Posts Tagged ‘Morocco’

HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS, Morocco

Climbing through the Atlas Mountains

Climbing through the Atlas Mountains

Somewhere between the dusty path under our wheel and Marrakesh at our backs we had lost ten degrees of Fahrenheit. Poof! Gone were these degrees, evaporating into the ether as unheard of as a Neverman punchline. Despite the westward road’s climb in elevation, the increased proximity to the African sun actually brought relief from the valley’s all-too-intimate heat. Such change was a welcome one. Weeks ago I had given up on the insistence on cleanliness in vogue of late, surrendering my thrice daily baths and becoming familiar with the smell on my skin of days-old sweat (mostly mine, but not always). I didn’t entirely betray hygiene; I had, after all, packed my toothbrush. I kept my wounds covered because Ebola, I overcooked my pigeon because E-coli and I didn’t fraternize with camels because MERS; but I stank. I smelled of Fes tanneries, of Meknes butcheries, of spoilt vinegar thanks to the puddles of cat piss throughout Marrakesh. Up here, though, in the thinning air of the High Atlas… the wind charmed the nostril with the scent of untainted dirt.

I held my head out the window as a dog, the desert goggles strapped to my head keeping the filthy specks of Africa out of my eyes. To my left, my brother of a Berber-Arab mother drove the latter-century Mercedes truck.

“I have a joke. It is like riddle.” Rafiq began. In the back were the Australians and a California photo-journalist chick with mythical tattoos and a watch she wore on the inside of her wrist like a Mossad agent (thus I considered her highly-likely of Mossad). Rafiq went on with his riddle, “How do you get the camel into the refrigerator in three movements?” Rafiq drove on in the silence. Someone asked if there was a blender involved. Rafiq shook his head, no. “It is romantic joke.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe journey continued. Rafiq begged us to “think” about the joke. The answer was clear, he insisted. What wasn’t clear was our intent in the High Atlas Mountains. It began as something of a dare over smuggled gin – me auld mate of the Australian Consulate, Digger McKenzie, and I were desperate to unearth Qatari spies, especially if they had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. While the MB presence in Morocco had decreased after the reactionary appeasement to the Arab Spring by King Hassan, there were rumors of the Muslim Brotherhood being rife within the Rif and the Atlas Mountain ranges. Where our quixotic caravan wandered was Bled el-Siba, the Berber tribal country translated as ‘the Lands of Dissidence’. These were the mountains of the one-eyed rogue, Bou Hamara (translated ‘the man with the she-ass’) and of the kidnapper of Americans* el Raisuni: both scoundrels a century dead (give or take a hanging). The High Atlas was bandit country, fertile ground for a brotherhood of Islamic radicals on the run.

*President Teddy Roosevelt once put a bounty on Raisuni if a kidnapped Greek-American businessman was not returned unharmed, “Perdacarus Alive or Raisuli Dead!” Gunboat Diplomacy was nothing if not direct.

Since World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood had been a power player in Egyptian culture and politics (note past tense had). With the coming of 2011’s Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood seized power in Cairo with a little propaganda help from al-Jazeera Network and funding from the Qatari Royal Family. This would be the MB’s greatest (though brief) achievement and ultimately their undoing. The American Military of Egypt (armed by America, trained by America, etc. by America) held themselves a fashionable coup d’état and tossed the Muslim Brotherhood out of the country. Not only that, the most recent state of Egypt called treason on several al-Jazeera journalists for their part played in bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power (read more in my Qatar expose –kangaroo courts convicted the journos, rather unfairly, even if al-Jazeera paychecks are signed by Qatari royals). Suddenly without a country, where would the Muslim Brotherhood run? To the war-torn streets of Damascus and Baghdad? Or here… the Land of Dissidence?

I should mention, my introduction to the Muslim Brotherhood was pre-Arab Spring thanks to the French Documentary OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

Vic in Bled el-Siba, the land of dissidence

Vic in Bled el-Siba, the land of dissidence

We left Rafiq’s grandfather’s Mercedes in the village of Imlil and hiked our way up the mountain path to the village of Armed. Beyond Armed were valleys of river rock, thousand-years dried, and mountain peaks separating us from the Sahara. Both Imlil and Armed were villages prone to Berber territorialism, yet hardly breeding grounds for Islamic jihad. We still chatted and made tea with each passing villager, leaving my bladder a traffic warden ushering the minty, sugary stuff in as easily out.

At last, during a shade break well-beyond Armed, Rafiq answered his own joke, “How do you get a camel into a refrigerator in three movements? Open the refrigerator door, push the camel inside, close the door. Inshallah.” Ahh. Ahha. Arabic humor, you can’t mistake it. These are the same dudes who invented algebra, probably another of their jokes. The (Israeli-)American photo-journo asked, “How is this a romantic joke?” Digger, the Aussie, deadpanned, “Guess it depends on how you push the camel.”

Many thousands of miles away, in the disputed territories of Iraq and Syria, American drones are bombing jihadists who call themselves the Islam State of Iraq and Syria, or more commonly ISIS. These terrorists are the threat English-speaking governments & media insist have sleeper cells occupying the London Underground, digging beneath the Mexican Border and hiding under your bed. ISIS is ushering forth their own eugenics campaign – decapitating heathens is Natural Selection in favor of ‘the Faithful’, at least this would be their rationale should they be well-read on Darwin and Evolution. While misguided support of ISIS exists in the streets of Morocco, there does not seem to be any sort of organized threat here. Yet…

“There is reasoning why ISIS is only in two countries: ISIS is agent of America.” said the Frenchman wearing nothing but his very brief underwear and a curly red beard with beaded knots. It was a profound allegation that had us on our heels, but then we were leaning back as soon as this 6’+ Neanderthal emerged from the woods scratching his briefs and speaking French. I might, at this juncture, mention Rafiq is as allergic to Frenchmen as I am to Mayonnaise – which are related allergies. If you ask Rafiq about the period of the French Protectorate of Morocco, his kindly eyes will darken and he would spit on the ground if he weren’t so damned polite, incensed to the point of claiming, “Nothing was protected, only occupied.” Therefore French suck. Not that Rafiq ever shied from the occasional Parisian girlfriend, but these are details outside the realm of geopolitic.

Mister Giggle's nephews, Stink and Blink, with a mule train in the distance

Mister Giggle’s nephews, Stink and Blink, with a mule train in the distance

We didn’t happen by the Neanderthal, Francois, by accident. Our troupe had been hiking along when we encountered a mule-train recognized by Rafiq (these are the hills he grew up in). He connected with these Berber muleteers who invited us in for tea. All so bloody-fucking British, you would think, but the hospitality is nothing new to country folk – here or anywhere. Digger, his Australian companions, the Cali-Israeli chick Ly, and I enjoyed our tea as Rafiq rapped Berber with his people. He returned to us with another joke, “Lion is king of the jungle and so he plans a party. He invites everyone to party he is having and every animal attends except for one. Who is the animal and why is he not attending?”

It was while we were sipping our tea and pondering the party snub when the Neanderthal, Francois, emerged from the woodwork in his skivvies and a dead rabbit in hand. We asked Francois the Frank the same questions we had asked the village people and all of the muleteers in between – mostly, had you seen any Islamic radicals? Francois the Frank scratched his red beard, looked longingly at Ly, scratched his groin through the skivvies using the spare fingers of his rabbit hand and then spoke heavily-accented English directly to Digger McKenzie, who he assumed was the man in charge.

“ISIS exists, but not here. ISIS only exists in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Syria is where it exists because this is where America wish it exists. America does not like Syria regime, they are too friendly with Iran. America does not like Iraq regime, they are too friendly with China.”

Digger and Rafiq have tea with the muleteers

Digger and Rafiq have tea with the muleteers

Surprise, surprise… We had ourselves an educated Neanderthal. Apparently, that cyber café back in Armed came in handy. I couldn’t disagree with his premises. Syria’s dalliances with Iran didn’t make any friends in the Pentagon and it was true the previous Prime Minister of Iraq, al-Maliki, was cutting deals with China to give them oil once Iraqi oilfields were back in running order. All this and a free toaster, however, was hardly enough evidence to suggest the United States were behind the rampaging ISIS jihadists.

“Where come the money for ISIS? They have money, they have guns. Where this come? It come from Saudis, it come from Qataris, all by approval from Mother Liberty Miss America!” The Frenchman saluted as he ranted. The French had tendency towards douchebagginess. Digger McKenzie later diplomatically confirmed in his infinite wisdom: only the Dutch were worse.

Francois the Frank’s mumblings seemed absurd, yet absurdities worth considering… chaotic warfare in Syria and Iraq does benefit American aims to keep China and Russia off-balance. The be-headed Christians made an example of by ISIS were merely the sacrificed pawns of the Occidental War on the Orient. If you read behind the groin-scratching madness of the half-naked Neanderthal, you can start to see a conspiracy unfold. China is desperate for oil and the longer Iraq remains in chaos the longer China has to wait to quench its thirst. China is, ultimately, the power in the East (Orient) and the eventual Endgame opponent of America and the West (Occident).

Russia is even more susceptible to oil scarcity. Russia’s economy is dependent on a high oil price – the USSR even more so. In the 1980s, the United States managed to manipulate oil prices and the Soviet Union collapsed (#Reaganomics). To this day, the United States still manipulates the oil supply. The theory of “peak oil” is but myth meant to exaggerate supply & demand economics. There is no doubt plenty of oil exists and it is being held back by the United States. Canada wants a pipeline, fuck that. Iraq wants to rebuild their oil infrastructure and sell to the East, fuck that. The United States would rather keep oil underground than allow Russia or China to get their filthy mitts on the latest vintage.

As Russia encroaches on the Ukraine – just watch as surplus oil hits the market in a flood. The cost of oil will drop (though it will be hidden from the gas prices at your local petrol station) and this drop in price will drive Russia to economic ruin and/or nuclear agitation. Who drives this sudden surplus of oil? Us. US. US of A.

“If the Lion throws a party and every animal attends but one, who is it that does not attend and why?” Rafiq had asked back at the tents of the muleteers. After many guesses, the California girl surmised, “It is the camel.” Why did the camel not attend the party? “He is still in the fridge.” She was correct. The poor beast of burden was shivering his bones in the fridge as the lion party went on.

“Okay, an Aussie joke.” Digger interjected, not to be outdone. “Three Aussies enter the Medina and realize they forgot their watch. They ask a Moroccan sitting next to a bull what time it was. The Moroccan reaches out to the bull’s scrotum and weighs its bollocks with his hand before replying, ‘2:15’. Amazing, the Aussies think. The next day, they return with a watch and find the same man next to a bull. They ask him again what time it was. Again, the man cups the bull’s balls and estimates a time. The time matches with the Aussie’s watch. ‘How do you do that?’ the Aussies inquire. The man waves them forward… if you lift the balls of the bull up, behind them you can see the clock tower.”

Again – the answer is often clear, but blurred by our manic imagination.

It’s just a joke, but there is a pattern worth recognizing: Arabic tendency versus Western conviction. Westerners hear the same joke and expect different results. When the punchline comes, it is too late. Towers fall. I am no Arabist, but I read. I read about the English in Afghanistan in the 1840s and damn does it seem similar to the same tribal warfare we encounter now. I read about the Indian Mutiny of 1857 – incited when Muslim and Hindu troops under the employ of the English were led to belief their gun cartridges were greased by pig and cow fat. Western Diplomacy is short-sighted and long-barreled. Eastern-diplomacy is long-game and dagger-in-the-back. This shit is ongoing, eternal. After the atrocities of World War II, Western Powers bulldozed a path for permanent Israeli settlement in the Levant – the umpteenth Crusade, this time with a Hebrew King of Jerusalem instead of a leprous Frank. Has this crusade been any different than those of the last few millennia? Has the British cartographical dissections of Jordan and Iraq worked out? Ask the various tribes and ethnicities that make up the majority of those countries what they think of their chances at democracy.

Rafiq had a final joke, “How do you get an Elephant into the refrigerator in four movements?”

I was able to respond easily enough, “Open the door, remove the camel, push in the elephant and close the door.” Rafiq turned towards me and asked, innocently, if I had heard the joke before. I had not.

Greetings Wanderer,

This Brisbane bloke to my left and I have been sitting here admiring your disembarking of the train into this wilderness of Marrakesh. These nos-nos coffees may twerk our alertness, but nothing could perk our spirits as much as your grand entrance: baggage in the throes of mutiny, father already pickpocketed, step-sister having bled all over the seats now in search of toilette and nephews stolen away and sold into slavery at an Algerian anchovy cannery. Magnifique! Bienvenue a Maroc!

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh train station

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh train station

While here, I recommend endearing yourself to the heat. There is no sense in fighting the inevitable – your hotel room ceiling fans can only account for so much conditioning of the air. Take this Aussie bloke to my left – he is used to sweating for twenty hours a day and for the other four he drinks. He often drinks with me as I adopted the same lifestyle years ago living in the former Spanish colony of La Florida. As for finding booze in a mostly dry country, this is a topic for another time…

In Morocco, you are lucky enough to encounter a local who speaks Napoleonic French, let alone the Queen’s English. Even Arabic speakers may be hard to find the further into the Atlas Mountains you wander. To prepare the wayward traveler, I have compiled a short compendium of relevant words and phrases:

Arabic Common Words Heard in the Streets of Morocco

Nos-Nos – “Half-half” relating to the proportion of coffee to cream

The Baroness, having survived her interrogation by the Moroccan secret police, walked up to me in the hotel restaurant, grabbed my cup of nos-nos and dumped its contents into my already humid lap.

Bisaha – Cheers

“Prost!” Conrad lifted his glass of smuggled schnapps and swallowed it down, unaware of the laxative bubbling away within. “Bisaha!” I toasted back with my Casablanca Lager.

Inshallah – God Willing

I’ve got to see a man about a mule, Inshallah. Tonight I will sleep, Inshallah.

Y’allah, Y’allah – Hurry up, let’s go

To the roof! Y’allah! Y’allah! The secret police are downstairs.

Balek – Get out of the way, spoken by muleteers as they prod their beasts of burden through the Medina.

Balek! Balek! Unless you want to meet the business end of a mule, Balek!

Bahr Adulumat – “Sea of Darkness”, the Atlantic Ocean

Do you know what they do with Kaffirine like you? They tie you into sacks and drown you in Bahr Adulumat like dogs.

Caravanserai – lodging place on the outskirts of town where travelling merchants hold business.

There isn’t a decent drop of whiskey to be found in the city. Try going out to the Caravanserai where, for a price, you can find anything; except, maybe, incest as your kin are notoriously slippery.

Kaffirine – heathen or savage, often pale skinned and drowned in a sack in the Bahr Adulumat.

Not all Kaffirine are Nazarene, but all Nazarene are Kaffirine.

Nazarene – Follower of Jesus of Nazareth; Christians in specific, white folk in general.

You can claim atheism, but until you adopt the Five Pillars of Islam and discover your parents are Moroccan, you will always be Nazarene.

 

Now for some Francais… (courtesy of Ghislain, a notorious rake living in Portland, Oregon)

– Hello = Bonjour
– Thank you = Merci
– Sorry = Pardon
– Restrooms = Toilettes
– That’s a nice camel you have here = Votre chameau est magnifique !
– Where is the …? = Où est le/la … ?
– How are you doing? = Comment ça va ?
– What time is it? = Quelle heure est-il ?
– How much does this cost? = Combien ça coûte ?
– I would like to marry your daughter = J’aimerais épouser votre fille

Neverman of Marrakesh

Neverman of Marrakesh


Some further Francais courtesy of the InterWeb translation machines

Let them eat cake

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

Bring me more beer and whiskey, please

Apportez-moi plus de biere et de whisky s’il vous plait

How to make the camel stop?

Comment faire cesser un chameau?

Where can I urinate if there are no bushes in the desert?

Ou puis-je uriner si il n’u a pas de buissons dan le desert?

Show me to your dancing girls

Montrez-moi a vos filles de danse

I come in peace. Take me to your leader.

Je viens en paix prendre moi a votre chef

The American Embassy will pay you much for my release.

L’ambassade americaine va vous payer beaucoup pour ma liberation

I didn’t know she was your (sister, wife, mother, daughter)

Je ne savais pas qu’elle etait votre (soeur, femme, mere, fille)

Is there (a cell phone, an ATM, electricity) in your village?

Y at-il (un telephone portable, distributeur de billets, del’electricite) dans votre village.

Can you look at this rash? Is it normal?

Pouvez-vous regarder cette eruption? Est-ce normal?

Yes. Now that I think of it, your religion is superior. Where may I apply?

Oui. Je comprends maintenant votre religion est superieure. Ou puis-je postuler?

No really, I am Canadian.

Non, vraiment, je suis Canadien

No really, I am a Turk.

Non, vraiment, je suis un Turc

Is there anything on the menu without sand in it?

Y at-il quoi que ce soit sur le menu sans sable en elle?

Please, no mayonnaise.

S’il vous plait pas de mayonnaise

How far to the nearest shade?

A quelle distance a l’ombre le plus proche

No thank you. The price is too high.

Non merci le prix est trop eleve

Of course, all of us Canadians hate the French too.

Biens sur, nous tous, les Canadiens detestent les Francais trop

 

Rabat is an increasingly modern city with fancy shit yachts in the Bou Regreg River and jazz concerts in the Roman ruins of Sala Colonia. I arrived via hired car driven by a hired driver whose only CD was The Best of Cat Stevens. My contact, smarmy bastard he was, recognized me as soon as I set foot in the shadows of the Kasbah despite my disguise as a Norwegian ex-Marxist who suffered somnambulism.

“Ali Baba!” Mustapha greeted me with an unprovoked enthusiasm. “Each day you are more and more ugly!” Mustapha was Fassi and Fassis consider themselves exceedingly clever. Mustapha, in all his cleverness, fashioned himself an expert on American humor and believed the cornerstone of sarcasm was direct insult. Forget subtlety and nuance, Mustapha’s quips were more unfiltered hatred. “Greetings, oh itchy fellow! Oh leprous one! Welcome to the Capital of Morocco. May Allah give you fever without perspiration!”

“Likewise… Dick.” I spoke, forgetting to use my Scandinavian accent.

The Marrakeshi have a joke about their clever rivals from Fes. The first time a Fassi encountered a mirror, he immediately set out to deceive his “other” (there are donkeys involved, as is standard with all Marrakeshi stories). Long joke short, the Fassi is eventually carrying the city of Fes upon his shoulders as he attempts to outclass his reflection. When witnessing in the mirror the image of a city as beautiful as his own, he dies of heartbreak… it is funnier if you are from Marrakesh.

Mustapha in wizardly djellaba, gazing over Roman Ruins of Sala Colonia

Mustapha in wizardly djellaba, gazing over Roman Ruins of Sala Colonia

The intensity in Mustapha’s eyes as he wished boils upon my tongue was such that any semblance of sarcasm, if there ever was any, was lost in the exchange. And yet – he was my host and as my host, I was under his protection. There is an old guideline amongst the French Colonialists of lore when dealing with the Berber peoples of North Africa and this guideline plays upon the honor and hospitality of the Berber culture. Read any diary of European adventurers of the 19th Century and they will remark on how the local Moroccans may not drink, but they will thieve and lie and kill… unless you are under their protection. So the guideline is this: find yourself the most disreputable warlord of the region and invite yourself to dinner. Once the water for tea starts to boil, you are considered protected, just do not depart prior to slurping down at least three glasses of sweet, minty, substance. Do not sit with your legs crossed (as I am prone to do) as this is considered to be the habit of dogs. Do not pace or mention Christians or Jews in the company of Believers. Do belch as much as possible when eating and do not fret over your tablemates using their dirty paws to dig into the couscous on the public plate before you. Do not make eye-contact with the ladies of the house; in fact, just ignore them (or risk their being banished by their fathers or husbands). Follow these rules of etiquette and you are protected as an honored guest.

This hospitality custom brings us to Mustapha – the nastiest scoundrel Africa could conjure this side of the Atlas Mountains. He spoke almost as many languages as he had girlfriends, which made him increasingly valuable to a simple-lingual adventurer, such as me. If I was to stay in Morocco for any length of time, I was going to need friends like Mustapha. I had already crossed a Teutonic madman in Casa: a liar, thief and cut-throat convinced I cheated him out of a taxi fare, even after I paid him to quit his screaming outside my hotel window. Mustapha’s associates eventually took Conrad to a cabaret where they filled him with enough drink to subdue him.

After I arrived in Rabat, Mustapha led me into the Kasbah of the Udayas, within the blue and white alleys (painted the two colors to honor both Andalusian and Berber influence) towards an agreed upon rendezvous point. Mustapha reached behind his head to the white wizard hood of his djellaba where it rested between his shoulder blades and withdrew a packet of Marlborough cigarettes, offering me one and suggesting, “Once your business is done, I can show you where the Peace Corps girls can be found.”

Non merci.” I waved off the offering. “I’ve long since learned to avoid them. And I don’t smoke.”

“Avoid?” Mustapha stopped in his tracks, nearly tripping out of his slippers. The look on his face was perplexed. “Avoid women? Yes, yes, it is known by boys in Fes, ‘Share a meal with a Jew, but not a bed. Share a bed with a Christian, but not a meal.’ You Nazarenes are known for particular appetite, no?”

“No!” I insisted. “It is only Peace Corps women I’ve learned are best avoided. As for Nazarene appetites, these I do not share.”

Mustapha nodded, smiling knowingly. “Your hands are too soft for Peace Corps women. Very hard, these women are. Like mule driver. They are very quick to lie down, like wife of mule driver.” His eyebrows peaked excitedly at the wicked notion. Mustapha eventually paused his commentary and his trot, placed his cigarettes back into his wizard hood (“Berber suitcase” he grinned) and withdrew an ancient cell phone. After umpteen seconds of pumping the relic with his thumb, Mustapha announced, “It is time.”

In the Kasbah with Mustapha

In the Kasbah with Mustapha

We entered a blue & white striped building to find a dark room with a darker-still corridor to traverse. It was quiet and the air thick with dust as if sunburnt tourists and molting snakes had a firm shake within these walls. Down a hall decorated with Berber rugs dyed with henna, saffron and clove, we traveled until we came upon a backroom with, seemingly, no other exit. Tea had been prepared and an assortment of almond cookies lain out. I was told to take a seat and five minutes later a hidden door materialized and two well-tanned Western gentlemen entered wearing shorts, collared shirts and trainers. Both men were both built for rugby, though they were of an age where most of their scrums were behind them. These were diplomats from the Australian Embassy.

“You’re Neverman, then?” The bigger one inquired with a half-sneer, his voice filling every crevice of the room. “I’m Bruce MacKenzie, this here’s Digger McKenzie, no relation!” At this, the two Aussies broke into laughter, which I matched in volume. Nothing earns an Australian’s trust sooner than to laugh heartily along with their laughter.

Mint Tea, served with gusto

Mint Tea, served with gusto

Everyone took seats and Mustapha served tea in the traditional fashion, pouring the liquid out of the silver vessel from a great height to honor the guests. Once served, I thanked Mustapha and excused him to play video games on the handheld Nintendo hiding inside his wizard hood.

“I suppose we are free to speak here?” I asked the Aussies.

“Say what you want, just know the Yanks have everything bugged.” The younger Digger McKenzie noted. “And the Chinese have the Yanks bugged, but at least the Qatari can’t hear us here.”

“Bloody Qatar. Fucking everywhere, mate.” The elder and larger Bruce MacKenzie admitted. “Why’s it you come to us and not your Yanks?”

“I am not looking for American friends. Besides, I figured you’d tell them soon enough.”

“Too right, Vic. They rang us up before your Mustapha fellow did.” Digger said candidly.

“Oi, but we got our own file on you, mate.” Bruce said, proud of his own independent intelligence network. “Canberra gave you political sanctuary some years ago. Clean record it seems, other than some fuss in Sydney.”

Faked your own death and then forgot about it the next day.” Digger was impressed, or in the least, entertained. “Brilliant, really. You must have been quite pissed.”

“What’s it you want with us, then?” Bruce MacKenzie, Under Secretary of the Australian Consulate in Morocco, cut to the chase as his sausage fingers powdered the almond cookies before they could be tossed into his great mawl.

“Friendship for a favor.” I suggested. “I can provide intel on shady characters here in Morocco.”

Bruce and Digger glanced at each other, sharing the same thought.

“Not sure we’re looking for any friends, Vic.” Digger admitted, almost saddened by my hapless cause.

“Future consideration, then? I’ll give you some intel, maybe later we grab some pints and who knows?”

“What’s your business here in Africa?” Bruce asked, leaning forward as chief inquisitor. “Not the tequila rubbish, Maroc Spirits, LTD founded by Victor Neverman. We’ve seen your permits. What are you really here for?”

“You don’t go into liquor business in a Muslim Country, do ya Vic?” Digger asked patronizingly. “Next you’ll have a hotdog cart in the streets.”

“It would be mostly exports. Maybe deal in a little spice, some saffron.” I suggested. “Look, do you want to bust my balls about my business acumen or talk shop?”

Bruce and Digger shared another look, this one a bit more solemn. They nodded for me to continue, sitting on their bench like a pair of footballers looking to knock some heads. Their combined ribcages could have fit 18 of me. Their good humor was waning…

“There is a guy back in Casa I can deliver to you. He’s an Algerian spy. His name is Conrad and he claims to be a deserter from the Foreign Legion. He’s mostly full of shit, but I know he is working for the Algerians.”

They were unimpressed. Digger McKenzie, Cultural Attaché for the Australian Consulate explained, “We’re not in the border dispute business, Vic.”

“Now if you make him a Qatari spy we’re interested.” Bruce MacKenzie suggested in a quiet boom.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” I spoke excitedly. I then mentioned the mysterious Baroness. She was playing every fiddle in the European Union, she drank vodka like a Bolshevik and she was rather stunningly beautiful, I mean, if you could get past the, umm, cold sores.

“Imagine that’s what your Ali Baba beard is for.” Digger suggested with a wink. “First line of defense against the herp.”

“How is it you said she is passing information to Qatar?” Bruce queeried.

“She picks up French newspapers, sometimes days old.” I mentioned. They waited, their opened palms expressing a desire for more. “She doesn’t read French, you see, she is hopeless with a menu. Newspaper transmission is old spy craft – the agent in the field takes a pin and pokes holes into certain letters to spell out a message. She drops the used paper in a garbage bin; her handler picks it up and later holds it in front of a light and writes down the message.”

“Fucking Qataris!” Bruce groaned and shook his head. “It’s got their stink all over it.”

“First offer of advice, Vic.” Digger leaned in. “Drop this Mustapha fellow. He’s a bad sort. We’ve got a Marrakshi bloke who’s tops.”

“Rafiq?” Bruce raised an eyebrow at Digger.

“Too right, Rafiq.” Digger confirmed and then patted me on the shoulder. “Tops.”

Which is how I found my Moroccan partner-in-crime, Rafiq.

First though, I had to end my relationship with Mustapha. I gave him the news before we parted ways outside the Tower of Hassan in Rabat. I wasn’t sure if his reaction was elated or angered. I hoped he understood I was moving on from Casablanca and would be living in Marrakesh, where his influence was nullified.

“I understand, M’sseur Neverman. I understand Allah in his wrath gave Nazarenes the heart of dogs.”

I laughed, assuming he was trying to be sarcastic. I said something about God being with him, as is custom if you can enunciate the Arabic in a non-offensive manner.

“May God let you finish out your miserable life.” Mustapha responded.

“Yep, so… Adios!”

the lads in marrakesh: Digger McKenzie, Tariq and Vic Neverman

the lads in marrakesh: Digger McKenzie, Rafiq and Vic Neverman