There are few more inhospitable places in the sane western world of transportation than the Pre-Departure doldrums of a lethargic sleeping airport. Bright lights, cold floors and grouchy travellers scowling and shuffling as they fight for a space on a slither of metal barely disguised as a seat. It is hard to kill time when the only things alive are security announcements, elevators and the rough hum of sweeping machines, pushed sullenly by pallow skinned eastern European workers who have the drained demeanour of somebody who has had their soul dragged out from behind their eyes and sold resentfully to anybody higher up the food chain. The one and only saving grace is the fuzzy knowledge that this bureaucratic sprawl of concrete and the razor sharp precision of the numbing machine will serve as a conduit to a space as far removed from this hostile climate as humanely possible! To endure is to survive and without the pain the pleasure goes unnoticed!
Perhaps this is the reason that people tolerate airports relatively passively. Nobody really minds. People relish the opportunity to transcend the banal normality of everyday life and sleep curled up on a floor. Or wedged stiffly on a seat. Perhaps they savour the opportunity to sit awake all night, thinking of very little, drinking strong takeaway coffee from flimsy paper cups, the melancholy star of their ad hominem motion picture. It could be the guilty conscious of us Brits, a willingness to pay penance for the extravagance of a hard earned holiday in the sun. Thus an explanation for the grumbling discomfort endured by all; for the demographic of slumbering humanoids is varied and vast. Propped skeletal-like on cases or wrapped, despondent and dishevelled, in redundant beach towels, all manor of people gather in some strange wordless communion, a means to give validity to the final satisfaction. Preppy students, jaded hippies, retired career travellers, young, old, rich, poor; they all relinquish the norms and values of their day to day existence and let themselves go feral, just for an hour or two, in the hazy middle night doldrums of pre-Departure hell..
My bank card failed miserably at the airport cash machine so i jumped at the chance of a lift to Taghazout. However the real cost was time, stress and angst!! Not long after stumbling wearily into the sunlight it worked out that a ride was available in the back of a Ford Transit van. British plates. Within the first few seconds of seeing the van and the “brown rice and bean” inhabitants I knew I was in for a trying afternoon. My hunch was compounded by the information, delivered in drawling English with an irritating patter of smug French intonation, that we simply had to,
“stop off at a mechanics and fit a new grill, head to the supermarket and do some veg shopping in the Sunday souk.”
My brilliant idea of getting back to Taghazout in time for a sneaky afternoon surf was duely dashed, broken and left screaming on the hot tarmac of that airport car-park. These people were essentially good; they were friendly and helpful, good-natured and were not trying to squeeze me for a buck or ten. However within ten minutes or so I could do little to quell a bizarre feeling of resentful hatred which begun to splutter up through my feet, curl in my guts and pound in my head as I struggled to catch my bearings in the dark belly of the transit. I have no doubt that my niggling concerns would, in all likeliness, have been completely alien to their peace, love and bullshit walking stereotype. I did not let it show but I was treading a tortuous emotional line, as fine as the open razor of a back street barber, to laugh or cry I was not sure. It occurred to me then that the vain and intentional pursuit of individualism and open-minded freedom in such a phoney and pseudo-typical way can only lead to a colossal brain busting implosion of mental capacity. A viscous catch 22, an uninhibited narrowing of the mind to the point were the only “real”, open minded, acceptable vision or outlook is that of yourself, your ideals and the self moulded plaster cast of expectation you vehemently expect others to adhere to and respect!
To explain some of these malicious ramblings is simply to see that there is always another way, a different cast or creed, a separate entity. Its strange to be discussing this as a result of a hippy-esque attitude, not something usually associated with prejudice and segregation, yet the not so subtle undertones I traced with these people undermined and contradicted everything free, equal and receptive which I am sure they would profess to stand for. As individuals, all are subject to and products of their environment and background. No decent honest person should be viewed as wrong or inferior from the emerald green lawn the “right” side of the fence. The reason, I think, that these peace loving folk grated on me so much boils down to the hypocrisy inherent to their way of thinking. In trying to validate and live by their freethinking theories they essentially alienate and demean any other persons contrasting route down the same twisting path. “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.” As long as you share my ideals, dress code, and inane sense of sickly superiority. Who’s to say that the average joe working hard 40h weeks, paying a mortgage and escaping for a break in the sun, has any less right to enjoy a country in the way that suits him as you have to do likewise in your own style. In light of this, their (theoretically) more than worthy moral standpoint seems somewhat undermined. An innate disability to appreciate another hegemony seems to me to be a crippling chink in the moonlit phosphorus physique and bongo drumming, dope-hazed, heartbeat of the affluent European hippy.
Or maybe its just me, who knows!? Anyway, brutal berating and vicious character assassination aside that first day in North Africa certainly got me into the swing of things.
I slung my beaten grey board-bag into the back of that shabby Transit and hopped in behind it as we trundled off in the direction of the scrap-yard. I would love to write here about the vistas and recollections of that first foray into the country I had last visited three years before. It was this first journey, from airport to wherever, that I had come to relish in Morocco. A reacquainting with the sights and smells, the complete barrage on ones sensory perception which can only be fully recollected and appreciated after a 20h layover in the sterile bowls of British transportation. I always look forward with expectant glee to those flashing, little changed scenes, slice of life style, which let you know that you are back in the dusty argon crown of such a vast continent. Not this time however. There were no windows, I could see nothing. Squeezed on the panel board floor, my back propped against the makeshift bed, I began to get acquainted with Jack. The son of Kara our driver, and about my age, he emerged as a French speaking self proclaimed expert on every topic under the sweltering mid afternoon sun. Morocco, travelling, drugs, hedonism, way of life, philosophy, the price of bread….; nothing was spared his omniscient scrutiny. The raking grate of his comments were compounded when I learned he had only been in the country for four days. My first impressions were confirmed and the conversation that ensued with his twitchy, dread-locked ego proved no more pleasurable than trying to itch a peeling sunburnt back with a red hot fish scaler.
Almost delirious with the travel and the exacerbated pain of of the situation I was in no mood to question or query some of his more warped observations and steadied myself, content enough to roll along with their program and save myself the taxi fare. Not surprisingly the scrapyard visit did not pan out and after a dusty hour of waiting in a greasy cesspit somewhere west of Agadir we got going again; they without the promised grill and me safe in the knowledge that my companions, far from being expert travellers or love soaked hippies, were rude, impatient and with only a vapour thin concept of how such situations inevitably pan out in Morocco. Next on the bucket list was a jolly trip to the Metro Market, a sprawling European mega-mart, chock full of illicit alcohol and forklift trucks, a characterless utensil which was unsurprisingly deserted. It felt barren and clinical, despite its uses I could not escape the feeling that the place had no business encroaching on those first few cherished hours of Moroccan life. The supermarket was followed by the souk. Once inside the walled enclosure the subtle lifeblood streaks, the beating pulse of the country, finally edged to the fore. I felt myself slipping back into the mystique of an alien culture, feeling again the tingle of anticipation and ore as each barrage of noise, every optical stimuli, washed over me and rushed past with a melodic Maghreb hum. The zip of a pedal scooter pin-balling daintily down a bustling lane, the crackling tit for tat ensemble of hawkers touts and vendors, saffron and cumin and harrisa piled technicolor high against the low methodical sprawl of vivid fresh cut fruit and vegetables. A chaotic equilibrium so natural and organic that its order is maintained without effort, each piece merging together with an abstract normality. The Filtered sunlight glinting through the mazy high slatted roof gives a dappled secretive complexion to the whirling kaleidoscope of image, action and place. Eyes half shrouded in shadow flit toward, followed quickly by clipped Arabic or soft Berber murmurings, a negotiation already begun. I could feel my senses rekindling, the nurtured boundaries of an English winter being teased away and banished as I soaked in the everyday chaos of the market.
By this point I was engrossed, a mere passenger to my hosts, who picked up on my lack of conversation and felt obliged to enquire whether I was “freaked out.” I said I was not. They probed, asking whether I was “ staying at one of the surf camps for a week break.” I pulled hard on my cigarette, dropping the butt and smudging it with my foot as I smiled politely at them. My reply was measured, I was not. They nodded, a little confused and returned to their shopping. Again I bit my tongue, the up-welling urge was to snap viscously at there veil of assumption, to let them in on the idea that my problem was not with the wild, organic, hell for leather frenzy of a Morocco market place, but with them and their blinkered musings. The temptation was to go along with their ideal, play into the hands of the stereotype they had so kindly moulded for me,
“yes I am here for a week, its nice to be abroad, thanks very much for asking.”
“Oh.. I see, first time”
“ Yup first time in Morocco, gonna learn to surf, wow yerr I don’t have a clue, sShit is that a goats head! Jesus! So freaked out right now, this is intense, pretty cool though huh!”
“ Well you know, I have a family, plus i have be back at work next week, hopefully going to have a great time though, been saving for ages.”
“ Is that OK with you guys? You don’t mind do you!? I mean I know I don’t live in a van exploiting those local guys you call your friends. O and I don’t actually pride myself on spending nothing, squeezing every penny I can from generous people way below the poverty line, O yer and I don’t speak French, or have dreadlocks, or were stupid trousers that only seem to look right if i’m juggling fucking fire poi! But I can still come here right? That is cool isn’t it! Good. Glad we cleared that one up.”
The moment passed however and after getting what they wanted we moved out of the walled souk and into the bright sunlight.