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Morocco is an ancient civilization steeped in history and hormones, a gold mine for the archeologist and psychologist. If you go looking for a western-style gay scene in Morocco you won`t find it as in law homosexuality is illegal and you risk arrest, deportation or imprisonment if found guilty of "lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex." Neverthless you can't legislate against human nature, and if you`re not looking, man-man sex situations will most likely simply unfold. Tangier was perhaps the world's first gay resort and Casablanca is infamous as a city where just about anything is for sale. Paradoxical and elusive, bisexuality in Morocco is a common part of male life, but it's veiled, ambiguous in meaning and not used as part of one`s identity.
Real Morocco begins on the beehive streets of such cities as Casablanca, Meknes and Rabat with cafes brewing espresso or mint tea. Here too are souks spilling plastic bowls and crafts, hawkers pushing cheap carpets, water sellers rattling tin cups, crowded commuter buses and school kids skipping off to school in their blue and white uniforms.
A Mosque in Casablanca
Here, young men and women mix casually and easily in public. Many women wear robes and veils, and many more go about their business in western skirts, jeans and pants. A breezy public freedom for both genders is found here more than in other stricter Muslim countries. Morocco, to a casual outsider, appears a cheerful place to wake up in the morning. It appears both familiar and exotic.

HIDDEN REALITIES

These relative freedoms, however, don`t alter the masculine tenor of this culture. There are no women driving cars or steering those infamous Mercedes taxis that pack in eight people. No women are to be seen in the countless coffee bars along the crooked streets of Meknes. Only leathery males sitting with their muddy coffee or tea staring at TV soccer match. Men also attend to the pint-sized shops packed closely together in the souks, whether it`s a barber shop, tobacco shop or butcher shop. Men are the merchants and women (married with kids) are busy at home with food and shelter.

Men also have the prerogative of sex in this Arab culture, especially younger unmarried men. Even though denied intimate contact with women for religious and cultural reasons, few men are virgins on their wedding night--and virtually all men get married here.

Among premarital men, male-to-male intimacy is a common, temporary, convenient and secretive form of sexual contact. This bonding is a sort of masculine rite of passage from puberty to manhood. However such intimacy does not identify them, to themselves or each other, as homosexual. This ambiguity wrapped in paradox is an informal matter for Moroccans and an enigma for uninformed western visitors. The best way to understand it, as an outsider, is to see visit the streets of Morocco and let the experience happen. And then do some thoughtful reading.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

North of Moulay Idriss, set in rolling fields of wheat, Volubilis was once a beautiful Roman town. Masterful mosaic floors and Corinthian columns still attest to the prosperity and elegance of this most westerly of all Roman cities.
Once this was a thriving town of thousands making their daily way along smooth walkways to public baths, granaries, gardens, public forum and the basilica. Now the town is dust and silent stones. Only the phantoms remain of the ancient people who lived here two millennia ago. There were virtually no other visitors here that day, no guides or shuffling of foreign shoes on rocky pavements. An arch in Volubilis
The major sound was the wind as it gently swept and sang among the remnant mossy walls, the reassembled high columns (now capped with the nests of huge cranes) and graceful archways. There is perhaps no more poignant impact for a sentient visitor than the silence that prevails over history with its once-noisy commerce, political drama and bloody wars.

GETTING AROUND

This country is visual delight and it`s easy drive around in a rented car. There are good roads, plenty of gas stations, stone villages, lush valleys, aromatic restaurants and the great Atlas Mountains are snow-peaked year round. The exotic old city of Fez is packed with a thousand souk stalls along narrow crooked alleys. Getting lost in there is the best reason for coming here.

Later that evening, I checked e-mail at the shiny Sheraton Hotel in the new town. A swarthy dark haired staff member was pleased to help me get online while gently pressing his leg against mine as we focused (sort of) on the monitor. Gaydar wanted to signal contact, but this was more likely his usual manner of camaraderie with other guys. Touching other guys in public here doesn`t carry the same suspicious overtones that condition us in the west.

Returning to our hotel room, which overlooked the town of Fez, the key to our room would not work so we asked one of the bellboys for help. As it happened the handsome man named Jose spoke Spanish and some French so we chatted for a few minutes before he left. Twenty minutes later there was a knock on the door. It was Jose, quite friendly, easy going and eager to continue with our multilingual chat. It didn`t take long to read his face and body language to understand that he was sizing us up for a possible interlude.

After a week in Morocco, talking, reading, and listening to the pulse of the culture, we were now more attuned to the motives and behaviour of young men even before we had started talking with Jose. As in other unprosperous cultures, Arab guys in need of extra money will play with prosperous foreigners, with varying degrees of discretion, as long as the game doesn`t infringe on their masculinity. Jose was probably no more gay than the other kid, but rather had his mind more on his tip than on our bodies.

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