I like to think of myself as being a pretty friendly person — that is to say that I’m approachable, chatty and generally pleasant to friends and strangers alike. While this is in no way a bad thing (in fact, I see it only as a good thing), it has, upon occasion, got me into a spot of bother.
Take a village like this one in rural Morocco, where ancient traditions are upheld, the Muslim faith is strictly adhered to, and outsiders like me stick out like giant glowing beacons. While for the most part I’ve been treated very well, there are clearly some members of the community (and I’m loathe to say that it is just men, although in my experience it has been) who clearly have preconceived ideas of what a European woman represents. To some of these men, a married woman who chooses to walk her dog alone and who cheerily chats to anyone she passes must surely be one of loose morals, shall we say. When you consider that many of the married women in the village don’t have permission to leave their homes, perhaps you can appreciate why they might have such ideas about me, but these inaccurate preconceptions cause them to treat me in a manner to which I’m not accustomed to, and which I do not like.
Let me give you an example. We had a neighbour (who has since moved), who lived next door with his young family, and who I would often bump into as he walked to his nearby office. When we met we would always stop and chat, but our conversations only ever consisted of polite chit chat, in part because we could barely make ourselves understood. Our polite conversations continued for well over a year, until one hot and humid afternoon when my neighbour invited me to come and collect some fresh mint and basil from the walled garden of the office where he worked. Keeping in mind that nothing untoward had ever occurred between us (in my view we were merely neighbours who chatted politely every now and then), and that his office was but a stone’s throw from my home, perhaps then you might not think me too naive for accepting his invitation? Anyway, naive or not, I followed him into the garden, and stood there making some more polite chit chat while he picked the herbs. He handed them to me and after thanking him, I made my way to the gate. With one hand on the latch, I glanced back to say goodbye and noticed him staring back at me with a rather strange look on his face. He said the word ‘kiss’ and without a moments hesitation, I made my way back over to him and proffered my cheek.
Of course I should have remembered that in Morocco, women never kiss men as any form of greeting or way of saying goodbye, like they do in many European countries, but still his request hadn’t raised any alarm bells. As he leaned in and wetly kissed my cheek (far too wetly for my liking I must admit, but still I thought nothing of it), all of a sudden my ‘friendly’ neighbour grabbed my head with both hands and proceeded to slobber over my neck, all the while breathing heavily and sweating profusely. I was instantly appalled and pulled myself away from his grip, which thankfully wasn’t firm and he released me without comment. I stumbled towards the gate, praying that he wouldn’t try and stop me, and hurried home as fast as my friendly little legs would carry me.
If that was where my friendliness was going to get me, I thought, well then I’d happily work on adjusting my friendly-o-meter from High to Low, and while it would never be in my nature to be impolite, I knew I would have to start being more careful when entering into conversations with local men, neighbours or otherwise.
Although my husband did threaten to reduce the man to a quivering wreck, or should I say beat him to a pulp, as I don’t condone violence, I’m pleased to say that my amorous ex-neighbour is still alive and kicking.