What a fantastic breakfast to wake up to, the table is full- freshly baked bread, cheese, glossy croissants and coconut macaroons, bowls of the most crisp almonds and walnuts that taste different to any I’ve tried before, fantastic dates.. Out come some Moroccan style eggs, you can smell the cumin immediately (I love cumin), olives, olive oil, grapefruit juice squeezed especially for us, and of course some fresh mint tea. I tell L how overwhelmed I am with how much food they offer us, she tells me they would happily give you everything they have, it’s just part of the culture.
The interesting thing is that the whole time Fatina-the mother of the house just sits back, you don’t find her eating since she’s too busy making sure her guests are okay and topping up the tea watching attentively. You can tell she really runs this house. She sees me enjoying the meal and tells me from now on this is my house and that I should call her mum and her husband Sharkawy dad.
Just as we leave to see what the day holds for us she informs us that she’s preparing couscous for lunch and that we shouldn’t be late. Again I can’t think about food right now.
The daughter Alham (21) joins us and Mustapha comes too despite his sisters pleading he should stay home. I don’t blame her for this but I’m secretly happy he’s joined, he’s clearly sharing the excitement of having guests around. The father Sharkawy drives one car and my dad the other. We spend the day exploring the town and its people. We meet a hard working artist who’s just had a baby, I ask if I can take a photo of her paintings and she politely says no since it’s original work, I’m thinking good for her, that way her talent is less likely to get exploited after all she’s just a small town hardworking woman. She’s clearly very passionate about her stuff, she explains that there is a story behind each of her pieces, many are about women. I spot a small painting I love and behind my back Alham buys it for me as a present. I am completely gob smacked, firstly I’d only met her the night before and we’d barely had a conversation and secondly the painting wasn’t cheap especially for someone from her humble background. Still a painting is one of the best gifts anyone can give me since I love art and it lasts forever. I wonder if she realizes how much her gesture meant to me.
As the day progresses I feel like I have my own personal photographer as they stop me at certain points in their town which they are proud of and insist on taking shots of me. At one point I get to talk to Mustapha who’s always very quiet, I find out he’s 16, I thought he was younger and I think about how dramatically different his lifestyle is compared to 16 year olds in the UK, he’s the same age as my sister.
Suddenly, besides a very silent market square, there is a rush of noise and all these children come running literally out of nowhere and start jumping on each other and cheering before quickly returning to their homes, their local team had just scored a goal in a football match, I felt like I just witnessed a fantastic moment, I love things like that.
We then visit the beach it’s not very busy but we meet two British surfers, the first British people I’d seen so far.
I learn that this town is famous for clay and sardines. A man is selling ‘sherbet’ on the street from one big pot and I feel obliged to try some, it’s a popular drink that sickly sweet. Shorty after Mustapha buys what looks like peas in a bunch of small pods from a scary old man, I worry that they aren’t clean and my dad doesn’t go near them but I still try some.
Back at the family house for a late lunch, out comes a tremendous dish of couscous that looks like it could feed 20 people. Everyone is sharing and eating with their hands. Extended family are constantly coming in and out of the house, including a stunning 10 year old girl that looks like Princess Jasmine. They keep telling me to eat the ‘good parts’ of the dish. They tell me I need fattening up and that I should spend a month with them in the summer and witness a Moroccan wedding. The whole while they show me family photos, everything in their life revolves around the family. Ahlam shows me photos of her baby cousin, he’s the cutest thing and so I insist they take me to see him. The whole gang want to join this time including mama Fatima. My dad stays home since it’s late and he’s tired. We get into the car, there are 5 of them in the back including an auntie and children on laps yet they insist I sit alone in the front.
It’s a bit of a long journey, as we travel through shabby little streets and villages from the scenery I almost feel like I’m in the movie City of God. The car stops and I get out. I thought we’d arrived at our destination but as some wait in the car mama Fatina leads me into what looks like a tiny house but in reality it’s a confectioner, the finest in town. She shows me his designs of pretty pastries and sweet things and tells me to choose some stating that she’s placing an order for me to take home to the UK. I am completely surprised and again overwhelmed by this kindness. I tell her to choose insisting she knows best. I hear her pleading with him in Moroccan, from what I can make out she’s telling him they have to be ready by Monday morning since I will be leaving for Marrakesh and he’s complaining about how busy he is and that he has an order for a wedding but she wins in the end. I can’t say enough, I’m feeling overwhelmed.
We finally get to the house where I’m introduced to the infamous rosy cheeked baby Marwan. Everyone is making a fuss over him. We’re in the middle of nowhere on a narrow street made up of lines of houses. The small home is full of women, about 15 of them, I wonder where all the men are. Also, I can’t make out who Marwan’s mother is, it doesn’t look like she’s around, although it’s not uncommon in Morocoo for the kids to be brought up by someone in their extended family. Outside young children are playing football in the dark.
The next day we wake up early to make our way to another city-Essaouira. We’re in two cars both full with my father driving one. It’s a scenic route. We pass small villages on the way. We stop at one to buy some fruit and all get out . Sharkawy who’s driving the other car and is one of the best natured people you could meet shakes hands with many of the villagers, he seems to be well known here. My father tells me he’s a hardworking and humble man who somehow is very well respected all around Morocco, he’s even on good terms with the policemen, seems like a good guy to know..
Still outside we buy some yoghurt drinks and snacks from a tatty shop, I find out Mama Fatina is diabetic and feel bad that all this time we’ve been enjoying sugary snacks in front of her, I tell myself I have to bring her some diabetic chocolate from England next time.
I look for somewhere to throw my rubbish, she tells me to throw it on the ground. I tell her if we were in England that would lead to a fine. She tells me I can shit and pee on the floor if I like, she says you can do anything in Morocco, welcome to Morocco.
I spot the cutest kid standing alone outside a shop (I’m so biased when it comes to cute kids, can’t help it), I immediately run to my dad’s car to get him a bar of Twix, he’s shy, he takes the chocolate then hides away. As we drive off he emerges, he’s eating the bar and he waves me goodbye. 🙂
We pass meadows that look like endless patchwork quilts. I spot a baby donkey running in the wild, amazing. There is nothing but nature around. At one point we pass a man alone on a donkey, he is old with dark skin and a face all wrinkly like a prune, my dad say’s ‘look at this guy he knows nothing about internet and all that rubbish’ I reply ‘he looks like he doesn’t even know his name’.
When we finally get to Essaouira we meet with a very attractive Zimbabwean women called Sue . She stands out like a sore thumb with her blond hair and fantastic style. She tells me she’s lived in Morocco for more than 10 years and she owns her own guest house. She takes us to a bustling area full of markets, café’s and music. She tells me there is a great music festival here in June (and btw I’ve already booked my ticket). As we walk around everyone is greeting her, I spot her talking to a fragile old Moroccan lady who she then kisses on the cheek, I can see she’s such a people person. We walk to her guesthouse nearby which turns out to be the most charming place full of character, she takes us to the sea view on the roof.
We go back to the market and I fall in love with some colorful harem pants which I get at a good price thanks to my entourage. My dad says it makes me look like a hippy but I don’t care because I love them and so does Sue, she tells me she wants me to email her a photo of me wearing them.
On the 2 hour journey back to Asafi, I’m silent. L and Ahlam keeps asking me if I’m okay but the truth is I’m thinking. Thinking and reflecting on the events of the past few days, it’s a lot to take in.
When we get home, Ahlam gives me a CD, she said she bought it while we were in Essaouira as a gift for me so that I could take some Moroccan music back to England. What can I say..?
It’s late and I feel ready for bed, Ahlam wants to show me how to bellydance Moroccan style. I’m not in the mood at all but I can’t say no as she seems so excited about it. We leave my dad to sleep at his apartment and she takes me back to hers. She takes out some clothes from a suitcase in her parents room, they are special outfits normally only worn at Weddings, she picks an outfit to dress me in and puts some heavy special jewelry on me too. I feel like a doll being dressed up and I feel bad that I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the dancing at first with all the effort she made. We have a lot of fun messing about, she takes videos and photos. We talk, she tells me she has no real friends since she only knows her family and she looks forward to the next time I visit. At this point I don’t know what to think. I feel weird.
It’s my last day with the family before returning to Marrakesh. At the breakfast table they show me the pastries they had made to order for me. They are the most intricate beautiful creations and all hand made especially the flower shaped ones, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s in a massive box that I think is surely 2 weeks worth and I wonder if they’ve spent their entire months salary on me the past few days. They then go on to tell me that they are getting a Moroccan outfit custom made for me for the next time I come to Morocco and they make me choose a colour and style as well as taking my measurements.
They plead with my dad to allow them to take me to one last place before the long drive back to Marrakesh. They take me to a fish restaurant known only by locals. We get served a mountain of freshly caught seafood all fried in light batter and presented on paper, it’s similar in a way to our fish and chips. There is some homemade hot tomato sauce and we all drink Coca Cola, other than that freshly baked bread. They pile all the calamari on my plate and I wonder why since I prefer fish, I realize later that they wanted me to have the ‘best’ bits. I try my best to pay for the meal but they won’t allow it stating that it’s not every day I visit Morocco.
L, myself and my dad drive back to Marrakesh. Again I’m quiet, I have so much on my mind. I’m so overwhelmed I’m discontent. I want to give something back to these people but I don’t know what. I want to write everything down but I know I’ll have to wait, I wonder how I’ll remember everything that happened on this trip, I don’t want to forget a single detail.
My last night in Morocco and I return to the local bath with L. I’m more comfortable this time after everything I’d seen my trip, also it’s pretty much empty in there since it’s late. This time there was a different lady scrubbing me down and I’m ticklish as anything. She makes fun of me and tells me in Arabic I’m ‘like a spaghetti’ and laughs. I tell her she has nice eyes in Arabic.(which was true) She immediately gets up and starts singing a song repeating the phrase in Arabic ‘I have nice eyes’ and she starts dancing too. (Can I remind you we’re in a freakin’ bath!) I’m thinking she’s a nutter but I love it, we both get up and shimmy and join her singing. (It’s been a long day) She then asks me who I’m visiting with, I say my dad, she asks me if he’s good looking and whether he’d like a massage later. I’m almost tempted to send her back with us to see the look on my dad’s face, she looks like she could eat him alive.
Few hours left of my trip and ‘the family’ drive the 3 hours from Asfi to see me off at Marrakesh airport! Also L insists I keep her handbag to which I reply she should expect something in the post from England very soon (and I know exactly what I’m going to send her). I check in before saying goodbye, it’s emotional. As soon as I’m on the plane I’m writing, writing everything in note form. It’s a three and a half hour journey yet I only managed to get through half my trip, in note form. There are a lot of stories I’ve left out believe it or not but I’ve tried my best not to bore you.
I still haven’t got over the genuine generosity and love that was shared with me, it makes me feel proud of my Middle Eastern roots. I came on this 5 day trip with no expectations and was gifted an experience that can only be described as PRICELESS.