On Friday, my roommate and I ventured to the Fes Music Festival in the Old Medina for a free Andalusian concert.
We were accompanied by three boys from our program, and we felt pretty confident about the boy:girl ratio, because both girls had a guardian in case of any impromptu proposals.
We stopped at the boys’ house along the way to greet their family who lives in the Old Medina.
“Attención! Attención!” One of the women whisper-shouted. “Please leave your things here,” she said in Arabic. “If you take them, they will get stolen!” We did as she said and piled our cellphones, purses and wallets in a corner of the boys’ room.
As we drew nearer to the concert, the crowds got thicker, and the women were few and far between. Stares intensified as my roommate and I quickly became the only women in a sea of men.
Within the crowd, we saw small groups of boys aged between middle school and late 30s, throwing each other in the air and chanting harmoniously together, but dissonantly from the music. Puffs of smoke circled around us as the Andalusian group began their set. Small boys climbed on each other’s shoulders and clapped as their foundational counterparts moved wildly below them.
My male classmates volunteered as tribute to be thrown in the air while men of many ages engaged my roommate and I repeatedly the following conversation:
Man: Como te llama?
Me: No hablo español…sorry!
Man: English? Do you have a Facebook? Can you write your name for me?
Me: No, sorry!
Man: Do you want to get on my shoulders?
Me: No, thank you.
I finally agreed reluctantly to get on the shoulders of one of the boys I knew. He stood up slowly while holding on to my shoes, and a roar emerged from the sea of men behind me. Either everyone in Fes really loved the song that was playing, or they all wanted to add me on Facebook right then and there.
The next night we returned with more girls and fewer boys, a mistake we will not likely repeat, as only two of us had a fake husband to which we could cling.
As we made our way deep into the crowd once again, we were surprised to hear rock music. Boys and men swayed slowly to the sweet ballad as they sang along with their arms in the air.
The tempo suddenly exploded into a full-fledged melody, and the men around us jumped up and down singing along to every word.
I swear to Allah, we ended up at a modern-day Moroccan Journey concert.
The band broke out in a cover of Seven Nation Army, which obviously caused more jumping around. Before we knew what was happening, all five girls were separated from our two fake husbands. The harem was no longer.
Two tween boys tried to approach my roommate, who is blonde and beautiful and tan. Their attempts to hit on her made me laugh hysterically, to which the boys responded by imitating my laugh. Our rejection of their feeble proposals in Spanish and French resulted in attention from a few dozen boys who yelled unintelligibly at us. Unable to move away because of the crowd, we just stood looking very scared and tried to apologize in Arabic. Suddenly a guy who looked close to our age bulldozed them with long arms as he yelled “leave them alone” in Arabic.
He turned to me and said in perfect English, “I’m so sorry, are you ok?”
Needless to say, I stood beside him for the next 20 minutes until he disappeared into the crowd, much like the boys I had originally come with.
To my left, a boy close to my age was kicked by a child who was being thrown in the air. He wrapped his arms around his head as tears streamed down his face. His friends, immediately recognizing his injury, took turns hugging and kissing his head, offering condolences, wiping tears. I consciously searched my memory for any witness of this behavior in America. I had never seen teenage boys treat each other this way.
Before long, the crowd became a bit too wild and we didn’t feel safe anymore. Our fake husbands found us and linked arms as we formed a cha-cha line to exit the crowd together.
At the edge, I could see women holding their sleeping babies, watching the concert out of reach from the crowd. They looked shocked to see five girls emerge from the abyss of men and sweat and tears. Maybe their absence in the crowd was not cultural, maybe they just knew that being in a crowd of men is the grossest thing imaginable.
We hailed a cab and I put to use the most important sentence I’ve learned this week, “please restart the meter.”