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Published: October 29th 2011
One of our guides summed up Morocco very well by saying that it is like a tagine, in the sense that you don’t know what is there until the lid is whipped off, giving it an aura of mystery and excitement. So too are the women (in the main at least) covered up, maintaining their sense of mystery. This also extends to the buildings: many a time a building has looked very unimpressive from the outside, but when you go in it is as if you are entering another world.
So what have we learnt apart from a few words of Arabic, what have we done, apart from travelling a lot of miles and what will our lasting memories be?
Morocco is a country of contrasts: an Islamic country that makes great wine for example. Until recently when the first democratic elections were held it has been an absolute monarchy, but all the people we have met love the King and talk about him with affection. This is because he has made a lot of reforms during his twelve year rule and for the first time for a king, has made his marriage public, not only that, but the
wife in question is a commoner from the medina in Fez (a fact of which the people of Fez are very proud).
The guide we had in Rabat said that the mosques are always full on Friday but the pubs are busy on Saturday, now this may have been said with a lot of artistic licence as we haven’t seen any pubs, but I think it was meant in sentiment: lots of people here have been at pains to point out that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. We have seen ancient mosques and medrassas founded by women.
The Arab spring is something that people talk about here but they claim not to be Arabs. Whilst we were here Colonel Gadafi has been killed in Libya. Our driver’s wife rang him to tell him the news and at every place we stopped that day there were people glued to the internet and television trying to confirm the story in hope of a new dawn for North Africa, as our driver put it “Good for Libya, good for us and the whole region for sure”.
Morocco is an agricultural economy and from what we have seen
most of the people here are subsistence farmers. But life is tough here: no rain and people go hungry and there is no welfare state as a safety net when things go wrong. But the people here want change and the King supports them by encouraging foreign investment in the country. He is also encouraging tourism and investing the country’s money in infrastructure such as new roads and dams to improve the water supplies for the future.
You have a sense of stepping back in time, seeing donkey carts mingling with traffic in towns, sheep being carried on motorbikes, work being done by hand. Coming home to the UK you are very aware of all your possessions and home comforts. But who is to say that we have it right? Perhaps we are missing out on the sense of community from having not having communal showers and ovens where you can take your bread to be baked.
Well we have stayed in 8 different towns and cities (I know one was a tent in the desert but it was as good as some hotels we have stayed in). We have visited a whole lot more and driven through
an even greater number.
For only the second time in my life I have seen galaxies with the naked eye: both of these have been in Africa. We have ridden camels up dunes to see the sunrise; we have haggled over the costs of goods in shops and markets.
But two lasting memories will be the night in Fez as we sat on the roof terrace listening to the call to prayer whilst the swallows swooped and as the sun set the bats slowly replacing the swallows in the sky. The other will be sitting by the campfire in the Sahara. Now this isn’t the Sahara of Lawrence of Arabia: this is hard gravel and stark stone and dust but in the dunes at Erg Chebbi you can be lost in that more romantic world and watch the stars and be moved by the music and lyrics, their tune and inflection passing on the image of meeting again in heaven.
Perhaps that is where we should leave it for our final word on Morocco. Will we return? As the Moroccans say, ‘inshallah’.
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