Thursday, August 03, 2006

I couldn't concentrate on the beauty as I walked through the narrow, cobbled lanes of the ancient streets. Instead my mind filled with memories from my own past. Thoughts, places, people that I hadn't even remembered that I remembered. At first I wondered if perhaps the only way my brain could process all these new surroundings was by filtering them through the understanding of my own experiences. Then suddenly I realized what was really happening. My brain was purging useless holdovers from the past to replace them with the onslaught of newness. I was seeing these memories for the very last time on the way out the door.

As I followed Charif through the old city of Asilah to his sister's apartment, the memory of someone's sixth birthday or one of my first kisses or some algebra equation drifted off and
evaporated into thin air. Charif had made many promises, that my bag would be safe at his sister's, that we would explore the beautiful town and that, despite my refusal, would smoke golden hash with him out of a traditional Moroccan pipe. All three came to pass and exactly in that order. Charif, a chef who assured me that he was between jobs, also brought me down a dead-end lane where he assured me I would find the most beautiful Berber rugs I had ever seen. The shop owner made us the traditional hot, mint tea as he showed his wear and I laughed at the idea of purchasing a giant rug in a foreign country. That was until I saw something special. A patchwork of designs, each telling it's own story.

I can't believe I bought a rug in Morocco. I wondered if I had been suckered in as I walked to the local post office to mail the box home. There was no way I could fit this into my backpack. Speaking of which, was it still where I had left it? Charif escorted me back to his sister's apartment where she was cooking a traditional dinner. There was no doubt my pack had been rummaged through. Everything of any value was in one of my 6 pockets.

It wasn't until I had eaten, drank, and smoked the traditional pipe that Charif dropped his facade and leveled with me.

"My friend," he began. "I am really in bad shape. I have no more work for a month and I am living here with my sister. I need your help."

It wasn't a question, it was a demand, and I had already decided that I would happily reimburse him for the amazing day I had exploring the city walls, the oceanside and the people. I pulled out the equivalent of $20, and more than double what I spent in any hotel in the whole of Morocco.

"No, my friend. I am in bad shape. Please, $60."

My mind was altered, but I could tell the tone of Charif's voice had changed and. I thought back to purchasing the rug, and the cabbies and the drinks and the food. Was he getting a kickback on everything we did today? As I took another $10 from my wallet, I tried to pull out an apologetic smile.I also snked my hand down into my backpack and pulle dout a shirt I had decided I wanted to get rid of. This was all he was going to get. Charif's face cringed and he rose from his seat. My body tensed, and readied itself for an unknown. But Charif moved towards the door and opened it. I Behind him through the open door that the sun had gone down. He pointed out to the street and I didn't even think, I just walked.

As the door slammed shut behind me, I wasn't concerned that my new friend turned out to be half-hearted. I was more worried about finding my way to the train station a mile away before the night's last train left for Marrakesh.

Struggling under the now weigh in my backpack,which was now uneven after someone else's hands had been through it, I made my way to the station quickly and found a bench. A group of Arab teenagers looked in my direction and laughed, mocking my american dress and taunting me by playing 5-year-old american pop tunes on their little boom box. I didn't care. I had made it back to the station in one piece. I could hear the train whistle blow in the distance. I was safe. And just then, I heard another whistled blow. Suddenly 30 or so men in military uniforms with packs and rifles came pouring over a chest-high fence on the other side of the tracks. One by one each man landed, looked around and headed straight for me. I had made it this far, but I definitely wasn't in Marrakesh yet.

If I could have picked a memory to lose at that moment it would have been getting punched in the face in 4th grade by a punk named Derrick. Unfortunately, that one is still with me.


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