'I can haz cheezburger?'
That cat would
not let me go down that alley.
“Are you lost?”
A wiry young man sat on some low stairs outside a barred roller-door, flanked by two others, his shadowed face unreadable.
“No, no, I'm fine” I half-lied.
He swapped a few words with his friends in Arabic, then asked, “Where are you from?”
“Australia...” I replied.
A few more words were exchanged, a short laugh, then he turned back to me and stated without a hint of contrition,“Your soccer team … it is not so good.”
I couldn't help but burst out laughing. Tension eased, he spoke again, “Come and sit with us my friend, do you want a drink? Here, here, come and sit, talk with us”, shuffling aside to make a spot between him and his friend on the stair. Handshakes were exchanged between warm smiles, and before I knew it, he'd sent one of his friends away on a drink run and was offering me a drag on what was definitely some fairly potent marijuana. I felt awkward declining, wondering how to explain, but he seemed very understanding. His English was equal to mine, and as his friend returned, handing me a bottle of water, I reached for some change to fulfill my Western obligations of repayment. But he laughed and said “No no no! No money, do not worry. It's a gift. We are not these types who harass you, just try to sell you things. Moroccans, we are not all like this.”
I must have talked with them for nearly an hour. He was both curious about my journey, and eager to share their own lives. Only a year my senior, he ran the family coffee shop, whos steps we now sat upon. In addition to his excellent English, he also spoke his native Arabic, as well as French, Spanish and German, as well as some Russian. As we spoke, he translated for his friends, who mostly listened. The topics of discussion ambled like the alleys I'd become lost in, ranging from Fez's history and layout (FYI: the medina has 9,500 alleys), to my journey and opinion of Morocco, even to more contentious topics like religion, which despite my honesty about my atheism, turned out to be not really very contentious at all. But it wasn't long before we came to that topic young men from all cultures can find common ground on: women.
“So, you have a wife?” I replied in the negative.
“Girlfriend, then?” the pressed.
“No, no girlfriend. What about you, are you married?”
“No, no – I want a Japanese wife.”
Unsure if I heard right, I echoed his words in query.“Oh yes, Japanese! My uncle, he was divorced, but then he was married again to a Japanese woman. They are very
beautiful. I would like to go to Japan and study, and find a beautiful Japanese wife” he continued emphatically, making a gesture as if he had tasted a glass of the finest wine.
It was approaching my hotels curfew, so reluctantly I told my friend I had to go. Another round of handshakes were exchanged and I was given directions back, then left with a final message “Come back again soon. We all are brothers, Islam, Christian, Jews, everyone. You are always welcome,” Coming from anywhere else, and indeed to many jaded westerners, it would have seemed a trite, throwaway line, but his actions had given it a profound sincerity. I didn't notice the shadows on the walk back to the hotel, which passed quickly as I replayed the last hour in my head, a profound demonstration of the true Moroccan hospitality I had heard so much about. He didn't realize it, but that young man, who name I sadly cannot remember, had not only validated my chosen route through his country, but also left me wondering whether my own suspicion of the three boys on scooters had ironically been the only real cheat of the day.