A Journey

I binge watched Orange is the New Black this past week since I returned from Morocco. I came back on Wednesday. It was a painful journey, my posterior was aching by the end of it because I was sitting on it for way too long. I did squats in the airport with all my baggage just to stretch my muscles out.

I was treading water, barely, on 1.5 hours sleep, and the plane was circling above London in a very suspicious manner for half an hour before the pilot deigned to land and let us out of that sweaty heat cabin. They claimed it was ‘air traffic’ but my rising anxiety made a very convincing case that we were all going to spontaneously combust up in the sky, so I had to sit back and put my book away and stare into the distance saying my prayers, whilst my heart hammered against my rib cage in panic. Land never looked so inviting.

When we finally did land, a blast of hot air smacked me in the face and I had to peer out of the airport windows, to make sure we really were in England and didn’t somehow teleport back to Morocco. England was sweltering under a mighty heatwave, and the English were red-faced and melting. Was I glad to be back? I don’t know. I just needed some sleep.

We got on the coach and sat for four hours, sometimes inching our way through a treacle of traffic, and I woke up several times with my head against the glass, my mouth wide open and staring upwards. Drool snaked down my chin, cold and slimy. So very pretty.

At my mum’s house, after arriving at 10pm, my father proceeded to unpack everything while I watched like a zombie, downing glass after glass of icy water and sitting in front of the fan. It was only 29 degrees, but it felt like satan’s bedroom.

Why does 29 degrees in Morocco feel like heaven, and 29 degrees in England feel like the furnace hasn’t slept in days?

When I finally nodded off at three am, it felt like a few moments later that my stomach howled at me to get up. I raced upstairs in tremendous pain and suffered an agonising bout of Delhi bellies, which I miraculously escaped in Morocco but somehow was infected by English water? I fainted on the toilet, it was that painful. When I staggered back downstairs, I realised it was 6:30am and my train was due to leave in two hours. My mum tried to persuade me to stay and rest, but frankly, I hadn’t seen my husband in almost three weeks by that point and I just wanted to go home to him. And, well, other things.

So I did.

On the train I was nodding off in my seat, and a couple of teenagers were sniggering at me. I was faintly aware of it but I was so tired I really didn’t give a damn. When my train was about ten minutes away from the station I pulled my phone out and used the camera to smear on some makeup and make my hair look presentable because I suddenly felt a bit nervous. While I was doing that I suddenly panicked because I couldn’t find my phone in my pocket so I stood up and frantically searched my seat and the floor around me. My hands were shaking and I was near tears, when I realised, oh, stupid, I was using it as a mirror this whole time.

Exhaustion is like drugs, maybe.

My husband picked me up from the station and that was nice. He was on his lunch break so he had to drop me home and go back to work but. That was nice. I know I smelled bad, like travelling and sweat and poorliness, and I didn’t want to hug him, but he didn’t care and made me. That was really nice. It is really nice to come home to somebody who loves you. I cannot stress that enough.

It is really. Really. Goddamn. Nice.

Anyway this started out as a review of the latest season of OITNB but I ended up recounting a… well, a journey, really.

Nevermind. Maybe next time.

Ciao.

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This is my view of the edge of France from the sky. Comparing it with a satellite view of Google maps, it looks like a place called Saint-Malo. Or Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer, to be exact.

Moroccan Country Market

The sun is beaming down, turning the sky a strange sort of blueish brown. When you go out into the direct beam of light, the heat radiates through your very bones. People still venture out, in their colourful overclothes and highly patterned scarves. Their faces are scrunched from the sunlight, but their spirits are high.

The little country market squats in the wide expanse of sand, stones, and dusty desert bushes;sparse, small and set close to the ground. Stalls are wagons, held up on one end by wheels and on the other by wooden beams and bricks. The cloths which cover them are faded and worn from dust and the pure dirt of the earth, and on top they have their vegetables piled high. This is what a country market looks like in Morocco.

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Have you ever seen so very many tomatoes? I haven’t. A woman shouted at me when I tried to take photos of the tomatoes, and other vegetables.

‘Eeh, shoofo, ‘and-hal mobile! Esh ket-filmy!?’ she waved her hands at me and thrust her chin out, confrontational. Eh! Look at her, she has a phone! What are you filming? Everybody turned to look at me, suspicious and curious. My neck prickled with shame and confusion, but I also felt annoyed. I gestured towards the fruit, ‘El-Fawakih!’ I exclaimed, trying to defend myself.  The fruit! I understood then that they were worried I was filming their women and would spread their images on Youtube. She stared at me suspiciously as I walked away, and I hid my phone sharpish. They found it offensive that I was taking pictures of their wares, because the area I was walking in never saw any tourists and to take photos of an ordinary food market was unusual activity.

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I saw a withered old man in a colourful turban and wide pantaloons sprawled on a mountain of clothes, next to his empty cart, snoozing as the flies buzzed around his head and the sun clothes which draped from the wooden beams overhead fluttered gently in the breeze. The very sight of him was a vibrant photograph, just begging to be taken, but I dared not take that risk.

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As we walked away from the market, a fishmonger, standing on the outskirts of the market and well away from the vegetables with all the other fishmongers, shoved a dead, open fish in the face of my relative. She reeled, pushing it back towards him, exclaiming that she didn’t want it.

‘Smell it, smell it. It’s fresh, caught this morning.’

She sniffed it tentatively then told him she wanted a kilo of the little fish.

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This little kitten was hanging about on the verges of the market, sniffing eagerly for food. We gave it a square of cream cheese.

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Munch munch. Little creature was as big as the shadow of my phone!

 

Divide, and Conquer.

I went to London yesterday. I think there is a lot that people don’t understand about the world. A strange amount.

We were on Oxford street the majority of the time. I wanted to traverse Hyde Park and go on some boats because the sun was out. I wanted to trawl through a museum or two and have a gander at the Wallace Collection.

My friend wanted to shop in expensive department stores so shop we did. We entered Selfridges through the main doors because that is what Harry Gordon Selfridge would have done. I stared up at the magnificent building and the stunning front displays and imagined I was back in the early 1900s and the only department store was this magnificent display of architecture. Once inside I was transported to a world of glamour and excessive riches. Me in my glad rags. My ‘Sunday best’, as it were. I felt so drab and out of place. But it was euphoric, too. People treated me nicely because they wanted me to buy things. They showered me with samples and did a makeover on my face in the hopes that I would walk away with a bottle of expensive foundation or a Hugo Boss perfume that comes with a free bag.

I didn’t buy anything, of course. I am going to Morocco in early June with my father again, and my sister, and I am saving every single penny for that trip. We managed to find £60 return flights, and we will be staying with my father’s family so there will be zero hotel costs. But I do want to bring back things like Argan oil and clay tagine pots and some nice harem pants and maybe some summery tops. And those things are far more precious to me than factory made dresses costing a thousand pounds.

YES. A THOUSAND POUNDS.

Ok, not that much. But £550. For a sequinned gown. It was beautiful. But goodness.

They also do personal shopping! With champagne! Fancy that.

I really enjoyed my day out. I smelt amazing and had free expensive makeup on. And there were so many people to watch and observe and simply be stunned by. Affluent teenagers showering their credit cards on gleeful store clerks. Also the salesmen were so flirty. Telling me I had lovely skin and smiling and flourishing their wares at me. If I had a frivolous nature I would be charmed into bankruptcy!

It was a beautiful day. Marred, of course, by the devastation in the country. Everybody was on edge. Policemen manned every corner; I’d never seen so many in my life. Red alert, as they say.

I still felt safe, though. And happy. We are very lucky. Very very lucky and blessed. We have so much food and so much choice and so much affluence. We have organisation and kindness and order. We have security and care and effort. We have unity and consideration.

In other countries, they don’t have this. They have terrorists raining bombs down on them daily. Purging them from their homes. Sending them scattering in the wind under an ideology so warped and twisted from its origin of peace that nobody is sure of anything anymore.

One thing is certain, though. One thing. Behind all this aggression and cruelty is a lot of hurt. That is why it is so important to fight this hate and tragedy with kindness. KINDNESS.

For e.g., don’t torch a muslim place of worship. Don’t attack a muslim woman in central London. These people didn’t do anything to you. These people are hurting about this senseless horror just as you are. I saw so so much kindness on the news. I saw people opening their homes and businesses for those in need. Blood donor centres were overflowing. People travelled from all corners of the UK to offer a helping hand.

People care, you see? Some don’t. of course. Some are calling for the final killing of all muslims. Some are calling for the deportation and the banning of muslims. Some are attacking muslims and plotting their revenge.

If we hate our own people, Islamic State have succeeded. They have succeeded in dividing us, and that is how they can conquer.

 

 

Assholes.

Comfort

There is honestly nothing like a hot, buttery crumpet, with a scrape of jam on the very top, washed down with a mug of sweet, well brewed tea on a sunny day in spring.

In Morocco they have a similar sort of food, a pancake called ‘Baghrir’, fluffy and filled with holes just like a regular crumpet. They refry these pancakes in olive oil sometimes, but my favourite way to eat them is fried in butter and honey, sweet and succulent, with a small glass of sweet mint tea, steaming and oxidised from pouring from a height. My dad was a baker back in his student days, and when I was particularly small, he used to make them for breakfast every so often. A massive family breakfast. Usually when we breakfast together on a weekend we have a fry-up. Eggs and beans and toast and mushrooms and hash browns and sausages and whatever else you can add to a fry-up. My dad hates baked beans. He doesn’t really like much English food because he is not English, you see, and growing up his palette included much more savoury, aromatic Middle Eastern foods. So on his breakfast days we had moroccan pancakes, Spanish omelettes, cream cheese, honey, olive oil, plenty of olives and round, flat arabic bread. And lots of fruit!

Both kinds were comfort food to me. A plate of buttered crumpets with a moroccan teapot (ibreeq) and lots of small, gleaming little tea glasses, bits of mint floating on top. A nice contrast of cultures, in a way!

Moroccan mint tea is made in a special way. You don’t just pour boiling water on the mint, because you then have tasteless peppermint tea. You put in half a tablespoon of gunpowder tea, or Chinese green tea leaves into the pot and simmer with some hot water for a while. Then you pour it out and add more hot water until the metal teapot is filled to its workable capacity. You boil it until it bubbles, and then add your carefully cut and washed fresh mint. You close the lid and boil for about a minute, then you can sweeten to taste. Moroccans love their tea sweet. Too sweet, sometimes. But oh the taste of that fresh liquid, hot down your throat. I can have five or six glasses in a row. When I was in Morocco they would joke about how many glasses I would have, one after the another, greedy in anticipation.

When I was very small my father used to cool the tea before he gave it to me by pouring it from one small glass into another a few times until the heat dissipated enough for me to drink. When I went to Morocco last summer, I noticed that the Moroccans did that a lot for their little ones. I hadn’t known it was a thing they do.

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This is how to pour Moroccan tea. From as high above as you can manage!

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Ah, the fluffy, buttery hot English crumpet.

 

Love Letters #24

The place was flooded with oranges. It was orange and red, the sand a deep rusty hue. Orange trees lining the pavements wherever you go. Giant cacti and prickly pear plans replacing the ivy on house walls. Markets everywhere, carts piled high with citrus oranges and greens. Vendors handing out orange juice, orange peels by the thousands, piled up by the gutter, along with fish spines and bits of brightly coloured material. Alleyways filled with empty, shuttered shops and tall buildings springing up everywhere by the month.

Oranges and fish. Markets and spices. Haughty prideful patriotism. This was Casablanca.

I did not see the Casablanca that tourists see. I was sucked right into everyday family life, because I was visiting distant relatives.

The White house. In Arabic, ‘Addarul-Baydhaa’.

It was not as beautiful as it sounded, when you got down to the nitty gritty. There were far too many people and way too many cars. But there was beauty if you dared to explore. If you waded through the traffic of spluttering cars and cantering horses, the odd mule and innumerable donkeys, you would be greeted by beautiful red desert plains and sunny, sandy beaches.

There was a magnificent white mosque sitting on the water, with the sun reflecting its pristine architecture and the deep blue sky behind forming a serene backdrop to its beautiful image, waves crashing behind.

I did not fall in love with the city at first. In fact, I hated it. I hated the way everything was such a hassle, and how the government did not cater to its people. I hated the cockroaches that teemed the streets, scuttling confidently over the white powder put there to keep them away. I hated the way vendors shoved their ware in your face.

But those were shallow, unimportant things. As I spent more time there, the people began to find a way into my heart. They were so generous, and eager to please and inform. They loved to show their home and their city off to you. They had such pride in their hearts for their beautiful homeland, and gave so very much when they had so little themselves.

They had love in their hearts. A deep, warming love that unfurled its leaves through the earth and spread like ivy along the cracks in the roads. Neighbours were like family and the sense of community was fiery. People went out of their way to make you comfortable.

Soon the little peeves became things to smile about, in fond recollection.

Casablanca.

I didn’t feel as though I belonged there at first. I felt isolated and too western. I didn’t feel like I had roots there at all, but they welcomed me and treated me like I was one of their own, even though I was very different from them. I fell in love with Casablanca and her beautiful sunsets. The way the calls to prayer rose gently to the sky, the wide smiles and friendly shouts from complete strangers, the warm, rough hands of thousands of aunts, kneading bread and combing hair.

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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 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 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!

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.

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.