Day 16

Markets.

Carts groaning under the weight of neatly stacked piles of oranges, watermelons, mangoes, bananas, honey dew melons and tangerines.

The tarmac is coated in fish slime and rotten fruit, flattened together into the ground under thousands of car wheels, mixed with scraps of material and mouldy bread.

The stench of horse manure and animal merges with the stink of open dustbins. A rickety monster machine of a rubbish lorry trundles by, leaving in its wake the fetid scent of hell.

The wind surges through the market, and the smell of animal is replaced by the warm aroma of freshly baked bread. Turn your head the other way and a cart piled high with strawberries, sweet perfume wafting over the stalls, trundles by.

Reaching the end of a street, after squeezing in between tightly packed stalls stacked with dresses, underwear, pyjamas, scarves, and gleaming jewellery, and a pungent fishy smell greets you like a sudden jolt against a foul, transparent wall. The road underfoot is awash with bloody water, melted ice, and rotten fish cast away from the gleaming silver piles on crates. A stray dog sniffs beneath one of the carts, while a donkey raises its massive head mournfully, tethered to the front of a cart piled high with sardines.

Shouts from all directions, each vendor competing in price and voice. Shoving a fish before you as you pass by, with brown, work-worn hands.

A man juicing oranges at the far end of the street, and it’s hard to discern whether the oranges smell of fish or not. The street opens out into a wider plaza where vendors selling gleaming teapots and baking dishes spread their ware next to vendors selling all kinds and colours of olives and pristine mountains of vibrantly coloured spices; scarlet paprika next to sunset turmeric and deep olive cumin.

I was trying to buy a dress. My father told me not to speak in my Arabic because they would know I was a foreigner and raise the price. So, silent, I allowed the woman to pull several dresses over my head, one after the other, each more richly decorated than the last. Her voice was high, and she was talking to me but I found it hard to understand her rushed accent. I didn’t want to try on anymore dresses. The sun was beating down on my head and my scalp was beginning to itch. The noise around me swelled and filled my head so I found it hard to think, and listen to all the voices around me. People shoved past me in the narrow alleyway where the woman selling the dresses kept pressing dresses onto me. I looked helplessly at my dad who was shaking his head at me, as if to say, ‘stop now, we’re going, say no.’

I really wanted a dress, though. He wanted to leave the market, it was getting too much and he didn’t like  her insistent attitude.

Finally I was ready to go too. This was getting ridiculous. Why was she making me wear the dresses. I didn’t want to wear them, I wanted to look at them. I know my own size for goodness’ sake. My dad didn’t understand. He thought I wanted to try on the dresses and he was getting cross, thinking I didn’t need to. He was getting pushed further and further away by the throng of people pushing through the slim spaces between the carts.

I felt like I was drowning in Moroccan dialect and dresses and misunderstanding.

‘I don’t want to buy a dress.’ I told the lady.

She bundled one into a bag, pushing it in my face. I glanced helplessly at my dad; she hadn’t understood me. His face was turned away, his jaw set in the way it does when he is cross because I haven’t listened. It’s not my fault. Help me.

Then it happened. The heat, the noise, the fish infiltrating my nose and surging through my brain, the dirt, the surreal difficulty of shopping; everything has to be bargained, don’t speak your Arabic here, feeling lost and confused, dogs and donkeys, bloody fish guts and orange juice, stray cats that look like they are the spawn of satan with their oblong heads and extra long fangs…

I burst into tears.

In public.

Not just regular tears. No. Uncontrollable, unstoppable tears. My dad was furious. The shop lady bundled me into a chair and dried my soaking face with her hands, palms rough from work, and kissed my cheek. I was dimly aware of the crowds that had gathered around this strange girl who started crying for no reason. My father managed to elbow his way over and tell the others to stop crowding over me; I was fine.

In response I had my face in my hands. I didn’t want to cry but the heaving in my shoulders carried on of their own accord. Like there was an invisible force inside emptying my system like you would empty a leak in a boat. And it kept on filling up, the more the tears spilled from my eyes.

How embarrassing. What a weakling I must be. Look at that western girl, can’t deal with our markets.

I don’t know why it happened. I wish it hadn’t. I wish I had been more sturdy and strong and capable and not given into myself. I’d tried so hard to stop it but it just kept rolling over me, a waterfall of pent up emotion that I hadn’t even known I’d been harbouring.

I don’t think it was the market, though. I think it was something deeper, more menacing. Something I have been suppressing for a long time, and this is the first time it has reared its ugly head.

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Love Letters #14

18.09.1994

Falling in love is like descending into madness. The first few days are euphoric. Everything they do or say is special and fabulous, melting your heart into mush and making your knees tremble with the sheer power of their words, their voice. Then the twisting knife of jealousy and fear begins to pry at the very top layer of your skin, shaving off small translucent curls. Barely noticeable in the beginning, obscured by the encompassing passion of hormones and intoxication. Hormones, I think, can be like drugs, if administered in large enough doses.

Soon the knife digs in deeper and the Alices and Katies and Corals of the world rear their pretty heads and tinkly voices, wreaking havoc in the oh so perfect system.

It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s not, it’s not. Every time I think about him my whole body shifts, as though it is leaving this realm of reality and floating a little higher. Everything is a little brighter. Old crushes are now pale and unappealing, mere fragments of memory on the edge of this brilliant sphere in which I now hang.

Falling in love is painful.

I am not too young to understand it. This is love. This all encompassing passion. This drive to do things I have never done before. This mad hunger pushing me outside my comfort zone. The whole world is small and insignificant. Nothing matters.

Until it feels like your whole world is shaken and pulled from under your feet like a rug, and you are displaced and the fall when it comes is hard and harsh and sudden, aftershock reverberating around your skull like a metal stinging wasp.

Who is Alice? WHO IS SHE? I thought you loved me. I thought this was love. I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME.

Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, too numb to cry. Wanting to scream and scream but knowing it won’t solve anything, won’t take the pain away.

‘You’ll get hurt,’ they tell me, ‘you don’t know what you are doing. Stay away from him, you don’t understand love.’

I fell in love. You don’t understand, you adults with experience, that I need to experience this for myself. I am young and naive and too trusting, but this feeling is too powerful for me to ignore. You should know this. I can’t stay away. It is physically impossible. My intuition doesn’t know any better.

And when all your prophecies come true why do you say ‘I told you so.’?

Just hold me and tell me this is a lesson to learn from, like you learned yours. I know you want to keep me away from the pain that you know, but how will I learn until I have experienced the same pain? How will I know, like you know, if I haven’t been heartbroken.

‘Ah, young love.’

That is what they say. Because they know.

Now I am like you. I want to protect my baby from being hurt, from falling in love and chasing that which is bad for her heart and soul. I want to prevent her from feeling like she has been seared open from inside. Like I was. My little baby with the torn hole in her chest.

Now I look back I wish they had dragged me away from him. I wish they had chained me to my room, rather than let me be foolish and have my happiness and sanity snatched away from me so.

They did, though. Didn’t they. I escaped and did it all in secret anyway. All I have now are thorny memories and bitter regret.

Falling in love is like descending into madness, because when you escape its frenzied clutches, you see everything clearly again. You see situations for what they were. You see people for the selfish manipulators they always were to you. Stark reality pierces you from every direction like poisoned arrows, and you wonder, where was I all those months? Why didn’t I see this from the very beginning.

‘Ah, young love,’ they should say, ‘the drug that clouds your judgement and steals your sanity.’

Signed,

L.P.

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Under My Skin

I’m not busy, I swear. Not anymore, at any rate. Not since the 14th of June. Most days I spend doing nothing. So why is it that I can’t call my friends or reply to anybody’s messages?

It’s not that I don’t want to. I really do. Throughout my day I harbour things I want to tell them, storing them away in the drawer of my mind specially reserved for little funny tidbits and anecdotes.

I pick up my phone to call them, but then I get distracted by something outside the window, or by dinner that needs to be cooked, or by somebody wanting something, or just by my own idle thoughts.

Bit by bit my communication with the world grows weaker.

When the EU referendum happened I wanted to call somebody and have a moan about it, but I couldn’t because firstly, I’m not even in the country so charges will apply, and secondly because I just. couldn’t. do. it.

At first my excuse was ‘I’ve too much work.’ And I honestly did. I was snowed under. Now I am not snowed under and I still can’t muster up the motivation and will to rekindle friendships. I am so sorry. What is wrong with me.

Daily life in Morocco is monotonous. Especially for the poor. It involves drudgery and cooking and cleaning and minding children. At least, that is what I have seen. I have yet to see other things, but it has opened my eyes.

Some days I am bored out of my skull. But I know it can’t all be jolly and sight-see-y and fun. It’s two weeks. It’s not exactly a holiday. I was never meant to be. I am happy, just a little itchy to get home now.

And this lack of motivation to be social. I can chatter away to any Moroccan as long as it doesn’t get personal and doesn’t form a friendship. With my friends I am struggling so hard. Like swimming through treacle. It never used to be like this. I am so tired.

Does anybody else ever feel that way?

Day Eight

Well. I really miss my husband.

It’s not ruining my time here but it’s making me wish time would go faster. Which is simply ridiculous given that I’m in a different country and should enjoy every second of it.

I have nine days left.

I’m not enjoying cockroaches. Every time we go into the city I’m on edge. Some areas are infested with them. They are haunting my dreams!

Apart from that things are going well. I have seen a massive beautiful mosque right on the sea, all white and marble pillars and intricate Islamic designs on the high ceilings. The views in some places are incredibly breathtaking and the other day a man asked if I wanted to hold his monkey. I didn’t, mores the pity. I can be horribly moody like that sometimes. So my dad did instead and we took photos. We are going shopping today so I can buy gifts for my family back at home.

Which reminds me, they are voting today. Good luck, Britain. I’m vouching for you. If I was home I would vote to remain in the EU. Gut feeling, and also it seems like Brexiters are mainly focused on immigration issues. Nothing really solid. Also they don’t have any definitive plans for anything if we do leave. That sounds mighty unpredictable to me.

I wish Jeremy Corbyn was our prime minister, really. The Tories are sucking the life out of poor British people. If you are going to cut their benefits then don’t raise their tax. I’m seeing more and more suffering daily, and being in a poor country like Morocco is only highlighting to me what corruption does to society. They are suffering here. There are no opportunities, only greed.

I’ve spoken to several people on this matter and everybody says the same thing. Life here is hard unless you are rich.

Apart from that, I have learnt some sentences in the Moroccan dialect. For example, ‘wahhashtik bizzaaf’ means ‘I missed you alot’, and in regular Arabic its ‘ishtaqtu ilayki katheeran’. Very different, right? They don’t really understand my regular Arabic. To them, I’m speaking Shakespeare. And nowhere near as refined! I used to be able to speak fluently in the UAE dialect but seven years and I’ve forgotten.

Love Letters #13

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It was late. His letter was late. And when it fell limply through her letter box she could see that it wasn’t akin to the thick volumes he used to send.

It’s alright. He is busy. It makes sense.

Still, anxiety gnawed at her as she put her small index finger gently under the envelope flap, coaxing it open with her nails. She didn’t want to rip it. A part of her didn’t even want to read it. Her heart was thumping wildly under her thin nightdress, her hair hung like coiled honey, resting on her shoulders, gleaming in the light filtering in through the glazed window on the front door. She was aware her breathing was shallow, and when she had prised the flap up and pulled out a thin piece of folded paper, she had to sit down.

It’s okay if it is just a small note. I do understand. I won’t be like those petulant housewives waiting for their husbands to pay them attention, hankering for it, living their lives around their husbands. I have a life. I have. A life.

She glanced out the window at the rising sun, behind the mountainous rosebushes outside her front room window. White and peach blooms against a backdrop of dark green and a low stone wall. The street was quiet. She saw the postman across the road now. She wanted to go outside and return her envelope to him.

‘Here,’ she wanted to say, ‘Take it. Deliver it again when it gets fatter.’

She wanted to throw the window open and scream, ‘My husband doesn’t love me anymore!’

How long had it been? Six months? She couldn’t even remember anymore. She missed him so sorely, and would tell him freely, of course, until that fateful evening. She missed his letters filled with sweet nothings, filled with details about his days, filled with love and warmth and the promise of his arms around her and his mouth on hers and his comfort and kindness.

When did it even start? When did his letters stop being novels and start being harried notes, almost resentfully explaining how he couldn’t write because he was snowed under.

He will come back.

Even as she thought it, slowly unfolding the weak little letter, she felt her heart turn to lead. There was a metal lump in her throat that she couldn’t swallow. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to move, or think. She just looked listlessly down at the meagre words, in her own darling’s handwriting, that crossed the page, no doubt ripped out from one of his journals.

She sat there for the longest while, staring down at the note, until eventually it fluttered out of her small little hands and sailed gently down onto the carpet she had chosen with her husband three years ago.

My darling Pamela,

The boss has asked me to stay on, I’m afraid. I have accepted. I will call you from the post office on Tuesday at 3PM. We need to talk.

Harry

 

On a Moroccan Bath

When you walk in, be sure to take off your glasses because they will steam up.
Ladies are naked. Quite naked. Not a scrap of clothing. You collect a bucket from the locker woman, take off your clothes, and in you go.

Three large high ceiled rooms, each hotter than the next. In the hottest room the floor is hot, like in Dubai in the summer when you come out the pool in the sunshine and have to hop on the slabs so the soles of your feet don’t burn.

So there is a special kind of natural soap that you use, you just take it off and it dissolves into foam in your hands, and you rub it all over your body. Sit and stew in the heat awhile, then wash the soap off.

Now is the good bit. Now you scrub at your skin. Slow, deep scrubs until grey spaghetti starts to form. So much grime and dirt crawling out of your skin, and you scrub and scrub, and you scrub another lady’s back and she scrubs yours. All over your body until you are sure all your spaghetti grime has come out of your pores, and then you wash again.

Wash your hair, wash your skin. Then gather all your stuff and wrap up warm and out you pop.
Breath of minty fresh air hits you, making  your skin prickle in satisfaction.

So light and clean. It’s wonderful.

I feel so relaxed. Drowsy. I could comfortably fall into a deep sleep now. The sign over the baths said in Arabic “Hammam Turkiyya” which means ‘Turkish Baths’ so maybe it’s a Turkish bath? Either way, it’s the best wash I have ever had, ever. It’s like a cleansing massage.

Will I go again? Hell to the yeah! I don’t like being naked in front of everybody though. I’ve never been able to do that. I wore a bikini but even then it was mighty awks. I guess I’m just never gonna be comfy showing skin. THAT much skin anyway. But once you’re in its not really an issue and you kind of forget because you’re so engrossed in getting rid of your spaghetti insect dirt!

My Dad

Is getting old.
Constantly tired.
Took a holiday photo of him yesterday.
When I zoomed in he looked like he was just about holding on. A lump blocked my throat when I saw how tired and aged he looked.

When I was born, my dad was so excited running down the stairs to see me that he slipped and broke his coccyx bone.

Now if he sits too long it hurts him.
“It’s cause of you,” he tells me, eyes laughing.

I was late at the Moroccan baths today with one of the girls.
He walked all the way there to make sure we were OK.

He is so patient with everybody. And works so hard to ensure his kids have a good education and don’t take out loans. That is no easy feat you know. He never has a holiday, even when it is his holiday. He takes on numerous other translating jobs and is up so late, waking up before everybody else to finish his work.
Nobody cares.

All my memories of him as a child involve him giving us his time, playing with us, taking us to parks, telling us stories. Those were the best memories.

Now he listens to us when we talk. He shows his care through his actions.

My dad is the kindest person I have ever known. All the children everywhere love him to bits. He plays with them and makes them giggle and in return they pile their sticky kisses on him and wrap their chubby arms around his neck and climb all over him and I remember I used to do that when I was a wee tot.

I worry about him. So much. And I don’t think I could ever be a good enough daughter to him; all the sacrifices he has made and all the hours he puts in to make sure our life is not as hard as his was.

Hey, you know what?
We all have our own special memories of our fathers/parents. Our own little things that make them special to us.
What makes your father special to you?

On Cockroaches

Here is a quick list before I am whisked away.

1. Cockroaches are the bane of my life.

2. I was terrified of them growing up in the Middle East.

3. Morocco is infested with them.

4. How do I sit in a poor person’s house, and smile and laugh and be polite, and eat the feast they prepared for us so kindly and generously, when my toes could be touched by a giant scuttling cockroach at any moment?

5. I saw five in the span of half an hour. Big shiny scuttling armoured brown creatures.

6. I want to go home.

7. I also don’t want to go home.

8. Yesterday we visited a family who live in the slums. Under corrugated iron roofs, her home was magnificently decorated in drapes and gold material. It was fabulous and meagre at the same time.

9. Today I watched some children play on the street. So carefree and happy with so little. A group of babies chortling over an empty yogurt pot. Then they chased each other and one chubby little boy had a plastic string caught on his ankle and trailing after him, and he was laughing and chasing after all the others, noticing the plastic but too anxious to catch up with his baby friends to care until he eventually tripped and fell on his baby face. It was hilarious, my dad picked him up and dusted him down but we just about died laughing. He was fine. Bounced right back up and laughed and carried on running with his baby friends. Tough little babies, you know, not soft and squishy and sensitive like our ones back in England.

10. My donkey friend? He still lulls me to sleep. EEEEawww. EEEEEawww. EEEEawww.

On Politics and Human Life

A terrorist is somebody who kills and terrorises others fueled by extreme political or religious ideology.

If a man who claims to be Muslim and kills innocent people because they are of a different ideology is a terrorist, then so is a white man who murders an MP because her actions do not fit his extreme right wing political ideology. He is a murdering terrorist.

Right?

Of course not, folks. The media reckons he is a mentally ill loner.

The Orlando shooter? Muslim? Bipolar disorder? Closeted gay? Mentally ill loner? No. Terrorist.

This world is cruel and harsh and unjust. Innocent people die for no reason, buffoons campaign to run the most powerful country on earth, idiots are allowed to buy guns, hate and fear is spread everywhere.

I guess what we can do is spread our love. Treat our neighbours right. Help those in need, even if they are strangers. One kind action can change a mindset. You never know.

As long as there is love in this world, and good people, they can’t say life wasn’t worth it. It is.

Day Two

The Moroccan dialect is proving to be difficult to master, but then again it is only day two.

Every night the braying of donkeys lulls me to sleep, and it is as though they are holding microphones to their mouths. What is a donkey’s mouth called anyway? A snout? A nostril? Or is it just called a mouth?

Moroccan food is full of flavour, and yesterday I came across some lavender bushes and right next to them, rosemary! Whaaaat!?
They don’t use rosemary in cooking. I think it’s just there to look pretty.

The weather is sunny, with a pleasant breeze to accompany the sun. If not for the breeze I fear we’d be baking. It is a little chilly at night. I don’t get much time for reading because there are loads of people here and lots of talking. I’m going to learn some Moroccan cooking tomorrow.