Through a friend of a friend in Cardiff, we have contact with a family in Tetouan.
We don’t have a Moroccan SIM yet and our European phone deal doesn’t include Morocco, so communications are a bit difficult. We have instructions to meet at a Total garage at the entrance of the city, but I think we enter the city on a different road, in any case, by the time we find a Total Garage, we are already late and it’s the wrong one. We get re-directed and after circumnavigating the city during rush hour, we find our proper destination about 45minutes later than expected. An added complication is that my computer has been damaged by a faulty inverter in Emma, so now it doesn’t switch on without being plugged in (and then it does so of its own accord!) Eventually, somehow we manage to get in touch with Khalid and he comes once more to the Garage where he’d been waiting for us an hour previously and together we drive to the outskirts of Tetouan to visit his family.
You see these suburbs a lot in Morocco, they look like a lot of one, two or three-storey concrete and breeze block buildings, half finished as if a company has suddenly gone bust in the middle of a project. People move into the concrete shell of a building and continue to finish it off, each to their own financial ability. Today, we have a chance for deeper insight into one of these estates. All eyes are on us as we walk through the streets, many children playing in the dusty road, men standing on the corners and women in the doorways. We feel safe in the company of Khalid, who talks with people right and left, probably explaining that we are visitors from Europe. We walk down a few streets until we get to a large garage door in one of the houses. Khalid opens it and we are in what might have been designed as a car mechanic’s garage – a room of about 8x10mtrs, the ceiling at least 5 mtrs high, concrete walls and pillars. A living area is arranged in the midst of piled up furniture and television sets (someone in the family is obviously dealing with furniture). It is as cold outside as it is inside, there is no sign of any heating other than a gas cooker on which a Tagine is quietly bubbling away. We spend the evening with Khalid, his mother and brother, none of whom speak any of the languages we are more fluent in, so it’s our first real exposure to Arabic. We use Google translate and hands and feet to communicate, plus a lot of just speaking to each other through the eyes, from heart to heart. They insist that we stay for dinner, a delicious Tagine with Chicken (probably the one chicken they will have this week). Despite the cold in the room, there is such warmth of feeling.
The next day, Khalid takes us on a tour of the old Souk (the Moroccan word for Market) of Tetuan, a maze of small streets and alleyways, with different trade quarters, food, carpentry, leather, knick-knacks, metal work, hardware etc. Check out our photos (and we took a lot in this colourful Souk), it is a very charming city.
It seems to me that people try to dull their beauty by wrapping themselves in things. I have a conversation about this with my daughter who thinks I should be more open-minded and less Eurocentric about it and that there might be a different perspective on beauty. She is right, I should try and put myself into the shoes (or rather clothes) of the people here before coming to any quick conclusions…
On our way back from the Souk, we find a Maroc Telecom office where a very friendly man, switching effortlessly between French and English, spends near on two hours setting us up with Moroccan SIMs.
On our way out of Tetouan into the Olive groves, I reflect on the visit to Khalid’s family. Five sons, two daughters, not sure if the father is in the picture… the sons, one a builder, one in a car wash, a third ina textile factory, a fourth a mechanic, another one far away, while the mother looks after the home. Some of the sons have moved far away in search of a livelihood but are nevertheless very much involved in keeping the family afloat. The oldest son seems to have taken on a father figure for the family; although physically absent during our visit, he is very present, constantly sending messages and phoning his brothers to see how our visit is progressing, giving instructions to his brothers and probably to see if everybody is safe and well. It must be a highly unusual occurrence in this estate to have visitors from Europe.
The sons talk of the hardship in their lives, but also tell us with pride that they have not got involved in dodgy dealings, drug trafficking, stealing etc, no matter how difficult life is. I have a great respect for this. The hash trade is rife in this area and must be a huge temptation for the younger generation. I wonder what part religion plays in this country to give people a moral sense of those boundaries. Of course, while social circumstances can deprive you of many things, honesty and your own personal sense of honour, dignity etc. are treasures that no-one can take away from you.
For more photos of this chapter (Tetouan’s Souq is described as one of the most beautiful in the whole of Morocco!), click here
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