Charmed, I'm Sure
Ait Zineb, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco
When I first started traveling internationally, one of the first things I would do to prepare for my trip is read all the horror stories about what (and who) to beware of at any given destination. I do this much less now, but one of the stories that stuck with me from the early days was this travel writer who was talking about Italy. He was specifically writing about Rome, and how it wasn't uncommon for a gypsy woman to distract you by throwing her baby at you. As you instinctively raise your arms up to catch the child, your pockets and belongings will be unprotected. That's when (according to this writer) the rest of the gypsy pickpocket team will invariably make their move. They will ravage your pockets and take your valuable things, all while you are busy trying to figure out what to do with this baby you just caught.
When I first read this, it tied me up in knots, and I felt sick to my stomach. It had me worried and conflicted for days. Not about the pickpocketing, but about the baby. I wished there was some way I could warn the gypsies that this was going to end badly for them. You can call it a gay thing if you want, but I don't care for much for children, nor do I catch objects that are thrown at me.
Maybe I could put a tag or a sign on my shirt in Italian, letting them know? Because I kept replaying over and over in my mind this scenario where they throw their baby in my direction and it just lands with a solid thunk on the ground, dead at my feet, all because I didn't instinctively catch it. This was a lot of pressure to put on me, and all my fears about team sports and terrifying baseballs flying at my face came flooding back.
In all honesty, this article about gypsy babies ruined a lot of otherwise pleasant days out in the Italian piazzas for me. Now every time I saw a woman with an infant, I found myself trying to assume some sort of ready and open position. Like a catcher, I guess? Having never watched or played sports, I was left to my own to devices to invent a stance that I felt hopefully communicated to all the mothers out there that I was hyper-aware and paying attention, ready to receive her baby, should she choose to pass it. I must have looked like a psychopath, responding to every mother's slightest muscle movement or flinch, trying to predict whether I should go long, or if what she had in mind was more of a subtle handoff?
After about a month, when nothing of the sort ever happened, I eventually let my guard down. And that's when it happened. Not to me of course (just like with any other sport, no one wanted to pass the ball or their baby to me), but to another girl in our group. She was on a crowded subway, and it went down almost exactly as described in the article. Her wallet was stolen right after she instinctively caught a surprise airborne baby, and all I could think about as she told her story was that, once again, I wasn't chosen to participate in whatever this was. No one picked me. Better luck next time, I guess.
Many years later, as I prepared for a trip to Morocco, I came across several articles describing a particular con-artist trick that was a favorite amongst the snake charmers and charlatans of Marrakech. There were several variations on the scam, but the basic idea is that the snake charmer would get an unsuspecting tourist within striking distance of a poisonous snake, by either putting the snake directly on them or by cramping them in a tight space next to a snake rising out of a basket. Then they'd extort money from the person by threatening to make the supposedly-hypnotized snake strike, and bite its deadly bite, unless the person paid up.
Well, this didn't sound off any alarms for me. So long as they were gently placing the snake on me and not hurling it at me like a sports ball, I have no problem with that. Plus, I don't have a particular fear of snakes (see me with a python HERE), and I actually find them much less disgusting and pleasant to be around than other people's children. So I didn't think much about those articles ever again until the day we encountered this fine fellow, whom you see in my photograph above.
This guy's hustle was completely over the top, and eventually I just straight-up paid him to stop all his chicanery for half a second and let me get down on the ground with my camera and photograph him properly.
I also slipped his buddy a couple extra dirham to keep stray people out of my shot, or from tripping over me as I sprawled out on the ground in front of him and the snake to get the shot.
Even in the brief time I interacted with this charismatic snake charmer, my mind was racing. Where does he live? Does the snake live with him? Maybe it sleeps curled up on the edge of the bed like a dog? While he's out here on the street, doing his schtick, what if he needs to go to the bathroom? Does he take the snake with him? Or maybe he asks his buddy to cover for him? What if he needs to step away for longer?
“Bro! Listen I have my brat this weekend and I totally forgot, I promised Shelia I'd pick him up from his sit-tar lessons. Think you can cover for me for the rest of the day?"
"Um… I guess so? What exactly do I do?"
"Bro it’s so easy! You just throw this snake on people as they walk past, and then make them pay you to get it off of them before it 'bites.' Don't worry, you got this!"
"Hold on, how do I get it off of them?"
Well, with a lot of pomp and circumstance, of course! Mystical hand gestures, incoherent chanting… you know. Dude, you totally got this! Thanks Bro, I owe you!"
"Wait, so does the snake actually bite?"
"Dude, relax! This is so easy, just throw the snake and then demand money! That's all there is to it. Trust me, this is so much easier than the baby-throwing hustle we used to run back in Italy..."
For years, I really did have a fear that nefarious people were going to try and harm me/scam me with their trained snakes, lol. Until finally, in Thailand, I faced my fears and flipped it on its head: I payed a man to put his snake ON me!
You can read about that HERE.