Every Last Drop

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Loch Ness

Maybe we can pause the world and escape to a little cubby hole. Maybe we don’t even need to pause it. Maybe it can carry on without us but we would be content because we are not needed or required to help turn its magnificent cogs.

I suppose we don’t really need to turn its magnificent cogs. I suppose if we didn’t, the world would carry on as usual, and it would be exactly the same. But our little nooks would slowly vaporise away and we would be mere wisps on the fringe of it all struggling to find a parting in the heavy, stampeding traffic that is trundling along.

And it would be very hard to get back in.

And everything we worked for would be gone. Snap. Crick crack. Like a click. Or a tock.

That is why we need a holiday. To refresh and recharge our tired little arms, to carry on turning our very own special cogs.

Mine included driving all around this Island I call home. From the south to the topmost North. I only have four days left before I have to set the record player again and fall back into the stressful mess that is my real life.

The worry, the anxiety, the terrible marriage situation where the in-laws and commuting to work suck all the life out of my husband so all I get is an empty moody shell, the awful living situation, the nomad-like bouncing from house to house everyday, the exhaustion, the feeling of not finishing half what I set out to do by the end of the day because I do not have any private space for my work – aaaah!

I don’t want this peace to end. I really, really don’t want this peace to end. I could cry because I so desperately hate it back at ‘home’. But it will end.

And so.

For now.

I will find the Loch Ness monster (that’s Nessie, apparently), I will enjoy the scenic beauty of mountains and water and views and bagpipes for the last four days and squeeze out

every

last

little

drop.

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Loch Ness as we saw it

 

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Edinburgh from up top 🙂

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York – this man was blowing bubbles in return for a small donation to sponsor his trip to Japan!

All images are credited to my husband – he takes the good ones. 🙂

The Most Beautiful City in Europe

Today I am in Edinburgh.

They have a festival going on, which means the city is alive. It is heaving with folks and activities and music and throngs and mummers and minstrels and bagpipe blowers and Chinese people and ice cream and glorious sounds and sights everywhere.

Everywhere.

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited so far in my life, and I have visited a fair few.

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It is stunning because it combines magnificent natural beauty with ancient, wondrous architecture – alongside a light modern touch. There are mountains pale blue in the distance, an ocean glittering under the sunny sky, and castles and gothic spires rising and falling in a cascade over the city.

 

Cobbled streets are so steep – but you barely notice the climb because your neck is craned upwards at the stone walls and jutting rocks and trees growing seemingly over roofs – at the coloured shop fronts and flower falls and steep, steep steps leading to wonderlands.

There is so much to see. Too much to see, that you are twisting your neck to manic proportions for fear of missing anything. In fact, I know I missed a lot.

Edinburgh is a stunning city. No wonder the Scottish want their independence. They have Edinburgh, they don’t need us English!

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The Transition

Today I saw a man standing in the middle of Leeds town centre with two boards hanging off him.

At first, I thought, ‘He is probably advertising a club.’

But I read the writing, because when one sees writing, one reads it. It is inevitable. It was just regular writing. Nothing brilliant or fancy or popping. Just blue words on a white board.

The words said, ‘If you like reading books, please take a flyer.’

Or SOMETHING like that. And I do. Like reading books. Dream of writing a book, that is. A wonderful fantastic book.

So I asked for a flyer.

What has this guy got to say?

Well, he wrote a book. He said that he had a dream to be in the league of JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins, and a New York Times Bestseller.

Well, that is certainly a dream, alright.

He is very humble in his words. He says he thinks he wrote a special book, and he is not going to try to convince us that it is the best book, but to keep him in mind if we are looking for something to read.

His name is R J Tomlin and his book is called The Transition.

If you like reading books, check it out. I do not think you will be disappointed. And I do think that somebody who hangs boards on his back in the middle of town centre with a big smile on his face deserves to have his book read.

 

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Children of North West Africa

Children with bare legs and flip flops race through fields of white beans.

Skin so brown it’s almost ebony, under the heat of the blazing sun, and hair bleached all shades of glinting gold.

Shy smiles and giggles behind motherly skirts.

Yesterday one such child sat on my lap as I braided her hair. It was thick, and rough to touch, and her strands were coloured all the way from stark black to auburn to bright yellow at the tips. I let her hair run through my fingers as I wound it together and marvelled at such beauty. Her face was small and heart shaped, and so beautifully dark brown. Her mouth a small rosebud, her eyes large and doe-like, framed with magnificent lashes. Under the short sleeves of her top she had a completely different skin tone. Olive meeting dark brown. I thought it was beautiful.

At first she wouldn’t smile at me. She was trying to smooth her hair like another little girl opposite her, with a tidy braid. Her small chubby hands couldn’t make sense of it so finally I beckoned her over to me and undid her hair tie. She let me, happily snuggling into me as I plaited her curls.

When I finished she giggled shyly at me, her whole face brightening up, and sidled back to her mother, all dimples and bright eyes, glancing over at the pristine girl opposite and touching her own tidy hair.

I think children are the same everywhere. Children, after all, are children. They are all cute and sweet and some are devils, of course. But here they have a special charm. Something cultural certainly impacts how people bring up their children. Here there solid sturdiness about them. They cry, yes, and a lot, but they are hardy. A tiny three year old falls over and picks himself right up, brushing dirt and blood off his knees. A five year old in slippers chases massive cockroaches down the street and stamps on them hard, a triumphant glint in her dark eyes as her tiny chubby legs kick the squashed insect so it flies to the other end of the road, and she carries on running.

A six year old boy with the face of a much older child. I don’t know what it is about him. He has those soft baby cheeks but his eyes are hard, his small mouth set firmly. He knows what he wants, and gets it. I watched as he stared at several other children his age before getting up and walking amongst them, like a lion among his pride. They scattered around him, these tiny tots, as though he was their leader. I see him clamber up trees with the agility of a monkey, his face streaked with dirt and tan. He watches all below him with eyes like an eagle. He doesn’t say much, but still manages to convey volumes. When he came indoors crying for his mother after tumbling off a log, I was surprised. Yes, he might be a strong little king among his baby peers but he was still a child. I watched as his mother took him in her arms, wiped his tears away, kissed his face and then pushed him outdoors again.

They are different here, else I wouldn’t have noticed.

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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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.

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.