Friday, October 2, 2009

Finding Beer

I don't think I'd drink if "let's go get a beer" wasn't the beginning of so many good stories. I was sitting in the lobby of my hotel with a newly befriended colleague. He made the suggestion. So began my second night in Casablanca.

"You should have not been in that neighborhood past dark," my boss said fourteen hours later. "You guys are insane."

The neighborhood in question is the one immediately outside the walls of the old medina - a walled district that houses some of the city's poorest residents. By day it is a dense, frenetic marketplace. By night, it is an eerily silent stretch of darkened storefronts and infrequent foot traffic. Anthony (my thirsty coworker) and I didn't encounter anything we perceived to be dangerous, but its potential was nearly palpable. Also, there were no bars.

The idea was to find a place where we could sit and enjoy a pair of cold beverages. The plan of action was the traveler's default: Walk until we found something. It's a good plan because even if you don't find what you're looking for, you'll quickly develop your bearings in a new city. As was the case that night. We certainly discovered where not to be at 2:00am.

Casablanca is a different city at night. People work, eat, honk their horns and converse in the streets well past dark - as late as midnight in some parts of the city. But then a switch falls into the off position and it all evaporates. No cars, no people, no noise. Street lights stay on, dutifully illuminating vacant sidewalks. It can be disconcerting.

Before I make it sound like I'm more reckless than I am (or as a post-script now that I have); there wasn't really any danger (, mom). I know what a dangerous neighborhood in a poor country looks like. As does Anthony (a man who worked for several months in Hebron and Gaza). But it was an interesting exploration of the city. You can't really know something is like in the dark unless you look.


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