Who doesn’t like Gladiator? Russell Crowe in wolfskin, satisfyingly heroic battle scenes, a truly bad baddie and sweaty-torsoed giants fighting it out in the arena. Personally, I am all for it. So, when I heard it was being screened on the outdoor screen in Jema El Fnaa as part of the Marrakech film festival, Liv, Taha and I bundled up warmly and went along. Jema El Fnaa is the heart of Marrakech. It is the big, central square in the Medina which is filled with snake charmers, monkey trainers, jewel coloured lanterns, food stalls selling everything from snails to orange juice, and hawkers offering you mobile phones, African carvings, henna tattoos…… We got there just as the sun set and managed to get a place fairly near the front. The crowd was mainly Moroccan but with a few tourists. As we waited for the film, the organisers turned the camera on us and showed it on the big screen, which caused much excitement. One little girl in a pink onesie definitely stole the show. After a short intro from two of Morocco’s most famous film stars, we settled down to the film. What an opening scene. Russell is moody and magnificent patrolling his army in the grey mists of dawn, interspersed with shots of back home amongst the sunlit corn. Then he turns to wish his officers courage and says the immortal words, ” Le force et l’honneur.” French? French? Of course it is, it was bound to be either French or Arabic as they are the two main languages here, but French? for Russell Crowe? I am sorry to say this, but it is just not butch enough. Small matter though. The film cantered on and the crowd murmured every time we spotted a bit that had been filmed in Morocco – lots of it was. The score really came into its own as the music swelled into the night. I was thoroughly absorbed and enjoying myself when I started to notice a very strong smell of adhesive. I looked around and two little Moroccan boys next to us, aged around 8, had their noses and mouths stuck into plastic bags and were dragging in the fumes. They were totally stoned, with their mouths hanging open and their eyes glassy. They were staggering around and giggling as they kept taking it in. It was very shocking. Liv and I looked around but nobody else was paying any attention. We didn’t really know what to do and steadily grew more and more uncomfortable watching these children do something so bad for them. Then Liv decided to go and get the square police involved and headed off with Taha. The boys were now right beside me, so I took the two bags from them. They started running round me trying to grab them back. I couldn’t put them in my bag out of the way as they were full of glue, so I just kept hold of them. By this time, a few people had noticed what was going on. I went up to one man in his twenties and asked for his help but he said no and pushed me away. Everyone else backed away also. The kids were jumping up at me, and at a loss, I let them take the bags back. Pathetic, I know, but I was in a crowd of Moroccan adults who were not doing anything and wouldn’t give me any help and I felt very much an interfering foreigner. Liv and Taha arrived back with the police who took the boys off and confiscated the glue. We couldn’t stay on to watch the film, it was too much of a juxtaposition, so we left and went home. I know that I didn’t act very well or achieve anything truly positive for those children. They will be sniffing glue again the minute the police leave. I am living here so I have some responsibility to the people around me, but what do you do in that context, where you want to help but only to a certain degree. What would you do?
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