Want to know how to travel safely in Morocco? Read Chris’ tale of survival during an “insurgent attack”.
All I wanted was to buy a Berber rug. The last thing I expected was to be the focal point of a terrorist plot. The reports of terrorism in Morocco were no secret. Moroccan authorities nabbing a high level Al Qaeda operative whose nom du guerre is “The Bear”, plotting to blow up boats in the Straits of Gibraltar as well as suicide bombers in Casablanca targeting restaurants and killing foreigners. Perhaps it was naïve of me to think that I would never find myself in the middle of an attack. They seem to be a frequent occurrence in the region.
As I left my building that morning, I’ll never forget how the Moroccan sun pressed its way through the thin clouds inadequately equipped to shield the streets from the harsh heat. The ocean breeze was powerless at wiping away the crowns of sweat worn by those of us beneath. Although I didn’t know it as I stepped into a small alley, the mujahadeen (holy warriors) were just blocks away, waiting to unleash their carnage and fury on those not wise enough to stay inside, anyone not fast enough to get out of their way, or those foolish enough to try both.
The city had an eerie feeling as I neared the medina. The streets, usually shoulder to shoulder with people, were lifeless. No one was walking about, and those who were on the street, scurried with a pace that led me to believe they wanted to be elsewhere. Were they aware of what was about to occur? Many were watching me from their apartments. The eyes of those peering through asked me why I was there while seemingly bidding a silent farewell. Smug it seemed, but they were on the safe side of the glass.
Something crunched under my feet. Looking to the ground, I found an unfamiliar white plastic-looking substance everywhere. I panicked. In slow motion it happened. As I made a dash for the closest shelter, it was too late. My eight weeks of stop, drop and roll training proved to be a miserable failure. I was without cover and I had been hit.
As far as I knew, this was a unique weapon of choice. The shells exploded, crashed and bounced around me. But what was happening? I didn’t see any blood or feel any pain. As my eyes focused with a little more detail, I saw what covered me. Never would I have expected to be dodging eggs. I ducked into a doorway to escape the barrage of a half dozen eggs unleashed by the local Gestapo. Who were they? They held me captive in a doorway with no means of protection. I finally located my captors hiding behind a few blue Peugeots across the street. None could have been over the age of 15. Children had unleashed this carnage. The little storm troopers patrolling the streets were using every means necessary to pin the egg on the whitey.
I learned a few things that day. The festival is called Zim-zim and well intentioned tourists would do well to keep off the streets and away from open windows during the festivities. Whether those on the street want to participate or not, they are definitely fair game.
The origins of the festival are dim. Most of the participants I spoke to were all in agreement that when it did start, the only weapon used was water. It happens forty days after the end of Ramadan and anyone on the streets is a legitimate target. Young men race around the streets throwing eggs and water at everyone. I felt as though I were the subject of a junior Al Qaeda training video.
While hiding in the doorway, I realized just what an annoyance eggs are. How in the world could I look a carpet seller in the face with any dignity if at the same time, egg yolk was dripping from my nose? Think he would take me seriously when I attempted to bargain? I couldn’t allow them to keep me caged like this. In a zig-zag fashion I ran towards the medina, dodging soft and hard boiled poultry bombs. Ducking into a doorway next to the market, I felt two hands grab my shoulders and pull me into a room. I heard the door slam shut as three eggs cracked against the windowpane, yellow ooze creeping slowly towards the ground. My captor laughed. But not the type of laughter I remembered from the villains outside. There lacked a maniacal nature about this man. Friendliness poured through his demeanor and I heard him say that not even eggs could stop him from making a sale during the festival. As my eyes focused on my surroundings, there were shelves and shelves of carpets. Serendipity had led me to my destination.
I was holed up in his store for about an hour until the flying fetus attack subsided. The Moul Hanout (store owner) told me that by afternoon, the festival comes to a close and the children responsible for terrorizing the streets have usually run out of eggs. Thankfully that gave me plenty of time to do a little bargaining with a minimal amount of yolk wounds. It was my duty to thank this man for saving me from the Moroccan pygmy warriors. My thank you came in the form of $180 for the carpet I purchased. To show his gratitude, he went out and got a cab for me, showing that he would brave the wild streets to help me find an egg free path.
As the taxi started cutting its way back through the narrow streets to take me home, people were starting to replenish the avenues. All those that once hid like cowards behind closed windows were rejoining the brave. I looked at the eggshell on my pants and had to laugh. I had dodged most of the eggs, alluded junior terrorists, and bought a carpet – a unique day for most. Most importantly, I am still alive to tell the story. Never did I think that so much adventure could be tied up in a carpet. If this tale has taught me anything, it is that I should check with the locals before doing just about anything in a foreign country. If I had, at least I would have known what I was up against. In any case, I’m fascinated when I think that I have survived the terror unleashed by the knee high insurgency of Morocco.