Our first 5 minutes in Tangier were spent in the pouring rain schlepping a wheelie suitcase (which always makes me feel like a tool but I’m not the backpack sort, I would feel like a walking lie, much like when people try to get me to wear lip gloss) 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 (which wasn’t very credible because I personally took the wrong turn 100% of the time like it was amateur hour), and struggled to follow the directions we’d memorized to the hostel both due to the lack of street signs and the constant prodding from our honor guard, who were politely but forcefully holding up various shabby business cards to hostels and hotels they surely had no affiliation with, which was powerfully disorienting, and oddly flattering (I love attention).
Even in the rain with runnels of muddy water flowing from up the narrow channels of the Medina in every direction the energy was palpable. Allow me to belabor the point that we’d often get lost in the warren, 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 bakeries (I tripped over one that wandered into a bakery whilst trying to buy a kilo of sweets (as is my wont), sliding around on its hooves and bleating angrily at 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 was ready to leave.