We’re up at dawn the next morning, can’t wait to start exploring.
We drive up the steep mountain behind Tangier med. Everything is in technicolour, there is dazzling sunshine and the air is incredible. I have this sense of re-orientation: usually, going South means going towards the sea, but now there is a huge landmass lying South of us and the sea is north. As we come across the first hilltop that offers a vista towards the South, we get a physical sense of this – there are hills after hills, receding from a luscious green to a light blue in the distance. And to think that this is only the beginning of Morocco which is only the beginning of Africa. I get my first sense of something ancient, archaic, something very different to the feeling in Europe.
We see a man in a tuk-tuk stopping by the side of a road and taking a few plastic bottles up to a water fountain. We stop to ask if it is drinking water? Yes, this is good water! So we too stop and go to fill a bottle, but the water is so murky that I wouldn’t even want to use it for washing up, let alone for drinking.
I don’t like being in a country without speaking the language, so in the last three months I’ve been studying Arabic. It may not be very useful since the Moroccan dialect, Darija, significantly differs from the modern standard Arabic that I learnt, but it’s not just about learning a language, it’s also about getting an insight into the culture via the language. I always find that the grammar and the tone of a language tells you a lot about its people.
Back to the man on the hill by the water fountain: he actually spoke Dutch to us! Quite a few of the languages Frank and I can speak between us come in handy here in Morocco: Above all French, but in the northern region also a lot of Spanish. Some people speak German or Dutch from having spent some years working in those countries and among the younger generation we find English speakers.
The Moroccans love it when we try to speak Arabic to them, and after two weeks in the country it actually starts to happen that the few sentences we manage to cobble together unleash a flood of words on their part. We seem to have reached the stage where we give the impression of understanding
I love Arabic, and Frank and I fall in love with Morocco on our first day.
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