Friday, October 31, 2008

Some Unpleasantness

Yesterday morning Ilyas asked me, now that I had been here for a little over a month, what I liked about Morocco, and what I didn’t. Sitting there in that classroom, I was hard-pressed to find anything negative. I finally settled for mentioning the lack of privacy, but even that isn’t a real problem, most of the time.

Then, that evening, I had my first real unpleasant experience on the street. I was heading home from a talk on philosophy at the school. It was about 6.30, and already dark. Noticing that the street lights aren’t as bright in the small alleys between house and school as they are on the larger medina roads, I felt a bit more wary than usual, walked a little faster than otherwise, but everything seemed fine. Then, halfway, on a relatively busy street with lots of little shops, a ragged man suddenly accosted me and began to yell at me agitatedly. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, am not even sure what language it was, but I think I heard him repeating, angrily, that he wanted to see my passport. He whipped out a large photograph of the king, carelessly strewing some others onto the ground, and pushed it into my face. I kept walking, trying to get away, but he kept circling around me. “ihtaram rasek,” I told him, “respect yourself” – the appropriate phrase to use for someone who bothers you on the street – but it came out too quietly. I didn’t want to make a scene, didn’t think of calling attention to myself (as it were, there were enough people around to witness this little encounter, though no one really did much); I just wanted him to get away from me.

And finally – I’m not sure why – he just gave up, and I raced on, leaving him far behind me. Just as I turned the corner, a guy leaning against the wall called after me, “he’s crazy!” Yes, I could see that. Granted, it was a very brief encounter all in all, but why didn’t anyone approach us, help me get away?

To be honest, the whole thing did not shake me very much, and I walked the rest of the way home wondering why I wasn’t more upset. It was annoying, but that might have been all. I felt strangely unaffected by it. Perhaps the man’s ‘craziness’ was apparent enough for me not to take it personally in any way.* But that night I did sleep just slightly less comfortably than I did before – imagining that every sound I heard was an intruder, coming to get me and my passport – and double-checked just a little more often that my passport was still safely hidden away in my bag.

* Still, though, I decided it was best not to tell my host family about this; I worried they might take this as a pre-text to express concern about my going out at night.

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