“Where is Oujda?” I asked my host brother, Nabil. “In Morocco,” he responded matter of factly. Armed with this new-found knowledge, I decided to join him for his first airplane experience. As it were, Nabil recently enrolled in a flight attendant school and their final exam is administered several thousand feet in the air. Vomiting on board is an automatic “F”. Naturally, Nabil thought it best to prep by giving air transportation a go beforehand, and with Royal Air Maroc advertising $50 roundtrip flights from Casablanca to Oujda, why not? I’ll tell you why not. Oujda eats souls.
It was once a bustling way station en route to Oran, Algeria. But, today it specializes in making Rod Solaimani’s life a living hell. It’s a mystery to me why Dante didn’t include it in his Divine Comedy; it’s been around since 994 A.D. I know what you’re thinking, “But Rod, I just googled Oujda and it’s Wikipedia page says it’s the capital of the Oriental Region of Morocco and even has an urban area beach! Well, check again, because I’ve been actively re-editing that entry every day, but some punk with the web handle “oujda_zweena_4eva” keeps changing it back. FYI: zweena means “pretty”, and is also synonymous with anything “nice” or “good” in the Moroccan colloquial.
The day before we departed, Nabil received word that he must travel south to Marrakech for an interview with several airline agencies. No problem. He’ll just take a 14-hour train ride back and meet us in Oujda for the return leg of the flight. So, in solidarity, Andrew and I decided to skip the plane ride north and opted for beledi (country) bus instead. We left Fez at 6pm and arrived in Oujda promptly at 3am. Do you know what Oujda looks like at 3am? Baghdad. By noon the following day we had done all the sightseeing we could, and hopped in a grand taxi to the Spanish enclave of Melilla just 3 hours north. After an unusually uneventful border crossing, we scoped out the main drag for a tapas bar. Pitying us, a Moroccan gentleman offered us a ride to a nearby spot. I hesitated at first, but then heard “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson playing on his radio. I took this as a good sign. It was not.
45 minutes later I’m broke. I am seated at a bar with plates of shellfish tapas stacked a foot high. They are untouched. Our generous host doesn’t seem to believe that I don’t eat shellfish because I’m Jewish. Despite my objections, he keeps ordering for me, and then sticks me with the bill. We escaped, and the night is saved when Andrew finds an extra 50 Euro in his back pocket. Money in hand, we headed out to the clubs on the pier for some dancing.
Fast-forward through a few hours of salsa and we’ve befriended the cast of a ridiculously famous Spanish soap opera. So famous that I had become famous by association, and gorgeous women that I would never – ever – have the nerve to approach were making eyes at me. Alas, our fame did not last long. So, we called it a night, and cha-cha’d our way back to the hostel.
Sleep did not come easy. I was tackled by a Lady of the Night. To be fair, she thought I took a picture of her while she was negotiating with a client. I did no such thing. I was taking a picture of Andrew to document the end of an epic evening, and she happened to be nearby. After snapping the photo, I started up the hostel steps. As I ascended, my ears detected a clatter that sounded like a tyrannosaurus rex wearing high heels. A second later, I was thrown down half-a-flight of stairs. My eyes opened to reveal a large woman in a tiny dress. In one motion, she picked me up by the neck and pinned me to the wall, demanding that I hand over the camera. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. And then I stopped laughing, mainly because she pushed her thumb into my esophagus.
The only thing worse than her screaming was the weapons-grade perfume she was wearing. “No hay foto!” I gurgled. Unsatisfied with my answer, she threatened to take me to the police station. 15 seconds pass and I’m in a firm headlock stumbling down the street. At this point a fair amount of her glitter had rubbed off onto my face. I know this because her clients from a moment before decided to follow us in their white Mercedes, and offer real-time commentary on the butt whooping at hand. I managed to slip free and bolted. I took two steps before a shoulder greeted my ribs with the force of an NFL lineman. Ambushed! I’d seen this tactic before in Jurassic Park when Dr. Ellie Sattler had to sneak through the Velociraptor enclosure.
Breathless, and unable to escape the two ladies of the night, I pulled out my camera and began going through every picture I had ever taken in Morocco. Together, we went back in time, visiting Abdellah in Tangier, soccer matches in Fez, and sightseeing in Oujda. Finally convinced that no photo was taken, they helped me up, fixed my shirt, and – assuming I was Moroccan – shouted a choice phrase in Arabic: “Ha-Shooma ‘aleik.”
“Did they just say ‘Shame on You’?” Andrew asked from afar.
“Yes they did. This has got to be rock bottom”.
Only it wasn’t, because I had yet to return to Oujda…