Can't Host: Gates of Meknes Punch
A heads up. In writing this post it went quickly from lighthearted to rather serious. Then to jump into a cocktail it all comes off a bit random if not dismissive, which is absolutely not the point or intent.
Somewhere between the picture taking and recipes, and the narrative turning into a letter about gay rights in Morocco I was left with two threads that couldn't really intertwine. Still, I made an effort, and maybe this should have been two posts but it isn't so... yeah, there it is.
This is, though, a cocktail blog so a cocktail there will be. I encourage you to stick with me as I try to convey a few personal and certainly privileged thoughts about gay people living within an Islamic culture that struggles between an old identity and a new one. If this isn't your bag then no worries. There is a phenomenal punch recipe at the end.
Drink and be well, be happy, be safe.
"It's lighting up like a Christmas tree. Seriously, it's almost insulting. If I was in the States I'd be lucky for two or three messages. Here? My god..."
"How many people have hit you up?" asked M.
"43 in the last ten minutes. One of them is 100% absolutely our red-headed German riad owner and host who just checked us in, so that's going to make breakfast in the morning awkward..." I sighed.
"I'm not surprised. I felt he was a bit swishy, but I can never tell with European men if they're gay or just, you know, European."
"Agreed. I have terrible gaydar, though." My phone chimes again. "Aaand, there's 44. Bitches be thirsty."
M and I had just checked into our riad in the old city of Meknes during our two-week trip through Morocco. On a lark, I loaded Grindr onto my phone curious to see if there was much of a gay community here and, bois, was there ever.
Morocco is a country that straddles the east and west. Across the river from Europe, yet sitting at the northern tip of Africa it's a curious mix of Islamic culture saturated with European and Middle Eastern influence, and where the people speak both Arabic and French.
The cities are becoming increasingly westernized. To revitalize the old cities the government has passed laws to make it easier for foreigners with money to purchase riads (traditional Moroccan homes with a center courtyard). To ease their influx the city has cracked down on corruption, cleaned the streets, and utterly eliminated homelessness through the influence of Islamic family values. Women can walk the streets not only without a hijab, but in booty shorts no less. Even traditional jilbābs have lost their traditional long, billowy forms for hip-hugging, hot pink cuts with "delicious" written across the chest in rhinestones.
As the country races to become a place that the traditionally seen western world will embrace and spend its tourist cash on I was curious what it was like for gays who lived in the country. Modernization or not, anti-LGBT laws are still on the books. These laws are rarely, if ever, enforced as the potential for international media backlash would harm tourism. However, in 2007, many people were arrested for purporting to have been seen in a video attending a gay wedding. Protesters took the streets demanding the men be punished.
The punishment for having sex with someone of the same sex as yourself can be up to three years in prison and/or a fine of $200 USD (no small amount for most people in Morocco, think of it as a $2000 fine in the United States). However, arrests generally, though not always, only take place when a public incident occurs. If you're in a smaller, more conservative village then lashings or worse may be levied against the accused.
So, the best way to find out what it's like for gays? Talk to a few horny men on Grindr.
I did turn off any location functions and put up only a vague side profile of my face for the picture. Last thing I want is to be reported and jailed on vacation.
The first thing I noticed was that these precautions were the norm. Not a single face picture of any of the men who lived in the city. The only faces to see where those of other foreign tourists. Almost all white. The bulk of them from France or Germany. Yes, white privilege strikes again. To be openly gay in a country where the native LGBT community cannot. It's strikingly unfair.
That, sadly, was only the tip of the iceberg.
After a few conversations it was confirmed that, yes, no one put face pictures up on Grindr or any other app for fear of being found out as gay.
I also learned that the STI rates for gay men in Morocco were shockingly high. Quite a few people informed me that this was due to a number of reasons. First, foreigners infected with STI's had unprotected sex with native Moroccans and didn't tell them or didn't know. Second, infections quickly spread through the Moroccan gay communities due to a lack of safe sex education and lack of safe access to condoms. Third, if someone did realize they had become infected with an STI it was rare they would get it treated. This was because someone would have to admit to a doctor that not only did they have sex outside of marriage (a big taboo in Morocco) but also that they contracted it from another man (an even bigger taboo).
Plus, again, there was that looming risk of being jailed and publicly outed just for the act of finding solace, love, or just plain fun with another man in the safety of your own home.
Ah, and on that "own home" thing. Most men in Morocco live with their families until they are married. Even then, they may still live in the family home with their new bride. The bachelor life and having a place of one's own? Very rare. Due to this, most of the men cruising online rely on gay tourists with their own rooms in order to score a successful romp. If neither party has a condom with them this leads back to our previous point on STIs.
As you can see it's a terrible cycle.
Lastly, a lot of gay men do live on their own in Morocco by working as escorts for the booming number of European and American tourists. This, as you no doubt can guess, possesses its own host of problems.
Most men I talked to were very perky, pleasant and hopeful. A few told me about boyfriends and husbands, most secret though a few actually out and proud. Some simply asked if I was a top or bottom and if I could host. (No, I could not and wasn't looking to. Thank you.) In many conversations I botched my French and was politely corrected. One young teenager went to great lengths to teach me dirty gay slang in both Arabic and French before asking me to meet him in an alley off the kasbah if only just so he could kiss another boy. Finding gay men, he said, was hard in Morocco.
I politely declined every offer and there were a lot of them. Almost every one asking if I had a private room in a riad. It's not surprising in a country where no one can host.
There's not too much I can say or do from this little blog that will improve the situation for the LGBT community in Morocco. All I can do is make you better aware of a what's happening, and only in through my limited, white foreigner viewpoint. After all, in a world where shootings and race riots and presidential elections are occurring it may be difficult to summon the attention, let alone the empathy, for a group of people so very far away.
In my time in Morocco, I did meet a few people who I let on to that I had a husband back home. Often it was acknowledged and that was it. Perhaps because the very concept of someone admitting it in Morocco, even in the metropolitan cities, may be utterly foreign. This is, of course, supposition on my part.
Still, others were blasé about it all and asked what he did for a living, his name, and so on. This means there are those who are already used to the concept of openly gay people living their lives. That in itself is progress.
Morocco is a country that's becoming increasingly first world and modern. Infrastructure is priority one for the government right now. Education for all children is mandatory, new roads are being constructed, institutional corruption quickly being rooted out and wifi connection are available everywhere. Plus, Europeans (including many gay ones) are flooding the country.
It may only be a matter of time before LGBT rights come to Morocco but it will not be soon. I doubt even in the next decade. This is a country where in countryside villages women aren't seen in the local cafes since they're forced to stay home with the exception of running to a nearby well for water or going to a to wash clothes. Traditional Moroccan society sees homosexuality as a sign of the western decadence and immorality. LGBT rights are not something the government even wants to consider at the moment.
So, to the LGBT community of Morocco, we're hoping and cheering for you. I'm not too sure what else an outsider can do except make people more aware and, maybe, for other countries to put pressure on the government.
And, for fuck's sake, please be careful on the apps and stay safe.
Gates of Meknes
This is a punch that's perfect for the dead heat of summer – refreshing with lemon and cucumber paired with the floral flavor of rose water. Rose water is produced only a few weeks a month in Morocco when the roses used are at the height of their bloom. During this time, rose festivals are held throughout the country and whole towns are redolent with perfume.
You could easily infuse the cucumber with the gin, but you shouldn't need to unless you want a more potent flavor.
Meknes, located in Northern Morocco, is also known as the City of Gates. Throughout the ancient city are huge walls built up to support the palace, medina, and kasbah as the city was once the capital of the country. The decorative gates that control movement through the city are looming, impressive guardians that welcome visitors and citizens alike.
What You'll Need:
- 1 750ml bottle of gin (I used Green House Artisan Gin as it has a cucumber freshness to it and a crisper finish than other gins I've tried.)
- 1 cup Aperol
- 1 750ml bottle Cava (I used Berberana; mainly because it's affordable and works well for punch.)
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 12 ounce ginger beer
- 1/2 cup lemon syrup (see recipe below)
- 1 cucumber, sliced into rounds
What You'll Do:
Place all the ingredients in a punch bowl and stir to combine. Allow to sit for a few minutes to allow the cucumber to infuse a bit. Serve in cups over ice with a few cucumber rounds. Sip and enjoy.
Easy and reliable. I use this when making lemonade and for sweetening iced tea.
What You'll Need:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- peels of 1 lemon, no pith
What You'll Do:
Place the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until sugar dissolves. Cover and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Strain. Will keep in the fridge for 1 month.