A thing happened today in Marrakech. I happened upon the scene as I was on my way to check out a specific cafe (not nice service, clean toilets, and mediocre food). I live about 2 minutes from a pretty central location in Gueliz. New town. Pronounced GIL -ease. So I hadn’t walked far when I saw a crowd like situation and thought – “Crap. That’s right where I want to go.” Being a female alone in a foreign country I decided that my only real choice on this sunny Sunday afternoon was to walk right into this crowd and find out what was going on.
So a few things appeared to be happening. I was on my own today so I did not have the advantage of my Berber speaking sidekick, and there were no English speaking people that I could identify all afternoon. I was in the dark. But I made some assumptions.
First -there was a man up a cell tower. So that seemed to me to be a thing that people might be interested in. Second, there was a large group of people that seemed to be gathered for political reasons. When I entered the scene, the two were sort of co-existing. Not long after my approach, the police moved a large portion of the crowd across the street to a large open square. I went over to that crowd at one point and it was apparent that this was a group of Berbers. They were all standing in a circle, Amazigh (Berber) flags were all around, and a man was talking into a loud speaker thingy. Peaceful. Completely peaceful. They seemed to be holding a political discussion. There is a large movement of politically charged Amazigh’s who fight for Berber rights and identity. There has recently been a fatal incident at a local university where one of their young spokesmen was beaten and later died. This was a clash between the Amazigh movement and the Western Saharan Polisario (Arabs). So while the gathering was peaceful today, there is an undertone of and potential for violence.
Back to the pole. So this kid is up a cell tower. He is barefoot and pretty agile. He did not appear to tire the entire time he was up there. And apparently he went up around 10 am and came down at 6:30 pm. The entire time we had to hang on to the metal rungs and he went up and down that thing without fear. Bit like a monkey.
Watching him was a bit like watching paint dry at a train wreck. He climbed up and down, swung his arms around, yelled to people on the ground, and sat on a street light outcropping now and again to rest. Boring. But you couldn’t look away. Cause what the hell were they to do? Really? Shoot him down?
And this is where I started to get sucked in and could not look away. Me and about 5,000 Moroccans. The crowd kept getting larger and larger and larger. Eventually the Berber rally broke up and that crowd turned its attention to the young man. It’s Sunday. Right downtown. Everyone came out to watch.
Now let’s consider this crowd. It was huge. They did not stop traffic. They were able to funnel it and divert it but there were still cars going by. They brought in a fire truck, an ambulance and police van, and parked them in the street quite a distance from the scene. They did not move the whole time. There were a number of different levels of police on the scene. There were green uniforms and blue uniforms. There were a lot of “senior” plain clothed cops (based on age and more formal dress). There were a lot of younger plain clothed cops (based on age, less formal dress and size – these were big guys in a country were skinny men are the norm. SKINNY). The plain clothed younger cops were all riding white Honda dirt bikes. At one point they lined them all up in formation (6 of them). Looked like a BMX rally. There was, at one point, one van that was driving around with 8 cops in it. I saw it move around a few times but at no time did the cops get out. Ok maybe later in the night after dark they appeared but not during the day.
And it was fascinating to watch. In the west, first of all there would have been a race riot with that many people. Sure as shit that would have turned into black and white, or Christian and Muslim, or someone would have lost their conservative MIND that so many Muslims were in one place at one time, or it would have become an anti poverty rally – Armageddon right? It was the single most peaceful crowd I have ever been a part of. Even a TFC football game or a line at Disney gets worse than this. Everyone was lovely. Polite. No pushing, no shoving, no fighting, no yelling, no spitting, no nothing. Just people standing and looking. Oh and bikes. All manner of bikes.
The crowd moved forward sometimes onto the streets and then “YALLAH, YALLAH” and we were pushed back and everyone moved back. Across the street I watched as a rowdy little fella grabbed a plain clothes cop from the back while he was trying to talk to someone. The cop finished what he was doing and, still being pestered by pesky pants, grabbed the man to restrain him. Totally justified. No undue force. Nothing inflammatory. In the States that man would have sued the cop. Rather, his family would have sued because he would have been shot in the back. And the crowd did indeed “puff up” a bit. They swarmed a little, and then a lot, and then a bunch of people near me who could not have seen what happened started to rush forward, then more. But then whistles, and cops, and some yelling and everyone settled down and went back to their posts. This crowd actually knocked over two of the cops bikes in their little line up. I heard it happen and immediately looked for a way out thinking “that’s it. That’s the tipping point.” But nope. Nothing. Just a “dude, my bad, no harm” and done.
Now this is a town where you can not walk down the street at any time of day or night without seeing militia. There are always 3 of them. There are two green uniforms and one in the middle in fatigues. Or the other way around. Can’t remember. And all three have long guns. And all three have their hands on their long guns. Every day. Here and there.
Looking around today – NOT ONE GUN. Not one cop has carrying. Not one. The ones that had holsters were NOT carrying. The rest had no holsters. There was not one gun in that crowd. There were no riot police. They weren’t standing off to the side. They weren’t riding around in buses. There were none. There was not one single cop wearing anything heavier than a light jacket. They were as big as their mum’s made them. No extra padding, no extra helmets. No vests. No trash can lids. No huge belts. There was NOTHING to make them look larger. No helmets, no visors. No one on horseback. Couple guys had hats. Like policemen wear. They controlled the crowds by sweeping by, arms extended like ushers in a movie theatre. Whistles and “yallahs”. And that’s it. Peace-ful.
Now back to the guy on the pole. I knew, and I am certain these highly trained professionals also knew, that that guy needed to come down off that poll before the crowd was going to disperse, and that crowd HAD to disperse before it got dark or things were going to change pretty fast. So they got a bucket truck around 3:30. Then they got a bigger bucket truck around 4:30. As soon as they tried to lift the bucket, little Huck scampered farther up the pole. No go. There was a lot of talk with a group of 4 women at the bottom of the pole. (NO attempt at bouncy castles, or trampolines or any other fall breaking apparatii – FYI). I guess his mum and his Aunties came out to help. He started waving around a cigarette at one point which opened things up for the cops. He climbed down a ways and they sent up their negotiator, just a bit. There was some arm waving and finally the guy lit Huck’s cigarette and sent him back up the pole. He took a good grab at Hucks’ foot at one point, but nope. He noticed and pulled away. Broken trust. Not a good tactic. Tried and failed.
Later on the guy went back up and stayed up. Really engaged Huck. Got him talking. Got him a bottle of water. Hand motions clearly indicating a “I’ll give you this, you give me that” sort of chit chat. It was getting to be 5:45. Sunset was 6:17pm. They were ramping up. Then, out of the blue, all eyes on Huck, and the negotiator appears with a bouquet of roses. Yup, roses. Its Valentines Day after all. He delivers the roses up to Huck and Huck takes off up farther. He makes a bunch of proclamations no one can hear and then goes up higher still.
Eventually, someone came back from the ladder store I found yesterday, having rented a nice aluminum number, propped it up against the post and down came Huck. Don’t know how or why but he came down on his own and the crowd cheered like Real Madrid had just scored a goal!
Then the crowd broke up. I determined after watching it go one way and then the next like a flock of birds in the summer sky, that they were following / swarming the car the kid was in. There were a lot more cops at this point and there was a lot of whistle blowing and their only goal, quite clearly was GET MOVING. Move along. Go forward. Disperse. They all did this with urgency and the crowd all cooperated. It was easier getting caught up in that crowd than it was leaving a Blue Rodeo concert. No pushing, no shoving. Just peaceful people, on their way home for Sunday night Tagine.
Turns out the guy was a jumper. He was upset because he wanted to get married and the girl turned him down (or her family did) because he didn’t have enough money. So in the end it was a Valentines story after all. Although now he’s in jail. So……
Oh. And the ONE guy that got dragged off by the cops? Yah, the white guy. The only white guy in the whole crowd. Jesus.