It’s perhaps not unexpected, that over the course of a year adrift you might find yourself craving some familiarity. But I hadn’t expected it to come with the force it did, sitting on the toilet dry retching while I dreamed of home and friends absent. It felt like not much had happened, between Fez and here, but I no longer cared. I was sick and sick of it, and in my weakened state waned. Why the fuck had I come to Morocco in the first place?
Solitude is a strange beast, not really relevant until there is something to compare it with. The couples at my hotel in Fez, the pity from shopkeepers that I had no-one to travel with (not forced, I chose this), the self-consciousness that Ramadan intensified: these all conspired to fuel what came to burn as a numbing sense of solitude, enforced instead of volunteered for. But all men must do some time in the wilderness and Morocco was to be mine.
My routine was simple: walks in the heat, trying to maintain a comfortable pace where I might be able to take it all in while simultaneously avoiding the insidious pleasantries used by hardened shop-keeps to lure you in and exert guilt-fuelled purchases. My experience wasn’t unique: most tourists I spoke to reported a similar level of hassle, elbow grabbing and feigned interest. So I walked fast enough, careful not to get lost in the warren of shops, stopping for some snacks then home again to mull it over with hash.
People found Morocco difficult, largely due to what is probably a small percentage of Moroccans who make their living milking the tourist cash cow for all it is worth. For all the genuinely hospitable locals I had met (and there had been plenty), there were numerous greasers, pretending to like you to squeeze some dirham. Every second stall owner wanted to know where I was from and give me a “big welcome” before the inevitable sales pitch: rugs I didn’t need and trinkets I didn’t want. I never knew so many Moroccans had cousins in New Zealand.
But I was alone with not much to do, and initially I liked the company. It was entertaining, yarning with the locals good-naturedly and telling a few porkies for my own amusement (we’re all playing the game). It wasn’t to last though: the routine got old and tired, and I grew suspicious, cynical even – sick of the bullshit and mock offence at my refusal to engage a purchase. By the end I largely ignored the “hello friend” that followed me everywhere, long resigned to the fact that friends here were few and far between.
Some Arabic helped, but one sour character was so offended by my attempt at a polite refusal that he spluttered after our departing backs: “Arabic is a very hard language – yours is shit and FUCK YOU.” Fuck me? Fuck me and disservice you and your type do the genuine Moroccans who have so much more to offer than overpriced leather bags and fake Beats By Dre.
I hadn’t thought the absence of alcohol would be so pronounced but after a much-needed week off found myself pining after a cold brew and the lubrication it provided within the hostel. In short I wanted to get smashed and chat up Swedes, but the Muslim authorities were having none of that. So in lieu of raging we chose lazing, me and whoever I found who seemed like they’d like a blaze. It’s strange how you feel guilty at first, like there are better things to do with your big adventure than watch reruns of The Peep Show in your hostel room, but there really wasn’t.
There certainly were worse things and as my illness took hold I scrambled for anything that might anchor me. My initial optimism at having survived the bus from Agadir was short-lived; it was only the pills and I vomited spectacularly in the shower. Worse was to come and the following morning I shat my pants running for the toilet.
It’s terrible, the speed with which it strikes. You go from prone on the bed, soaked in sweat, stomach rumbling – to chaos in what seems like no time at all. Realisation of impending doom is slow to crystallise and quick to take over – IT’S COMING. FUCK. – sending you into a mindless panic as you try to piece together the basic coordination needed to make the bathroom.
Pants, I need pants; FUCK FUCK FUCK, should I hide the laptop? No time, fuck it. Toilet paper, WHERE IS THE FUCKING TOILET PAPER – all the time clenching – be calm be calm – hopping on one foot to hold it in, fumbling with your lock – fuck fuck leave it – running down the corridor while people in the courtyard below look up at banging doors. IT’S COMING, fucking fuck, FUCK! Bathroom door. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS FUCKING LOCK – pants; pants off and finally – sweet relief, pleasure in evacuation. Why the fuck didn’t I just get a room with an ensuite?
If a normal shit is cathartic then this is revolutionary. Finally you can think again and the thoughts that remain are nearly as foul as the stench rising from the bowl below. Being sick is shit at the best of times and this is only amplified when alone and overseas. Self pity, impotence and nihilism make happy bedfellows while you sweat through another round of stomach cramps, never sure when your traitorous sphincter will send you scrambling for porcelain salvation.
My sickness lasted the better part of a week and I languished in the same shitty room for the majority of the time. I was weak and conscious of dehydration, so after a day of lockdown braved the carnage of Jemaa el-Fnaa and all its touts. A toothless schmuck led me to a store that sold cumin and a kindly store keep shouted me the medicine, folding it up in old newspaper. My self-nominated guide was less generous, haranguing me for a finder’s fee all the way back to the hotel – where I gave up a few dirham and imagined spitting at his departing form. If only I’d had the strength.
It summed it all up really. Despite the wealth of culture, cuisine and hospitality that Morocco had to offer I was over it, and it was largely his fault. Well, his type at least. Despite my own ruminative state, the weird etiquette of eating during Ramadan and the relentless heat, in the end it was the mistrust caused by a hoard of hawkers that finally soured it for me.
Eventually I regained some strength, eating fruit and bread with cumin to settle my mutinous stomach. I switched to a hostel and slept by the pool, waiting for my plane and the friends that waited in Poland, hoping I wouldn’t shit myself in transit.