Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Moko gets swindled

About a decade ago, I spent a summer volunteering in Morocco. In addition to memorizing all the guide book tips, I had learned from my Moroccan co-volunteers the dos and don'ts of being street smart in the big cities, where foreign tourists were less numerous than they are today.

So at the end of her volunteering stint, savvy little miss Moko took herself to Casablanca, as she wanted to see the famed city, as well as explore the possibility of doing a PhD at the university (at which point, any listener of my story usually interrupts me and asks, "Oh, did you speak Arabic?"...at which point I blush and then wave aside their question as if irrelevant).

Anyway, on my first day in Casablanca, I was relaxing in the shade of an olive tree when a man approached me to ask the time. He then proceeded to tell me he was a professor at the university. We kicked off a conversation during which I impressed him with my (not so) extraordinary knowledge of Maghreb literature, and eventually he invited me and my then-boyfriend to dinner with him and his wife later in the evening. Of course! This is what the guide books said might happen--"Moroccan hospitality is well known"--and so we accepted, and then set out to buy something to take to his house as a housewarming gift.

Now I was in Morocco only shortly after finishing college, and I had very little money to my name. (In fact, so little, that I got mad when my then-boyfriend spent the equivalent of 25 cents on an ice cream in Casablanca. Sorry Mr. Ex...though only kinda.) But I really wanted to make a good impression on the professor, so I went into the most luxurious bakery in all of Casablanca and bought up a whole array of sweets, including the ones in the photo of tasty fig and marzipan numbers.

Later that day, we met the "professor" in a very chic suburb of Casablanca. After 15 minutes of my babble about literature, he suddenly asked us whether we would want wine with our dinner. "As a Muslim, I cannot drink it, but I can purchase some in a secret bar up the road if you give me some money."

The distinction between buying and consuming struck me a bit like a religious friend I had in high school who refused to have sex but had no issues with giving oral pleasures--but hey, I wasn't going to question it. After all, the thought of having wine in Morocco seemed thrilling given how taboo it was (again, this seems to have changed quite a bit over the past decade), so I said yes, and promptly handed over the equivalent of ten dollars---a total fortune for me then, and no doubt a bit irksome to that ex-boyfriend who was still smarting from his 50-cent purchase.

The man stood up and as he made to leave, he stopped and eyed my box full of pastries. "I will take this to my wife on the way," he said smiling.

...And, well, you already know how this story ends. The man never returned, we never got our wine, and I never got to try the marzipan figs until I returned to Morocco earlier this year.

Oh, and my boyfriend and I broke up.

I still regret the part about the figs though.


Jon said...

tragic! so this is why moko now has an untrusting veneer on the subject of sharing sweets... i hope the designated communal space between our desks was a step in the right direction. and i look forward to the full biography!

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