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07 May

Tangier - The African Gateway to Europe

Tangier - The African Gateway to Europe Photos by Frederik Korfix Schultz

When I jumped off the bus with my bag slung across my shoulder, the smell of tanned hide, mint and pot hit my face like a slap. A man in his thirties, smiling broadly, grabs my arm and asks eagerly: "Where are you going?"

He has a horde of men just like him standing next to him; they are trying feverishly with smiles, handshakes and sparse English phrases to shanghai the tourists - by becoming their guides.

I take the first few steps up the hill - into the medina. The old city quarter surrounded by the limed walls of the Berbers. After three quick turns in the small alleyways I realise that my sense of direction is completely lost; the intrepid guide is still ahead of me, chattering away. He knows the way, I do not, so I follow him blindly while trying to remember the way back to the port.

The door to the hotel closes behind me, as I step onto the motley carpet in the reception and it completely shuts out the cacophony of the street. A vacuum inside the medina.

 


The time is a little before two, and I am left alone at the hotel. I decide to go out and breathe deeply of the city along with the loosely rolled cigarettes I got in my chest pocket.

Outside the hotel I am waiting for the stationary men to start moving between the pillars and the debris, so the picture is caught in the lens of the camera.

Suddenly he is there. He says that his name is Abdul, but the name on his driver's license is long and nothing near Abdul.

We talk, smalltalk. I ask him questions about his family and friends. He is not married, even though the hairline is receding and the moustache thick.

 

 


He invites me home. I am going to see where he lives, so I follow him and once again lose my sense of direction and end up outside an old four-storey hotel at the top of the hill inside the medina.

Up the stairs and out onto the roof. The change of light from the dark stairway into the grilling sun at noon blinds me like the flash of the camera I have clenched in my fist. That is why I only vaguely spot the shape of the broad man on the roof, who introduces himself as Abdul's father.

We smoke cigarettes and drink tea. Abdul talks about snakes, and I do not see it. I am white and naive. I imagine cobras and rattlesnakes, when he suddenly squeezes his male organ through his jeans:

"I can last four ejaculations in one night! How many can you do?" he asks.

It turns out that it is here on the roof, he earns his money - he gives blowjobs and handjobs to Englishmen, Frenchmen and Canadians on the terrace of the roof. Particularly in the summer.

"We are going into town, drink beer, smoke weed... no money, no honey! Small dick, no chick!" he continues and takes a deep draught from the filtered cigarette, he holds in his hand.

 

 


He is one hell of a guy. We look at old, yellowed photographs, neatly put into albums, where he poses with the boys, on the beach and at restaurants. Always together with other men - most of them white, European-looking guys. Never alone. He is in good shape. He tans and flexes every muscle in his body and lifts rocks at the size of ripe water melons in the ruins on the top of the mountain.

Of course he is a Muslim, like 90 percent of the population of Morocco, by the way. I ask him how they feel about a homosexual visiting the mosque. At once his eyes turn hard and intense.

"No no no no no, they must not know!" he whispers.

If they find out, he will most likely never be allowed into the mosque again - he will be expelled.

His voice is hoarse and his appearance masculine and dominating, until his mother walks onto the roof to hang up the laundry. Now he is mama's little boy.

The mother does not introduce herself. She moves sluggishly between the strings with laundry. She has planted her swollen dark feet in a pair of worn-out slippers. Her calves are huge and end in a pair of knees with varicose veins. That is how she looks. I cannot imagine anything but the broom-wielding madam from Tom & Jerry. The cigarette he hides behind his back, while his mother potters about between us. Only separated by a thin, white sheet.

He tells me that close to a million people live in Tangier, not counting the many illegal immigrants from Senegal, Tanzania, Ethiopia. Unemployment rates are at 40 percent. I envision about half a million people getting up every morning, not knowing what to do with themselves. Swindlers, hustlers, pick-pockets, self-proclaimed guides and friends of any kind are ordinary "jobs" in Tangier.

 

 


We finish smoking. We mash the smokes out against the mud-built roof and putter down the stairs.

Down at the docks we run into the group of blue-black male silhouettes dressed in dark, worn windbreakers and baggy jeans. Judging by their skin tones they are not from Northern Africa, but much further south.

Tangier is the meeting place for thousands of illegal immigrants on their way out of Africa - towards a new and better life in Europe. Why? I ask myself whether the Danish, deceased writer Jacob Ejersbo was right, when he asks in his Africa-trilogy, if it is because God has forgotten Africa?

The salty air and quiet buzzing along the water is suddenly torn apart by the call to prayer from the minarets. My thoughts are torn from me. I look at Abdul. He stares at me rigidly and says we have to go. Into the medina. Through the streets until we suddenly stands in front of a small house with carpets everywhere.

"You can wait here by Zaïd, while I go to the mosque to pray," he says looking over his shoulder. He is gone, before I have time to make any kind of objection.

Zaïd is standing in the doorway and smiles at me. Half his teeth are gone. His eyes are framed by a pair of large steel glasses with lenses thick as beer bottles, which makes his eyes small, brown and intense. We go inside. Mint tea is served. We light one cigarette with the other and wait.

Zaïd is sitting in a relaxed pose next to me in a coke-grey tunic, his legs lightly spread apart, his sandals solidly placed on the soft foundation made by the woven carpet and with his hands firmly resting in his lap. He is almost superiorly tranquil, so I ask him whether he is happy...

He looks at me for a long time. His eyes are as calm as his callous hands. He is married to a woman. He could have more. The law permits it.

 

 


"But it is hard to make a woman satisfied. To make two women satisfied is twice as hard, and making three women satisfied is impossible!", he giggles through his brown teeth.

We both laugh at his joke, until the smile fades from his wrinkled face. I give him an examining look.

It turns out that Zaïd is a nomad. He and his family wander about the desert south of Tangier. Embroidery, sewing and knitting fabric which they make themselves from the wool of camels. Each morning, Zaïd goes to Tangier to try and sell some of the wares made by the family. Judging from the layer of dust on the carpets on the shelves, it looks as if sales have stagnated. Zaïd's gaze turns empty.

Just before the silence becomes intolerable, Abdul returns from the mosque. I thank Zaïd for tea and steps out onto the street again with Abdul.

Outside, the shadows are growing long and the air cool. A fresh breeze blows down the small alleys of the medina. I look up at Abdul. We stroll through the streets and after a quarter of an hour we reach the gate of the hotel.

I give him my hand and take my leave in the best Arabic fashion. Just like everybody else in Tangier must at some point. I turn around and grab the handle of the gate, when I suddenly feel Abdul's strong fist clench around my upper arm. He turns me around and stares at me.

Almost begging.

Don't I have something for him? Something... I suddenly feel my insides turn, but nonetheless I see myself take out my wallet and fish out a golden note. He grabs it with the speed of light from my hands, sticks his hands inside the pockets of his leather jacket and turns around and leaves. He has delivered, and I have paid.

In Tangier, nothing is free...

 

 

Last modified on Sunday, 13 May 2012 01:12
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Frederik Korfix Schultz

Frederik Korfix Schultz is a danish photojournalist. Educated at the Danish School of Art Photography - and is currently studying photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism.

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