A few years ago, after a plane ride, several trains, and a multi-hour bus ride through the back woods of Morocco, I found myself in the middle of the city of Fez with my sister. After a sleepless week filled with a mazed of a walled city, a ride through Middle Atlas with a Moroccan drug dealer, wild monkeys, and dimly lit back rooms in rug factories, it was time to head back to Spain. The night before the long bus ride back to the ferry dock, it made sense to find the bus station, a dry run to see how far of a walk it was, sans backpacks, to give ourselves enough time the next morning.
After a longer than anticipate walk, we found ourselves at the dusty entrance to a dilapidated bus terminal that would be the exit door to a traumatic but eye opening trip. Just before dusk we start to walk back to our hotel, instinctively walking faster as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Trying to remain strong for the other, each of us tried to lighten the mood with jokes and small talk but an old Peugeot hatch back fill with Moroccan men broke all pretense that was possible.
We ran. They followed. Driving onto sidewalks, down alleys, cat calls and Arabic slang floating out the windows. The darkness that had fallen echoed the feeling of panic rising inside me as I tried to remember the route back to the hotel. Just get back to the hotel, inside the doors, just get back. But I was lost. I had no idea where we were, nothing looked familiar.
As we rounded a corner, too small for the little car to make, the four men abandoned their vehicle and began to chase on foot. I turned down the nearest alley, only to see two other men, their backs to us. They had machine guns. We stopped dead, frozen.
As they slowly turned towards us, I could feel our hunters stop as well, a few yards behind us. That moment, which was probably only mere seconds, seemed to last forever. The Peugeot Crew behind us, the Machine Gun Two in front. Either they save us, or they kill is. This either works out fine, or it’s about to get really bad. Frozen, silently begging them to help, willing them to be good.
The Machine Gun Two yelled in Arabic, shooing the men back into their car. The sound of the Peugeot driving away came just seconds later. “We are police. We will help you.” A relief, mixed with the reality that we weren’t safe yet, came over me. They knew exactly where our hotel was, just a few blocks away.
As we began the walk back to our temporary sanctuary, the Moroccan cops began a friendly chat that ended with,”You girls are very pretty. Can we show you the town?” Lucky for us, they were gentleman, taking the rejection in stride as they deposited us at the door of our hotel. Kindly waving goodbye as we disappeared inside.
Later that night, after we’d decompressed, we braved the streets for a nearby cafe. A literal hole in the wall that had been carved out a century earlier to include a clay oven that made the most incredible chicken. For just the equivalent of 4 American dollars total, we each had a metal plate with roasted Moroccan chicken and saffron rice. It very well may have been the intensity of the situation, but that was the best damn chicken I’ve ever had. Now Moroccan chicken just tastes incredible, especially when it doesn’t come after seeing machine guns.