We last left our brave protagonist (me) escaping the manicured clutches of a walking perfumery. Although I suffered no life-threatening injuries, I could sense that something was out of whack in the universe. I’m not saying I was hexed, but few things can explain the supernatural unlucky streak I survived in the ensuing 48 hours. As with all stories of biblical punishment, we begin with brunch. I woke up hungry, and according to healthstatus.com’s fat burning calculator, the previous evening’s frivolities cost me exactly 978 calories. This figure is based on the number of minutes I dedicated the following activities, as defined by the website: Hairstyling – 10 minutes. Dancing –Aerobic/Ballet/Modern – 120 minutes. Judo/Martial Arts – 4 minutes. Running vigorously – 1 minute. Football – Full Contact – 0.01 minutes.
Andrew had detected wafts of hash browns and eggs Benedict from our hostel window, so we let our noses guide us towards Melilla’s fort, up a long flight of marble steps, and into a white tent, packed with Spanish families. As we took our seats, I asked our server what we could get for eight Euros. She left us a menu and skipped off to ask her manager about that day’s specials. I was reading entrees aloud, salivating to myself, when a pink man with white ring of hair around his head, laid two freckled hands on our table, and cleared his throat. “You may leave, por favor.” “Por que?” I countered, in perfect Spanish. “Porque yo queiro que te vayas,” he shot back, almost singing the words. I could not believe it. NO ME LO PUEDO CREER! Not only was I being kicked out, but the proprietor was also quoting a hit single by Luis Miguel, also known as El Sol de Mexico, and El Rey, perhaps one of the most famous Latin American pop singers alive. Or, maybe I’m just losing it.
Regardless, I’d lost my appetite. So we took to exploring the fort. Naturally, there were canons placed along the sea wall. Naturally, I mounted one. Now, to a student of history, they may have had some strategic significance in warding off seafaring invaders, but to a student of life (me), they are meant for taking tasteless pictures. Upon dismounting from the canon, an uncapped bolt caught the crotch of my Levis 501s, turning me into a walking peep show. Last straw, Melilla! Back to Oujda! Andrew and I split up. He returned to Fez by Grand Taxi, and I made my way to the Oujda train station to meet our host brother, Nabil, who was due at 10pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave the following morning at 4:45am. I had 15 Dirhams left. Naturally, I spent it all on mint tea.
Turns out the train station shuts down at 9pm, even though travelers arrive throughout the night. A taxi to the airport would’ve cost me 150 Dh, which I didn’t have. But, being a kind and thoughtful bunch, the locals locked me inside the station. I put on everything I packed, and curled up behind a potted plant to sleep. At about half past ten, Nabil woke me up. “Please, Rod, tell me, do you possess any monies?” He’d almost missed his train out of Marrakech (where he was interviewing for a flight attendant position with Qatar Airways) and opted to buy a ticket onboard, which can go for double the usual rate. We scrounged up enough to get to the Oujda airport, but not enough to get from Casablanca back to Fez, once we’d landed. “No worries,” I told him. “As they say in the North, little by little online casino the camel goes into the pot”.
In March of 2009, After a Shi’a proselytizing scandal in Morocco was linked to Tehran, the Foreign Ministry in Rabat cut off ties with Iran. How does this impact airport security in Oujda? Let me tell you. To start, there are exactly 14 chairs in the arrivals lobby, all occupied by elderly women. So, I chose to relax on a waist-high ledge just beneath a freshly windexed window. As I dozed off around midnight, Nabil was standing nearby in his favorite studded, leather jacket, and the lobby was buzzing with families awaiting an inbound flight from Paris.
My right eye opened first, making out a flannel figure in a wet, beige trench coat. A kick to my shins encouraged my left eye to take in the rest of the scene. Two gentlemen, who resembled the Laurel and Hardy, helped me up, and then sat me right back down. Next: a deluge of questions in Algerian accented Moroccan colloquial Arabic. “Don’t you know it’s illegal to be here this late? Who are you with? Why are you asleep? Is this a dormitory? Give me your flight information? Haven’t you heard of a hotel? Is that glitter on your face? What’s wrong with your Arabic? Do you understand? Do you get it? Yes? No? No? Yes?” The arrivals lobby was deserted. Nabil popped up just as I was being carted away to the back office. “Fin Imsheeti?” I asked him. He was beaming. “I got to speak with the pilot and the crew, you know, like research!” That was enough for the men escorting me to bring Nabil along too.
Nabil had just as much trouble deciphering their Arabic, and they were all the more suspicious of him for it. “Are you even Moroccan?” Nabil pulled out his National Identity Card for proof. “And your friend?” “Oh, he’s Iranian.” BAM! Just like that, Rod Solaimani is a persona non grata. For the record, I am a US citizen, and I only hold one passport, which I was waving in their faces like a winning raffle ticket for a date with Beyonce. Laurel and Hardy exchanged glances, snatched my Jansport backpack, assigned another guard to watch us, and disappeared. It was 2:00am.
Before doing anything rash, Nabil and I split an Oreo. He twisted away the frosted side, leaving me with plain cookie. The universe was indeed out of whack. The officers returned a half hour later, this time packing heat. “You, American, you’re not flying”. I’ll spare you the dramatic bargaining (and tears) that followed. But, in the end, we made a deal. I agreed to memorize all Moroccan laws pertaining to immigration, and they brought in an armed guard to keep an eye on me until my “backside was out of Oujda”. At 4:45am, Nabil’s dream came true, as did my worst nightmare. We boarded a twin-prop plane.
Of course there was thunder and lightening, as well as 100-foot free falls, 45-degree tips, and absolutely no communication from the cockpit. Just imagine the worst turbulence you have ever experienced, raise it to a bajillion, and let it last for 2 hours. But, I had to be brave for Nabil! This was his first time up in the air. For all he knows, all flights were like this. So, I kept smiling whenever he looked over at me for reassurance. At some point, right over the Rif Mountains, I lost all hope. I typed a farewell message into my Nokia cell (bequeathing my favorite Miami Vice t-shirt to my brother), and started reciting the Shem’a. Mid-prayer, my sinuses exploded due to a spike in cabin pressure. I passed out.
We made it back to Fez (after being wired money). I went straight to my room, took down my map of Morocco, and sliced an inch, or 15 kilometers, off the eastern border. As far as I”m concerned, Oujda no longer exists.