Forgive me readers for I have sinned. It has been quite some time since my last confession...
I am currently in Tel Aviv, but I will need to land in another country before I am able to process the flurry of emotions and experience I have had here. Luckily, I haven't written a post in quite some time and am several cities and some lost luggage behind, so I have a wonderfully valid excuse to delay.
My last few days in Marrakech were a flurry of activity. Classes continued every morning, and I began to make some traction, occasionally even having an uninterrupted (if slowly paced) basic conversation. The last day was a bit frustrating as Hayat tried to cram in another week into a single day, but overall I am very happy I took the class and hope to continue my studies back in NYC.
One evening during my final week I ventured up to Yahya's apartment to join him and a few guests. It was a small gathering, consisting of me, Yahya, his newly-found (via Facebook) half brother (a French Muslim who works in a hotel in the French Alps) and his friend Kim (a Japan-born ethnically Chinese entrepreneur). We sat around discussing Marrakech, politics, language, music, money and the world. Kim was especially amusing:
Kim: I hate it here. I hate this city and I hate these f&*$cking people!!
Kim: Yup. This place sucks. Sorry Yahya.
Me: Then why don't you leave? Why do you stay here?
long pause, big smile
Kim: To beat them. To win.
Kim has 100 business ideas ranging from a laundry service to a night club, and once she heard I worked in theatre she tried to convince me to move to Morocco, turning the club into a dinner theatre. Yahya and I broke away into a private conversation about travel and nomadism (while Kim verbally accosted his half-brother for an explanation of Islam), valiantly discussing our travels and future plans. We loftily elevated ourselves in the way that can only happen between two people who will go anywhere and try anything. We never discuss the creeping fear behind the joy, the feeling that in our Life Handbook the index contained a chapter titled "How to Settle Down and Find Satisfaction" but the pages of that chapter seemed always to be missing. It is not that we want such a life now, but rather that there is, unspoken, a fear that it will never arrive.
The next afternoon I ventured to the amazingly beautiful (and unfinished) Theatre Royal de Marrakech (exterior pictured above). It is a stunning building containing an immense entry, administrative space, giant meeting halls, an opera house (to be completed in the next two years) a semi-outdoor amphitheatrical performance space. I was given a tour by the incredibly gracious facilities manager. I want to work here someday.
That evening I met Khalid (the man who runs the school) and his friend for coffee. Joe is a PHD student in Anthropology who is in Marrakech (from the UK) to complete research on his dissertation. His focus is the underground society of illegal tour guides (and other non-sanctioned workers) and he is very passionate about the government mistreatment of a group of people forced into poverty by the very system that now abuses them for their attempts to earn a living. Joe and I strolled home together, and I asked him how he achieves cultural objectivity in order to truthfully examine (and subsequently write about) his subjects. His research (and his passion) re-raised, for me, the ethical scale question. After a long and fascinating discussion, he told me, "Well you can't, really, I suppose. It's impossible to leave yourself behind. But we try, right? We just have to try."
By my last day in Marrakech, I must confess I was ready to go. I was supposed to meet a man for coffee (whom I had met the night before) and he seemed lovely, curious, and excited to practice his English. And it made me very sad. I had grown weary of the constant examination of "Friend of Foe", tired of walking around with armor and a weapon in constant preparation to push off and make a run for it at the first signal that a new acquaintance was, instead, another hustler. I cut our meeting quite short and headed home to pack. I did not have the energy to discern again.
So without fanfare, I had my last meal at a cafe down the street. I went to my favorite coffee shop to sit and observe and sip jet-fuel cafe noir and say goodbye to this city I had grown to love.
I jumped in a taxi the next morning and was off to the airport. I arrived insanely early, so I was fourth or fifth in what quickly became an enormous line when our ticket counter opened. The Royal Air Maroc employee informed me that they could not print my second boarding pass to Madrid. I would need to pick it up in Casa Blanca before my connecting flight, but she checked my bag through to Madrid, affixing the "Madrid" bag-check sticker to my passport. The rest of my morning afternoon went something like this:
-Long line for security
-Fight with Passport Agent about the difference between my boarding pass and the baggage sticker, he eventually waves me through but refuses to stamp my passport.
-Wait for delayed flight.
-Arrive in Casa Blanca, wait in long line to check my passport, suppressing rising panic as the clock ticks towards my connection.
-Fight with Passport Agent as to why the Marrakech agent wouldn't stamp my passport.
-Fight with second agent who accuses me of skipping the previous line.
-Long line to get boarding pass.
-Long line for next passport agent, but by this time I have learned and pretend this is my first flight so the sticker matches my pass. The boarding time for my flight has passed.
-Get through, figure out gate change, board plane with minutes to spare, take off for Madrid.
And suddenly it hit me. I just had four heated and lengthy verbal arguments and they all happened in French. I hadn't even realized . . . my French was back! Amazing!! Oh F*&%k, I'm on my way to Spain!
My bag was lost in transit en route to Madrid, so after a terrible Spanglish conversation I was made aware that I also had an incomplete address for where I was to stay for the next two nights. In my head, "Okay. No biggie. Email Miguel, get in a taxi, go to the neighborhood, find a cafe, make sure email went through. This is fine, look at this gorgeous airport you're in a very accessible city, and you don't have a bag to lug around-"
"Hola senor! Hello sir! Do you need a-"
"No. Gracias" (head still down, well trained by NYC and Marrakech, get out to curb...)
It was the cell phone people. And I needed a cell phone! (Cue heavenly music and shaft of light) While I waited for the young man to return with change from my ATM-withdrawn large-bill Euros, the woman asked me, "Why are you alone? Why you are not with your girlfriend or your boyfriend?" No. Pause. Between. Genders.
I had no idea of the weight I was carrying from pretending to not be gay. I had accepted it very early in Marrakech, where stories of Cherif were told as "my best friend" and where I had learned to very easily play along that I was still searching for the right girl. I had grown accustomed to this farce, because those are the rules in a nation under Muslim law. But here I could be gay again, something I desperately needed before the next leg of my journey. I explained to the woman how wonderful it was to be asked "boyfriend?". She hugged me and said, "Sweetheart you are in Spain now. We love you here."
I found the apartment (via text from my new cell phone) and I found Madrid. What a wonderful city! Calm and clean, easy to manage and with very few English speakers (which translate to minimal tourists).
Time to practice my Spanish! And find gay people! And drag queens!!
My two days in Madrid, save for the periodic arguments with Iberia Air about my still-lost bag, were lovely. I chatted with people in terrible Spanish and they forgave me. I bought some t-shirts and underwear and socks at H&M, wondering if my luggage (including the computer I was to deliver during my Tel Aviv stay) would ever arrive. I went to a small theatre that produces new work, and loved it (well-done comedy is hilarious in every language). I ate in small cafes, spent too much money and wandered cobblestone streets.
My last morning in Madrid I went to Starbucks (oh shut up . . . I just spent three weeks in Africa I am allowed a little familiarity!) and had a full conversation in Spanish. Ha! I'm coming back to THIS language! Look out Spain . . .
And off I went to the airport, headed for Barcelona, six hours there including dinner with my friend Philip (the very one I met in Marrakech happened to be having his last night Barcelona) and then a midnight flight to Tel Aviv. Spanish customs had waived me in without a stamp in Madrid, so I was a little worried about my exit, but it was no problem. The American passport is truly the most unjust piece of paper in the world, and I am very lucky to have one.
And now I am in Tel Aviv. There is so much to process here, and my semi-impromptu stop in Madrid was ever-so needed before this emotional roller coaster. But more on that next time, when I have had time to think and reflect, and when I feel I can speak more freely.
For tonight, though, I am keeping those secrets and lies to myself. Love the sinner, hate the sin.
- - Adam