This was once the online journal of two young Australians backpacking Europe for a year.
Part 7 - Criminals, Con Artists and Carpet Dealers.
We set off into what was now becoming torrential rain. We sped down the wider roads and wound our way through the narrow streets until farmland started to consume the city. Eventually, all that was left was the occasional rundown house and the rolling fields and of course, the rain. Brown veins pulsed down green paddocks and began to join up with arteries that were the roads we where trying to follow. Annas and Michelle chatted light-heartedly as we cruised along the water-covered roads, but to Alistair and I, every kilometer brought a little more doubt.
At this point we had been driving for a good hour and a half to two hours, which I can assure you felt like 6, and the rain hadn’t eased up. Al and I where starting to question how we were going to get back. I mean the roads where already 2 foot under water with potholes and road floats everywhere and we weren’t even there yet. They way we look at it by the time we got to the spring, had a bath (which we hadn’t done in 2 weeks) there would be no way we would be able to drive home. As well as that, there was that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that we were just getting further and further away from our bags. When we had to start swerving around massive holes full of water Al and I thought it was time to say something. We interrupted Annas in mid sentence, “I can’t remember rain like this in Fes, even when I was a child…” to ask “Ah, how do you think we’ll make it back if it keeps raining like this?” Michelle casually waved the question away and carelessly cast “We go other way” in our generally direction. Not more than a minute after our question Michelle made an attempted turn up a blocked road and got bogged in the mud. Although we’d sat through stories of his driving expertise, it was clear he had little idea about what he was doing. I mean, if you made a checklist of what not to do, it seemed he could competently tick every box on that list. He stopped in the middle of the mud and water. He turned the wheel hard to get back to the road and accelerated hard. Of course we went nowhere. Luckily Annas did have some concept of how to drive, so he straightened the wheel, told Michelle to go steady on the gas and we slipped out of the mud and back onto the pulsing brown road.
After another 45 minutes or so we arrived in what seemed like a small mountain village. As we had become accustomed to, the town was a mess with shacks and semi-permanent buildings barely keeping the pounding rain out. We reluctantly got out of the car and begun to sullenly walk through the rain. It was already getting to around 7pm and we’d been up for a 13 hours with only 4 hours of sleep under our belt from the night before.
We could smell the baths before we could see them. That reeking stench of sulfur, like eggs that have been left out in the sun and then placed right under your nose. Sammy and Annas led us to the entry where we had to pay a miniscule amount for lockers. I’d been to “hot springs” before but the image in my mind turned out to be nothing like what we were about to see.
The Moroccans have a very different relationship to bathing than westeners, which can make it difficult for westerners not staying in western hotels. Sam and I hadn’t showered or bathed at this point in over a week but it wasn’t something we really noticed – we’d grown pretty used to being dirty for long periods of time. All the same, we were glad to finally get an opportunity for cleanliness. Moreover, we figured the hot springs to be a chance to take stock and evaluate our situation.
When we arrived, we had no idea where we were except that we were hours away from Fes. Sammy parked the car and we walked to a large, rectangular building. The floors were tiled and wet, and the bare concrete and dirty walls did nothing to offset my unease. Sammy paid, as always, and Sam and I found a place to get changed into our suddenly very western board shorts. The pools themselves were to be found in smaller rooms, packed to the brim with old, hairy men scrubbing each other or sitting by the edge, talking. Voices clanged and echoed in the chamber, and Sam and I stood in the doorway momentarily coming to terms with the sight. The yellowing water filled rectangular holes in the floor, maybe 10 metres long and 5 across, and spilled out to our feet as boys played and splashed. The sight of the men – fat; oily; naked – matched the familiar stench of the place.
As always, when we were seen, we were harassed. Previously lifeless men sprang from slumber and offered us massages for apparently very good prices, but Sam and I were in no mood for their hospitality. The room, despite a level of determination impressive even for Moroccan standards, soon found the two white men to be altogether unapproachable.
Sam and I slid into the water, immediately frustrated by the lack of room for swimming. Our one opportunity to clear our heads was a claustrophobic dip in tepid, oily water. We used what was given to us and took our chances. I reviewed the day over and over in my head, stuck in a loop of logic. I was desperate not to push some level of colonial prejudice onto the Moroccans. It was a process of deliberately quelling my instincts and rejecting any presuppositions. Instincts, for most people, are prejudices. Although I’ll write more about this later, for a long time after that day I struggled to explain my thinking in that moment. The truth is that in that moment, my desire to act fairly overrode what were in the end perfect instincts. I chose to ignore the gut that was telling me the worst. This is a decision that I have never regretted.
I stripped back the story 100 times until what was left was without emotion, assumption or instinct. The facts were confusing by their scarcity. As we have mentioned before, the only piece of evidence that pointed to any wrongdoing, was that Sam’s mother hadn’t been able to find prices as high as Mohammed had suggested. On the other hand, the evidence against wrongdoing was formidable, ranging from the backing of the government to the sheer scale of the operation. The truth was that Sam and I were paralyzed until we learnt the true value of these carpets for ourselves, and the only way to learn would be to access the Internet, alone. We were powerless without the Internet. Without it, we simply had no information to make any type of decision. Getting to it, then, became our only focus.
sevenredumbrellas asked: Hello! I haven't read your Fes story before - and I had planned to, however the link in Part 2 for Part 1 doesn't seem to work (probably because your url has changed since posting it). So I was wondering where I could find Part 1 of the story?
The longer we stay away from tumblr the more tags and links seem to disappear or break down. I’ll see what I can do.
laurenren asked: where are you these days?
AWOL. Sorry about that.
inthewideopenair asked: fes?????
Anonymous asked: please post the rest of the Fes / Carpet story. I read all of the 6 other parts tonight, going through your entire blog and I'm so desperate to hear how it ends!
Part 7 to be posted verrrrrrrry shortly.
This is a post to once again promise those waiting that the Fes story is on its way.
Something that makes me really happy:
hearing about your experiences at Splendour.
Disclaimer: Sarcasm was used in this post.