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Warning signs missed in a North African bar

Fatiha became my constant companion for the remainder of my stay in Morocco and I could not have wished for a more charming one. We confined our haunts to the beach, the hotel terrace and the downstairs bar next door to the hotel, and I held no desire to stray further. Of an evening Fatiha headed home an hour prior to Cinderella’s magic hour. One afternoon we did stray further afield from our natural haunts, when we took a taxi into Tangiers and Fatiha took me on what turned out to be a ‘bar crawl’.

Many of the bars we visited were of a whistle-stop nature just for a quick beer, although there was one where we lingered for a while. Approaching a bar, Fatiha said, “We must go in here, George. The proprietor is English and called George.” Fatiha laughed, “George drinks in George’s.”

The bar’s interior decor bore traces of the proprietor’s original intention of wishing to create the atmosphere of a British pub. There was a dartboard on one of the walls, an outdated brewery’s advertising calendar depicting a typical British country village, and a few cracked and chipped ashtrays bearing the logo of a British brewery. The bar was crowded and we had to settle for a barstool. Fatiha introduced me to George, the proprietor; he appeared to be in his sixties and still looked very active.

'Am I unique' book coverFinishing our first drink, and as I ordered refills, Fatiha paid a visit to the toilet.

During her absence, George the proprietor congratulated George the customer on his choice of companion. “She is a nice girl, George, and you are a lucky man as she seems to have taken to you.” I blushed in modesty, which fortunately the bar’s dim interior camouflaged. He continued, “You do know that she is protected by the Moroccan equivalent of the Mafia?”

“What?!” I exclaimed, unable to picture Fatiha as the stereotype of a gangster’s moll.

“Protected by them, George, not working for them. Rumour has it that her father, who owned a fishing boat, ran a cargo of hashish to Spain for one of the outfits operating here. Apparently, on one trip her father’s boat was rammed by a Spanish customs vessel and he was drowned. The outfit, the biggest in the business, now look after Fatiha and her family.” George seemed only too pleased to have an opportunity to display his knowledge of the local underworld and carried on explaining, “Whereas the other outfits operating here deal in kilos, the boss of the outfit her father worked for deals in hundredweights. He considers that as there is the same risk involved whatever the quantity, you might as well go for the jackpot.” George warmed up to the subject, and as Fatiha had not returned he added, “Mind you, much to the delight of the Spanish customs, these outfits are always shopping each other. Although I’d welcome a few trips as a ‘mule’ as they pay well.”

“A what?” I asked, unaware of the meaning of the term.

“A courier. That’s what you are here for, isn’t it?”

“Good heavens, no!” I indignantly retorted. The very suggestion of being involved in such a despicable trade appalled me.

“Oh,” George replied in a tone that hinted he did not believe me and, moreover, took offence over my considering that our mutual nationality did not create a bond of confidence. He showed all the characteristics of an English village pub landlord, keeping track of all the local scandal and dubious activities. To get the last word in, George shrugged his shoulders and said, “Everyone here is involved in that sort of thing.”

I felt relieved when Fatiha rejoined me. We finished our drinks and continued our ‘bar crawl’. On the short walk to the next bar, Fatiha asked, “What were you and George talking about whilst I was in the toilet?”

I saw no reason to divulge all the conversation, especially the part concerning her father, and smiling I replied, “You. He thinks you are very beautiful and so do I.”

Fatiha returned the smile. “George likes to think he is everybody’s friend, but no one trusts him. If he knew how to keep his mouth shut, maybe he would be a rich man. Unfortunately, he talks too much for his own good and cannot keep a secret.”

I wholeheartedly agreed with Fatiha’s opinion.

Extracted from Colin Wallace’s fascinating memoir, telling of drugs, the Foreign Legion, and the Algerian war. Buy ‘Am I Unique?’ here.

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