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.

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Spreading Some Joy

I don’t have many words to use anymore. I am spent. So I leave you with a photograph of a snippet of happiness. Children and bubbles, long summer evenings. And a man spreading joy.

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Image Credit: Yours truly

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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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 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.