Our first 5 minutes in Tangier were spent in the pouring rain schlepping a wheelie suitcase through mud and cobble stones surrounded by a ring of men and boys offering in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic to bring us to a hostel, where’s our hostel, are we lost, that hostel is closed, that hostel is bad, come this way, come this way.
We kept our heads down and repeated emphatically no I don’t need/want any help, no I know where I’m going, and struggled to follow the directions we’d memorized to the hostel. This was difficult due both to the lack of street signs and the constant prodding from our honor guard, who were politely but forcefully offering up various shabby business cards to hostels and hotels they had loose affiliation with.
Even in the rain with runnels of muddy water flowing from up the narrow channels of the Medina, the energy was palpable. Allow me to belabor the point that we’d often get lost in the warren of matching streets and alleyways, taking a wrong turn and ending up in a dead end where a small boy would appear and run ahead of us back the way we came and demand money, which they could do in about a thousand different languages (I have the same talent when ordering beer, so I was duly impressed).
There were people everywhere, everyone talking, greeting, standing around just being. Bread bakers were sweating in front of big iron ovens in shallow basements you had to stoop to enter. Sheep were being herded past closely (one wandered into a bakery where I was queueing, sliding around on its hooves and bleating angrily towards me in one of my more surreal ovine interactions). The air smelled like almonds, dust, and camel leather, and everyone stared and everyone was gracious.
Whenever the call to prayer would sound the city became eerily still, the wailing voice reverberating off the high walls of the casbah in a ghostly song, seeming to bounce off the low-hanging gray clouds that muffled all other sound.
I drank hot mint tea and was happy.
At night the maze of alleyways and corridors was quiet, with here or there a person scurrying past on some urgent business, only seen far ahead or close behind. And there were always the young men, standing both together and separately, lining the streets in intervals like sentinels quietly talking together and in silence. They didn’t often speak to us but we felt their eyes and their eyes felt hot and weighed on us.
The sea was blue and beautiful and the food was sublime, and after 3 days I wasn’t ready to leave.