Thursday, January 3, 2008

Snakes and Monkeys Oh my!

The following is a story written by my father about his experience on set in Morocco.

"On December 9, 2007 my fellow co-actor Bob McKeehen, (cast as General Godweiler) & I arrived after 16 long hours in the air from Portland, Oregon to Marrakech arriving at 12 noon their time & 4 am Portland time. To say the least I was exhausted. Instead of going to the Ryad Omar (hotel) & sleeping we decided to tour the Medina (the main shopping & site seeing plaza) where I tried to take a picture of some cobras when the snake handler said, "I will take picture ...FREE NO Money". Ok I said, and after five pictures of me holding snakes I asked for my camera back, as he returned the camera I heard his broken English chant of "pay me, pay me". So much for free.

Feeling threatened, now surrounded by three more of his associates all poking, and getting too close for comfort, I reached into my pocket & took out the newly exchanged $300 American dollars to local currency (2100 dirhams) a $7 to 1 dirham ratio, (a value that escaped me at this time due to exhaustion, and the desire to rid myself of these aggressive snake handlers), all in 200 dirham denominations. As I peeled off my 1st 200 dirham note and gave it to the snake charmer (not realizing it represents $30) I heard the phrase "more" & then another 200, then "more," another 200, on and on till I peeled off 1000 dirham or $150.

Walking away dazed, confused, and truly hustled, I turned around and the monkey handlers now waiting their turn, grabbing my camera as they placed two smelly, large hairy beasts on each shoulder, proceeded to take two pictures before I could retrieve my camera and stop the madness. Another 400 dirham later and I am into the whole experience for $210, or 1400 dirham.

To say the least I took grief all week long during the filming, from not only the cast and crew, but now the hotel staff joined in and would smile and point at me as I came and went.

Fast forward to the following Friday, as the crew and actors are filming on location four hours outside of Marrakech, I decide I've had enough and take a walk back to the Medina looking for snakes.
I spot a police car close to the plaza and decide to tell my story to the local police, hoping they don't arrest me for stupidity. Between my limited french and their limited english, one of the three officers leads me into the center of the plaza pointing at any and all snake charmers we encounter saying, "this one", this one" asking me to identify the snake hustler, who I'm sure at this time had retired with my money to the nearest beach community. Now every merchant, snake, and monkey handler, are looking at me as I walk back to the police car. After more discussion the police officer asks me to retrieve my camera with the pictures of the incident from my hotel and return to him with the evidence, in five mega pixels of digital photos.

As I head back from the hotel, camera in tow, I am approached by four men dressed in robes with hoods, but thank God or Allah, no snakes, instead they are here to solve my problem. The youngest of the four says, "Mister... please no police we will take care of this ourselves". Speaking flawless English the young man, Karman, (twenty-ish) asks to see the pictures, apologizes for my encounter, and explains that the elders will give me back my money if I don't involve the police. Upon review of the pictures he tells me they know of this snake handler, and one of the elders peels off 1000 dirham and places it in my hand. Also Karman tells me that they will return my 400 dirham from the monkey fiasco later in the day. A man of his word later that afternoon as I walked through the plaza with gifts for the family with my new found money, Karman approaches me with the three elders at his side and gives me the 400 dirham from the monkey people as he had promised earlier. My faith in mankind restored, faith in the good people of Marrakech to do the right thing prevailed.

The moral of this story is when visiting other countries sleep first, then take in the sites.

Terry Ward
(cast as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan)