Volubilis

For better or for worse, I like to think of world history in terms of a giant game of Risk. So, a while ago, the Romans kept rolling lots of sixes. But they got too enthusiastic and spread themselves too thin. They just put one or two soldiers on some of their territories – Rookie mistake! – so they couldn’t hold on to them forever. Then, a while later, Britain turned in some cards and got a whole bunch of cannons and put them on places like India. France and Spain were doing pretty well too. But before any of them could win, the countries they’d colonized had a comeback and the game kept going on and on forever like it always does.

Way back in the days of Romans rolling lots of sixes, those Romans decided to get in boats and come over to Morocco to get their veni-vidi-vici on. And so the Moroccan town of Volubilis is home to some stunning Roman ruins: an ancient temple, foundations of houses, mosaics depicting the twelve labors of Hercules and other scenes, and columns lining a wide road leading – as all roads did – to Rome. (Well, actually, it led to Tangier, and then you’d have to get in a boat.)

As we wandered among the ruins, we were distracted by three Moroccan men in straw hats loading an enormous pile of branches onto the back of a donkey and attempting to push and shove the donkey up some stone steps. The poor donkey was practically buried. Halfway up the steps, it either stumbled or decided it had had enough, and it sat down and refused to budge. The straw hat men spent a good ten minutes yelling at the donkey and at each other, while we and the other tourists stood by, silently watching. Finally, one of the men gave the donkey a big whack on the behind with the blunt end of a pitchfork. That was it. A Moroccan woman stepped forward, screaming at him in Arabic. The man shouted back, gesturing wildly with his hands, and the woman kept scolding him. Eventually he gave in and untied the donkey, and it slipped out from under the branches. When we left, the donkey was standing a few yards away from the straw hat men, with its back to them, while they pushed the pile of branches up the stone steps themselves.

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