The Road To Morocco – My Diary, Part 8

It is our penultimate day in beautiful Morocco, our last evening and I aim to enjoy it.  The whole team is now in the pool at 5.00pm, the temperature has increased to about 34C bearable in this dry climate at least with a glass of wine of the cool variety in your hand.  However I have to continue pacing the perimeter of the pool, Health and Safety at all times here in Africa but I probably am the only life guard who cannot swim but hey if you look the part that is all that matters in this modern world.  The kids do not share my fear, the twins at four jumping in at the 3.0 metre end certainly do not worry.  They are four and I am in my 70th year, I soak up all the fear, they are not aware of this feeling.  Two and a half hours in the water and they are like shrivelled prunes but still lively.  I have called pyjamas but am faced with an instant revolt.  I sink into my glass, there is life in them but a lot less in me.

French neighbours call round, drinks were called and a pleasant evening ensued spoilt by the arrival of the nomadic unemployed oil man, funnily enough the French do not like him much either.  They left, he stayed, I went to bed on a hot sultry night, plenty of sweat and little sleep and up at 5.30am to shower and wait for the dawn which arrived at 6.45am.  A lovely still cool morning with the dogs alert and the birds chorusing.  Again thin wisps of cloud in the east which seem to burn off as the sun rises.

It seems the fabric Helen bought yesterday is not the right colour and certainly will not fit in the suitcase.  A pig in a poke of Moroccan intensity.  They have to go back into Marakech for a chin-wag and try and get it sent by international courier.  I will not even contemplate costs.  Let us go to more pleasant matters.  Yesterday the ladies cooked up a fish dish for the main meal, a calamari tagine, as delicious a meal as I have ever tasted.  Today I had the leftovers for breakfast along with some bread and a mysterious brown juice which tasted of bananas and other fruits and I suspect yoghurt and tasted lovely.  On asking however I was told it was juiced figs, remarkable.  Thank you ladies for your expertise and my experience of your cuisinal skills.  I understand there is more fish today, sardines, I cannot wait.  The fish is delivered daily from Essaouira and distributed locally and the local fish shop is as good as you will get in these quarters.  I break off here at 7.30am to take tea to the lady upstairs which should ease her forthcoming travails with the fabric lady in the Medina.  This morning tea-making ceremony I have developed over 42 years of marriage.  I find it eases the blows I would normally get and is only five minutes out of my life.  So it is well worth the effort.

I will be saying goodbye shortly to this wonderfully large, cool house that is full of kids, parents, teachers, ladies, cats and dogs, it is a whole industry in itself.  The ladies who I will never get my head around are superb, doing everything and leaving the place in perfect condition only to be faced with chaos each morning which they rectify immediately.  No sulliness, only smiles and Fatimzara is a miracle worker, she is worth a fortune if she only knew it.  If any of you single fellows want a good wife get down to Marakech, 28 years of age and pure gold.  In a way I will leave this place with sadness but I look forward to regaining my own territory.

The morning winds slowly onwards towards our departure time of 5.00pm.  It is now 10.30am and the temperature is a low 29C.  The piano teacher, Nordine, has done his bit and daughter No 2 has taken him back to Marakech and she onto the fabric shop for a tussle with madam. She will be back for a late lunch and then take us to the airport.  We are keeping her from her work and for this I am not happy.  The ladies have once more turned the place into an oasis of calm comfort.  My bag is packed and I am in a 29C vacuum as is normal with visits on the last day.

The experience has been fantastic, the country welcoming, everybody very friendly but if you cannot speak the language you will always be different.  My daughter who picks up languages like I pick up glasses of wine has no hurdles.  She looks after the locals and seems extremely well respected, that cannot be said of other nationalities, especially les francaise

One last lesson has been called for by the kids, Ava, the Dutch teacher, all 1.75 metres of her and slim from top to toe, with a bikini to match and Miss Bedi, the girl from the Western Sahara, in black trousers and black sequinned shirt are being taught the finer arts of hydraulic gymnastics by the kids.  Miss Bedi cannot swim but is having fun in the shallow end.  It is a pleasure watching the enjoyment they are all getting from the pool.

Tom and George have discarded the armbands and are swimming back and forward in the shallow end, two more days and they will be all over the pool but to their father’s heightened anxiety.  Joe is giving Ava a diving lesson but unfortunately she is dressed in the wrong gear but escapes complete denouemont by judicious handling of the strings that  consist of most of her bikini as she makes her first dive.  So after that hectic game, silence has crept on the pool, everybody is sunbathing including Miss Bedi in her black all over sequinned long-johns.

Daughter No 2 returns, the fabric is the one that was ordered, everybody breathes a sigh of relief but we have not yet worked out how to get it too Roscommon.  Off to the tagine pot shop in Marakech en route for the airport, The man there said when you get it home fill it with water and boil it for five minutes and then leave it in the sun to prove.  We said we are going to Ireland, what sun are you talking about.

So it came to pass on the plane in 37C of heat and three and a half hours later we disembark in Dublin at 7C and driving rain which continued all the way to Boyle.  It is funny how you miss the rain, its a bit like a pet dog.  You miss it when it is no longer there.  However we had a wonderful week enjoying a lifestyle you would find it hard to come across in England or Ireland.  Thank you family, thank you Morocco, thank you ladies and your fellow country men and women.

There is a little post script to this journey.  I had lugged this heavy tagine pot from Africa to the North Atlantic, the day after our return wifey decides to replicate Hafida’s tagine.  I clean it of the dust from the journey hand it to wifey and go about my business.  Wifey decides to disregard the native advice puts it on the stove with all its ingredients and it splits in half.  Hafida I will remember you in my prayers however I cannot remember you for your cooking unless I go back to Marakech again and who knows I might!

The Road To Morocco – My Diary, Part 7

Having left the party early, 30 minutes after sunset, I was up before sunrise and in the watery paleness before dawn I am writing this while the bull frogs sleep and the peacocks are bristling their feathers.  The dogs are alert waiting for their next adventure and the cats are stretching their limbs hoping for another boring day of being picked up by the kids and cuddled.  It is a very cool 9C with a few strands of white cloud out to the east anticipating the sun in all its glory but the sun is struggling this morning, he probably had a late one.  The dawn chorus is at full voice, the only silence coming from the slumbering house which will slowly awake as we approach 8.00am.  The three nurse maids arrive for their day’s work, previously they had a hour’s walk from their village and a hours walk back again in the evening but daughter No 2 bought them a scooter and now they do it in 10 minutes.  It has opened up their lives.  Fatimzara can now go to the souk twice a week and buy fresh vegetables for her household without the fear of another hour’s walk with a heavy load.  Khalid on his scooter can go to his family home, a couple of hundred kilometres away for a few dirhams of petrol, a journey I could never contemplate considering the roads over here.  To these people any form of conveyance other than Shank’s is a blessing.

The ladies start to clean up the place from the mess of the night before and giving the kids their breakfast which they hardly touched.  However hard I try I cannot and will not submit wholly to this style of life whilst I can still wipe my own arse and when the day comes when I can’t, you might as well put a bullet through my brain, all quality gone.  Don’t get me wrong I am not criticising this mode it is just that it ain’t for me.

It is 8.30 and everybody is up including those who never made the bed.  The mechanics of the household take quite a while to start up certainly until enough energy has arisen from its component parts to enable the machine to trundle off; the kids to the school with the teachers, the adults to their work stations and myself to write down my observations.  It is 8.45am and it feels like a coiled spring ready at some stage to burst into life.  Come 9.00am we might see the dispersal of this pent up energy.

Breakfast of the usual omelette, cheese, olives and bread with a fresh fruit salad bathed in orange juice and a cup of strong coffee.  An hour of quiet reading and we are now off to Marakech.  Helen has bought fabrics to recover our chesterfield and we have to somehow fit 19kgs of fabric into a 15kg suitcase.  I fear the worst at the airport but to make up for dark thoughts the sun is shining and the temperature in Boyle is 8C whilst here it is 22C at 11.00am.  Having done our business in chaotic Marakech it is home for 2.00pm in 33C of heat.  I am glad to welcome the coolness of the house.  The pool is full and the kids are going to go daft in it when they get out of school.  My second and lasting impression of Marakech is no better than my first.  The place is heaving with people, cars, wagons, buses, horse drawn carriages and man drawn buggies and most of all scooters by the million, all vying for prominence with no particular rules and very few traffic lights,  The only rule if it is a rule is priorite a gauche but who cares.  It is not my type of town and before you say it, I am getting old, give me the peace and quiet of the countryside.  I long for Boyle and its paltry 9C and order, but I have to say the house here in Morocco is something else, silence, comfort, coolness.

And then noise and splash and the kids are at it in the water, the start of the Easter holidays although Morocco does not understand.  The Christian off-shoot, Islam, has other days to go daft.  Sophia, the teacher from Rabat, is off to Casablanca and then to London where she will meet her boyfriend, a musician.  They met at Birmingham University where they both did their 3rd level education.  A really lovely girl who could make big money on any cat-walk if she wished but that world is far below her and rightly so.  A beautiful face 1.75 metres tall and as slim as a wisp.  We only have quality in this house.

Two teachers remain, we go tomorrow. the house will remain at bedlam point for 14 hours a day instead of the usual four hours.  The sun has just gone over the curtain rail on the lean-to, an apero is required.  What harm a large pastis. Ricard is my favourite and a few left-over calamari from the kids supper.

The kids have come on tremendously in this environment, Joe at 10 can understand French and can do a bit of Arabic, Daisy at eight can understand Arabic and French and Polly, George and Tom have bits of both which is fantastic at 7 and the twins at four.  Their teachers are very proud of them at the way they soak up knowledge.  The only downside hereabouts is the lonely jobless oilman who lives next door who comes visiting eight times a day, talks crap and has no sense of humour but he goes to his beloved in Scotland in a week, how she must fear that day.  I will not miss him but I am a genuine miserable bugger.  We are a declining minority, it seems that people will listen to any old crap these days and it is not my position to fuck him off.


The Road To Morocco – My Diary, Part 6

Last night I was in bed just after night fall at 8.30pm and awake this morning well before sunrise at 7.00am.  Because of the flatness of the land round here these two events are spectacular affairs with the sun disappearing in the west and springing to life in the east both to cloudless skies.  The Atlas Mountains in the south appear a different colour on each occasion.

Dhobi done in 15 minutes and thrown over the parapet wall of the upstairs patio.  Down stairs and a cup of coffee and a continuation of my in depth expose of Moroccan colonial life which I was talking about last night.  All I can say is that if nine people get some uplift from this English family’s lifestyle then the system must be good.  Therefore I should be blaming the country and its economy rather than the generous employers of nine people.

Food basics are incredibly cheap, white goods and wine are proportionaly very expensive.  The gap between the many uneducated poor and the few educated rich is massive.  We are out in the country east of Marakech, the nearest village two kilometres away, where the kids beg off the few passing cars and the many shops specialise in two or three different commodities.  These shops are nothing more than kiosks and lots of them serve the few houses.  Another few kilometres on is the Route de Fez, the main road linking Marakech to the historic town of Fez, 480 kilometres  away and there in the middle of nowhere is a brand new Jaguar/Land Rover dealership, glistening in the daily sunshine.  Marakech’s urban sprawl will take a few years to catch up to it and who their clients are is a mystery.

But I am rambling and I revert back to the present.  The kids are noisily eating their breakfast, the teachers are about to congregate.  The ladies are well on with their conveyor belt of a day, the men have yet to appear.  The swimming pool only summarily inspected looks pristine and begging for the Atlas Mountain snow melted water and Day 7 awaits us, hot sun, bluer sky, no cloud but a pleasant temperature of about 15C at 9.00am.

So another day and another breakfast, this time fresh fruit salad instead of orange juice but the omelette, olives, flatbread and cheese make another appearance with coffee to wash it all down.  The ladies again busy putting the house to rights, the gardener Ibrahim gardening, Khalid the gardien putting up the curtains and the other Khalid, the Tai Kwondo instructor putting the kids through their paces, a necessary part of their education.  Khalid was the Moroccan champion at this activity and is from the local village.  His time is now taken up teaching the kids of the village the moves of this martial art.  A Korean invention and he does it especially to give the young girls confidence in their abilities.  Muslim girls are overshadowed by the boys and it is to get out of that cycle he aims.  Better confidence leads to advancement in education and education is definitely the key which should pull this country  out of its doldrums and the education of women is so important.

There is an old African proverb that says “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual.  If you educate a girl you educate a community” and that surely applies.  At the moment education is very basic, 10 is the normal school leaving age.  Intelligence however is not in short supply.  Look at Nordine the piano teacher, Fatimzara the head lady and Khalid the Tai Kwondo man, all speak three or four languages and Khalid weighs in with Korean as well as English, French, Arabic and Spanish.  This little community boasts more linguists than the whole of North Roscommon where I live.  This gift is untapped and is a pity.  For Fatimzara who speaks good French and Arabic, it is of little use because she cannot hold a pen, never mind write and her reading skills are zilch.  We in western Europe do not realise how lucky we are with our much derided education system but to be able to read and write is without doubt immeasurable.

A lazy couple of hours outside chewing the cud and waiting for our lunch at 1.30pm.  Today it is barbecued koftes and salad and lentils followed by an excellent spicy vegetable quiche all ate to the tinkling of water as the pool becomes inexorably filled but it will be tonight at the earliest before final topping out.  By heck that meal was good and this lot want to go out to a restaurant before we take our leave.  I don’t.

A quick siesta and up to the squeals of kids, they cannot wait for the pump to fill the pool, in in their school clothes with hideous delight.  The ladies have gone home for the day, the adults out shopping.  Just myself and two teachers holding the fort, each with an eye on the kids.  It is 4.10pm and a temperature of29C, a pleasant enough day and not at all uncomfortable.  I help myself to a large Ricard and everything is good.  Ibrahim has just brought a lovely bunch of flowers from the garden to put on the table.  These Moroccans have class.

Another evening of little snacks, a glass of wine and conversation while everybody under 50 dipped into their I phones every few minutes.  To me it is an annoying and quite amazing anti-social habit that the world has gotten into.  Tip tapping away on a piece of plastic whilst questions remain unanswered but hey ho I will be home in two days.  It is 9.15 and time for bed.

The Road To Morocco – My Diary, Part 5.

Today the second day of BST was cool and bright at 7.ooam but promises to be warmer than yesterday.  As I mentioned yesterday it is my father’s 97th birthday. He was born on the 31st March 1918, the 10th day of the German Spring Offensive or the Kaiserschlact as the soldiers knew it.  Germany’s last throw of the dice aimed at the junction of the French and British forces on the Somme and they so nearly made it but Generals Gough and Byng stood firm and soaked up the pressure so by this day 97 years ago the Kraut effort was petering out, they had run out of steam, ammunition, food and will.  It was the end of the war really even though many more poor soldiers were going to die during the German death throes over the next eight months.  My father was born weighing just over 2lb and the doctor threw him to the end of the bed and said “he will not last”, but according to family legend my grandfather’s sister Aunty Lizzy picked him up, cleaned him, put him in a drawer, surrounded by blankets and fed him brandy watered down by fresh cow’s milk.  He survived but that first taste of liquer put him off drink for life or at least until he was well past 80 when he remembered that early delight and decided to partake again.  Over the years we have had our ups and downs but I credit him for bringing me up and giving me the health I have but I do not want to think that I have another 28 years of life left in me.  However living out here for say 25 years is worth considering providing that good old perve Queen Lizzie keeps paying me.

Again I go on about the nicety of this heat, it is so dry, no humidity and although very hot you seem not to sweat and as long as you have liquids preferably of the oenological variety, everything is grand.  Mine host and daughter No 2 are off for a hard days work, the teachers have the kids and all will be well with the world as far as I can see.  The situation in the compound is so good you do not need to go out sight-seeing, your day can be filled with the delights of the compound.

So with parents off, the kids at school, the dogs locked up, only wife and I and the three ladies in the kitchen.  We waiting for a little nourishment, the ladies in the kitchen wondering if we want something to eat, but both sides too polite to ask, a kind of stalemate which if nothing happens shortly will be sorted soon, the hunger pangs are getting fierce.  I will give them five more minutes but I would love to prepare it myself and be a burden to nobody.  However Fatimzara must have heard my tummy rumbling because here it comes as delicious as ever, omelette, olives, bread and cheese, fresh orange juice and coffee.  I am ready now for the day.  It is 10.00am and a lovely 16C, a bright blue sky and the clouds a thousand mile away.  Ibrahim busy in the garden, Khalid in the depths of the pool equipment, which is a large manhole into a subterranean workspace full of pipes, flanges, valves and meters.  The painter, Yusseff, still upset is busy rectifying the problem from Saturday.  Today he looks to be about to succeed and we should have water gushing in shortly.

I could sit here forever in this heat with the bustle of the ladies quietly coming out of the house, the three Arab lads effin and blinding in Arabic about 20yards way and peace and joy pervading everything.  I have just measured the plot on which the house stands, it is 86 yds x 63yds plus half x 86yds x 35yds, which equals 1.21 acres.  As much as any man wants to live on.  Life has come to a standstill, peace reigns superbly.

It is 12.15 and the temperature about 24C, the smells coming from the kitchen idyllic, lunch cannot be that far away.  Khalid is preparing to hang the curtains around the lean-to, the painter is frantic, his work being slowly overtaken by the drip, drip of water coming from the inlet, some dodgy valve defying everybody.  A bucket under it will solve the problem, somehow nobody has thought of that and I do not speak Arabic.

I retire to the house which as usual is as cool as an English cucumber, a fine respite from the sun and certainly a haven.  Crowds are beginning to gather, pupils from the school, teachers, parents.  They are like animals on the farm gathering for feeding time.  I’ll join them.

A superb lunch cum mid afternoon meal with a whole spiced chicken, salad, raw broad beans and mixed vegetables (carrots, peppers, cucumber, onions cooked in olive oil and herbs from the garden), a dish fit for certainly better than me.  A siesta for an hour at 4.00pm and thus ready for an evening’s carousing.  Plenty of good conversation about living in Morocco, providing employment for nine people and that is just to live, the morality and the necessity and how the nine view it.  To them it is a source of necessary family income.  Each family member tries to go out and earn a bit, all of which is put into a pot out of which is bought the essentials of life, what is left is shared out and there ain’t that much left.

For the employer, these employed are a necessary item in order for them to conduct their business.  They could not look after a property this big and continue to put the hours in their work.  For me as I have said before, I feel uncomfortable with people wiping my arse, the house becomes two separate sections, theirs and ours.  I get up early in the morning before the ladies come so that I can make myself a cup of coffee without invading their space.  I might be a bit new at this game but I feel no different after a week.  I prefer independent living.  I like eating when I want to eat, I do my own dhobi.  I like to make my own coffee to my own taste.  I suppose I am a little old fashioned in a modern kind of way.

However the evening went well with lots of questions, none more so than the adequacy of the family who own the hotel where we ate, who have more than good fortune behind them and who the son in law and daughter No 2 are about to jump into bed with.

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