Bear with me for a long entry guys. You’ll want to sit down with a cup of tea and a custard cream before you start. But trust me, today was well worth writing about.
I’m currently lounging on our sofa (pardon me, one of our sofas), drying out after a long shower in my Sussex Uni t-shirt, and I can reflect on the day from the other side of a locked door. Probably best really…
This morning began (rather later than most) with crepes so good that Billy downed his in under 6 minutes, despite already having eaten breakfast that morning. Actually no, I tell a lie. The day began with walking to breakfast, all treading in something black and semi-liquid, and all carrying on as normal, except Billy who, well, freaked out. His request to Alice: “can I have a wipe?” for the total of 2 drips that had ended up on his foot nicely established a norm of, well, mocking. Don’t worry, we made full use of the opportunity.
After breakfast, which was ordered half in Arabic and half in French (not muddled enough to be Darija (local dialect), but still enough to befuddle the poor waitress), we rushed out to take a taxi to the Old City souqs. Deciding to go boy-girl for the safety, Alice and Billy leapt into the first taxi calling “see you there!” Fortunately James had the presence of mind to ask them where “there” was, since the Old City souqs, as you might imagine, are vast and enormously confusing, and walking to find each other in there could take anything from an hour to a week. After a taxi ride with James obediently asking for “Bab Habeeba” (which he confided he didn’t think was actually a real place) and listening to his conversation with the taxi driver (who said he only spoke a little Fusah; pffffff), we arrived safely and entered the souq. Immediately, when you enter, you get, well, not swept along, but you certainly can’t stop without a greater-than-usual amount of planning. I can’t begin to tell you the bustle and craziness of that place. It is truly nuts. But we managed to develop a system. We would all stop together. Then the buyer would peruse and choose the one he or she wanted. Once they’d decided, we’d hand it over to Alice, the Power Shopper, to flick her blonde hair and drive her super-hard bargains for us. A fool-proof system if ever there was one. One of the many highlights of the souq visit, though, was the shop that Billy went in to buy a kaftan-ish robe. He got one, but that wasn’t the best thing we came away from that shop with. Alice got distracted by looking at the tunics and trousers for little boys. Deciding to buy one for her godson, she began poking around and asking prices and feeling materials. The stall owner brought out a piece for a slightly older girl that Alice declined, and she continued perusing the 3-year-old outfits (which, by the way, were cute enough to melt a heart of steel). In another part of the shop, minding his own busniess, James was trying on a tunic-top. Alice was then interrupted by the vendor to come and look at James’ top. It was then that we made the pant-wettingly brilliant discovery that the vendor thought that these two were married, with a 12-year old daughter and a 3-year old son. As we left, the vendor thought us all very jolly.
James continued to live up to his husband-ly duties of carrying the outfit for their son in his backpack, and sitting bored in all the handbag stalls we visited (if you’re reading, Mrs Hardy, Alice is after nothing but the best for you! All four of us are on the handbag hunt!).
When it came time for lunch (which ended up being at 3pm; you can easily lose 3 or 4 hours in those souqs), Alice was super brave and went and asked a corner shop manager what his favourite restaurant was in the near area. Following his directions, we came across a little burgundy-awning-ed cafe that looked, well, passable if you wanted kebabs. As we wandered around the corner, James and Billy spotted their old Arabic teacher, who they knew was in Morocco at the time. Seriously, their faces were worthy of exhibition at the Guggenheim. After a super shocked and happy greeting, she suggested a restaurant about 4 blocks away that did excellent Moroccan food. We went out on a limb, and gave it a try. Oh, my goodness, the FOOD! You know how usually, when you eat something good, after the first mouthful of yumminess you just get used to it and eat the rest normally. Not so with B’nin’s r’fisa! A dish of fried flat bread with chicken and lentils all slow-cooked in a tagine, every bite was a thing of beauty. I wanted to sing. James just wanted to eat.
The final event of the day was, well, let’s just say it was a mix of hilarious and overwhelming. We left in both laughter and disbelief, and with a healthy sense of what boundaries are ok in Morocco. We went, my friends, to Rabat beach. Having rented an umbrella and met a policeman under the neighbouring parasol who told us to keep our stuff very close and very safe, James heroically opted to stand guard whilst Billy, Alice and I went for a wade in the sea. Before we left, Alice and I had had a lengthy discussion about the amount of clothes we should put on. We felt we had chosen clothes that wouldn’t get us too noticed… until we got in the sea. To begin with it was lovely! We went into a significant depth to enjoy the water, and we felt safe enough, though people were staring. After a week, we were used to that. Nothing new there. The problem began with 3 young boys who decided to befriend the Westerners. They followed us from knee- to waist-depth, and one in particular was very friendly and asked our names. He was, and presumably still is, called Mohamed. The three of us were laughing and talking to each other, and then looked behind us. The little group of three cheeky boys had grown to more like ten children and two or three broad-shouldered young men with, well, a look in their eyes that I’d be happy never to see again. We started getting splashed by the kids, just as a game. But as the men joined in the splashing and shouting and people started touching places they shouldn’t on Alice and I, we fairly turned and fled! Just as an aside, Billy was completely brilliant. The moment he realised it had morphed into something other than a game, he was right in defence-mode. Between Billy and James, the world need never say that gentlemen don’t exist any more. If you guys are reading this, you’re both absolutely marvellous. Thank you. 🙂
The attention didn’t stop when we left the water. A group asked Alice and I if we were married, another if we were English, and there were too many glances that made us want to yank on a heavy cloak and never show an inch of skin again. Over on our right was another group of white people sunbathing in bikinis. We wondered why they weren’t being stared at or spoken to or harassed seemingly at all. We couldn’t understand it, until we saw their Alsatian. That settled it. If you’re white and coming to the beach, especially if you’re a woman, come with an attack dog. Of the non-metaphorical kind. Finally, to top off the beach fiasco, as we were packing up, we noticed that Billy had lost one of his sandals. After a search revealed nothing, we had to surmise that one of his shoes had been stolen. One shoe. One. What is that about? Anyway, as we made our way back up the beach, talking about the kind of person who would take one sandal, and the fact that there was someone in Morocco with one shoe displayed on his mantelpiece at home, a little group approached us with his sandal! This was amazingly kind of them… until we learned that they had stolen it as a joke, and James had to pay 2 dirhams’ ransom for it. Seriously, only in Morocco!
Anyway, after a proper packed day, with many observations to be made about women and poverty and the economy and society and and and, I’m going to bed after our late-night excursion to our nearest fast food place, Faceburger. Yes, that was Faceburger, written like Facebook. Who would have thought that a comparatively empty street after dark would feel safer than the beach in the middle of the afternoon. What a Moroccan day.