By Rida Addam
Karkoubi, bola hamra, aoud labiad... The nicknames given to psychotropic substances make you smile. But reality is anything but funny. A visit to the appalling world of hard drug dealers, in the Derb Sultan district.
This is the beginning of the afternoon. Shops are full. In the narrow lanes, peddlers push their carts towards the small market nearby.
Teenagers and young people - all of them under 25 – are positioned in streets corners. They are all wearing the same kind of clothes: jeans, anoraks with hoods and trainers. These are psychotropic substances dealers.
Posted in their respective corners, they throw careful glances around them: they are keeping watch for the police. "We never know where they come from," explains Bichir, a notorious dealer whose reputation is well established here.
Bichir examines his interlocutor carefully. He agrees to talk, without fear. He says he is not afraid of journalists, "as long as there are no cameras.”
"Khassek chi?"("Do you need something?”), throughout the afternoon, Bichir and his colleagues repeat tirelessly this coded sentence to the passers-by. However, the dealers also have their own and unique language to communicate with other members of their network.
Each network is methodically organized: the roles, which are immutable, are carefully distributed. At the end of Bichir's street is a cigarette seller who sells them by the piece. But this small, unimportant trade, which can be found everywhere in Casablanca, is nothing but a disguise: the cigarette seller is in fact in charge of selecting the new customers and give the alarm if the police comes, which occurs several times a day in this district.
Fifty metres away from him, two stout and muscular young men ensure the safety of the passage. Their savage expressions are frightening: passers-by are very careful not to cross their glance as they walk past them.
Not far away, a short and young black man is on the look-out. His name is Aidid, and he plays a key role within Bichir's network: he is the "negotiator," the person in charge of negotiating quantities and prices with the "customers," usually small dealers sent by the cigarette retailer.
Once the agreement is concluded, he sends the customers to Sami. Sami usually spends the afternoon hidden in a doorway, he is the one in charge of the goods and gives the quantities negotiated by Aidid.
As for Bichir, he is the boss: sitting on a foldable chair - a luxury linked to his status -, he is content with watching the scene from a distance, while stroking the pit bull dog sleeping next to his feet. Bichir's pet is well trained for any kind of attack. Around his neck is a small leather bag with a large sum of money in it: the drug dealer's cashbox.
In a small Casablanca police station, an inspector belonging to the drug squad accepts to testify provided his anonymity is respected: "If Bichir is arrested, he orders the dog to attack the police officers. The dog, like other pit bulls of the district, is very well trained. It attacks us, throws us to the ground then flees with the cashbox around its neck. It also runs quickly and knows the way very well. We never managed to catch one of these dogs.
Another police officer, encouraged by his colleague's confessions, agrees to speak: "Bola hamra, Âoud labiad, Samaka and Zannira... the range of psychotropic drugs is very wide, and dealers' methods too. Each has his own way of proceeding. For example, there are those who work with girls, they give them the tablets and send them, at night, in clubs and bars. The girls are not alone; they are often accompanied by bodyguards. In most cases, there is a taxi waiting for them outside in case of trouble.
Back in Derb Sultan. In a shop emptied of its customers, a grocer agrees to talk: "10% of young people sell drugs, and more than 40% consume them," he says, visibly well informed, adding that: "many like to consume psychotropic drugs in the cinema of the neighbouring district. Young people love to get high while watching Bollywood films or listening to Raï music. They are sentimental and heat their blood quickly. "
Five in the afternoon. It is getting dark. This is the moment when the sales reach their peak. Customers come from everywhere: some young people come everyday for a few dozens of tablets they will re-sell by the piece elsewhere. These are the small dealers. Others come to buy their dose at the source: they buy "only" a few tablets.
This small trade is repetitively interrupted by police raids. Uniformed police officers jump out of their “salad baskets” - a nickname commonly used for police vans. Everyone runs away, and the slowest ones, usually consumers, are caught, handcuffed and thrown into the vehicle.
Sometimes, bloody fights take place between dealers and police officers. "All the dealers are armed with sabres, sticks and chains. Arresting them is not that easy, especially since most of their activities take place at night," explains a police officer.
As for the dealers, this is a very profitable occupation for them: "Time passes quickly for the dealers. We have to make a quite precise sales turnover. Personally, I leave the district, each evening, around 8:30 pm, but only if I have reached my daily quota, MAD 10,000," explains Bichir, adding that "if the prices were raised only slightly, I wouldn't work more than one hour a day."
According to Bichir, the price of a tablet, which varies between MAD 5 and 25 depending on the origin of the goods, is well too low compared with the risk he takes everyday. Bichir, who is satisfied with his profit, boasts nonetheless that he is the "best businessman of the district."
The day is now over for him. He rises, closes his foldable chair, and knocks on a door next to him. The door opens. Without a word, someone takes the chair in. Every evening, Bichir leaves the chair to the owners of the house beside the place where he has been sitting for years.
Before leaving, Bichir has a last thing to do. He goes a few streets away to Labla's house. Labla, his friend and confident, is not there: he has been in prison for a year. Bichir provides for his family while he is away. Labla was arrested “at a roadblock outside Oujda. He transported […] Temgesic, […] Optalidon, […] Clonopen and […] Hypnosedon. Our customers prefer the Algerian merchandise to the local one, they like their very low prices and fast effects."
Bichir leaves the house. It is 09:00 pm. The two stout guys, the cigarette seller, Sami, and Aidid are all there, waiting as usual. Followed by his small troop, Bichir heads for the Casablanca clubs. “Time to dance. Where are Leila and Naima?” he asks Aidid before disappearing in a street corner.
It is getting late. Not far away, next to the bridge leading to the March 2 Avenue, people hear shouts they have grown accustomed to. Another street brawl. Windows open, curious glances contemplate the scene: Youssef, an apprentice shoe-maker, is stripped to the waist.
"Khoukom ana... Khoukom" ("I am your brother... your brother"), shouts the teenager. His right hand is covered with blood; he holds a knife with the left one. Youssef is followed by another teenager. Omar is also armed with a knife. He shouts threateningly while cutting fiercely into his own hand: "Wa nari ‘ta sir Fhalik" ("Go away!”). "Ana rani bayet lyoum" ("I am spending the night in prison"), he answers Youssef, while lacerating his belly and chest.
"Youssef... he is drugged... he has taken karkoubi, and now he is going to his stepfather's house to make a scandal," explains a neighbour who raises his shoulders. Such a sight is not unusual, and nobody seems to be surprised.
The two teenagers continue to challenge each other. "They will end up killing each other if we don't do something,” whispers another neighbour, angry at the noise but also worried.
He decides to intervene: "Stop it, let him go", he says to one of the teenagers.
A waste of time and effort. Youssef is getting angrier; with his eyes fixed on its rival, he lacerates his hand, belly, chest and thighs while repeating: "Tabki mou Tabki, my tabkich omi ana!" (May his mother cry, not mine). The two enemies face each other; they look like they will kill each other from one second to another. Omar starts lacerating his body again, while looking at Youssef right in the eyes.
They look at each other for what seems like eternity to the crowd massed around them. Then the fight finishes abruptly. Youssef throws himself in the arms of Omar, and both start crying: "Khouk ana... khouk" ("I am your brother...").
The traumatizing scene is over, the crowd starts to scatter, and this is the exact time when the police arrive for another raid. The inhabitants precipitately close their doors and windows. The onlookers scatter in opposite directions. "Mchaou fiha" ("It's over for them"), concludes a young man before running away.
Psychotropic substances in Morocco
The most popular black market psychotropic substances in Morocco are Karkoubi (Optalidon), Al-Aoud Labiad (White horse, i.e. Artane), Ibn Zidoun (Hypnosedon) and the famous Bola hamra (Rivotril).
The main one is Bola hamra, whose consumption has become so alarming that the name of the medicine was changed from Rivotril to Clonopen. This does no seem to have much of an effect on its consumption.
Dealers wait for their (numerous) customers outside schools and universities. They can also be found in bars and clubs.
According to authorised police sources, fifty drug dealers and about a hundred consumers are arrested every day in Casablanca.
Hospital records also reveal that over 60 wounded, 5 to 6 seriously wounded and 20 suffering from overdoses are taken to hospital every day.
Translated by Houda Filali-Ansary
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