night 4: ramadan in tangier.

The above photo is the view from the end of the rue Ben Abdessadak, the front door to our hotel is approximately behind that shadowy figure on the left.

Tangier was "a trip". That's the "six days later" me talking. The "while it was happening" me thought it was fucking insane and hadn't been that uncomfortable traveling in a very long time. Not because of anything that actually happened, but because it was wholly foreign and I was undeniably a tourist: there was no way to blend in, no way to feign comprehension of my surroundings, no sense of perspective or scale to gauge how dangerous or threatening situations actually were.

I haven't felt that much like "prey" in a long time, maybe not since I accidentally took a train to the wrong part of the Bronx back when I was 18 and living in Boston. My instructions were to "go to Grand Central Station and take a train to White Plains, then call me when you get there." Noooo problem.

So I did that. When I got off at "White Plains", I walked down from the train platform, and the street was crowded with non-white people drinking out of brown paper bags, gathered around trash cans with things burning in them. As I walked past, conversations stopped mid-sentence, heads turning to follow me, to find out where this obviously very lost Duran Duran motherfucker thought he was going. I'm sure I was the topic of every conversation for the next 10 minutes or so, people using their giant 1988-sized cellphones to call other friends and family members to "hey yo, you got to take a look at this".

I think I even had my camera around my neck for a minute or two before I fully comprehended the gravity of the situation. I slunk into the nearest open store, a convenience store of some sort and tried to invisibly, nonchalantly unfold my giant map of New York and quietly but desperately figure out what went wrong.

Of course the woman behind the counter was a wary, suspicious sort, and immediately noticed my whiteness and bafflement. She said something like "Baby, where you trying to be?" And I probably said something like "White Plains, ma'am". Her eyes widened and a look of mild but controlled horror came over her face. "Baby, you got to get out of here right now. You on White Plains Road, ain't the same White Plains at all. You got to just go get back on that train and go back wherever you came from. Quick."

Tangier reminded me of that a little bit, the absolutely critical difference being: there was no actual threat here. Yes, during the day I'd been aggressively approached by men trying relentlessly to get me to give them money for advice I didn't need. Yes, one of them called me a racist when I politely and repeatedly refused his services after which he was quite passively hostile for a couple of minutes, although we parted on "friendly" terms (I tried to sincerely thank him yet again for his offer and he said "OK, thank you for your thank you"). And I was with the only (white?/European?/non-headscarved?) woman I remember seeing out on the streets that night.

It's also that your American traveler experience cringes constantly at the situations you're forced into in Tangier's Medina at night. "Stick to well-lit streets." OK. Where are those streets? "Don't look lost". OK, well, then show me a street sign, or a street that doesn't change names every 20 feet, or alternately give me an accurate map of the Medina. Or worst case, please let me my GPS figure out where I've ended up. "Avoid dead-ends and dark alleys". Etc. You just can't rely on any of those things, and all of your "worldly traveler alarm systems" are going off constantly. There's no way to "look cool" because you're constantly trying to figure out where the fuck you are.

Maybe if I'd been by myself I wouldn't have been quite as hyperaware, but I was conspicuously not alone and felt a bit responsible for the safety of my traveling companion. The photos here were mostly taken after midnight, when the Moroccan women had finally begun to appear in the streets a bit. But in the three hours of walking we did before that, most of it outside the Medina, the population was 99% male, and, again: you just have no idea what's normal, you don't have enough experience to gauge/read/manage the attention you're getting.

So in the end, your options are to either stick to the five places that all the other tourists are (which pretty much describes our dinner), or give up any illusion of control and hope for the best, which is the part of the evening where most of these pictures come from.


When we'd gotten to the hotel that day around 17:00, our host/concierge had seemed kind of sullen and withdrawn, and, me having just been called a racist, I embraced those racist tendencies by thinking "Oh, really, you too? You no like ze Americanos?"

In reality, he just hadn't eaten or drank since 3am because duh it's Ramadan, Mr. Americano. He apologized for his lethargy and said "Yes, it's a bit difficult. Breakfast tonight is at sunset, which is at (looking at watch) 7:47pm. We have a bowl of harira and some dates. Then we eat lunch at around 11pm. Then dinner at 3am. Then I get up for work at 7am. I'm tired."

Helpful Ramadan FAQ here.

After we returned from a two-hour tour outside the Medina, me being in a state of ultra-high adrenaline red alert and being shat on by a giant bird--well, wait.

Yes, at the nadir of the closest thing we came to a Death Mope on this vacation, having walked for an hour through super-dicey, underlit, chaotic, garbage-strewn, Mad Max-esque parts of the city, having just gone through another extended polite refusal ("Hey, Mister....Monsieur....Sir, where you from? You have maybe 5 dirham for me? Sir. Hey Mister. Just give me 5 dirham. Please. Mister. Hey. Monsieur. Sir, please. 5 dirham....come on, give it to me"), and having still utterly failed to find anywhere remotely inviting for a woman to sit down and enjoy a refreshing beverage of any sort....a giant bird shat on my shoulder. As Branford Marsalis memorably said about the state of his jazz chops after a year on the road with Sting: "It's sad, man, but if you don't laugh....you cry."

So we laughed pretty extensively and I looked for something to swab/dab/mitigate the damage with, but all I could locate was a very small dried leaf. After only really managing to get birdshit all over my fingers, I looked at Nelson with dead eyes and said in a deflated monotone, "Could you please just find something," and her face lit up as she said "Oh, I've got just the thing." She started laughing even harder as she rummaged around in her purse for a few seconds and with a flourish produced the only absorbent object available to us. So on a busy thoroughfare in the "newer" part of Tangier on a Sunday night during Ramadan, I was having a heaping tablespoon of birdshit wiped off my shirt with a freshly-unwrapped maxipad by the only (white?/European?/non-headscarved?) woman in sight. "Way to blend in."


As I was saying: after all that, returning to the Medina seemed positively welcoming and comforting and wonderfully festive. These next pics are all taken around midnight I think.


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