Big Brother is Watching

Last night I went to jail. Only sort of, though.

For me, Morocco is one of those places that at times feels like complete chaos and unchecked ridiculousness, whether we’re talking about the markets of Marrakech or the way that people cross the street. Other times, though, it feels like it’s under complete control in a 1984 big-brother type of way. This is big brother ambience, perhaps ironically, makes me feel incredibly safe here. Throughout the cities, two anti-terrorist policemen clad in neon orange armbands walk along side an armed officer. Wherever you go, a hostel or friend’s home, the person you are staying with needs to take down your passport information. That way, if god forbid something was to go wrong, at least one person would know exactly where you are.

Within an hour of my arriving at a friend’s house is Hajeb, a small town south of Fes, her father received a call informing him that a foreigner was in the vicinity. Her father laughed and told the informant that he knew and that she happened to be staying at his home. These informants, or ununiformed police officers, have the sole task of watching and informing. Each neighborhood, or group of neighborhoods, in small towns and villages has one or more surveying the area for unusual activity.

Last night when we arrived in Souk El Had, an even smaller town south of Hajeb, we walked through the street only from the taxi stand to an artisan’s house. I lay down to take a nap and Dan went for a walk, only to run into the local police who asked him where his passport was and where the passport of the other foreigner (me) was. The two of us walked back to the police station with our passports later in the evening. Apparently, the governor of the town had wanted to get the station before us, so it could look like he was the one that had seen us first and had told us to bring our passports to the station. In other words, he wanted to look like he had been doing his job. Of course, we beat him to the station, which, though I can’t understand Berber, could tell he was pretty bummed about.

Inside the concrete sweaty building were a couple of desks and mostly broken overhead lights. Behind the desk was the jail. We ended up sitting inside by the jail cells for over an hour while they wrote down our passport information. Usually things take four to five times longer than expected, so with adjusted expectations, I think that was the right amount of time that to write down some numbers and names.

I never thought I would say that the thought of Big Brother watching would make me feel so safe.

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