From what he was told, the Europeans had built a road that
stretched along the coast from Tangiers to Alexandria in Egypt.
All he had to do was to follow that road and he couldn't get lost.
There came a point at the foot of the Reef mountains where
Moroccan police had set up a bustling checkpoint. They said a
warm "hello" and waved Hellanback through. He wondered
what the bustle was all about.
Within a day he reached the mountain village of Katama,
where shiny Mercedes came and went, and where European bohemians
were hanging out of the rain to garner the heat of a wood-burning
stove in the shack that did duty as the village bus stop. The
bohemians told Hellanback that Katama was the hub of Morocco's
hashish trade. The Mercedes were driven by couriers responsible
for servicing much of Europe's appetite for hash. It seemed the
police, who didn't make a habit of bothering tourists, were at
the checkpoints to insure that the mountain folk didn't take their
wares to the big city, so hash was cheap in Katama.
Hellanback learned that the next big city along his route
was called El Hoceima, and he set out in that direction. The road
was winding and Hellanback was impatient. At one point it appeared
that the road stretched a couple of miles to the north and disappeared
behind a mountain. Calculating that by leaving the road he might
cut miles from his journey, Hellanback headed northeast across
the trackless wooded mountain.
After several hours he decided that the shortcut hadn't
been such a good idea. It began snowing. He was lost. Snow was
coming down heavily. Nearing sundown he came upon a herd of sheep
and several tiny shepherds.
"Ou est El Hociema?" he asked the youngsters.
Their blank looks said they didn't understand French. They were
joined by a man in his early twenties, who said his name was Hamid.
Hamid knew a few French words, told Hellanback that El Hociema
was about fifty kilometers distant, and invited him to eat and
spend the night in his village.
The shepherds' village was about thirty or forty huts nestled
in the mountains where no roads went. These mountains reputedly
grew Morocco's finest keef (marijuana in the dialect), and these
mountain people were the ones who processed the keef to produce
Hellanback's host took him first to the home of his parents,
a two-room earthen structure with one door. One nine-by eighteen-foot
room was the living quarters of the young man, his parents, and
two younger children. The smaller adjoining room housed a donkey
and some chickens.
After a dinner of beans, bread, and tea, the young man
bade Hellanback to follow and led him through the village to a
larger hut in which about twenty young men were already gathered.
They were seated, there was some discussion, totally unintelligible
to the visitor. Soon a hash pipe was lit and offered to Hellanback.
As the sweet, familiar aroma stung his nostrils for the
first time since before his experience in Los Angeles, Hellanback
was sorely tempted to take the pipe, draw the heavy smoke deep
into his lungs, and allow himself to drift into euphoria.
Billy Hellanback's first experience with marijuana had
really shaken him up. For years he had been warned, ad nauseum,
that marijuana was highly addictive, and would lead its smokers
to murder and acts of incredible degeneracy.
"If you ever want to smoke a cigarette," his
mother said over and over, "get it from me. Never take a
cigarette from a stranger, it might start you on a life of addiction."
At a time when life seemed so miserable that he just didn't
care, in despair one night he took the opportunity to buy two
joints for a dollar, and took them to the woods. Recklessly he
smoked them. It was difficult at first to discern any effect,
but then he noticed that things didn't seem to be as bad. He thought
of people who had caused him pain with less hostility, even greater
fondness. He went to sleep prepared to awaken as an addict. When
the morning came with no unusual cravings, Billy was double minded.
He was pleased, maybe happy, because it didn't seem as if he was
addicted. The pot smoking had been pleasant, peaceful, inducing
thoughts of love rather than violence, but if his parents, teachers,
and elders had lied to him about pot, what else had they lied
Less demanding than heroin, pleasantly stimulating, but
far less complicated than sex, of all the physical pleasures he'd
known in life, Hellanback was most fond of cannabis. But he was
on a quest, so, besting temptation, he declined the pipe.
Some of the men protested, insisting that he smoke. Hellanback
explained he was on a pilgrimage, he used the Arab word, "hajj,"
and that he was abstaining from smoke and alcohol.
As the pipe passed around the room, being refilled and
relit, some of the men tried to ask simple questions, which Hellanback
tried to answer; others of the men spoke among themselves, and
he had the impression that he was the topic of discussion. More
village men drifted into the hut.
The second time the pipe came around, he refused it with
quick resolve, which prompted firmer insistence on the part of
some of the men who were talking among themselves.
When the pipe reached him the third time, and he passed
it on without puffing, one of the men who had been insisting,
but had shown no signs of friendliness, suddenly leapt on Hellanback
and pressed the point of a knife against his throat.
"Eshrub," he insisted in Arabic.
What a funny thing it would be, Hellanback thought, to
have his throat cut for refusing to smoke cannabis. Surely God
would be amused.
"Je faire com je pence juste. Tu faire com tu pence
juste," Hellanback replied, unsure whether his French cognizably
conveyed the concept of individual responsibility he was trying
There was considerable discussion among his hosts as Hellanback
sat pinned calmly against the wall. "Flooz" and "El
Hociema" were the only sounds he caught that meant anything
to him, but "money" and the big city were enough to
make him think he had a clue to the conversation.
Because of the police, Hellanback reasoned, it was difficult
and very risky for the locals to get their hash off their mountain.
So they would sell it to the dealers in Katama, probably for about
a dirham or two a gram, who would in turn sell it to the couriers
in the Mercedes, probably for five or ten dirhmas a gram. But
if these country boys could get a few kilograms into El Hociema
they could sell it quickly to tourists who would be happy to pay
fifteen, twenty, or more dirhams a gram for the high-quality hashish
that would cost them ten or twenty times as much in Europe.
Isn't it strange, Hellanback thought, how mankind's laws,
born of ignorance, fear, or greed, can transform one of God's
simple weeds into a commodity over which humans will kill?
He had read that the word "assassin" had its
roots in El Hassan, a scourge of the Crusaders during the middle
ages. The Crusaders were very fond of hoisting a few before and
after a bloody day of raping and pillaging in the name of "Christianity."
They ran up against Al Hassan and his men, devout Muslims under
the Islamic prohibition against alcohol who unwound by eating
The man with the knife wasn't an assassin, Hellanback decided,
just a bumpkin with greater regard for flooz than for life.
As the backwoods parliament debated his fate, Hallenback
remembered his mother's hysteria about marijuana. He was sure
she honestly believed that it was a "killer weed," yet
she had absolutely no experience of it. His mother's ignorance
was understandable; the government distributed, printed, and filmed
horror stories about people who'd allegedly smoked pot and raped
their mother or killed their father. But he had felt such ignorance
was inexcusable. It would have taken only a little more effort
to read the LaGuardia Report, a scientific inquiry into the nature
of cannabis, and tempered her hysteria.
Many similar fears could be laid to rest by experience
and reasoned research. Even heroin, the great bogeyman of the
police state -- how many of the middle class, Hellanback wondered,
had the experience to know that a user was far, far, far more
likely to die by alcohol than by smack? How many outside the medical
profession even had a clue that Methadone, society's quick fix,
was at least as physically destructive and at least as addictive
The man with the knife was pressing harder, the discussion
continued, while Hellanback sat still and replayed an argument
of inexperience in his head: Heroin causes crime. Considering
how inexpensive heroin is to produce, he thought, it became an
ultra-high markup commodity only because governments make laws
against it, thereby, levying upon the consumer exorbitant prices
without any actual linkage to production costs. The consumer is
forced to meet the unrealistically inflated prices through crime.
Unreasonable, or could "law" cause "crime?"
Hellanback sensed that cooler heads were beginning to prevail.
There was movement and the prick of the steel eased from his throat.
Two of the men who had insisted that he smoke were holding the
arms of the still-glaring man with the knife, and easing him to
sit on the floor. Hamid and some of the others were trying to
The men continued smoking, no longer offering the pipe
to Hellanback. They began to level with him. Hamid acted as the
spokesman, explaining how the police conducted careful searches
of any native leaving the mountain, but how tourists were allowed
to go freely. He mentioned the poverty of his village and how
much it would mean if they could sell their hashish in El Hociema.
Finally he asked Hellanback to carry a quantity of hash off the
mountain, promising to pay him with half the amount they realized
in selling it.
Hellanback liked to think of himself both as a champion
of the underdog and a man of principle. On the one hand, even
though one of them had threatened to cut his throat, he saw these
as simple and kind people. The police were treating these people
inequitably. The idea of helping these mountain dwellers to put
one over on the police was appealing. The money was unimportant,
he wouldn't accept it.
On the other hand there was a principle. Hellanback, who
didn't consider marijuana to be as harmful as cigarettes, also
didn't think that selling cigarettes was a notably kind thing
to do. Better to suffer harm than to inflict it. From his earliest
adolescent experiences he had refused to traffic in any substance
which might cause harm or lead another down a path best left untaken.
As best he could the pilgrim explained why we would not
to assist the shepherds' commercial enterprise. He couldn't tell
whether they actually understood what he was trying to say, but
even the man with the knife was smiling now. Hellanback wondered
if it hadn't all been just a bluff.
The meeting broke up. Hellanback spent the night in the
home of Hamid's parents. At sunup Hamid pointed the direction
to El Hociema, and the pilgrimage continued.