chair like a child and patted his belly and basked in the glory of his musical achievement.
Salesman: Do you know this song?
Me: Yep, it's pretty famous. Country music.
Salesman: Yes. The Gambler. I like this music very much.
He then closed his eyes and leaned further back in his chair, murmuring something to himself in Arabic. I looked to my companion for a moment and we tried not to laugh at him. As we made eye contact, there was a crash. To my left, the rug salesman lay tipped over, legs up, the back of his chair resting softly on a pile of rugs, and a joint in the corner of his mouth. He took a puff lying down, removed it from his lips, and began to laugh hysterically.

IV. The Passenger

Three unmarked busses rolled into the dusty lot before ours arrived. Each time one came through we would look towards the woman selling cheap snacks against the wall of the restroom building and she would shake her head no. No, this is not the bus to Fes.
The bus to Fes was an old local transit vehicle converted to hold more passengers and test longer distances; the low bottom almost scraped against the rough pavement as it approached. And it rattled. A man took my bag from me as I walked towards the door and threw it in the compartment below. There were no other bags there, jut some tools, a tin of oil, and a container of gasoline. The same thing happened to my companion.
Inside, people and small animals sat three to a seat and vendors stalked the aisles with potato chips and sodas and candy. My companion was hesitant to board because his passport was in his bag down below. The man who took our bags demanded compensation. We refused it. The bus shook slowly through the countryside past massive fields fed by ancient looking irrigation systems, past ancient men leading ancient mules along the ancient highway, past women covered completely in clothing because of an ancient mandate. Open windows did little to relieve the heat in the bus. My legs stuck to the vinyl seats and my thigh rubbed awkwardly against my neighbor's. He was a small man and mostly looked straight ahead as I gazed past him out the window.
I took my iPod from my pocket. The misery of the prattle and the heat and the unsteady ride had driven me to risk it being stolen, risk offending the Moroccans with my wealth. As I placed the headphones in my ears and tried to fiddle with the controls between my legs, my neighbor adjusted his stare in its direction. There was no hiding it. I offered him an earpiece and wondered what music of mine an old Moroccan man might have heard.
First, the sound came on too loud and startled us both. He stared at me like some sort of abused dog. People from the surrounding seats watched as I brought the iPod out from beneath the seat and into the open and played for the man a song I thought he might know. He listened with a blank face.
Finally I paused the music and said to him Beatles?
Qué es Beatles?
he asked in Spanish, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.
What is Beatles?
To this man, to the old men with the mules, to the women in the robes, what could Beatles possibly be?

V. The Restaurateur

The restaurant had a garden, a covered patio and indoor seating. A man greeted us at the gate of the white-fenced complex and removed a slit of paper from his breast pocket. It was a page cut out from a guidebook and it celebrated him, the charismatic musician/ restaurateur. We ate well; five course meals with lamb and tea and many foods we had only vaguely heard of and pleasant conversation with the proprietor who was eager to show off his American colloquialisms. But things turned sour when he tried to sell us on visiting a local bath house and my companion made a joke about his trying to take our money.
You think I try and take your money? The man said. I have nicest restaurant in Fes. I am in guide book. I have motorcycle and BMW car.
It was a joke
, responded my companion.
I do not find funny.
So we apologized and left.
Before leaving Fes we returned for a drink and a break from the heat and to make amends. The garden was full of local businessmen talking loudly and drinking the sweet tea. They had modern cell phones and finely cut suits. The restaurateur came to us with tea and complimentary appetizers. We sat in the covered patio in plush booths of wicker and white linen. We took pictures; me with my disposable camera, my companion with his digital camera.
Once again, the restaurateur spent time with us. He bragged about the quality of his chef, dangled the keys to his BMW car, and explained to us the best way to reach Tangiers for our ferry back to Spain. We discussed tourism and currency.
America has ugly money, he said. It is plain.
, I responded, laying a lucky dollar bill from my wallet on the table. It is simple and elegant.
He smiled and laughed and took the bill and crumpled it and tossed it onto the floor. American money is nothing, he joked.
My companion and I pretended to smile as the restaurateur went and picked up the note. The whole thing seemed strange to us; the uneasy laughter and the throwing of currency.
It is about time we go, said my companion rising. As he stood, he paid as people normally do at restaurants. He flicked his wrist quickly and let the notes float flat to the table in a small pile. But before the money landed the restaurateur reached out to try and catch it. He crashed violently into the table as the bills landed.
You throw money on table? He said. You just throw? This rude. Very, very rude.
He stared and we looked to one another confused.
I treat you like friend. Like brother. When you insult me before, I said ok. It was mistake. But this now.
, my companion said. And we turned to leave, winding out of the patio and into the garden, past the suited men and out the gates. But before we could wind down the dirty street towards our room, the restaurateur emerged behind us, shouting to wait, his tie blown over his shoulder, and my disposable camera in hand. I took the camera and thanked him. As he turned back to the gates he stopped to stare at my companion.
You are my enemy, he said, his voice rising. Enemy. If you were in need of help I would not help you.
He breathed heavily.
Erase me, he continued. I want you erase me.
What does that mean?
I asked.
From camera. You take pictures.
The restaurateur lunged at my companion's digital camera but he pulled it away.
Sure, my companion said, glaring. You mean delete.
And there on a dusty street in Fes, the restaurateur was erased.