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Monthly Excerpt

Feathered neighbors in Fez, MoroccoRabat, Morocco's capital, is pronounced like a frog's mating call, and finding that to be the only distinctive feature of the place, we kept right on heading toward Casablanca.

By then, I knew enough words in Arabic to be dangerous, and I proved it by arranging to be ripped off by two of Casablanca's finer con artists. I could make out enough of what they said to understand they wanted to exchange the local dirhams for dollars. Sounding like the classic black market exchange, I chose to disregard my instincts in order to get twice the bank rate. Neal warned me the deal sounded fishy since the bank bought dollars for less dirhams than my customers were offering, but I rattled on about the sketchy details I understood of the Moroccan's hard luck story. In the final analysis, I was convinced I could turn a buck on someone else's misfortune. Propagating that feeling is the primary objective of all con men.

I watched greedily as the Arab counted out forty dollars worth of dirhams in the stairwell of a dusty building. He rolled it into a tight little log, and I pocketed it before releasing my money. Neal and I scampered off before the unlucky Arab came to his senses, or his friends could arrive to mug us.

"Barf all over it," I yelled back over my shoulder as I sped out of the building. The correct pronunciation for "thank you" in the Moroccan dialect of Arabic was "barahlawfik," but I learned they were just as thrilled to hear "barf all over it."

Once away, we strode into the nearest cafe to celebrate our business acumen with espresso coffees all around. I peeled the first note off my tidy money roll, intending to announce to the waiter that we were starting a tab. Glancing at the next note on my roll, Neal and I felt as though a wall of bricks had toppled on us. The next note was a blank piece of paper. I frantically unraveled the roll to find a handful of white paper.

"The bastard must have switched the wad after he rolled it up," I gasped. "But, ... I never took my eyes off him."

"Magicians do it for a laugh," said Neal. "These guys do it for a profit."

I tried to rationalize how the money had gone for my education, but an angry knot stayed in my stomach for the rest of the day -- twenty bucks could have carried me for two weeks in Morocco.


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