Couchsurfin' from the mountains to the sea

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There's no other feeling like arriving in the world's second largest continent, not knowing a soul and not owning a dime. Daunting on the whole, three individual people named Mohammed showed me a riot as I feared for my bowels in a country that could eat you alive before anybody even turned an eye.

Submitted: December 14, 2011

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Submitted: December 14, 2011

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Occurred - July/August 2011, Agadir, Ourika Valley, Essaouira (Morocco)

If I had to construct a list of the three most influential lessons that I have learnt on my travels, the fact that 'Morocco and Couchsurfing don't mix' would definitely top the list. Couchsurfing is an alternate travel experience that can be chosen for two soul reasons, (1) being that it enables you to see and experience the true nature of a specific area or (2) you were ludicrously broke and couldn't afford a meal, let alone accommodation and used the method of hopping couches to keep you out of the gutter at night. I think my motives were taken solely from column A but solidified by the grim reality of column B. In any case, Morocco probably wasn't the most ideal place to begin my Couchsurfing experience. As popular as the concept is, it is still my belief to this day that it functions better in the developed world. Unfortunately for westerners, such as myself, strict religious methods and customs can often impact on your experience, especially if being accosted by a Moroccan who wanted to spoon with you at 3am was something that occurred.

I had never been to Morocco before, or even Africa, and the fact that I was able to change continents and cultures within only hours gave me a huge urge to travel there - quite irrationally - alone. Clearly I had no idea what to expect, the only predisposition pertaining to a story that my Grandma had told me 8 months prior. It was related to Turkey, but due to my cultural ignorance I had put the two countries in the same compartment in my mind labeled 'places where shit goes horribly wrong'. She had told me that on arrival to Turkey, her friend's son was robbed at knife point, drugged and found in an ice filled bath tub with both of his kidneys missing. The story, inevitably, story set off alarm bells in my head, making me imagine some sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre grade plot with me as a protagonist. Considering my track record of getting myself into situations that have the potential to end this way, I took no chances - especially considering that I was entering a continent that could eat you alive without anybody even turning an eye.

The feeling of crossing over the Strait of Gibraltar and knowing that I was entering a polar-opposite, undeveloped continent truely gave me a euphoric feeling that can only be experienced when you are in the presence of something indescribable. Unfortunately, however, as I sat there on a flight with 50 Moroccan's it was difficult to hold onto this thought. My love for travel was completely destroyed by the two drug dealing Berbers who sat next to me, offering me an ounce of mountain hash. It seemed like only another routine procedure to them, seeking out the only white boy on board and attempting to ram drugs down his throat.

I landed at around 11pm - retrospectively probably not one of my greatest ideas - and on arrival was greeted by the shittest excuse for an airport I had ever witnessed. An enormous grey shed on a vacant block of dirt was all the Moroccans needed to guide in flights from all over Europe and other areas of Africa. It felt as if I had just arrived on Mars, being completely detached and removed from every idea that I had ever had about my conception of 'home'. Somehow I couldn't help but think that I had bitten off more than I could chew as passport control stared at me intently, determing whether of not I had an ulterior motive for being in the country.

5 days prior to leaving the UK I had arranged to stay with a couchsurfing host in the centre of Agadir for 3 nights. I didn't really know what to expect by doing this, but considering I had no cash I really had no option. I was essentially bound by any couchsurfer that hosted me for this soul reason, which as it turned out, escalated quite quickly. His name was Rasheed, but I only knew him by his couchsurfing name which went something along the lines of 'bE hAPpY EvEryDaY AnD aLL yOUR dReaMs WiLL CoMe TrUE.' Despite the fact that he wrote like my 27 year old cousin and all the 15 year old slappers I knew in Australia I was intrigued to meet somebody from Morocco, especially because he was a student and that was supposedly rare to come across in the country.

The only piece of information that I had about Rasheed was that he lived at the address 91 Derb Jdid Riad Zitoune, Agadir. I had this written down on a piece of paper ripped from my writing book, and showed it to the taxi driver as I exited the airport. Considering the location, there was no way I could expect him to speak English, so when he reeled off a bunch of information to me in 3 other languages (English not being one of them) I couldn't help but think that he was trying to tell me something important. Nonetheless, I rode with him for over an hour, stopping countless times to ask random Moroccans on the street where the address was. It was at that point in time, followed by countless other times during the weeks that followed, that I realised the full extent of my stupidity. Firstly, I shouldn't have booked a flight to Morocco that landed at 11pm, it's just plain dumb. It takes only an infant to tell you that darkness increases the scare factor of a place by like 300%. Secondly, couchsurfing probably wasn't the raddest of ideas, seeing as though Moroccans are more chill than any other culture I have come across and can't keep plans. Suddenly my manager giving me £300 pounds instead of £200 when I left Bristol didn't seem like such a stupid idea after all.

Eventually we rolled up to a block of apartments with the name 'Derb Jdid' written on one of the walls. The property was manned by a security guard and the streets were filled with young Moroccan kids playing games with rocks. They flooded the streets, dressed in rags, staring as a ragged white boy rocked up to their hood. My taxi driver accompanied me up a long flight of stairs, hanging around like a bad smell for the money that I owed him. I knocked at the door in a sweaty and dirty heap, hoping that some form of human would open the door and welcome me in some friendly fashion.

I was greeted by a rather lanky fellow called Mohammed. He was around 22 years of age, wore an XL basketball t-shirt and had a face full of acne that would make any pimply-faced teen shed a tear. His lips and gums were cracked from the Moroccan summer, and his teeth were brown and decayed as they struggled to hold a half smoked cigarette in his mouth. I immediately re-adjusted my thoughts and put myself in Africa mode, remembering that only 8 months prior my mother had told me 'not to be such a smartarse' when I was in a foreign country. I heeded her warning, understanding that Morocco was probably the best place to use her advice. Thankfully enough the man was warm and welcoming, and despite the fact that he wasn't Rasheed he still let me enter without question. I paid the taxi driver an exuberant amount of cash and shut the door, unaware of my oncoming reality.

As I entered the apartment I wasn't sure of what to expect. On the one hand Agadir is the most tourist-orientated city in Africa, therefore making me think that perhaps the students who studied there had a lot of money and could probably afford majestic things like minx statues. On the other hand I couldn't help but imagine a bunch of newborn babies crawling around in amongst a pack of chickens that were about to be killed and sold. On arrival I saw a living room fitted with 4 mattresses for guests, a blown out bathroom with a drop toilet, a shabby kitchen with nothing but a small table and a portable gas stove in it, and two bedrooms with 5 beds in each of them. This was what Mohammed, Rasheed and 8 others called home.

'So, my friend, tell me what they call you,' Mohammed said, beaming with excitement.

'My name's Mike and I'm from Australia. I'm here to couchsurf with your friend Rash - '

I froze, realising at that point in time I had no idea what the name of this guy was. So basically, to bring everything down to a realistic level, there I was standing in an apartment that I had found with the address obtained on an internet forum, populated with a bunch of people whose names I would never entirely know.

'Mark, my friend, welcome. Would you like some tea?'

'Oh yeah, rad, that'd be awesome,' realising by now that everybody outside of Australia calls me Mark.

'Rasheed is the man you look for. He is out with friends, will be back soon. You are in our home, one million welcomes my friend.'

As the night progressed I learnt more about the Moroccan and Berber people. Rasheed returned in a drunken haze, brimming with enthusiasm as he saw me standing in his kitchen with a bunch of his Moroccan homies. I was immediately welcomed, given the best bed in the apartment, and fed nice and proper with a quality tagine. Moroccan's are truly amazing in the way that they can provide for anyone without even having enough for themselves. Over the next few days we toured the city, played beach soccer on the Agadir shoreline and discussed everything from politics to relationships. He truly confided in me, using couchsurfing as a means to make new connections from all over the world. It was at that moment that I realised my fortune. Through a bloodline that I had no control over I was given the right to travel, work, and live where I chose. People like Rasheed were lucky in his country because he was able to study and, with government permission, was given the right to see his French girlfriend on special occasions. For the majority of his friends and family, this would only be a dream.

After a few days of couchsurfing I decided to take a bus to Marrakesh before heading into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to meet another couchsurfer that I had arranged to stay with while I was still living in the UK. I arrived to a unwavering 50 degree heat, and as I exited the bus I was met with a plethora of roads and construction sites. I felt lost once more, except in this case I had nowhere to go. I had one night to kill, but nowhere to stay, so with a drink bottle full of warm orange juice in hand I began my walk into the centre of the city.

Destitute once more, although now just in Africa with no one to turn to, I spent 10 dirhams on a seedy chicken burger at a random restaurant. After around 2 hours of wandering aimlessly, looking for the sector of town that contained hostels, I was grabbed by 3 guys in the middle of the street. They seemed like the Moroccan equivalent of the three beers in the Goldie Locks fable, with one guy looking heinously old, one middle aged guy who seemed normal according to Moroccan standards, and a young boy of 17 or so. I turned around frightfully, anticipating some serious shit to go down.

'No, my friend, it okay. Where you go?' Abdul, the middle aged man said calmly, his gold plated teeth shining in the sun,

'I have no idea man. I can't find anywhere to stay,' I replied, somehow hoping immediately that I could stay at their house just for the sheer hell of it. I didn't really give two shits at that stage in time.

'We show you the places, and if you don't like, you are welcome in our home.’

As we began walking to the Jemaa el-Fnaa (one of the largest market place squares in the whole of Africa) it wasn't an easy task keeping up, even with the decrepit dude. I became engulfed in a sea of hash dealings, market exchanges and chicken slaughtering, and then, just out of the blue, my first intense Moroccan experience occurred.

We had just entered the first of many narrow alleyways on the walk back to their crib. I turned around to try and grab a glimpse of the directions we had taken, knowing the next day that I'd need to bail and would probably be flying solo. As I looked behind me, however, I also saw a pack of Moroccan guards closing in on us. They pushed through the crowd, knocking fruit off a nearby stand and grabbing the middle-aged guy by the neck, thrusting him into the wall. I looked on, not really feeling like being a martyr right at that exact moment.

'My friend, my friend,' Abdul screamed at me, over the sea of guards that circled around him. 'Tell them you are with me!'

I panicked immediately.

'He's with me! He's okay!' I screamed. 'Let him go!'

I had no idea why I said this, thinking a few moments later that perhaps I'd gotten myself into some serious shit. Nonetheless, the guards took their hands off his throat quickly and walked away disappointed.

'Thank-you my friend, thank-you,' he said, as he panted furiously.

'Dude! What the hell was that all about?'

'Well, you see... I am no guide. I wear no suit or no things. They see a white man with me and they think I am gonna go mad. They think I'm going to kill or hurt them.'

'I don't really understand, man.'

'You see, my friend, in this country the tourist is better than us. Without them the country is very bad. You save us.'

As it turned out, Abdul and the other two men were all related, with the older man being Abdul’s father and the younger boy his brother. It was Abdul’s job to use his intermediate level of English to lure tourists into his fathers home, allowing them to stay in his room for the summer whilst his wife was away. The younger boy was probably just there to level out the ludicrous notion of an old man and his seedy son strolling the streets looking for business.

As I entered Abdul’s place of residence I was greeted by a man even more decrepit than the father. He could barely move or speak, using his hash pipe to mentally experience all of the places he couldn’t experience in real life. I took a seat next to him as Abdul and the other two made arrangements for dinner for the night ahead. Despite the fact that I had couchsurfed only 20 hours prior I was still being treated with the same degree of care, even if it did cost me. For 150 dirham bones I was given my own private room, fitted with a private double bed topped with red heart shaped pillows – reminding me that I was completely and utterly alone and knew nobody within a 1000 kilometer radius.

Throughout the course of my night I learnt two of the most integral components to Moroccan life – tea and hash. Women were of course important, but definitely not integral in their eyes – apparently Moroccans hadn’t realised the importance of procreation due to the good old-fashioned dooby they had lying in front of them. Abdul explained his logic with a simple equation:

1) ‘tea the same as woman’

2) ‘hash better than woman’

3) ‘tea and hash and I don’t need woman’

The next morning I awoke at 11am to find the kitchen filled with a smoky haze as Abdul and the older man lay asleep on the floor. I had hit the sack early on in the night, but felt kind of regretful leaving without saying goodbye and knowing at that moment that Abdul didn’t even have a proper place to live. I was simply an ungratefulwesterner jetting from a reality that I wasn’t prepared to deal with.

I hopped in a taxi and rocked on up to a small mountain village called Ourika Valley, or Setti Fatma as the local Berbers named it. I had organised to stay with a couchsurfer called Mohammed and was stoked at the time, imagining some Jungle Book grade tree houses that somehow implied a sweet experience.

In reality the experience was definitely not what I had hoped for. I had previously arranged to meet Mohammed at a major taxi rank, but unfortunately the time and date of our meeting and his actual appearance were all unknown. I attributed these errors, at first, to Mohammed, but retrospectively it was probably just a dick move on my part. However, as I stood there, in a sea of yellow taxicabs and screaming Berber’s from the mountains, one single man caught my attention.

He was of old age, perhaps 60 or so, and as he sat perched on a rock smoking a cigarette he stared over at me. He wore baggy blue jeans, a hagged maroon shirt and a blue cap - an attire that would end up being worn for our entire friendship. His wrinkly face indicated his age, but his thick black hair suggested an element of purity within his day to day life - well, aside from rippin' hash of course. He gave off a feeling of totally contentment, but also of wisdom as he studied everyone that passed him. Tourists and locals alike appeared to be undergoing a mental examination as this man decided who he approved of. I met his stare, dismissing my previous thoughts and mistaking him for just another Moroccan who was an integral part of an elaborate plan to rip off anybody they didn’t know. Suddenly, however, he walked over to me, as if reading my mind and wanting to rectify my thought process.

‘Are you okay? You appear lost,’ he said in a clear and fluent English accent.

‘Yes,’ I replied sternly and arrogantly. ‘I’m just waiting for my friend,’ deliberately omitting the fact that I had never met him and was actually quite in need of somebody’s help.

‘Is there something I can help you with?’

‘No, okay, because you guys always want money when I ask for help! Not this time man, not now.’

‘If you think I want your money, you are wrong,' he said sternly. 'And if you think I am like that, then we can’t be friends. If you want my friendship, it's there. Otherwise we have no business with each other.’

My heart sank. My smartarse remarks were finally met with the wisdom of an older Moroccan man who, at that moment, defied the characteristics of any other person I had come across, albiet being there for only a few days. However, as lucky as this situation was, what with me meeting a man that actually wanted to help me whilst I was completely stranded in the Atlas mountains, my subborness still prevailed. I was furious with Mohammed for standing me up. My visions of living in the mountains were flooded with a realistic sorrow that perhaps I had crossed the line this time. In any case, I chose to trust my newest acquaintance, which in retrospect as probably one of the wisest decisions I made over my time in the country.

Setti Fatma village, whilst being one of the oldest Berber villages in Morocco, is now completely populated with tourists. It's no surprise, really, when you imagine 7 cascading waterfalls situated at various levels of each mountain. The village itself is old and quiant, with tourist elements such as hotels and westernised restaurants not actually removing the purity of the place as much as you would expect. The most influential, and in fact unwavering element that hightens tourist sentiment is the fact that Moroccans believe in haggling far too much. The more frequent and intense the haggling, the more infiltrated the place becomes with tourists - and this place was booming more than a new millennium Nickleback concert.

I took a seat with the old man, introduced also as Mohammed, in a cafe with three other men. It was situated immediately next to the taxi rank, with little boys running round, getting in the way of their fathers as they were trying to work. Everything seemed to be in sync with the people who lived there, even if I couldn't help but feel that they were undertaking some form of Moroccan grade Italian mafia meeting as I sat oblivious. They spoke in a variation of Arabic, Berber and French as an army of tourists lurked only 20 metres away, in a completely separate life. What struck me as odd, however, was that somehow, in one hour, I had managed to (1) befriend what seemed like the leader of the whole village, and (2) score free accomodation. Mohammed took my 'student' status quite seriously, understanding that I wasn't in fact what they deemed to be a tourist. I walked with him over a makeshift bridge, crossing a fresh river that flowed through the entire village, and walked up the stairs to my new home - Cafe Berber.

I would be lying if I said that my Grandma's story didn't flutter around in my mind whilst I was walking with Mohammed. At first, admittedly, I thought I was going to die. The whole 'old man takes skinny white boy into the mountains; rape ensues' thought was an all too frightening outcome. But what I was met with was in fact the exact opposite. I was introduced to the three main 'players' in the game, or more realistically just the employees of the cafe. Ahmed was the youngest and most confident with English. He was the waiter of the restaurant, had slicked back hair and wore, at all times, a white Ralph Lauren shirt and a white singlet with black slacks. He was the product of westernisation with a heart of gold. The other two men, Imad and, low and behold, another Mohammed, were the cooks. They both spoke minimal English, but with one of them looking like a young Eddy Murphy and the other like the sweetest old man you'd ever known, they were immediately welcoming.

They allowed me to pitch my one-man tent on the roof of their cafe for as long as I wanted. I was ecstatic, not only because I was right next to the chicken slaughtering area, but because it was the first opportunity that I had been given to use my killer tent. Jake and I had used them extensively around Oz, but due to me living in an urban environment for the entirely of my European journey thus far I was forced into a house. I would've taken to the park, but Bristolian bums don't take kindly to kids who pose to be truly homeless.

Mohammed aided me in setting up my tent and establishing myself, making sure that I felt at home with the environment and the people around me. He sat me down at the cafe, fitted with small tables and lounge style chairs and pillows and ordered me some tea.

'So why is the real reason that you are here?' he said, as if knowing that I was hiding something from him.

'Have you ever heard of couchsurfing?'

'No.'

'Well, it's a website that connects travelers all over the world with each other. I came to Morocco only a few days ago, and arranged to stay with people along the way. One of the guys I spoke to lived here, so Iasked whether I could stay with him. It seemed like a good thing to do, because I wanted to see the mountains and everything. And, yeah, now I'm here, and I don't know where he is.'

'You need to be careful here.There are some people who will help you and some people who look like they will.'

'Yeah I know that. In Europe it is fine to stay with somebody you don't know. But I guess here the customs are a little different and sometimes the meaning of everything are lost. But what about you? Why are you here?'

'I was born here,' Mohammed replied. 'If you look up there [points towards the top of the mountains] there are small Berber villages. I was raised there, and came here every week to get food and other things. You can still see the camel tracks that we take. After a few visits to places on the coast for family I came back here and worked as a tour guide. I used to take people into the mountains and to see the waterfalls and everything.'

The fact that Mohammed was a tour guide played havock with my mind for the next few days. In the days that followed he led me on countless walks into the mountains, smaller villages and up to the waterfalls, but I was never quite sure if he wanted money. I was confused, not knowing whether to trust him completely or revert back to an ignorant state of mind that questioned the motives of everybody I came in contact with. Fortunately enough, however, Mohammed never asked for anything. Perhaps my stories of Europe and Australia were my payment, with himself and the others at the cafe merely wanting somebody toeducate them about a world they knew nothing about. Or even more appropriate, perhaps, I was fortunate that he had never asked for anything because I still hadn't come to terms with the concept that people were just sometimes generous for the sheer feeling of it all.

During those first few days I also learnt several other important facts about Moroccans (or perhaps just Berber people). Firstly, it was clearly apparent that none of the people I knew changed their clothes. Mohammed wore his rugged blue jeans, faded maroon shirt and flat blue cap day in, day out. Ahmed sported his fancy attire each week day to bring in the tourists, with the exception of weekends wherein he would wash his Ralph Lauren shirt and hang it to dry over the cafe roof. At first I was surprised, but quickly enough I realised that it was an obsurdity to think that they had a closet full of clothes. Imagine, Mohammed living at the foothills of the Atlas mountains with a raging wardrobe the size of my Nana's - it's just ludicrus. In any case, the clothes that these men wore actually began to define them as much as their personalities.

The second, and perhaps more gruesome fact, pertains clearly to something that the western world could never fathom. Firstly, there was a total absense of toilet paper. Not only did Morocco use drop toilets that required you to uncomfortably squat, but afterward they left you with nothing but a tap in the corner of the room to clean yourself up with. Intitially I was baffled, watching as Ahmed or Mohammed would waltz on in, do their business, and strut on out feeling lighter than air. To this day I still cannot understand why they were so stoked. Perhaps they had a secret little stash that they weren't telling me about. In any case, a little Moroccan 411 never goes astray.

As one week came to an end I began to realise that Mohammed's need to care for me was far more emphatic than I had first anticipated. However, after countless days of roaming, sometimes solo and sometimes with his aid, I finally came into contact with a group of people who knew the orginal Mohammed I was mean't to stay with. The group lived in a house higher in the mountains and hung out at a cafe that played Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. Most of the people who went there were either Berber or Moroccan, but there was also a Spanish brother and sister duo that appeared from time to time.

I began walking up to this cafe almost every day to escape Mohammed who was beginning to father me far too much. Everybody in that particular area knew me because I was connected to him - a feeling first of comfortability but then of annoyance as I simply wanted to do as I pleased. But it wasn't just Mohammed that caused me to make this decision. I was more so interested in what motives the Spanish travelers had for being in Ourika Valley.

One night in particular I snuck out of the Cafe and walked up the rocky mountain towards the other bar. I wasn't in the best of sorts, enduldging in an enormous tagine and the obvious delicacies that follow. I soon appeared, however, in a dimly lit outside seating area and sat down, next to the older Spanish brother. After an awkward degree of chit-chat I finally began questioning him subtly.

'So how long have you been here for, man?' I said innocently.

'Ummm, dunno,' he replied unenthusiastically. 'Maybe 2 weeks, maybe more.'

Knowing that I'd seen him the day before, I attempted using some of our previous experience to begin a conversation - I had realised already from our previous encounters that he wasn't entirely normal.

'So what time did you go to bed last night?'

'Dunno. Maybe 1. Don't really look at the time.'

'Oh okay.'

After another long stint of silence I decided to throw out all of my moves.'

'Ever been to India?'

'No.'

'Must be hard to find your way up to this cafe at night.'

'No, not really.'

It was at this point in time that I obtained another layer of information about Ourika Valley. At first, all of my focus had been on the people who were native to the area, and not on the tourists who traveled there. In my case, I sort of half found the place by chance and half found it on purpose. I had always wanted to see the mountains, and perhaps live a lot of the stereotypes that go along with that. But this guy was another story. This was a clear example of somebody who was trying to be so different that had imploded in on himself. Living in the mountains and experiencing minimalism is one thing, but to fly off the actual raydar of personality transformation just makes me believe that they have become the exact opposite of who they wanted to be. As coincidence would have it, I named this fellow 'Mr. No' - fitting really when you think that living in the mountains would usually enable you to relax and be more open minded about people and situations.

It was around that mark that I decided to move on with my Moroccan experience. I was at a feeling of total comfortability, established entirely through the love of the people I was staying with. They essentially took me in as a member of their own family, allowing me to teach their younger brothers and sisters how to play the guitar and tell them stories of mobile phones, technology and the Australian landscape.

I packed up my tent, said my goodbyes and hit the taxi rank where I had began my seemingly small journey only 2 weeks earlier. Ironically enough, on my departure, I was met by Mr. No and asked for 30 dirhams - it's humerous how friendship worked in a place like that.

Unknowingly at the time, the next 4 hours of travel that I was about to embark on from Ourika Valley to Essaouira on the coast would be horrific. I had boarded the bus with a stomach full of old, deep fried food, banana smoothies and processed meat, and somehow thought that my kick-ass immune system could handle it. As fate would have it, I was entirely incorrect. I met Yunes, my next couchsurfer, at the bus stop in complete agony.

Yunes was a 20 year old Moroccan-grade middle aged sleezy Greek man. He insisted on taking me around the medina of Essaouira at midnight, following a variety of girls and making me flirt with them. I was furious, knowing that any minute I was about to vomit. At around 2am we finally ended up entering his house - to which I passed out in a random room and spent the entire night on the drop toilet. Unfortunately, this situation enabled me to learn more about the second fact that I acquired about Moroccans in Ourika Valley.

I spent the next few days loitering around with this sorry excuse for a host, and eventually left spontaneously to another couchsurfer in town.

Desperately, I had contacted Khalifa during my stay with Yunes - retrospectively probably a negetive spontaneous decision. Nonetheless, he picked me up in style. He had long black hair tied back with a headband, and smoked camels and wore killer shades. I was impressed and ecstatic that I was finally going to have a positive couchsurfing experience after Rasheed in Agadir.

We took a cab out to Khalifa's pad, getting dropped at a dusty commune of apartments. His place was fitted with a chilled lounge room, a guitar and amazing Moroccan tunes. He had two housemates, both of whom did not speak English. One was a younger man with a huge afro and sideburns to boot. He played the guitar and smoked hash religiously. The other was a middle aged man, fitted with a mouthful of decaying teeth but an unwavering desire to learn about everything without knowing how to verbally communicate.

The following day, after eating a communal tagine, I accompanied Khalifa to his shop. I had done the same with Yunes (only to beexpected to wait for him whilst he worked) but somehow believed that everything would be fine this time. I was wrong, on multiple levels. Firstly, not only was I asked to accompany him, but I was forced to work for him. Khalifa insisted that I use my English to rope in western tourists. Obviously I refused.

'Mike, you listen to me,' he said sternly in a voice that you could tell was used to control people. 'This store is my life, and when you come into my life you become a part of that. If you walk into Morocco, you walk into our life.'

'Man, that's bullshit,' I replied. 'I'm not fuckin' working for you. I'm here to see the city and how you live, not throw away my morals and force people to buy shit from you.'

Unfortunately, these were actually my true words. As fate would have it, my frustration blossomed. My predispositions of a positive experience were totally crushed by another person who just wanted to screw everybody over. On the second night we visited a bar and we met with some more Spanish travelers. They had met Khalifa on the street and, forced into seeing him again, agreed to meet him for a drink. Khalifa got absolutely trashed on red wine and bailed in a taxi to his house, leaving me and another Spanish guy stranded. I was forced to use my intermediate level of Spanish and my goldfish grade memory to find our way back to his house in a city that I had no control over.

It was in his apartment, at around 2am, that I received a first real shock to my system. Khalifa was attempting to sleeze onto the only Spanish girl in the house, after throwing an impromptu party, and she wasn't feeling it at all. Myself and the Spanish travelers spoke about the dilemma whilst he was dancing or making other advances, and eventually they decided to up and leave. Suddenly, however, the room fell silent and eery. I was the only one standing up, with 10 pairs of eyes staring at me, and Khalifa at the center of those piercing stares. The Spanish guys had left minutes before me, leaving me alone. Khalifa spoke.

'What the fuck do you think you're doing?'

'Excuse me?' I replied in a 2am haze fueled by the sheer fact that I was in Africa, alone.

'You come into my house, you eat my food, and then you fuck with me!'

'What?'

'Get the fuck out of here. Get the fuck out of my house.'

'What? Are you serious?'

'Yes I'm serious. You fucked with me. Get out of here.'

'But it's 2am, I have nowhere to go.'

'I don't care, fucking leave!'

My stomach dropped harder than it had ever done. The intensity of Morocco and attempting to couchsurf had finally hit me in its entirety. For the past 2 and a half weeks I had been on the run from a normal life. I was attempting to see the country in a way that was far too ludacris for anyone, especially me, to imagine.

Luckily for me, Khalifa stopped me as I was walking out and began bursting into laugher. Apparently, besides the generic view of Moroccan people being welcoming and loving, they also like to joke with foreigners in a sadistic manner. I stayed one more night, but left the day after. The night following the drunken rage incident Khalifa tried to make it up to me by attempting to spoon me in the single bed that I was sleeping on. He knocked on the door late that night, walking into what was literally just a giant room with marble floors and me in the middle of it, sleeping on a funked out mattress on the ground. He apologized, and believed at the time that male 'intimacy' was an integral component of Arabic culture that he wanted to share with me. Despite the obvious humour, I was actually scarred. Ihave known, from a young age,that once I actually had to refuse sexual acts from a man in real life I had to get the fuck out of where ever the hell I was.

I bailed the next day, with a plethora of thoughts swirling around in my brain. I was perplexed as to what their culture was all about. On the one hand, they were all welcoming and friendly to anybody they met, offering them tea and food and a good time. But what I discovered, however, is that undernearth all of these niceties were clear monetary motives in my particular experience. Aside from Mohammed in the mountains and Rasheed in Agadir, I was treated like a slave who was forced to adopt the customs of the country I was in and subscribe to their lives. Fortunately enough I was still a traveler under it all, and not a Moroccan shop keeper, so I threw on my backpack and booked the next flight out to Spain.

In the days that followed I was slowly brought back down to reality. My sister and her boyfriend came and visited, and with them I returned to the mountains to see Mohammed, Ahmed and the young Eddy Murphy. I discovered quickly that I had found pure bliss with not the Moroccan environment or culture, but the people - the people who weren't pertained to constricted practices, but those who simply wanted friendship. I hit the airport feeling satisfied with the truth that I had aquired, and was even more stoked with one small, seemingly unimportant fact - their toilets had western grade toilet paper.


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