A Month in Morocco: Getting Used to the Hustle

I was alarmed by the chaos of the Tangier bus station. Hawkers stood outside ticket booths, aggressively hollering destinations. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce the city I wanted to go to, Chefchaouen, so I stood in the middle of the ruckus and waited for someone to notice me. It didn’t take long, maybe 45 seconds or so. And soon I was in the window seat of a local bus. When it began raining, bus leaked so bad I had to put on a parka. And I still ended up soaked.

We stopped for a break in Tetouan and two different men boarded the bus to perform live commercials in the aisle. One guy was pushing a product called “Rubs.” Another man was slinging “Cream Rex.” I gathered both were some sort of pain reliever. Both men delivered pitches worthy of a state fair and their efforts paid off. I was happy the salesmen ignored me. Apparently I was not their target audience.

Four hours after leaving Tangier, the bus rolled into the mountain town of Chefchaouen. I stepped off the bus and pretended I knew where I was going. A man about my age stepped out from an alley and told me I was headed in the wrong direction. He offered to take me to his friend’s hotel in the medina. Since I hadn’t already made any plans, I agreed to follow him. He introduced himself as Yakim and told me Chefchaouen was Morocco’s cannabis capital. He said he could hook me up with anything. One of Yakim’s pals joined us and was far more aggressive with his spiel. He offered me everything under the sun. I assured them I was appreciative of the help, but no, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t come to Morocco to get high.

They both seemed upset by my response then told me I shouldn’t judge them for trying to make a living—Yakim claimed they were both college graduates who couldn’t find proper jobs. Now they were desperate to make a buck for their families. I assured them I wasn’t judging them and yet I still found myself on the defense. They told me I was disrespectful and should be more understanding of the local culture. They looked at my pack and reminded me that in Morocco I was a rich man. The least I could do was share my good fortune with them.

I’ve experienced this sort of hard-sell guilt trip before but wasn’t going to fall for it again. Once, while traveling in Thailand, some teenage women tried to shame my buddy Kent and I into buying pineapple-on-a-stick by repeatedly calling us names — “You no want pineapple? What…you and you boyfriend must be ladyboys.” Yes, we eventually bought some. It was hot as hell and we really wanted some fucking pineapple. But certainly the hawker’s barrage sped things up. Pressure on one’s ego is a genius selling tool. Makes the best of us a straight-up sucker.

When I finally arrived at their friend’s hotel (Hotel Souika), Yakim and his cohort demanded twenty Euros. Said I owed them a tip. I laughed and balked a little — but finally gave-in and handed Yakim twenty Dirham, which is the equivalent to about two Euros. They began arguing until hotel owner, Tirfoud, shooed them off like annoying dogs. He apologized for their behavior and welcomed me to his hotel like he’d been waiting all day for me to arrive.

I later learned that Moroccan businesses depend on these hawkers to muster up business. Yakim and his pal would, undoubtedly, circle back to get their commission for my 3-night stay. It’s a fantastic game to sit back and watch. Tirfoud plays the part of the good guy after I get hustled. Then in private, he gives them some chump change and hopes they do it again. And often.


2 thoughts on “A Month in Morocco: Getting Used to the Hustle

  1. I can easily picture this happening. Everyone with a camera had to pay the water seller when Holly and I took a picture with him. “It is the culture” is what we kept hearing.
    Loving your blog.


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