Monday, January 5, 2015

The Angel Gabriel

It had been raining for seven days and seven nights.  I was in Morocco, northern Africa, traveling low budget through the small towns and big cities alike.  I’d been hitchhiking, and was soaked to the bone when I arrived in the town of Tetouan, about 60 miles east of Tangier, and positioned just a few miles south of the Straight of Gibraltar.  I’d been shivering all day, like a wet dog shaking forlornly on the streets of Chicago in the dead of winter.  I was in the throes of hypothermia when I finally found a place to stay.  It was not a typical rain that had enveloped the area, but, rather, a deluge of somewhat biblical proportions.  A rain they had not seen in memory.  A rain that washed the mundane daily concerns from peoples minds and replaced those concerns with anxiety about their own lives.  Would they be O.K? 

I took a room in an ancient hotel, stripped off my frozen clothes, and soaked in a hot bath for what seemed like an eternity, warming my bones, and renewing my resolve.  I ate a meal of crackers and canned sardines, and put myself to bed for some much-needed rest, some much-needed dreams, even. 

Traveling alone in a foreign country with a pack on my back and a guitar slung over my shoulder is not easy, by any means.  It’s romanticized in the recollections and retellings of they who have traveled those roads, however, it is anything but romantic.  It is early mornings and late nights in the middle of nowhere.  It is cold, and it is hot.  It is tiring, and frustrating.  It is lonely and foreboding.  It is dangerous and frightening.  It is certainly uncertain, and it is, in many ways, putting your fortune in unknown hands, tossing your fate to the wind, if you will.  It is, above all else, I think, a continuous examination of your self, a deeper examination than most men are even able to bear.  You are confronted with your own shortcomings, your failures, your frailties, your weakness, your fuck-ups, your missteps, your ethics, your morality, and, ultimately, your own mortality.  It strips you down to your very core, and redresses you in unadulterated truth.  It is like running a gantlet with all the ghosts of your past lining up on either side of you while you try your best to make it unmolested through the fray.  But you will not make it through unmolested.  Not if you’re honest with yourself, which, ultimately, you are forced to be.  The road is not a frivolous place.  It is not designed that way.

In the morning I woke to brilliant sunshine flooding through my window, and the sounds of celebration in the streets.  The rains had stopped, and the people were out in the streets full force, most likely for the first time in those long seven days.  I was situated in an ancient part of the city with narrow cobblestone streets lined with rug shops and open-air vendors selling exotic food and hawking their wares;
the food, admittedly exotic to me, but common fare to the Moroccans.  I just wandered around for the better part of the morning, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and hustles.  Every rug shop I passed sent a couple twenty-something young men out to follow me and solicit me to come and have tea in their shop, look at the rugs, and, hopefully, make a deal.  After ten minutes or so they’d give up, and the next rug shop I passed would send out their own detail to engage me.
The streets were narrow and maze-like, winding, meandering, with no particular discernable pattern.  But it was such a joy to be roaming around among them. 

When the rug merchants finally gave up on me I was able to relax, slow my pace, and take in the intricacies of the town, the minutiae that gets missed and overlooked when distracted by other concerns.  As I moved along I heard what I thought was a child’s voice.  It was faint, but stuck out somehow among the hustle and bustle of all the other voices in the streets.  I thought I heard the words, ‘Mr. Americano’.  I turned around to look, saw nothing related to the sound, then began to continue on my way.  There was an old 4-story hotel that caught my interest just ahead on the left.  I thought I’d check it out with the idea of possibly moving in there if I liked it.  I liked where it was located, and maybe it was cheaper than where I was.  In any event, I took two or three more steps towards the hotel when I heard the child’s voice again, but more urgent this time.
‘Mr. Americano, Mr. Americano’.  I stopped again, turned around, and saw a six or seven-year-old child -standing about thirty feet from me- calling for my attention.  As I saw him, and connected him with the voice, the ground suddenly shook with a deafening roar as the old rock and mortar hotel crumbled into the street in an enormous cloud of dust, just a few feet from me, leaving me in disbelief, with about 50 people in the street buried beneath an enormous pile of rubble.  Needless to say, I was stunned, as was everybody else.  People ran to help, but it was daunting and dispiriting at best.  I tried to help, but, being an obvious foreigner not speaking the language, was held back from the rubble.  

Rescuers arrived quickly and took control of the situation.  They were not uniformed, organized groups, but, nevertheless, men who knew what they were doing.  Organized fire and police came later, but this cadre of volunteers found rescue efforts to be futile for the most part.  So many ended up just standing around with an ever-increasing crowd of mourners. 

After a couple of hours, and still in shock, with tears flowing uncontrolled down my weathered face I began to wander around the town listening for that familiar voice, the voice which had stopped me in my tracks, and spared me such an ignominious fate.  I walked around for the next couple of days, all day, looking for the boy, the angel, that saved my life.    

Today I call him Gabriel.