« 5 - Serious Lessons | Main | Chapter 4 »

Around The Sun: Money Changers In Morocco

Steve Harrison is dragooned into duty as a street artist.

Never get into a dispute or change money with a one eyed man who has a scarred face and missing teeth, - Urban Wisdom.

I was a something of a novelty in Morocco. A white kid with sun bleached hair. I stood out from the crowd and I enjoyed the attention.

I was dusty, weary and in need of a shave. As my granddad used to say I needed the cat to lick my chin. I asked directions to the bus station. A strange Bedouin-type man beckoned me to follow him. Am I the only person on the planet who always attracts life’s weirdos? I followed on as he led me through narrow alleys, all the way across town. "Are you sure this is the way to the bus station,'' I repeatedly asked. He kept on walking.

Finally we went into a building. It wasn't what I was looking for, though it was what I needed. A sauna. My dusty clothes were taken away. Wrapped in a towel, I was led into a gigantic steam room. There I washed, shaved, and saunad.

This huge room was a communal gathering place. As I looked through the thick clouds of steam it seemed to me that everyone in town was there. Eventually I was trussed up in another towel, given a Coca-Cola, and left to dry. After a final massage I felt clean and ready to continue my adventure.

I found the bus station and then headed for a border town, Oujda. Everyone I had met in Morocco was eager to change my money. In fact the only English that many of them seemed to know was "Change money''. I was sitting at a table, drinking coffee, when a man came slinking up and sat down beside me. "Change money?'' he inquired. I shook my head and gave him the usual "No.''

He repeated his question, this time looking directly at me with his one good eye. I was beginning to think that I was on the wrong side of town. This man looked very sinister. He had a large scar on his face. Half his teeth were missing, and the ones which remained were black. Part of one ear was missing.

“Change money?'' he demanded again, and this time it sounded more like a threat than a question. Then he took out a knife and started to clean his finger nails with it.

The hovering waiter scurried back indoors. Using sign language, I asked the one-eyed man for a pencil and some paper. He got the message and yelled a demand into the shop. Out came paper and pencil, and the waiter again disappeared rapidly after delivering it. I drew a caricature of the guy sitting beside me: pointed chin, mop of black hair... I put a twinkle in the one good eye. I took care with the drawing, inspecting him carefully from time to time as he tried to discover what I was doing.

Dah, dah, dah, dah. Heralding drum roll. I handed over my artistic work. His whole demeanor changed instantly. He held the drawing at arm's length, delighting in it.

Then he went away.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The waiter brought me another coffee and gave me one of those "close call mister'' looks.

My heart beat had just about returned to normal when scar-face reappeared, this time with his mates. They moved chairs so that they surrounded me. More paper was brought. Coloured pencils.

Those familiar with art probably know Heironymous Bosch's painting of Jesus Christ carrying his cross to Calvary, surrounded by some of the ugliest most brutal-looking people imaginable. Now they had stepped out of the painting and were surrounding me.

There were six or seven of them. One by one, I drew caricatures of them. Each one, on seeing their own portrait, melted like a little boy and offered profuse thanks.

When my long task was completed they treated me as their honoured guest. Wine flowed.

It was interesting to meet such a bunch of characters, but I cannot say I was sorry to leave them behind.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.