I took a short trip to Morocco. I made friends.
The music from the tape player faded to small static and subsequently silence. I could only hear the groans and splashes of a man washing himself across the room. I staved off a sneeze so as not to break the silence.
Mumbling, kissing the carpet.
The urge to sneeze was brought on by the dust of centuries, clinging to tapes and tea kettles, adorning mirrors and great books of prayer in myriad languages and religions. This was the form of silence. Clocks ticked slowly inside the store. A baby cried softly and fleet feet found pavement outside. Voices grumbled and mumbled in a foreign language from the streets in the background. But in the foreground, forcefully, in fortissimo:
“If you want to find a God, you look for yourself,” Abderrahim had said.
The guide books for Fez warn you of the unofficial “guides” that show you around and demand your money. But it’s difficult to say no to them in the bustling maze of a medina paved in cobblestone and walled into tight winding quarters. With 97 kilometers of walkway inside its walls, it is helpful to have a guide after all. There are endless shops, cafes, and shady dealings behind beaded doors to explore. Once you have accepted a guide, however, the challenge is finding a way to relieve them of their duties. Duties that you never really requested in the first place and never committed to pay for.
“I no push like George Bush,” my guide had assured me, drenched in sweat as we trekked upwards toward the panoramic view of the city. “I am good man. You give me what you like.”
I wasn’t sure what it meant at the time, only that it was one of a few English phrases that Mr. No Push could muster. Mr. No Push George Bush resembles George W. Bush about as much as I resemble Christina Aguilerra. He is olive skinned, long, pudgy, sweaty, and generally shaped like a weeble wobble. He is almost as clumsy with his movements as he is with his words. I also came to know that Mr. No Push has a blind mother and chain smokes. He introduced me to worthwhile tourist spots that I otherwise wouldn’t have found during my limited time in Fez: a hike to panoramic views of the city, stinky leather tanneries where they dip sheep skin into large holes of water, natural spice shops, and a traditional Hammam bath.
He also showed me to Abderrahim’s antique shop, and for that, I am grateful.
By the time I made it to Abderrahim’s antique shop, I was exhausted. I had been walking for hours in the desert heat. The energy that I wasn’t spending on walking I had spent on halfway communicating with the grunting oaf that was leading me around.
When Abderrahim welcomed me with familiar music on his tape player, familiar languages, and offered me a cup of tea and a seat in his shop, I was content. In a land where the official languages are Arabic and French, we were communicating in English and Spanish.
“I used to be big hippie!” Abderrahim bellowed, beaming with a genuine smile as he queued up the tape player.
Still beaming, he pulled out his box of photos for proof of the life he had lived. He was smiling this adorable natural smile in each photo. There were shots of him and his Spanish girlfriend, snaps of him in the desert, and some from years ago in the very shop within which we sat.
Then he showed me a portrait of two important-looking men riding horses together.
“You know this man?”
I thought for a moment. “Yeah, that’s Ronald Reagan! And that other guy’s not you, is it?”
He was ecstatic. “Morocco has been friend to America longer than any country in the world. We were the first country to recognize America’s independence. That is the Moroccan king Hassan II.”
I took a short trip to Morocco. I made friends.
And so we sipped tea, shared music, and talked for hours before I fully realized that he was trying to sell me. Fair enough, the man must make a living, and he seemed honest and respected my boundaries. Soon I had agreed to buy a hand drum and an antique horn in exchange for a fair dollar price. He even offered to host me at his home for a night in the countryside outside of Fez.
Gibben, nebben. This was the phrase that Abderrahim used to close deals, demonstrating the simple exchange of goods with a simpler hand gesture, one hand extending towards you (gibben) and the other hand receiving from you (nebben). Gibben, nebben.
Neither of us knew much German and we both laughed at the clumsy sound of the German rock band’s tape that he popped into the dusty player. He poured two cups of tea and changed the tape. We sank into our seats, sipping tea and trading stories. Mostly he shared stories and I listened. I was comfortable.
“This is all we need,” he said, Cat Stevens singing softly in the background. “To live simply. We don’t need greed or money, none of that. Money is not important, it is only the world, the people, peace and love.”
Ahh, yes. I responded with a soft mmhm indicating agreement during a moment of pure peace. “Verdad.”
“Can you please pay me now?” he said abruptly, sharply interrupting the calm.
I paid the man.
“Humd’allah, humd’allah,” he muttered. It was a phrase that Abderrahim would mutter any time there seemed to be negative energy hovering. He would invoke it if he had just spoken ill of a person or, in this instance, after he contradicted himself. Money was obviously important to him. Money is important to everyone. If there is somewhere in the world where it isn’t, I haven’t found that place.
I once knew a man who tried to sell me ocean front property in Arizona. I also met a Moroccan who tried like hell to sell me a trip to the Sahara Desert.
Mr. No Push had decided that I should go to the Sahara Desert for $300. Upstairs in a shady cafe loft, he had me talking to another strange man about the trip. He wanted to close the deal, but I was uncertain. The man I was speaking to spoke better English than No Push, and perhaps that was why he had me speaking to him instead. During our conversation-turned-negotiation, a white man with glasses carried a tall glass of tea up the ladder to the loft where we were speaking. The glass was tall, bubbling, and filled with green leaves and sugar. It was also scalding hot. I think that Moroccans take pleasure in serving tea to foreigners in glasses without handles just to watch them burn themselves until they figure out how to balance the glass lengthwise between pinky and thumb.
I excused myself from the conversation and stepped down the ladder to the traditional Moroccan bathroom (a hole in the ground), where I was approached by a man speaking with a familiar drawl. “Where you from, man? I overheard your conversation up there and you don’t sound like you’re from here.” He laughed and fidgeted. “I’m just happy to hear another American’s all.” He was middle-aged, short, tanned, and clean-cut with a goatee. His polo shirt was tucked into khaki shorts, a look you would expect to see on a municipal golf course in New Jersey, but not at a cafe in Morocco. He stood out.
He told me that he was in Morocco for work as a marble salesman. “I get here and I see all this beautiful Moroccan marble and I wonder why the world don’t know about it! But deez…” he lowered to a whisper and came closer to me, peering over his shoulder. No Push was lurking somewhere nearby, but nowhere was close enough for him to understand nuanced English. “Deez guys out here don’t know how to do business. They mix business with emotions. Everything is personal.”
He also confirmed what I was thinking already about the desert trip. It was a bad idea. Why rush out of Fez?
Karl in the khaki shorts wanted to grab a drink and talk some more. “I’m headed up to da Blue Gates up there, you know. Good people watching up there. You’ve got tourists walkin’ in, walkin’ out, da guides hounding them and whatnot. Let’s grab a drink, I want to chat more.” The Blue Gates are the entrance to the the old city medina. I was interested, but apparently it was a breach of contract with No Push.
“We have reservation for dinner,” he said curtly. He seemed bothered, but he gave me a forced smile between drags of his cigarette. “Good, you feel good?” He gave me the thumbs up. Somehow the thumbs up is a universal symbol of faux good times. It’s unnatural. I find that it pops up most often at times when other communication is failing. Mr. No Push only offered it when he sensed that I was uneasy and he sensed me slipping away.
“I don’t remember asking for a reservation.”
“We have reservation, you no can just leave.”
I was becoming uneasy with this whole relationship, but we had already made plans to go to the Hammam bath after dinner and No Push was my connection. He had already bought me supplies: Moroccan black soap and a small towel.
“That’s okay,” offered Karl. “Meet me back here after dinner, I want to talk to ya some more.”
I knew we wouldn’t meet. Meeting someone in the Fez medina was complicated. It took extra commitment from both parties to have a very specific meeting point and the ability to navigate there. I suppose that this was why Mr. No Push didn’t want to leave me.
Dinner that night was one of my loneliest moments of the trip. I should have been enjoying the beautiful views of Fez atop the medina restaurant roof. I should have been savoring the taste of my tangine. But instead, I had a chain smoking man dropping in and out of my meal with the thumbs up symbol pestering me about Sahara.
After dinner, the Hammam was just what the doctor ordered, or what the doctor might have ordered if the doctor was a gay Muslim. Sitting nearly naked on a cold stone floor, a lanky man first bathed me out of buckets of hot water and then moved on to the ritualistic massage and bath combination. It was an expert display of body control and contortion from the sinewy Moroccan. All the while, he was barking orders in broken Spanish, our common denominator. In between commands, he would offer a forceful and extended SHHHH SHH like a woman hushing a baby, only screaming.
At some point in the storm of arms and legs and loud emphatic SHHHs from the masseuse, I was asked to grab the man’s dirty feet for leverage. I found myself laughing with my face down on a stone floor.
Moroccans may have a streak of masochism, but they know what they’re doing.
After my bath, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated. I slept easy that night. In the morning I would meet Mr. No Push outside of Omar’s place before heading to Abderrahim’s for breakfast. I was checking out of Omar’s home, freed of the nine-person family home with half a cold shower, half a bathroom, and a full hole in the ground for a toilet. Zero TP. Omar had tried to sell me an overpriced meal that his mother would cook. He had also discouraged me from speaking to some nice boys that I met playing music outside of his home, calling them thieves. His mother later cooked me a meal in good faith and I shared music with the boys on the street. I think that Omar was the thief.
I was taking Abderrahim up on his offer to stay in his home in the countryside. He offered his home as part of the sale.
El arte de vender. Salesmanship. Abderrahim has it. When there’s a sale in progress in Fez, if you observe closely, you can witness everyone playing a part like a symphony.
The next day I was sitting in Abderrahim’s shop sipping tea when a family entered. A mother, father, and three children. Two girls and one boy. Abderrahim stood up to greet the man and the woman and took them to the back of the shop. I stayed seated where I was at eye level with the children. The children were curious. The oldest, boldest girl approached me and looked me in the eyes. “What language do you speak?”
I picked a simple rhythm on the three stringed Moroccan gimbre.
“Tell meee,” she whined.
They were Swedish, but they spoke flawless English.
The older girl started playing the gimbre and the younger played the drums. I tapped rhythms along with them. The older girl quizzed me with math puzzlers. The boy struck the drum too hard and I had to tell him to stop. After all, this was my drum that would be shipped to Chicago. The girls took pleasure in seeing their brother scolded. I glanced over at the mom and she smiled at me. She was happy to have a babysitter for the moment. I realized that my keeping the kids occupied was contributing to Abderrahim’s sale as he jabbered along with the father.
No Push George Bush was watching creepily from the doorway to the shop. He was like the guy who dropped the cymbals during a silent rest. You know, that part of the symphony. He approached us. “Where from?” he said to one of the girls. “Where from?” he asked me.
“Why don’t you ask them yourself,” I said, toying with him. I knew that his communication with the kids would flounder.
After some time I sensed the mother getting restless. She paced out of the store and then back in as if to tell her husband that they weren’t buying anything. The husband was still yucking it up with Abderrahim. The children were still playing. The mother was powerless.
El arte de vender. It takes a village. Spending time in Fez was like attending a fine school of negotiation. I’m sure the father bought something from Abderrahim.
During a rare moment when No Push was not present, probably out fetching groceries with which to make lunch, I was able to speak privately with Abderrahim. “Yo no quiero viajar al desierto,” I explained to him. I didn’t want to go to the desert. I wanted to take him up on his offer to stay at his home in the countryside outside of Fez.
“Dicelo a Abdul. El quiere dormir en mi casa.”
“He wants to sleep in your house?” I switched to English for clarification. “Why?”
“I don’t know.” Abderrahim scrunched and contorted his weathered, mustached face into a look of contempt and disgust. “
“You don’t want him to stay, do you?”
“No!” He was clear and emphatic with his no. I was learning that this is important in Fez. No Push George Bush was not coming to the countryside with me and Abderrahim, and I was not going to the desert. Now I knew that I had Abderrahim’s support in order to tell No Push to hit the road.
Now we were airing truths. “I no like pushy people, push-ey, push-ey people,” Abderrahim declared. “Greed-ey, greed-ey peeeople,” he said with emphasis.
“It’s like I always say,” he would say at these times. “Take the best, and KEEEEK the rest!” as he made a kicking motion with his feet.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that!” I told him.
“Say that again?” He was inquisitive, indicating that he liked the foreign phrase.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
“Hunnubahgot time fa dat!”
H’ummdallah, H’ummdallah. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Take the best, and keek the rest. Take Spanish jamon and keek German food. Take Moroccan black soap and keek the chemical crap. Take South American dancing and keek the clubs. Take Italian coffee and keek the French garbaj. Take the good people and keek the greedy bastards.
“I have brother in England,” he said, staying on the topic of greedy people. “He has no sense. He only has money. He takes and he takes. Puhh.” His face held a scornful look of contempt, like a Frenchman.
“But you love your brother. Do you not love your brother?”
He held the scornful look.
“You should love all people.”
“Keek the rest.”
“Does the Quran teach you to love everyone? Even your greedy brother?”
I glanced at the artifacts of Jewish ancestry on display in his shop. A torah covering was hanging high up on a beam, centrally situated in the store. He had old books with Hebrew scribblings of scribes past and rocks from old temples. We were sitting just a few meters from where he earlier rolled out his prayer carpet. Our chairs were angled partly towards each other, a near-empty plate of lamb, peppers, olives, and grapes sat between us. My favorite tape from the day before was playing at low volume. Hijos de Agobio, an epic fusion of flamenco and rock. But we weren’t listening intently this time.
“Yes, we have same stories in our books.” His eyes were like small flames. He was ignited, excited to be preaching the Quran’s teachings.
I thought for a moment about Cain and Abel, trying to recall the story. I knew that one killed the other. But surely murder was universally viewed as a bad thing. I couldn’t remember what happened to the murderous brother according to the scripture.
“Like the story of Cain and Abel.” I took a shot in the dark.
Perhaps Abderrahim didn’t recognize the names, or perhaps he wanted to tell his version of the full story. “You cannot question Allah,” he said firmly. “When God says to Abraham to kill his son, he listens.”
I nodded, familiar with the story. But my face challenged the assumption that one should not question Allah. I also wondered how we got here from Cain and Abel. Shouldn’t he love his brother?
“You see, we share many stories. But there is one true book. All others are translated.”
“And you know Cain and Abel?”
“Ohh, yes. The sons of Adam. We call them by different name.”
“And one son murdered his brother.”
We agreed on the story, but now I was questioning what the lesson was from the story. Abderrahim held no remorse for what he said or how he felt towards his brother.
“How do you know which book is true?”
“The Quran was written by Allah. Our stories are similar, but the Quran was written first.”
“I thought that the story was passed down from the angel Gabriel.”
“And who wrote it down?”
Later that morning, a young, portly, conspicuously clean shaven man came spring-stepping into Abderrahim’s store. He was followed by Mr. No Push. The young man greeted Abderrahim formally with one kiss on each cheek. They exchanged pleasantries in Arabic before the man turned to shake my hand. He smelled like cheap after shave.
I didn’t know why this man was so eager. I went along listening to the music Abderrahim was playing. Soon the man grew visibly anxious, and he turned to No Push with a giggly look. They both scurried out of the store.
Abderrahim motioned to his mouth to indicate that they were going to smoke a joint. I laughed and wondered to myself why the man was all cleaned up only to go smoke a joint with the likes of No Push George Bush. He was a bit overdressed for a date with a delinquent.
When No Push returned 20 minutes later, freshly lit, he conjured up the best English he could and tried to make his face appear friendly and cool. It wasn’t.
“When do we leave for Sahara?”
“I don’t… I don’t know, man. Not today.”
“We go with you to Abderrahim house? Leave in the morning?”
“We no leave tomorrow?”
“Well, no.” I was saying no, but my body language was wavering.
Abderrahim interjected. “Do you want to go to the Sahara or not?”
“No.” I was firm and emphatic this time. No Push George Bush looked heartbroken, confused, and then angry.
“No go to Sahara?” he shouted. “We make reservation. We have driver!”
“I never told you to make a reservation.” I looked to Abderrahim for support, but he looked unsure. I side-barred with him in Spanish, a language that No Push did not understand. “Yo no perdio a reservacion. Yo no conocia hombre de manejar.” Abderrahim’s expression changed. Abderrahim the arbiter seemed convinced by the fact that I had never met the driver.
He spoke swiftly and firmly in Arabic. No Push offered a lazy rebuttal, but looked defeated. He slunked out of the room. Suddenly I could hear the clean shaven man yelling. “We no go? We no go!” Then he stormed off. Apparently he had been slated as the driver, but nobody had communicated that to me.
That afternoon, Abderrahim and I set out for his home 11 kilometers outside of Fez.
Abderrahim was in his element in the store, but on the swirling streets of Fez, he was hardened, guarded, calculating, and stone-faced. Maybe he was always hardened, guarded, and calculating. But in his store and in his home, he was affable and easygoing. His smile was natural, open and genuine among streets that were dirty, tight, and filled with swindlers. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to stay in his shop. That and the music he played and the genuine joy that it brought him to share it.
Abderrahim navigated the bus line to his home, muttering to me every now and then about rude passengers or the bastardization of the Moroccan countryside as it gave way to cafes with Western names like the “Barcelona Cafe”.
Sitting at Abderrahim’s table at his home in the countryside outside of Fez, away from the fumes of exhaust in the new city and the shady dealings of the old city, we could breath. Abderrahim walked his bicycle through his gate and parked it next to his son’s motorcycle. Next to his home was a modest garden where he grew tomatoes, peppers, basil, and spinach. Beside the garden furthest from the house was the chicken coop. Between the rows of crops ran a rubber irrigation pipe, pumping water from the well.
There was no running water in his home and the bathroom contained four buckets of water for washing, like a miniature version of the Hammam.
I dropped my backpack in the open air outdoor dining space between the kitchen and the single bedroom that he shared with his son.
His eighteen-year-old son plugged away at his iPhone.
I went into the kitchen to help Abderrahim unload his bread bag. He prepared a plate of meat and peppers. Abderrahim warned me that the pepper was picante. I ate it in one bite. Soon they were laughing at me when my face turned red and I was frantically shoveling water into my mouth.
After dinner, I played a song for Abderrahim from my phone. Tu Tranquilo by Jackson Browne. “My father showed me this song,” I told him. “Much of my taste in music comes from my father.” His face lit up.
“Did you hear that?” he said in Arabic, turning to his son. “He told me that I share the music tastes of his father.”
Then he turned back to me and said, “Similar tastes in music, must mean we share similar …” he pointed to his head, “similar way of thinking. Cabeza similar.”
As I closed my eyes to sleep that night, I felt a terrible burning sensation in my eyes. Tears flowed down my cheeks. I tried to hold them back and tough it out, not wanting to bother Abderrahim as he lay his head to rest on the floor beside me. Eventually it was too strong to overcome. I stood up and begged for help, frantic.
“Quieres medicina de flora?” Abderrahim asked calmly.
“Yes, any medicine will do!”
Abderrahim splashed the mysterious clear liquid into my face and I was instantly cured.
I took a short trip to Morocco. I made friends.
On the way into the city the next morning I had plans to meet Karl for coffee at the shady cafe where we had first met. Abderrahim warned me that the owner of the cafe was a thief. Years earlier he was in business with his brother. He had stolen from his brother and opened up his own cafe instead.
He said, “Un ladron siempre es un ladron.” A thief is always a thief.
Karl had told me he was a marble salesman, but now I was questioning whether that was true. Was anyone who they said they were in Fez?
Abderrahim struggled to sack a cab for us to take to the bus stop. He was heading off to his son’s school to complete some paperwork. Eventually we split into two separate shared cabs.
Abderrahim made the fifth passenger in the shared cab ahead of us and I made the fifth passenger in mine. An elderly woman sat in the middle seat next to me. Our driver took off towards the swirling city and I sat in silence. The elderly woman exchanged a handful of Arabic words with the man to her left. I sat in silence.
I met Karl the tucked-in Italian American at the shady cafe in town, late for our meeting as I got lost on the way. I happened to run into No Push, who was wearing a clean shirt. The two prior days I had known him only to own one shirt. He smiled and pointed me in the direction of the shady cafe. His fresh colorful shirt indicated to me that he got the point. He was looking for new business.
Karl and I walked to the Blue Gates for a coffee and some people watching at the medina entrance. Taxi doors opened and shut, opened and shut as people shuffled through the gates. We watched and chatted, perched on a cafe patio overlooking the gates. Midway through our coffee, I spotted a Catalan backpacker that I had met on the train to Fez from Nador. “Albert!” I called. Him and his friend were headed to the Jewish Quarter. Karl and I joined them.
Karl kept joking that border police always think he’s a cop or a journalist when he enters Morocco because of the way he dresses. We all laughed, but there was some truth to it. Who was this guy?
At some point Karl casually mentioned in the midst of a story, “yeah that was before I spent 5 years in da joint.”
“What? You can’t just casually drop that in there,” I said.
“Yeah, I spent 5 years in federal prison.”
Abderrahim was right, there must be a reason that this guy was caught up with the ladron who owns the cafe. Marble salesman? I don’t think so.
By the time we made it back to the Medina, it was almost closing time for Abderrahim. Our stroll through the Jewish Quarter ended up taking most of the day. I wanted to get back to the shop to see Abderrahim and let him know that I wouldn’t be staying with him tonight. I would stay in the Medina with my Catalon friend in order to catch my train to Tanger in the morning.
In Fez, people move quickly and things happen slowly.
By the time I got to Abderrahim’s shop, he was closing up. No Push George Bush was hanging around. Abderrahim seemed rushed. I retrieved my backpack and gave him my address to ship my purchase.
“I thought you were closing in an hour,” I told him.
“No, something came up. I must leave now.” It was something with his soon-to-be wife and his son.
I felt a knot in my throat. I had grown attached to the man and I felt bad that I had kept him waiting and then bailed on staying at his place another night. Would I ever see him again? Likely, not.
Earlier he had given me a winky winky indicating that he wanted to cut No Push George Bush out of the transaction for the drum and the horn. He didn’t want to pay him commission. Of course, No Push had assured me that he makes no commission from Abderrahim’s sales. Lies.
I had paid No Push $20 the day prior as we made our clean break. Or so I thought. As I said my goodbyes to Abderrahim, No Push got pushy once again.
“You no have gift for me? I am good man.”
“I gave you your gift,” I said, incredulous. “What are you talking about? I paid you yesterday.”
No Push motioned towards his head, pulling at a phantom brim of a hat that he wasn’t wearing.
“You want my hat? But this is my hat.” I was fed up. I wanted the moment with Abderrahim to say goodbye, but instead, I was getting shaken down by Mr. No Push George Bush. Fitting. “This is my hat. I am traveling, I need this hat.”
“No gift? No want money, want gift.” His English was deteriorating alongside his manners. He pointed to his face, to his eyes.
“My glasses?” I wasn’t even wearing my glasses at the moment. He remembered them from yesterday. “Those are my sunglasses. I’m on a trip, I need those sunglasses.” I shuffled in my backpack, momentarily looking for a gift to give him. I came to my senses. “No! I have nothing for you.”
“I am good man!”
“No. I paid you. You are a good man. Thank you.” I feigned gratitude and shook his hand. Finally, he left. Abderrahim walked me to the cash machine for me to withdraw the remaining sum that I owed him to ship the drum and horn to Chicago. This was the clandestine transaction to cut No Push out.
I felt choked up saying goodbye to my friend, but he seemed to be mostly concerned with my money. “I hope that you are able to spend this money well on your house,” I told him genuinely. “When I return, we will ride into the Sahara desert the right way, in a car playing good tunes.” He had suggested this trip when we shared bread at his home. He smiled, but we both knew this was unlikely. Abderrahim’s days of riding into desert sunsets seem to be behind him.
He walked away carrying a hand bag with fruit and bread. I walked the other way carrying my life in two backpacks.
By the time I made Tanger by train from Fez, I was feeling strong in my ability to fend off pesky Moroccan swindlers and pushy peddlers. In Tanger I planned to either push through to Tarifa by boat or to spend the night. I would play it by ear.
I batted the swindling guides away at the train station. I told the cab driver I would walk before he lowered his price for a ride to the port.
At the port, I was again accosted by guides, literally tugging at my shirt. “Necesito aire. Voy a caminar. No.” I was emphatic. Eventually a small man shooed the others away. “Have some respect, man, let him breath.”
He turned to me. “They have no respect.” He tried to show me a room for the night and I explained to him that I was considering heading straight to Tarifa. “Okay buddy, I understand, I understand. I won’t push you. You follow me, I will show you a good meal. I give you space, then you tell me if you want a room or not.”
The small man was not pushy. He listened. He had salesmanship.
After my meal, I decided to stay in Tanger for the night. No hurry, I could stand one more Moroccan night. The small man showed me to the hotel.
At the hotel, the small man introduced me to a large man whom he referred to as the Boss Man. I scoped the room and agreed to a price. Of course this included a price to the small man as well, despite his earlier lies.
The Boss Man’s version of checkin at this “hotel” was to roll a joint, pour some tee, and growl platitudes translated to me through the small man. He communicated through intonation, Arabic, body language, and the translation of the small man.
The Boss Man bellowed Arabic in a booming, authoritative voice. We sat in three chairs in the lobby of the “hotel” forming a triangle.
“He says you have the beard of Alli Babbah,” translated the small man. “You have seen things. Some people, they do not know how to communicate. They are small.”
I nodded, trying my best to stay large. I smiled and agreed in the direction of the Boss Man. I echoed platitudes to the small man. “He is right. Communication is more than words. You must be open to everyone.” I gestured openness with my arms.
The small man translated to the Boss Man.
The Boss Man erupted, ecstatic, pleased. Thunderous came his voice, excited but not laughing. This time he spoke in longer sentences filled with more words.
More thunder, as the small man smiled.
“He says that the man who does not speak is only understood by his mother.”