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Moroccan Black and the All White Wedding

Set in Marrakech, three backpackers have an intoxicating night out with their guide, and at the end of all their seraching, find themselves back where they started, but know the place for the first time.

Vist Howard's Profile

Moroccan Black and the All White Wedding

I am drinking a glass of Carlsberg in El Fino bar, Marrakech. The interior of the bar reflects the rich, red-brown nature of the land outside. Outside it is hot, hotter than you may be able to imagine. I glimpse Eathon, my traveling-partner, talking animatedly to a chamois-skinned Moroccan dressed plainly in a pair of stonewashed blue jeans and T-shirt. He is a spindly fellow, and covering his crotch is a bum-bag made from soft, black leather. Why is Eathon talking to a market-trader, I ponder!

I overhear Eathon tell the man where he comes from - describing an ‘ear’ on England’s East Coast known as East Anglia. Eathon describes the region well - Flat, and green and muddy due to all the rain. The Moroccan appears to understand. Eathon then speaks of Tangiers, briefly as he despises the place, before offering his latest acquaintance a Marlboro Red. It seems a small gesture, but seeing as American cigarettes are highly regarded in Morocco, I suspect that crudely Eathon is buttering-up the man and is after something. Being the market-trader type, I’m pretty sure the man does as well!

Time passes, a good hour in fact, during which, Tash (my other traveling partner) and I meet the man. I say ‘meet’, though in Tash’s case; ‘is ignored by’ is more the truth. The man’s name is Aziz and he is not a market-trader.
“I ammay Jackov many trades”, he tells us. Not just a market-trader, then. Eathon doles his cigarettes. Tash and I each buy a round. Eventually Aziz is satisfied, and agrees to score us the hash Eathon has persistently been mentioning.

Like the Pied Piper, Aziz leads us from the bar.

The early evening sunshine is an amazing 34°C. I breakout into an immediate sweat and notice in utter disbelief that Aziz has put his jacket on.

“My god, the man’s mad!”  I exclaim in Tash’s ear. “He’s got a jacket on, in this heat!”
“Tosser!” Tash scathes.
“Sorry?”
“Not you, him!” She says, pointing obviously in the direction of Aziz.
“You don’t like him I take it?”
“No, I don’t like him. Why, do you?”
“I don’t know yet. …Tash?”
“Yeah?”
“Maybe it’s because he ignored you that you don’t like him. I mean, girl’s hate that don’t they - being ignored?”
“Of course we hate it, as much as boys or anyone else hates it!”
“Yeah, sorry.  …So-”
“I think he’s a cunt, Lewis, because he’s a male chauvinist pig. Because he’s Moroccan, and he thinks (as all Moroccan men do) that women only exist in order to make them dinners and have sex with, and that when it comes to the business of making a deal, women are entirely inept, and therefore should remain excluded from the proceedings. That-”
“Oh right! …I urm, get it now Tash. Sorry! …I err, didn’t think!” I intercept,  not in the mood for a Feminist rant. So half-change the subject. “Eath seems pretty confident we’ll score. What do you think Tash? Reckon we’ll score okay?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Female intuition!”
“Shut it, will you. You’re not funny.”
“I was being serious!”
“Well if you really want my opinion; I think we’ve got more chance of getting mugged at knifepoint down some dodgy back-alley than we’ve got of scoring hash off of this little shit!”
“Fair enough.”
“The bloke’s a bas-”

Avoiding Tash is the least of my worries: I am beginning to smell of stale hamburgers due the heat. I am also horny. I avert my focus, concentrating instead on interrupting Eathon from his conversation with Aziz. However, it is Eathon who grabs my attention; telling me Aziz has suggested catching a taxi instead of walking to wherever it is we are going. I say fine, but before I can add “Eathon, Tash thinks Aziz is a wench-beating bandit!” Aziz has hailed down a horse and cart and is beckoning us all to join him aboard it. “I’m not getting on that thing!” Tash insists.

The journey through Marrakech’s city-centre is exquisitely beautiful. With our legs dangling like children’s off the back seat of the ‘taxi’, Aziz rolls a small, but definitely loaded cone - passing it first, with notable etiquette, to Tash. This gesture excites Eathon and myself a great deal, as it means undoubtedly Aziz will be sorting us out - it also pleasantly surprises Tash. “Thank you!” She says, in a very charming ‘English-rose’ type of way.
“Ittis velcomm, speshol laydy” returns Aziz, with just too much notable etiquette, this time.

Five minutes later, and with my spirits hash-lifted, I suddenly become aware that I’ve lost my hearing! I notice this as Eathon is mouthing words at me, animating them with wildly over-exaggerated gesticulations. He seems to be repeatedly saying something to me. I don’t know what it is so stare at him, uncomprehending. This amuses him, and his image freezes. He is like a giant, cartoon spastic; arms and legs suspended mid-flail, face contorted mid- wrenching-guffaw.

…The gear lifts me higher. Sounds become audible again, sights however remain uncommon and surreal. To my left the market square at the hub of Marrakech’s hypertext hustles and bustles - shouts from traders, consumers, and children’s screams for economic survival. A brethren of old men hidden behind veils of dark skin salute Aziz as he passes, in response his smile is a mile-wide on his face. Their memory fades and my senses surface to capacitate traffic of natives on burbling mopeds and creaking bicycles, that has slowed our taxi down to a trot. It jams, as a herd of working cattle mix with and halter the bikes, and six workingmen in a mechanically dumb, Renault-made lump of rusting steel. Saddle-packed mules flap their ears, tormented by the insipidness of the noise and fumes: glum and diseased by the swarms of filth-ridden flies, eyelids cracked by the severity of the sun. I remember that it is a mule currently carting us through this transportation nonsense.

Mayhem behind us, we canter through the relative quiet of a residential side street. Aziz informs us that arrival is imminent and that he “mustav money for flend now” - The agreed price being a mere ten pounds for a half-ounce! Eathon seconds the notion, jerkily handing Aziz several billion Dirham (Morocco’s Mickey-Mouse imprinted money), as the taxi bumps its way over the cobblestones, dead dogs, and sleeping drunks beneath its wheels. Aziz begins counting the money, nodding as he does so.

The taxi veers left, and then a couple of quick sharp turns in succession see us negotiate a perilously narrow chicane running through a dimly lit but translucently poor area. Toddlers run alongside the horse and cart, flapping about and holding out their hands. Until, that is, Aziz requests they stop; shooing them away like cats. The taxi slows, the children look on despondently, and I presume this is dealer territory. The driver pulls-up the reigns, the mule complies, and our taxi draws to a halt outside a shack made from dirty metal. An unexpected quietness prevails momentarily, acknowledging the dusk. Then a sound reminding me of my Uncle Arthur’s place of work repeats itself from inside the shack. The sound of hammer hitting metal; the sound Blacksmith’s make. I wonder if this is just a pit stop at the shoe-shop for the mule, and not the dealer’s residence at all. I’m soon informed that it is in fact both.

Inside, a stubby man in his thirties is bent over an anvil making horseshoes. Rather disturbingly, he is dressed identically to Aziz – proof that the Eighties 501’s/white T-shirt get-up has only just hit the Marrakech catwalk. It is possibly hotter in here than it is outside. I think Aziz shouts the blacksmith’s name. I’m not sure as it sounds like Toby and that doesn’t sound very Moroccan. Maybe he just said “Yo!” colloquially. Toby(?) looks up - his forehead drenched in sweat, hair lacquered in Soul-Glow - responding to Aziz with a psychopathic grin that says: I am as hot as Ra, also in middle of something - can’t stop! Aziz says something in Moroccan again, then says “my English flends”. Then Toby says something, and we follow Aziz through the metalwork space and down a makeshift ramp into a bare, concrete room that looks like its just been constructed. A man in sunglasses is slumped against one of the walls smoking a spliff and drinking something green from a small glass tankard. Aziz stretches out his hand, and the man shakes it lazily before getting up. More Moroccan banter, but slower this time. Shades-man passes the joint to Aziz who pulls on it looking like a Bob Marley poster. Tash, Eath and myself start giggling. Then shades-man exits the room, lethargically striding up the ramp – probably to fit our taxi’s horseshoes. Aziz apologizes to us for not having introduced us to his acquaintances. Eath says it doesn’t matter but Aziz insists it does, assuring us he will - but only when his “flends are leddy.” In the meantime, he suggests, maybe we would like some tea?

We are led further out the back of the building and told to sit down on chairs, which have been arranged in a large semi-circle. We do so in the middle, leaving half a dozen seats either side of us empty. Aziz goes off to make the tea, leaving us to engage in a much needed team meeting.

The general consensus among us is that the current situation is bizarre to say the least. Of course, this is probably due to us being a bit stoned. None of us can quite work out why we haven’t scored and buggered off yet. Also, why there are all these seats. Eathon thinks that maybe scoring is more ritualistic in Morocco than it is in England, and that the tea and the semi-circle of chairs is all part of the ceremony.
Then god giveth us hash! No, I don’t think so…
Though Tash agrees, claiming cannabis is part of Morocco’s religion.
“You what?”
“Yeah, it’s illegal but part of their religion. So possession is sort of decriminalised.”
That definitely can’t be right, I think. How can a country’s religious code of conduct contradict its law?
“Nah Tash, that’s bollocks!” I affirm, with the utmost eloquence. 

Then Aziz returns with a silver tray, resting upon which is a silver teapot, silver sugar-bowl, and six silver-laced glass tankards.
“Ah, is this what the man with sunglasses was drinking?” I ask Aziz, recognizing the tankards.
“Yes, my flend! You are, how you say, velly ob-surfing! “
The bloke’s beginning to sound more Pakistani than Moroccan now, though I’m still making out what he says!
“Yes, he’s a writer – they have to be ob-surfing” adds Eathon.
Aziz smiles, then asks Eathon what he said. This gets Eathon paranoid (worrying he’s offended Aziz by taking the piss out of how he said ob-surfing) and his cheeks go red. This amuses me, as does doubly Eath’s attempt at clarifying what he said. Aziz seems to find it funny too, as he chuckles a lot – no doubt getting Eath more paranoid! Finally, Eath’s long-winded and over-polite explanation into how important it is to be perceptive as a writer comes to an end, as does the cigarette he’s been psychotically-smoking!

In the same way a man tends to his fire, Aziz tends to the tea – stirring and brewing it with a fixed gaze of attention. After five or so minutes, it is to his satisfaction. Methodically, each tankard is three-quarter filled with the herb-green potion that would not look out of place in a laboratory. The Tea-ceremony, it seems, is about to begin.

After Tash, I’m passed my tankard. It is warm in my hand, emanating an immediate glow in my cheeks. It could be winter. Then I engorge myself in its smell; a strong, bath-salt mint – intoxicating! Shades-man and Toby arrive just as I’m about to take a sip, so I wait, feeling it is polite to do so. They sit together to the left of our huddle without saying anything, though smile at us. Aziz passes them tea, and then raises his aloft, toasting “Salaam”  that I think means ‘Peace’. A reverent mumble of the phrase follows from the rest of us. Though Eathon’s noticeably a little late, raising a smile from the Moroccans. My first taste of the syrupy, peppermint potion is one I never forget – fresh, invigorating and narcotic. It is Morocco I taste.

After the tea ceremony we still haven’t scored. Instead a bell sounds, and local men, most of whom are in their early thirties, begin appearing on the dirt track behind me like animals readying to board Noah’s Arc. Rough, tired faces - clad in the uniform T-shirt and jeans. I’m wondering whom they are, as one after the other they’re greeting Toby, Shades-man, and Aziz, taking their seats and sparking up cigarettes and conversations with each another. Until the strips of white garden furniture either side of us have been completely coloured-in by their presence, and I feel like I’m in a bar. I realise the tea ceremony isn’t over at all as more tea is brought out - that it’s just beginning.

I learn from Aziz that this place, or rather these seats, is a sort of free-house for workers in the area who congregate here after work to smoke hash and drink tea, or booze when they can afford it. The neighbourhood is full of these tin-shacks, each one a place of daily labour. This one just happens to be a place of evening relaxation as well.

A short while later Aziz declares another toast, this time to us. Around the semi-circle chinking tankards go up like a mini Mexican Wave – as Tash, Eath and myself are drunk to. It feels both strange and powerful, like a magic spell is being cast upon me! All I can do is smile, returning salutation, as a twelve-inch hash-pipe hand-carved from Riverwood writhes and slithers its way into my hands. Aziz oversees my inhalation, ensuring I receive the desired (over) dose, and my lungs quadruple in size to capacitate the influx of smoke entering me. Unable to suck for any longer, I remove the mouthpiece and breathe out - immediately spluttering and coughing, whilst experiencing severe bronchial pains how I imagine Angina must feel. For a couple of seconds I am unable to breathe. I feel like I’m drowning, and I tug on Eath’s shirt like a desperate child midst my panic. Though fortunately the pain subsides and my respiratory system restores its self to normal, and I am able breathe and see the light of day again! As opposed to the light of death’s tunnel!

Five minutes later I am a gibbering wreck, as is Eath and Tash. Acting like small children we pull faces, giggle at, and even slap one another! Our behaviour astounds us, though excites us terribly, also! Through poor night-vision, only the oil-burners hanging from the shack’s steel scaffolding joists shed any light on any thing. Only then revealing profiles of flame-tinted faces - some strange, others familiar - but all pulling wild expressions and going nakedly mad before my eyes!

Refusing to pertain to any coherent narrative my existence prefers to stagnate here in a jumble of fantasy and reality. I’m like a five year-old too scared to sleep in the dark midst the imaginings of his mind. However, I do not have a light to switch on, only pipes to smoke!

Then it dawns on me…
The gear we’ve been smoking: is ours! Bollocks, of course it is! The tenner we paid was for this: endless mint tea and pipes. As much for the benefit of the local population of blue-collar workers as for our own. Yes, we’ve scored…a sort of own goal!

Realising this I feel letdown. Deflated, like it’s an anti-climax. Though I don’t know why it is. It just feels like one. I don’t feel high anymore. I must talk to Eath, I think. I must talk to him now…

ӅYeah, so I think we’ve sort of been ripped-off a bit, mate.”
The expression on Eathon’s face is of concern – stoned concern. For the last five minutes or so he has listened to what I have had to say intently and is concerned, it seems. I don’t know if he is, you see. Eath is in deep thought – either swilling around complete crap or something of real clarity in there; and it is impossible to say which at this exact moment. I must wait for a response, not force one from him. After much melodramatic perusal, he eventually looks me in the eye – the strain of thinking forcing him to squint – before offering me his opinion:
“I err, err …Really! Do you think so?”
“Think what? I don’t know. What are you talking about!”
“What you’re talking about.”
“Pardon?”
“I’m talking about what you’re talking about. We’re talking about the same thing, my flend!”
“Are we?”  I’m both confused and amused. “I didn’t realise!”
“Yes we are, or were in your case… And will be again if I have my way!”
“Sorry Eath, but I really have lost the gist of what you’re saying!”
“Really, it’s like talking to a dog!”
“Why is it?” I manage, biting my lip.
“Because they don’t listen! Oh, they prick up their ears alright – but do they listen? Not on your side of the bed, Charles!”
“Sorry?” I splutter, close to pissing myself. …But he can no longer engage in conversation; already preoccupied somewhere else. In a conversation, it seems, with his imaginary friend that is himself – destination x that requires him to wag his finger at himself and giggle!

The child travels like Jonathon the Seagull. Eathon is my best friend. I love Eathon because he is like Jonathon. I desire his friendship because it swoops and soars. On his birthday card’s I write:
To, Eath…
Love, The Swift.

...I am inflated!

Tash is engaged in conversation with the third Moroccan in a row who’s tried chatting her up, and is lapping it up! Why she pretends to be a Feminist when all she wants to be is her happily repressed mother, I’ll never know. Still, I love her regardless. I love everything regardless, in fact! Star-scattered magic is being unleashed, and I’m stoned off my box frequenting a back street Moroccan tea party. I’m Lewis in Wonderland!

Collective drug abuse prevails. This time in the form of an Opium-laced beverage, a glowing blood-orange in colour that’s doing the rounds. I know it is Opium as Aziz tells me so, though only after I have persistently asked him “What is in this?” It looks dangerous!

…The shot-glass at my lips, I know that I shouldn’t take this, but as is the case with forbidden pleasure, do!

…People begin playing large bongo’s and small bongo’s and oddly enough, triangles! People without instruments clap. The rhythm manifests itself into the party’s unbalanced equilibrium. Steadying, channeling, and collectifying it – which isn’t a word but should be. I am a part of this rhythm – it is like the universe’s raison d’etre - A cliché of profound meaningfulness… to those who don’t feel alive. And I begin banging the palms of my hands on the tops of my thighs exhaustively, tribally jubilant. But no one hears me, of course, except myself. And I stop, and for a short period of time feel in contrast; distinctly separate – In a cinema watching a silent-movie. A film, it seems, that is drawing to a close.

From beyond the dingy shacks, lazy dogs, and dusty streets, a whirring, whining sound carries. Not just to my ears;  the whole party hears it. And I am dumbstruck! For the sound is like an ambulance siren. I twinge, and get that ridiculous gut feeling one has when an ambulance rushes past and for a split second you consider it is taking not just anybody to the emergency unit, but a member of one’s own family. Then rationality takes over and I think how unlikely that would be considering I’m currently in Morocco! In fact, the sound is horns – blaring madly in the night like amphetamine-propelled drunks preaching cause. Enigmatically, for horns to sound in the evening in this neck of the woods I am then informed, means a wedding convoy is in the vicinity! Rushing excitedly, the Moroccans start putting their cigarettes out and drinks down, in order to hug joyfully, link arms, and weave and dance round together like Country & Western fans. It is a bizarrely cheesy, but undeniably inspiring sight – and compels me to join in with the jubilant frolicking. Then, having reassuringly spotted Tash and Eathon also entwined in the activities, our chaotically spread group re-forms to become a sprightly Conga line. Soon the air is asound with both the English and Moroccan versions of the essential ‘C’mon and do the Conga’ accompanying melody, as arms and legs flail and the group resembles a giant centipede. The Conga gathers pace and I repeatedly kick a Moroccan man in his tendons, partly due to my stumbling around in all of the directions the wind blows - he seems not to mind. After a minute or so in the same direction, the Conga halts, and the inevitable happens - a Conga pile-up! Fronts flop into backs like dominoes, but miraculously none of us falls over. Being someway back in the line I am unable to determine the cause of the stoppage – so ask the chap whom I’ve been kicking if he can shed any light on the matter. He laughs, and then says something like “Naughty boy like arse, eh?” Immediately I say I don’t. Then he laughs again, and with a twinkle in his eye says “Oh Ingleesh!” whilst manhandling my left-cheek (The one situated on my face, that is!), before finally turning back to face the front. Left somewhat concerned, I put the man’s profound strangeness down to his and my language barrier – though as the Conga restarts, make sure I only touch him lightly, and not anywhere even vaguely close to his fundament. Ten seconds or so later we pass through the opened gate of a tall ‘tennis-court’ fence - which I conclude must’ve been padlocked previously and thus caused the hold-up - and out on to the street where our taxi is parked away to the left some twenty yards. About the same distance to my right is the All-White Wedding.

Like spirits roaming the night; a party of wedding guests dressed entirely in white’s even whiter than Daz white’s, journey toward me amidst a vignette of darkness and dust. They are here celebrating the coming-together of the couple standing proud and elated on the float being drawn by the ‘taxi’ they surround. Whoops, whistles, and cheers go up from our dispersing Conga, and I follow behind Aziz, Shades-man, Eathon, Tash, and most of the rest of the gang towards them, mouth agog and utterly dumb-struck in awe at the wondrousness of their presence. Instantaneously I am immersed in the ghostly realm of the guests, stomping as though to Acid-house, and psychotically clapping my out-stretched palms to the rhythm of assorted bongo’s.

Then, and it only takes a few minutes, the exotic couple and their brilliant entourage have gone.

I could write Ӆand then I wake up”, with great conviction! As truly, these few minutes are the closest I’ve come in my life to living and breathing a dream.

I am 17, yet I feel enormously powerful as the all-white wedding passes, and is gone. A dove flutters back from the evergreen fern concealed in the mist and perches on the demi-tanned hand that I open in thanks: I feel I have the very reason to life here in my hand – and I want to set it free.

Maybe the night went on for a couple more hours, we all smoked too much and I monged out in a vacant void. If this indeed was the case, which is likely, then the vacant void was a black hole – where Time and Gravity’s laws were seen for what they really are – fictitious concepts. But I don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter.

The wedding party gives way to dawn, and Tash, Eath and I gather our things and say our sincerest farewells - leaving on the same ‘taxi’ we arrived on, we might see Aziz tomorrow. As we canter through the streets, Marrakech is like a still life. Any movement seems only a painted suggestion, an Impressionists’ brushstroke that is our collective illusion. A few market-traders are out setting-up their stalls, but they are still half-asleep and aren’t talking - if we snap our fingers they’ll freeze. We don’t talk, either. We’ve no need to; we are listening to the horse. The regularity of it’s breath, and it’s new shoes clip-clopping over the cobblestones then muted dust-ways makes us zone-out but not switch off – a kind of lullaby that keeps us awake. The driver cracks his switch lightly on the horse’s hind and mumbles foreign command to it once or twice. He isn’t in a hurry, either – his actions are habitual, not assertive.

Djeema El Fna - Marrakech’s main square - appears and we recognize it. We know that it is a landmark we’ve journeyed through before but that it is a landmark as transient as ourselves. Yet it remains our cue – our whisper from the wings to exit the stage and break through the fourth wall where no audience has been watching – to get back to normal life. A short, sharp tug of the horses reigns jerks us fully conscious and to a stop. The horse is neighing, thrashing about its head and repeatedly thumping a hoof into the ground. It is displaying us its strength, or limbering down from the exercise, I don’t know which. We say a casual thank you, farewell and Salaam to the driver. He nods and wishes Salaam on us back.

We will see Aziz tomorrow, we are sure - and in silence and bare feet make our way through the maze of back alleys that before now, had always gotten us lost.

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