My brother is absolutely useless
Last night we went to the bus station to find the tariffs and times for Sidi Ifni—the last stop on the way to the Sahara. We arrive, me in my jalaba, him in his leather jacket. We are left alone since no one suspects I might me American. I’m thrilled and laughing as my brother is now the one overwhelmed by hustlers who are referencing the American girl but don’t believe that it’s me. They crowd him, first three than four, five, six, until he’s entirely surrounded. Hands on his shirt, arms round his waist, head to head…it’s actually the first time I’ve seen him retreat from this kind of persuasive affection/business/communication/general way of being. I’m completely out of the circle laughing at him and how great it feels to not be in the center of that for the first time.
He leaves thinking he’s struck some sort deal for me to get on the 7pm bus out of “confidence” because “the man trusts” him. He even has a ticket with some guys phone number on it and gives it to me like its worth something telling me that I shouldn’t lose it”….like it’s hard to find paper promises from dudes outside the station without offices. I appease him and take the ticket even though I have little faith in this deal.
It’s a running joke. When you arrive, your host family along with a slew of other nationals, professionals, and teenagers, will tell you that your hopes rely on them. They tell you not to go anywhere without them, tell you everything you bought was too expensive and that next time you should take them instead since they will find you a better deal. Of course, what you don’t know at this time is that Morocco is like my family back home—full of braggarts. It’s an art form here to bulshit/talkshit. after time you actually start hiding the fact that you got a better deal in the souk then your mother and you get use to it being painfully futile to bargain while with your Moroccan relatives versus buying shit alone. Of course today is a new day….things might be different. So I give my brother the benefit of the doubt that this time things will go “better” versus if I just did it myself. So I hold onto the ticket, thank him for going with me, listen to his abuse and compliments on the way back, ask him why he’s so contrary with his mother these days, to which he answers, “ I’m trying to form myself.” A strong and unusual answer from a kid his age here. I understand.
Fast forward to the Rabat bus station.
The bus station. One word: grimy. The bus stations of Morocco are grimy. They are by far the best place to be cornered, robbed, molested, and overall uncomfortable (and lost). When you enter a bus station, there are herds of men ready to pounce on you, to strike a deal, get you into their bus, get you into their car, and when you do, the helpful man wants a tip, even though you aren’t very confident this is the right bus or that your stuff is underneath and yet it is your responsible that no one walks off with it on the many stops down. The treks are hours long but you must make sure they don’t leave without you. there are babies screaming, men ogling, skin to skin funk, and grim on the seats, and smells in your hair now seeping through your clothes and it’s the only way to get to Sidi Ifni. So I arrive feeling for this ticket Yassine told me to hold onto. I push away the shouters, the screamers, the people trying to get me to go with them somewhere. I reach the booth and hesitate before pulling out the ticket since I hadn’t paid money for the ticket so what’s the point and because it’s something my brother helped me get…but hey, I’m cool! What could go wrong, right?
So I pull it out and thus precedes the onslaught of confusion. They speak in Shilha asking me where I got this ticket from because it’s not theirs. The ticket says, “Bissmilah Salam…Praise be to God, Peace.” I try to explain in vacant language that I know it might not be their ticket but where and when can I catch the bus? They seem concerned since it says 150dh on it. I know they are worried that I paid for this so I try to reassure them but they are too panicked and concerned for me that they don’t listen. I try to tell them that there is no money on the ticket and I don’t care about the ticket actually….guys forget the ticket, ignore the ticket! Okay, guys. Just give me a ticket to Sidi Ifni because I know you are going their tonight.” They talk amongst themselves, shouting a bit but this is how men working in this transit behave. It’s a rough life to hustle especially if you want to do it well. I make a motion to them to hurry because it’s 15 minutes til 7pm and most times they leave before the date. “I don’t care about the ticket. Makehmushkill! Just let me buy a ticket from you. Minfudlick…” God I could kick myself for trying to use Yassine’s help. The men run to try to find help because they think I’ve been had by some swindler. I’m insulted. That they would think such a thing! I’m looking at the ceiling, arms crossed, hip out, huffing, when the young man in the stall asks if I know Espanola. “La. (no)” then I say, “moomkin. (maybe)” He’s got a huge grin on his face and slicked back hair smooth on top and curly wet on the bottom…he’s actually gorgeous but every great looking man loses his moment of glory as soon as he speaks so I try to keep this one silent. A young cop walks over asking if I speak English. He says, “I’m here to solve your problem.” “I don’t have a problem. I just need to get to Sidi Ifni tonight and I need them to let me buy the ticket.” “you want to pay for the ticket again!” “no. I mean yes. I mean no! I didn’t pay for that. there is no floose on that ticket.” “but there is, it says so…” the men crowd around nodding. “Just tell me, is there a bus going tonight?” “yes..” “good then let me take it.” “but but….the ticket!” “yes. It’s nothing.” taking the ticket I ripe it up. “it’s paper, it’s nothing.” “but you!!!” “no, no money. Hada wahrakah…la floose allah hada wahrakah. (this paper…no money on this paper).” He looks at the men, says something to them to which they all smile nodding, “aaaaaaaaah!”
I motion a “can we go? Do you understand?” “yes yes yes” “saed?” “saed.” when we are finished, when we want to show agreement, when we want to continue, when we want to move on, when we show possession of ourselves and unison with the whole, we do this: head and eyes go down, eyebrows and hands go up, extending outward broadly, saying, “Safi!!” meaning, “it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s finished.” It’s a conclusion no one argues with and the spirit is one of “let’s move on now” no matter what the case may be. The cop bursts into a huge smile and extends his hand out for me to slap, touching his heart afterwards. “Oh my god!! You speak!!” he and the men giggle grin and talk amongst themselves for a good minute…”can I get a ticket?” “yes yes inch’allah” “yes inch’allah” “you muslim?” “moomkin.” “ohhhhhh” “inch’allah.” “inch’allah.”
I get an escort and I barely make it on time. as soon as my foot enters the bus we’re racing out of the city. “deba deba deba…”
The bus smells like body but it’s a pretty nice bus and fairly new. No one is sitting next to me and I pray that it can stay this way so that I can write. The men across from me are watching me closely as the man comes to check our tickets. He’s onto checking more tickets in the seats behind me when he begins a heated discussion with the women near me. He’s forcefully talking, now he’s yelling, they’re both yelling. I listen…it’s about money. I’m not bothered even though his face is close to mine and he’s showing them how angry he is. So I take this moment to find my pen and paper. The men across me are sheepishly smilling, looking embarrassed that I’m witnessing this and worried what I must be thinking. I’m trying not to laugh as the yelling gets louder and the men look more embarrassed. I begin writing, as the passengers chime in entreating, “Safi safi safi safi…” the man’s throwing his hands around at the women as the women are shrieking and shaming him. The whole bus is telling him to back off and finally down two pages of my book full of scribbles and notes someone has given in and the shouting has stopped. When the man leaves the women murmur something under their breathe that gets the entire rear of the bus to say, “safi safi safi…” the old man in the jalaba who sat down next to me in the shuffle is leaning into me now. he motions that I should place my bag underneath. “la!” it’s got everything I can’t lose….the laptop, the camera, my music, my notes. The bag below is just clothing and underwear and my clothes that I could lose anyday but these things I cannot.
The man smells like sweat and body under the wool of his jalaba. I know he should be repulsive but I don’t mind him right at this moment. Maybe i don’t mind the scent of his body because there is another person’s body I adore. I like the way it smells. I’m putting that lightly and you must know it. *Ha* it hasn’t always been like this. not everyone’s scent has smelled good to me. Its funny…when i love you there is nothing about your body that turns me away. i know i love you when your lips and your tears, your sweat and their body…kissing their body tastes good. When i haven’t liked someone, it isn’t the same. God only knows that have times I have been with people that I haven’t wanted to and there was nothing, no shower that could change their smell or make me change my feeling. When it comes to this, I can’t fake it. my body can’t lie. So i am saying that your body smells good. This is how my body loves your body because when you come to me a mess I don’t want you to go away. I want to hold your head in my hand and kiss you until you’re up against me. thus, the smells of sweat under jalabas permeating the bus remind me of other bodies, mine, yours, and now this old man’s who is sitting very close to me. his words fumble over themselves and his tongue seems to be heavy but perhaps it’s because he’s old. His breathe smells like lamb, prunes, and goat milk…but I don’t mind. (I promise.) it’s nice to have someone near even though I want to be alone. He’s overly friendly in that way I’ve missed. He pokes his head into my writing, takes my ticket to the driver, extends his hand, asks me something that I guess is, “where are you going?” asks me something else but I can’t make out. He tries again, “…morockeyah?” “La. Ana amrekeyah.” Ahhhh! He extends his hand out again, I touch his, pulling back touching my heart. Time lapses between out haphazard conversation. He motions as if he is going to say something and reaches for my pen. I extend it to give him but his hand misses the pen and smooths down the fabric over my breast. I move back a little thinking maybe he made a mistake but he doesn’t want the pen. He puts his hand out again. I pause, thinking about what it is he wants. I give him my hand just as his other hand reaches under my skirt fumbling at my thigh then pushing his hands in between my legs. I am loud enough to tell him and half of the bus that i don’t think this is going to happen. he politely nods to me and gets up as if he was continuing a goodbye we never started. I don’t see him again after he motions that I should put my bags on the seat were he sat. probably to avoid men molesting me. he’s old enough to be my grandfather and he looks rather endearing like the older men I met in Oualmes. It’s hard for me to be disgusted by him since I understand that he made a perfectly plausible mistake of first assuming I was Moroccan then when realizing I wasn’t, assumed I was a whore. Now that he knew I wasn’t really a whore he went back to being paternal. At least he pretended to care…the hustler on the bus twenty minutes later just took the opportunity to feel me up.
That’s another thing about the buses. Every place you stop in at, a herd of street kids, beggars, swindlers, and extremist/con men will get on to get you to give over your money. I counted seven boys selling candy, shoes, watches, and jewelry late into the morning as well as four men selling sandwiches (French fries in a French roll slammed together), three men selling shoes, two men selling walkmans, two men selling silver watches—and this was at one stop. Most of the men you can send away but there is always that one who won’t listen to you. That one for me, dropped his watch in my lap and felt me up in the process of retrieving it. This was only the first hour of the trip…the rest of the trip left me as the only woman on board and one of the few not drinking. We’re in the desert so it’s freezing and my legs are blue. The man in front of me keeps looking at me until I finally give him the “what the fuck are you looking at” and gut out my arms to say “schnoo!!!” he shakes his head as if to say “nothing, sorry.” I’m not afraid but i know i won’t be allowed to sleep and if i’m not a bitch, if i’m nice, another man will have his hand up my skirt and i’m really tired… so i become hostile pretty quick after another man comes inches away from my face asking me if I’d like to do, go, have blank blank blank blank…
More happens like it always does but i prefer to go it alone. I like traveling on my own despite reminders that i should be intimidated as a woman. When i arrive to sidi ifni….oh my god! It is worth it. The woman are beautiful. Its empty, my room is by the sea. I’m left alone, and i meet up with a crowd of beautiful spanish people. All young, all yoga surfers, all gorgeous. They make me feel at home as we talk about my name, the Moors from the north of Africa (morocco) who invaded spain and the gave me my name. The women smile and the men speak telling me i’m quite the adventurer. Yeah, the Swiss dude in Rabat tells me the same thing. They think i’m a little independent, a little spirited, a little bold. I tell them not necessarily. I just bullshit and then end up keeping my word. Everything i’ve ever done has been a statement made in fanciful speech which i seem to have to honor. The first statement i made to my mother when i was 15…i said, “mom, i’m leaving your home by the year 2000.” “why?” “because i want to be gone by this date. It’s more then a new century, it’s a new everything. I can’t imagine living like this.” I hurt her feelings and we fight. She is sure this won’t happen and i have no clue either. I don’t think about it much but i keep my word and by the date i am not with her. The next promise was to a girlfriend…i told her i’d be back for her big day even though i had serious doubts i would be able to do so. This would mean paper work, extra money, and other obligations i was unsure i could commit to. My big mouth gets me to do things i don’t believe i will do but because i’ve now said it, i have to. Same now…Abdelilah asked when i would be back. I didn’t know. I thought not until many years in the future. I pulled a date out, “ahhhh. Before my birthday.” Why i said that, i have no idea. I didn’t think i would, i thought i was just saying it but somehow i felt compelled to honor it. This stupid tongue.