This week Matthew Ho tells us about the "craziest night" of his life in Fez, Morocco. Here is his great story.
At the start of 2012, approximately 5 years after I traveled to Morocco, I made a New Year’s resolution to send some photos to some locals I had met. I had been meaning to but I just kept putting it off as something to do later. Rather wisely, I had told my friend Natalie about my New Year’s resolutions. After 9 months of being prodded by Natalie, I decided to send the photos. I’m a guy – so give me a break!
After having the most amazing couscous last night at The Kasbah in Fez, Morocco, I started wandering around the area next to my hotel. I saw Abdul Razzi, the guy that works at my hotel. I shook his hand and was about to touch my heart as is customary here among friends; and he unexpectedly hugged me.
He then said walk with me, so I thought cool, no worries. Then he asked if I wanted to go to a coffee shop and smoke sheesha with him. I hesitated but I thought I trust this guy cause he works at my hotel and I have been talking to him, every now and then during my stay here.
So we jumped into a cab and headed to the new town. He said to me you have two choices; Napoli or Pasha. I had no idea what he was going on about; so I chose Pasha because it sounded like Passion; which is the name of a cafe.
We arrived at this reddish pink coloured cafe and the aroma hit me immediately. Wafting through the doors, ceilings and walls was the fruity smell of sheesha. Inside were plenty of young people seated on couches puffing away on these vessel type devices with tubes hanging out. I had it before in Lebanese restaurants so I was familiar. It’s like fruity tobacco that smells really sweet. Again he gave me two choices, upstairs or downstairs. I said lets go downstairs where the action is.
We got our own couch and puffed away on this apple tobacco and drank some mint tea. He promised that this was the good stuff, not like the stuff we had at the hotel the day before. It was really cool, we sat there and he explained to me that smoking sheesha in Morocco or the Middle East was like having a beer with your mates back home. We then chatted about girls, religion, life and the future. I didn’t really want to talk about religion because that’s always a touchy topic; but I respected his views and we both agreed that there was something out there. What really shocked me was that I realised he was wearing a University of Technology Sydney (UTS) hoodie, the university that I went to. How did a UTS jumper land on this guys back? Apparently his friend had studied overseas at UTS.
We then moved upstairs and joined up with this guy who sells leather jackets in town and his cool Spaniard friends. Afterwards, we got a cab into the medina. As we stepped out; there was some noisy commotion going on outside the Babeljeloud gates, the main gate in the medina.
These three policemen were dragging a man along the cobbled grounds. They held his legs and started beating his legs with their batons like a piñata doll. I was quite terrified but curiosity held me there. I repositioned myself to safer higher ground, while Abdul Razzi jumped into the melee to find out what was going on. The beaten man screamed louder and the beating intensified. I wandered whether that guy had his legs broken.
There was a mob gathered around him baying for his blood. I could see Abdul Razzi trying to quell the power tripped up policemen. It was a huge mob around the man and I could see another elder man with a ripped shirt, mangled face and blood streaming down his nose. Abdul explained to me that this man had his house broken into; been robbed and assaulted and threatened with a knife.
The man on the ground was a known criminal and there were 23 convictions or testimonies from various people in the crowd. I thought this man was going to die beneath the holy gates of Babeljeloud. Eventually the beating stopped and the craziness stopped and I got out of there. Abdul explained to me that stealing is worse than selling hashish. If this was Saudi Arabia the man would have had his hand cut off.
I went upstairs to my hotel and just shook my head and got ready for bed. All of a sudden there were noisy drums going off down the street and people singing. I had no idea what was going on and continued to look out the window. I could see that a lady was being carried around in a shimmering silver pagoda and there crowds dancing around her. Another man was being hoisted on someone’s shoulders. It must have been a wedding so I ran downstairs with my camera to get some snaps. I followed them around the corner and saw Abdul Razzi again. He told me to come with him and follow the wedding procession; so I thought ok I will walk down the street and back to the hotel. We bumped into Said, my unofficial guide from the night before. Abdul introduced me to the groom’s brother and somehow I got invited to the wedding.
So I went with them and followed the crowd. I was the only non-Moroccan there but I was with Abdul and Said. I also met this kid who works at the Kasbah restaurant who I had befriended by giving him 2 postcards from Prague. Initially I didn’t want to give it to him as I wanted to send them to my friend Amy, but I figured this kid would never see Prague in his life let alone anywhere in Europe so I gave it to him, and he was overjoyed. Abdul told me to stick next to him in the house so off I went with my 3 new friends.
I walked through this narrow dark alley and into some basement type door. I had no idea what was going on or where I was headed. It was the groom’s house and there were roughly 100 people sitting around this open area on chairs and couches. The band and the dancing continued.
Said told me - you are seeing real Moroccan culture. I was quite privileged; most tourists only scratch the surface of their countries they are in. Here I was in some crazy wedding party. The grooms brother dragged me into the centre of the room and so I danced Moroccan style in front of 100 people. I have no doubt that everyone in the room was laughing at me but who cares! I felt like I was an international guest of honour and I shook hands with the bride and groom.
The band took a break for 10 minutes or so and the dancing continued. I sat down for a while and watched the festivities unfold. The wedding was actually 2 days ago and tonight was the celebration. I later found out that this was Said’s nephew so that put me at ease. For some random reason he wasn’t happy with me sitting down and said to me “you dance or you go”. So I danced the best Moroccan wedding dance of my life. Abdul Razzi only laughed harder.
I couldn’t stay the whole way since the celebration would have continued to 6am and the celebrations were only getting more wild and I felt uncomfortable with Said constantly telling me to dance, in fact he was pissing me off. I never felt unsafe in this environment and was always put at ease by Abdul Razzi.
We left at 1.30am and wandered back to the hotel. In the streets leading up to the hotel there were heaps of teenagers milling around; some with glass bottles. Abdul said various things to them as we walked past. I don’t speak Arabic but I am pretty sure he was saying to them that I was with him. I felt a lot safer walking back to the hotel with him.
We got back to the hotel and Abdul Razzi gave me a hug and said to me - you send me pictures from wedding? Promise me, Word of man. I knew what he meant so I have to keep my word.
I went to bed and thought to myself that this was the craziest night of my life.
Matthew, like us here at Arribaa, has a love for travel. This has inspired him to go on and start a great company called Native Tongue. With this start-up he intends to make language learning fun, fast and effective. Take a look at Nativetongue.com here!