I was angry.
Angry at the drug dealers for embarrassing me.
Angry with Mexico City for his belittling comments.
Angry at the women in the hostel who wore shorts without being bothered.
Angry with all of the men in the world for having the luxury to live and travel free from the threat of harassment.
But mostly I was angry with myself.
Because I knew better.
Because I let my desire to look beautiful in my culture’s definition override my sensitivity towards this one.
I had been in Fez for less than one hour, on the street for ten minutes, and had already returned to my hostel to change my clothes.
Local drug dealers stopped us on the street and insisted I do so. Admittedly I was clad in a rather short skirt in a Muslim country.
I was disrespectful.
And the drug dealers, offended by my bare arms and legs, said locals threw stones at female tourists in Fez for showing less.
I questioned the validity of this statement but thought it best to heed their advice to avoid future confrontation.
I begrudgingly put on the only long sleeves and pants I had. Traveling to Morocco was a spontaneous decision and my wardrobe reflected it. Mexico City tugged at my sleeves to cover my wrists.
“I don’t want you getting in trouble” he innocently stated.
“This is why I asked if your father knew you were going to Morocco.”
We walked through winding narrow alleys. Scaffolding kept crumbling clay buildings intact. Children played soccer in the streets and occasionally stopped to stare. Donkeys carrying men and cargo like delivery trucks trudged down cobblestone streets. I noticed the scars covering their behinds.
Our road ended in the main square of the old Andalusian quarter. Teenage boys breaking their fast on the street nearby gestured me over. My travel companions, jaded from our experiences in Chefchaouen, were wary.
I approached the Moroccan boys. They appeared earnest and I rarely miss an opportunity to converse with strangers in well-lit populated areas.
We quilted our languages together in a half-hazard attempt to create a cohesive conversation. French, Moroccan, Spanish, and many, many hand gestures. Immediately they insisted I share their food. I felt humbled and honored by the invitation, but recognized their motivation to spend time with a young Western woman. Still, my frustration about my attire faded. In this moment, being a woman made me approachable. Interesting. Special.
I recognized many of the delicacies they offered from dinners shared with my Moroccan extended family. Silver dollar pancakes puffed with bubbles puffed like thin crumpets. Hard-boiled eggs served with cumin and salt. Flaky cookies drenched in honey and dipped in sesame seeds. Comforting spiced chickpea soup.
Eventually my friends followed.
Somewhere between a sip of harira and ten group photos, a few of the teenagers pulled my travel companions aside in an attempt to sell them drugs.
They declined, but Mexico City began asking directions to a tourist spot recommended by our guidebook called Café Cloque. Had Mexico City already forgotten where directions got us in Chefchaouen and earlier en route to our hostel in Fez?
Still, we followed the boys into the medina accepting their service as guides.
We continued deep into the maze and night fell upon us. Forty-five minutes later, the medina deserted, we became worried, occasionally exchanging glances along the way. But with more confidence in our guides than in our own sense of direction we followed. Our hostel warned us before we left that it is impossible to find your way out alone.
After an hour we arrived at Café Cloque. When the boys requested payment, Mexico City gaped at them. Was he really so naïve to think that two gentlemen selling drugs would bring us, a group of tourists, to their destination, one hour into the medina simply to improve their karma? Would someone in your hometown be so gracious?
They in fact demanded little. Two hundred dirhams, about twenty euros, five euros each, but in a country where a hostel bed costs eight, the price seemed excessive. Mexico City began ranting about their insincerity.
“You said you would take us because we’re friends,” he insisted.
Mexico City took the one hundred dirhams, what we deemed acceptable, and handed it to the boys. With pride they shook their heads.
“One hundred dirhams each or nothing at all.”
Mexico City’s anger and frustration elevated. The Germans joined in. The Moroccans became increasingly offended. I saw aggression building for both parties and felt the urgency to deescalate it.
The incredible experience of breaking the fast with these boys became tarnished. Had we simply thanked them for their generosity, offered a few euros for the food and continued on our way it would have remained pristine in my mind. I was determined to salvage it.
With one hundred dirhams in hand, I looked into the eyes of the younger boy who at fifteen appeared to fancy me. I opened his palm and placed the money in its center, closing his fingers around it like a fist.
“Por favor,” I pleaded gently.
“We are your friends. Please, do not be upset with us.”
My eyes would not take no for an answer. Within moments he melted, they both smiled. They took the money and shook each of our hands.
The next night I saw my fifteen-year-old Moroccan friend in the street. He offered to take me on a tour of the souk. With deep gratitude I told him I would love nothing more, but had already arranged something with the hostel. He understood and requested I add him on Facebook.
Here we are breaking the fast with the boys who inspired this story.