Meknes – The Dangerous Royal Guard

I got lost in Meknes, again! Since Day 1 arriving in Morocco, my daily itinerary is a series of episodes around the theme of getting lost, with different sets in different cities. This time I got trapped in Meknes’ medina where blocks of residential buildings, front doors, alleys and shops all look alike. Luckily I met a lady who showed me an opening inconspicuously hidden between two buildings where I could finally find the escape and get back on track to the main street. Back on the street it will be much easier, hopefully. The guidebook says there is an old royal golf course somewhere along the way. I can go there.

Midway I meet a stretch of towering fortified wall which goes a long way. I walk in parallel with the wall for quite some time, until I find a big hole in the wall at one corner. It is the entrance of the golf course. This means the fortified wall runs the whole length of one side of the golf course. This is enormous. Through the open gate I peep inside at a distance. It is an expanse of lushly green. I walk closer to have a look.

A guard standing at the post approaches me. He looks brilliant in his bright red uniform with gold-colored trimmings. In a stern expression, he tells me that I cannot get in, as today is a regular rest day. ‘Can I just take a quick look?’ I appeal. He ponders a little. ‘Well, an exception. But then I have to take you,’ he says. His stern face breaks a friendly smile.

The golf course is gigantic. The green is a flawless carpet, adorned with flowering shrubs in clusters and giant palm trees on the fringe. The guard shows me around a few spots and facilities in the course, and we chat while we are walking. He is in the Army and is hand-picked to be a member of the Royal Guard. He has just posted to Meknes for a year or so. His home is in Fez, another city about an hour by train from Meknes. He asks how long I will stay in Meknes, and invites me to go to Fez with him when he has days-off a few days later. He wants to show me his beautiful city. ‘I just travelled from Fez, and I love your city,’ I tell him. I share with him my time in Fez and what I like about it.

It is noon time. There is no hiding to walk under the scorching sun in this immense open green. I have already seen this place, and reckon there is not much else special on the site as far as I can see. So I thank him, and tell him I would like to visit the palace, which is not far from here according to the map. He says there is a path that connects the golf course and the palace. Taking this path would save me the time walking all the way back to the entrance and the detour along the walls fencing the golf course, he says. I mull over his suggestion. I still cannot overcome my trauma of losing my way again and again in this country. It is way better to have him take me straight to the palace than to find the way on my own. So we leave the green, and walk together towards the fringe of the golf course.

A walking path is at the root of the fortified wall. Sunlight cracks through the big palm tree leaves. The air is much cooler here. My eyes enjoy a much-deserved rest after the long exposure under the fiery sun.

We pass by a huge sheet iron building. It looks a little shabby. He stops at the gate. ‘Let’s take a look’, he says. The giant gate seems heavy. He pushes it open with some efforts. Sunlight floods in, illuminating an otherwise vast open space reigned by complete darkness. It looks as if a stage curtain is drawn open, and the overhead lights of an empty stage suddenly get turned on. Through the beams of sunlight, I can see dust and particles flying. It looks like a warehouse, or used to be; one that has been abandoned for who knows how many years. There is nothing inside, except for a few pieces of old wood furniture stacking messily at a corner near one side of the entrance. Some garbage are left on the table. Empty cigarette packs, some crumpled potato chip bags, etc., but at a distance with the feeble lights I cannot see clearly. This is where the guards take their break or change shifts, I guess.

The place feels ominous and makes me extremely uncomfortable. He spears swiftly ahead and walks inside, and suggests that we can take a rest at the table and chairs at the corner. I refuse and stay fixed a few steps away outside the gate, not moving. I can’t leave the sunlight. I tell him harshly that I do not need a rest, then I turn and walk away, not giving him time to speak.

He follows closely behind. He does not give up and tries to convince me to go back and ‘take a break’ in that place. By now I lose my patience. I turn, face squarely at him, and break out with all the swear words and curses I have known and have not known. He has been wasting my time. All along he has no intention whatsoever to show me the way to the Palace. The shortcut that he claimed to be there might not even exist at all. He is setting a trap for me.

I dash away towards the entrance, but he keeps following. He pleads with me to stop, insisting that he is a ‘gentleman’ and everything he does is out of good will. He even dares to ask me to join him for dinner when he finishes his shift. I do not even care to respond, and run straight to the main entrance and leave.

12715715_10153526212196225_8935380670273354587_nUntil I have walked very far, I start to recall the sequence of events that had just happened. The golf course has been very quiet the whole time we walked together. There might be one or two gardeners, but they were definitely a long distance away from the warehouse. If the guard pushed me inside the warehouse and used force, I would be doomed.

I feel stupid.

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