With such an eventful 7 days in Morocco so far I feel there is enough to write a whole book.
Arriving in Tangier we were on such a high to set foot on African soil that it was all a bit of a blur (though that could be partly due to the truck driver hotboxing the cab on our first ride!)
We climbed into Mohammed’s truck one last time for us to drive off the ferry together then he waved us off in the middle of the busy port in Tangier. Trucks and buses swerving around us we stumbled off in a random unknown direction. Eventually, with help from police and dock workers, we made it up to the highway.
Trying to avoid the swarms of taxi drivers approaching us we kept walking till we were happy with our spot on the busy road. Once again we got our sign at the ready and thumbs out. Unfortunately, the taxis soon arrived, one after another, trying to insist that they will take us and lowering the prices as we decline. We have to keep explaining in very broken French/Arabic/Spanish that we do not want a taxi “auto stop seulment“… “makeneis fluss“… “no denero“… we plead with them. (“Hitchhiking only”, “no money”). As I approach a car that stops, I am, again, surrounded by people talking to me in various languages (none of which were English). I glance over at Tanya for help, she replies only by taking a photo of my panicked face from a safe distance. One of the young men had come to see what was happening and tried to translate Arabic to Spanish (which was marginally easier to understand) Finally I said the right combination of words and he manages to wave the taxis away and tells me that here is no good for autostop (hitchhiking) and we should walk for 5-6 minutes to a better spot where the truck drivers stop for coffee. I run back to Tanya and we grab our bags and we head off, with our new friend Abdoul carrying my small backpack and our “Assilah” sign while posing for selfies. Fast-farward over an hour we are still walking. “Cinq minutes” he replies again when I question how far. He tells me if he had said how far it was from the beginging then maybe we would lose motivation. This was most likely an accurate statement.
Abdoul speaks a mixture of Arabic, French, Spanish and German and is currently learning English, it is difficult to keep up as he constantly switches between languages though he is having such a fun time walking with us and talking that we can’t help but keep on walking and laughing. His energy is contagious! We reach the spot where the truck drivers stop for refreshments and he approaches one driver after another and in Arabic asks for us if we can get a ride. A huge smile spreads accross Abdoul’s face when he eventually scores us a ride and he ushers Tanya and myself into the truck, passing up our heavy rucksacks. We bid our fairwells in various languages and off we set with Ahmed who, within a few minutes is laid back, foot on dash, with a phone in one hand showing us Moroccan music videos and a joint in the other (which we graciously decline when offered a draw.) He stops on the highway and a young guy jumps out of the bushes “hashish!” Ahmed exclaimes and hops out of the truck to do his deal. After we decline to buy some we are back on the road and soon arrive a few kilometres from Assilah, our planned stop for the night. One ride later and we are having a well deserved rest in a quiet cafe while working out where to rest for the night.
The town itself is beautiful! We stay in a budget hotel, wake up early and spend the morning wandering around the madina exploring the streets of stunning whitewashed buildings stained with vivid colours. Though it is beautiful I feel the lack of engagement saddening, like there’s an us and them. I long for a more authentic Moroccan experience, away from the crowds.
On the day we depart Assilah, during the long walk out of town I find myself wondering out loud “remind me why are we doing this again…?” My question is soon answered!
We are picked up immediately upon reaching the roundabout on the outskirts of town. Oualid spends the journey talking to us mostly in French and showing pictures and videos of his family, friends and homes. Though he doesn’t speak much English I am finding communicating easy, I would like to think it is my improving French but most likely due to our miming, slow talking and his patience with us. He has a house in Casablanca and in Marrakech where, when he hears we plan to go there, he offers us to stay. We exchange numbers and agree we will send our location to him if we arrive on Tuesday as planned and he will come meet us. Coming close to Rabat he pulls over. We will be taking the slip road heading East inland toward Fez and he will continue South to Casablanca. He escorts us accross the highway to a safe hitchhiking spot. Mere minutes after we wave off Oualid we are squeezing into a small van stuffed with fruit, vegetables and our soon-to-be new Moroccan family. Barca is a very loud, very expressive and very funny woman (even though we barely understand a word each other say we will shared a lot of laughs together!) She is in the car with her son Othman and a family friend Marwan. Soon there is an invitation to join them for Moroccan couscous at her home – an offer to good to pass up! Little did we know as we took the turn off the highway onto a dirt farm road that we would spend the next 48 hours with Barca, her husband, their two sons, daughter-in-law and two adorable grandchildren (Yusaf who’s 8 and 3 year old Marwa).
Laying down on blankets in the shade of a large oak tree, sat around a small plastic table and sharing a delicious home cooked meal with these complete strangers while speaking together in some French but mostly sign language, smiles and laughter feels weirdly not-at-all weird! After we eat, the family joke with me that Moroccan tradition says I am now engaged to Othman as we have shared his mother’s couscous. Next thing we know we are being ushered into the house by the ladies and given Moroccan dresses to wear, which causes much halarity for all. As the air heats up in the afternoon sun the whole family, us included, retire for a nap. And apparently then we will eat another meal and we must stay the night!
Their home was simple and basic but filled with love and laughter. The kitchen was in a separate building, everything made by hand by the women who work so hard to care for their family. From milking the cows by hand to kneading the khobz (bread), to gutting the fish brought back by the men, keeping this family fed is a full time job! Water was pumped up from the well to a pipe where buckets can be filled as and when needed for washing, cooking, drinking, and toilet – an out house with squat. The family and ourselves slept in an open space upon mats on the floor with an abundance of blankets and cushions making it comfortable and cosy in the cooling autumn nights but still cool and airy during the warm days.
The children bonded with us immediately, showcasing perfectly the beauty in innocence. They don’t care where we come from or what language we speak as they excitedly chatter away to us in Arabic. And in some ways it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the words, seeing the joy in their eyes light up when I grasp an instruction or say an Arabic word is enough to know they are truly happy to have us there. In the time between meals (a rather over-generous five per day!) we play with the children and help them collect fruit and vegetables growing on the land, learn some Arabic words and spend time out in the car with Othman meeting many friends and family (where I’m consistently introduced as his wife-to-be!)
On the second day we agreed to stay another night and leave early the next morning though it was after 3pm, and a lot of pleading, that we eventually departed. I feel sad to leave. It felt like home. Though physically sharing nothing in common with my childhood home, it had a familliar feeling of love and acceptance. I hope to one day see my Moroccan family again…