The beach beckoned.
Soft sand, sunshine and warm water were my reward for what I had endured the previous day, my first day in Rabat.
I’d been threatened.
The threat was vague, but direct, and it was to manifest itself today. I was nervous as I left the hostel, because the man who’d made the threat knew where I was staying and had promised to get me, but I swallowed my fear and walked to Rabat Beach to bathe in its refreshing waters.
Strolling to the beach through the heavy morning air of this fascinating city was not as enjoyable as it should have been, as trepidation settled in my stomach. I reminded myself to ignore my unjustified paranoia, but I couldn’t stop worrying.
The threat which jangled my nerves eventuated after a shopping trip to buy toothpaste and a few other simple items, including the shorts and towel I was taking to the beach.
My suitcase had been delayed on the flight from Nairobi via Dubai, and I had only heavy hiking clothes to wear during Morocco’s summer heat. The problem started when I got lost among the myriad street signs bearing the name ‘Muhammed’, which hampered my search for Avenue Mohammed, where I’d been told I’d find a supermarket.
I made the mistake of arriving in Morocco with no Arabic or French. I then made the fatal mistake of backtracking and criss-crossing a major intersection in my frustrating and sweaty search for the elusive supermarket. Local man Muhammed had found me, and had offered to help me find the shop. Little did I know that he wasn’t doing it out of the goodness of his heart.
Muhammed did guide me to a supermarket. I thought he’d leave me at that point and be on his way. His directness, self-assuredness and aggressive manner had put me off from the beginning, and I was frustrated and surprised when he followed me into the shop.
Once inside, he managed to upset the female staff, make a mess, draw attention to us and make me regret my decision to follow him. At one point, he raced off to menswear to find the shorts I was now wearing to the beach, and proceeded to throw pairs at me after holding them against himself like a Moroccan Mr Bean.
I did manage to buy what I needed, except for one essential item, but once we left the shop and started walking back towards my hostel, the problems began. Mohammed lit up a cigarette upon stepping outside, and he soon realised I didn’t need him anymore. This is when the demands began. He asked for a bottle of water. I bought one for him and one for myself.
Then he wanted beer.
“Have a drink with me,” he said in the same aggressive tone he’d used on the supermarket staff. It didn’t seem right to add alcohol to this situation, but he was insistent.
“Have a drink with me. I’ll call my friends. It’ll be fun. We’ll show you Rabat. Let’s have a good time. I helped you. I found the shop. I found you the towel…” he persisted.
“I’ll buy you some more water,” I offered.
“No!” he snapped, “No water!”
And he persisted with his demands for beer, which now included beer for his friends.
“Buy me dinner,” he then demanded.
“We have dinner together!” and by this point he was virtually yelling at me, ignoring the reaction of people nearby.
“We have dinner, I know a good restaurant.”
“I’ll buy you a snack,” I offered hesitantly. I knew I owed him something, but I was reluctant to keep opening my wallet, lest he see how much money I was carrying, for he knew the true value of the notes more than I did.
“Where are you staying, which hotel, what’s the name?” he demanded. I said nothing. One golden rule I had remembered is to avoid telling strangers the name of your accommodation.
“You’re staying at the hostel near the medina, aren’t you?”
Yes, I was, and he knew its name, but there was no way I was admitting that to Mohammed. Then another demand. More aggressive.
“Buy me cigarettes!”
Oh, hell no, I thought. There is no way I’m buying cigarettes. I’m not swallowing more second-hand smoke and watching him drop yet another butt on the ground.
I dropped the pretence of off-hand politeness.
“Fuck you,” he shouted. “Fuck you man!” and soon we arrived at the intersection and stopped to await the green light.
“Fuck you man. I know where you’re staying. You are fucking nothing. This is my city…” he shouted, pointing a threatening finger at my face. The barrage continued.
“You’re a fucken cheat man, you dickhead, you are shit…”
The light turned green. I started walking. Mohammad continued the insults, then something happened. He walked in front of me, blocked my path and said:
“Fuck you man. I know where you stay. You watch out shit head. This is my city. I do things my way. Tomorrow, I show you.”
Then he walked off.
Thus, my eyes remained peeled for any sign of Muhammed as I strolled to the beach. I made it safely to the beach, where calm, inviting waters lapped the shore and local families played in the sand and splashed in the shallows.
I chose a spot, lay down my towel and sat for a moment. I drank in salty air for the first time in months and let the stress of the previous day slide away. I swam, sunbathed, swam, sunbathed and ate. Then I swam, sunbathed and drank. Time mattered little. I purged my mind of the ugly threats of the day before and looked forward to the rest of my journey through Morocco and into Europe.
As the sun sank in the sky and the call to prayer rang out over the beach, I decided it was time to farewell the beach and head back to the hostel, before deciding on dinner. In a country like Morocco, there are many inviting culinary options, so I set off with a decided spring in my step.
It was only when I reached the hostel that I realised. I realised what I’d forgotten to buy at the shop yesterday while Mohammed harassed the staff. I’d forgotten to buy sun cream, and I was burnt from head to toe. My face was burnt despite the broad-brimmed hat. My back, chest, arms and legs were red raw. The tops of my feet too. This is going to hurt for days. Then it will peel.
So much for a relaxing day at the beach.