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 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.