by Sandy Sherizen
I realized that I was stalling. I really didn’t want to go to Morocco. OPEC, Pan-Arabism, and harrowing stories from other tourists all convinced me that this was a trip I could skip. Still, sitting in a camp in Algeciras, Spain, an hour’s boat ride way from Tangiers, I waffled.
Finally, the weather made the decision for me. After five days of rain, cold, and the same conversations with our friends, my wife and I decided to cast fears aside and go to sunny Tangiers. So, off we went with another couple, promising our friends at the camp that we would return that evening in time for a combination birthday/going away party for Fay, John, and the kids.
We were armed with the usual tourist weapons–information and misinformation. We knew that we should not change too much Spanish money into Moroccan dirham since the rate of exchange was only 50%. We knew not to hire an official guide but, instead, wait for the many kids who would approach us and select one we liked. We knew to bargain in the shops. So we were prepared for a grand adventure.
In Tangiers, the women were searched upon entry, but we men coasted through customs. In six hours, the ship would return to Spain, so we headed into the city. As we had been forewarned, a guide with an official badge offered to show us around the town and get us back for either the 2 o’clock or the 6 o’clock ship. When we turned him down, we were suddenly surrounded by kids of all ages who hollered at us in English, French, German, and Swedish about their talents as guides. We answered with international shrugs until one kid who looked like Jerry Lewis impressed us with his hustle, convincing us that he was to be our guide and protector.
Off we went on our thrilling visit. We toured, gaped at the veiled women, ate couscous, and finally, prepared to shop. Steering clear of officially recommended shops, we went to those where our guide knew the owners and would get us good prices. We wandered around one until we found a lovely wall hanging. After the mandatory greetings, mint tea, and haggling over the price, we bought the hanging and tipped the salesman with a ballpoint pen with “U.S. Government” printed on it.
We had missed the 2 o’clock sailing, so we decided to pay our guide and take a leisurely walk to the dock. At five, we arrived at the office outside the port gates to buy tickets for the 6 o’clock sailing. There we were told that the ship had already left. We quoted the official guide who had told us that it did not leave until 6 o’clock and were reminded that 6 o’clock in Spanish time was 5 o’clock in Morocco.
“I knew I shouldn’t have come here,” I thought as panic and fear set in.
But, we decided to see for ourselves. Breaking international records for the 2,000-yard dash over hurdles including the port guard, numerous workers, and two fences, we made it to the dock where the ship was still waiting.
We rushed to the office to buy tickets, only to find it locked. So, we turned to a line of Moroccan officials for help. We told them our problem, and, in soothing tones, they made it worse.
“It is 5:15, and we stop our work at 5:00,” they said.
“But the ship is still here. Just let us buy tickets,” we said.
“You cannot get on the ship without having your visas stamped. The tickets would do you no good without visas,” they said.
“So stamp the visas,” we said.
“We cannot. It is 5:15, and we stop our work at 5:00,” they said.
“But the ship…!” we said.
“Do not worry, the women can come with us for a very pleasant stay in Tangiers,” they said.
“No, thank you,” we said, visions of harems and court eunuchs filling our heads.
Soon, it was quiet. No ship. No officials. Just four stranded tourists with no Moroccan money, no warm clothes for the night, and no place to stay. We were scared.
Suddenly, a young man walked by and said something to us in Arabic, then French, and, after receiving no response, in Spanish. We told him our story, and he asked if we would be interested in staying here. Here? There was nothing here but an empty dock and the port authority building. He motioned for us to follow him into the port authority, where he led us to the upstairs waiting room and introduced us to his boss, the head night watchman.
The boss welcomed us with offers of tea, hashish, and stories about other tourists who had had similar experiences. He showed us pictures of other strand-ees who had spent the night there. One group of travelers had ended up spending every night of their week-long vacation at the building and, when their mother came to visit Tangiers the following year, she immediately checked into the “hotel” where she was welcomed like one of the family. We spent the evening playing cards, swapping stories, talking about life, and being chided for not having any children while our senior host had nine, the last born when he was 67.
Promptly at 10:00, the couches in the lounge were placed together to make four beds, and we were assigned sleeping places. We two men slept on the outside beds while the women slept together on the double bed between us. No other arrangement was acceptable to our host. At six in the morning, we were woken up after a restful sleep even though the women were a little tired from whispering and laughing until the wee hours.
We were so happy with the hospitality and so grateful that the women’s honor and our men’s parts were intact that we offered some small gifts and money. But they refused everything, telling us that all they wished from us was a letter when we returned home. This we did, and we continued corresponding with our junior host, trying to help get him into an American university.
Our port authority hotel will never be written up in a Michelin Guide, but for us, it was the best night we ever spent with friends.
Sandy Sherizen has been a member of BOLLI for about 10 years. He has taught classes on privacy, the invisible forms of manipulation, sociology of deviant behaviors, Jews secretly surviving forced conversion during the Inquisition and, currently, crime and criminal justice. He was a sociologist, criminologist and cybersecurity consultant.