(Welcome once more. This is a somewhat long section 8861 words of the Unpublished Book so it is split into two halves. But don’t worry keep those donations rolling in. Zero so far. It must be the spelling mistakes.)
What we know:
Military. Spain. Morocco.
Before In sha’allah some last-minute dash shopping, biros, lighters, small toys, and best of all disposable reading glasses. Fully fuelled, 260 litres, we approached the frontier cloaked by our roof tent platform tarpaulin with a driving range of over 600 kilometres.
(Top Tip: Extra Fuel Storage: Four Jerry cans housed in specially designed steel racks are bolted to the side of the Jeep under our back windows. Two cans on either side. With an additional 25 litre tank fitted under the driver’s seat. Carrying fuel in outside racks is illegal in Europe so if you decide on this method of storage only use them when in Africa. Their advantage a part from easy accessibility is the removal unwanted top-heavy weight from the roof.)
A bungee stretched across the back of our seats over which we draped some cloth that blocks off any unwanted views into the interior of the Jeep. Side window curtains with the back windows and rear door windows covered in silver antiglare one way filament keep any other prying eyes at bay.
(Top Tip: A three sectioned roof – platform allowed our six man tent to be pitched on the roof. See Photo No 2 on DVD)
Away back in the sixties in order to avoid the compulsory haircut handed out to all long-haired unclean flower power visitors to Morocco en route to the mañana kif cloud in Marrakech they passed through Ceuta. Then, as now, the Koran was pro cannabis and somewhat intolerant of alcohol a fact that was investigated at length by many a petal in the fumes of the medina cooking pots of Marrakech.
I tell the girls that even I can remember Mohammed’s tolerance being blurred over many long haggling sessions when I first visited Morocco – they are not impressed. It is nonetheless fair to say that this time I am ready for the “Do you want to sleep with my mother – she is still a virgin” introduction to Morocco.
I am also ready for the inevitable Hustling! In Morocco is an art form that has been perfected by years of hard tourism with the Never Say Die World Hustlers Festival Feeding Frenzy is an all year round event. The hope of a hassle-free border crossing into Morocco, I can assure you, is zero. It is as likely, (and I don’t need to presumed) as meeting up with Dr David Livingston.
Ceuta is however still to this day by a long run the less exasperating, frontier crossing into Morocco.
Williwaw is no more parked than she starts to attract her share of hustlers like flies to a fresh turd. A fee of $100 green backs negotiated down to $25 secured me my man. He is the only one of the mob not wearing sunglasses, a big plus point when it comes to barging: Park here. Follow me. The pack scattered.
Following my man I leave the girls sitting in Williwaw in the noon day sun. We enter a long corridor, a human beehive. In front of ten unattended window hatches, bundles of every shape and size litter the floor. Each hatch opening has a green signs bearing witness to the fact that Arabic is much more beautiful in its written form than spoken. The gentle curves and wiggles over each hatch are nonetheless completely ignored by the great unwashed, in their search for that jewel of all jewels a lethargic official.
My man somehow or other appears all of a sudden behind the counter. “Sign here.”, before I could say ‘Allah be praised’ I sign both Fanny’s and my immigration papers and in a flash of a second I am outside once more, with both passports stamped.
A large Mercedes and two Japanese backpackers on foot have arrived. Our slant-eyed friends are surrounded by the greenback hustlers, all touting for their favour with the same passion as one would witness on the trading floor of the New York stock exchange on a black Friday. The passengers in the Mercedes attracting less attention: returning Arabs.
Passing the scrum surrounding our Japanese friends I half expected to see one of those visa credit cards machines being whipped out from under a Djellabah.
My man leads me back to Williwaw, points out the Customs and Excise building with one hand, while the other hand receives a ten spot tip for a job well done, hassle-free and very much appreciated.
Armed with my car papers I scale the few steps into an insignificant office where once again thanks to a further fifty bucks, the noonday sun, the call to prayer, and a packet of tampons that has cleverly fallen out of the back door of the jeep I am dealt with consideration, and efficiency. Williwaw gets a quick inspection to confirm that we are not carrying any scud missiles. The Mercedes has long gone.
Rolling down the windows, hot and sticky we pass under the lifted frontier barrier.
MOROCCO. (Spanish corruption for the name of Marrakesh)
What we know:
Harem. Carpets. Henna. Koran. Islam. Tangiers. Say it again Sam. Atlas. Mosque. Berber. Fez. Camel. Donkey. Sheep. Spices. Prickly Pear. Dates. Oases. Desert. Goats. Rocks. Dunes. Marrakech. Casablanca. Dirhams. Tea. Souk. Medinas. Minarets. Ceramics. Djellaba. Cushions. Cous Cous. Bazaar. Secret Gardens. Olives. Fortress Walls. Sultans. Cobras. Dye. Beggars. Gateways. Cactus. Veiled Woman. Leather. Figs. Tents. Caravans. Red Earthenware. Bedouin. Turban. Bracelets.
With fifty odd kilometres under our belt, Williwaw’s electromagnet field attracts an outrider: Lawrence of Arabia on a Suzuki. In perfect English, at one hundred and twenty kilometres per hour we are invited, to visit the town of Tétouen. “Just up the road.” “There is a market in the souks.” “I am a teacher, an excellent guide if you wish I will show you around my hometown.” Fanny consults the Bible which confirms Tétouen is not to be missed. “I can show you a secure place to leave your car,” ” It’s a festival day for the children,” ” No money,” ” No Money ” ” No Money ” O! ye, Lead on Mac Duff. Be-gob if he is not a hustler that has kissed the Blarney stone, I ‘m his mother.
Long before Lawrence of Suzuki homes in on us, disguised as a deprived, underprivileged Berber teacher that could do justice on the Isle of Man TT circuit while looking over his shoulder, Fanny had decided to purchase a carpet and ship it home. The trick now is to enjoy the purchase and not to get ripped off so it hurts in Tétouen.
Deep in the souk maze, Florence is seated cross legged, cross faced on an ever-increasing pile of carpets. Our salesman Mohammed as all salesmen in Morocco are named is invoking Allah with such expertise that I feel Fanny is in danger of converting to Islam.
Mohammed like his father before him, with a flash of white gold tarnished teeth, has spotted his sale an hour or so back. He shows no sign of weakening on price no matter what mix, of carpets, pile, tea, or payment we suggested. Price is totally ignored along with the outside summons to prayer. Our horrifications spurs his humour which knows no bounds. I am having a ball, Florence a lesson in boredom, Fanny, is having doubts about haggling Arab style. Mohammed has seen it all before. Surprise is the only tactic left. It is said that sudden prayers make God fart, so why not Allah.
Downing our mint teas, a mass walkout have us back in Aladdin’s cave before the genie can escape from the deal. A guarantee of delivery made on the souls of all his children and his children’s children has the teacher, the carpet lay outer, the carpet re-roller, the tea boys, and Mohammed all smiling as we leave.
Arab smiles always give one a sense of what the deal you have done could have been done better. No matter how well you think you have done, the bigger the smile the bigger the profit you have left behind. (The carpets did arrive back in the UK, and we did get ripped off, but not so that it hurt.)
Haggling is all about compromise and body language. There are many tricks of the trade, techniques that can be brought to bear. The value of anything boils down too personal choice. However, one piece of advice that might come in useful is.
(Top Tip: If your purchase is of some monetary value, let on that you are an Airline pilot. That you fly in and out of the country on a regular basis. Before leaving take a photo of yourself, Mohammed, and the item purchased for prosperity and in celebration of being ripped off. A photo can be quite an effective insurance that whatever you purchase will turn up when you arrive home.)
In Morocco, especially in the Souks you will swear on many occasion that your feet were definitely walking down the narrow passageway and not into a shop. One minute you are on the street and the next in the shop without knowing how you got there. It is as if the shop materialise around your feet all on its own accord.
With his Djellabah flapping and his commission secured we followed bare heels on the Suzuki back to the main road.
Pitch: number fourteen is set up with the last of the evening sun beside a small river, on rock hard ground. Sleep arrives as the Atlas toads come to life burbling in soft Berber to the chatter of the river.
After breakfast: Hard boiled eggs, coffee, with sour milk, the last of our widow’s memories, (sausages), we leave our campsite with every good intention of penetrating further into the Atlas mountain range, four thousand meters high and over seven hundred kilometres long. Our progress is not beholden to anytime, plans, maps, or sponsorship, so the enjoyment of the present can only be disturbed by our emotions, our health, or our safety. We have left our problems behind. Our unknown whereabouts other than we are in Africa is for all intents and purposes a blessing in kindness to those we loved at home: Out of sight out of mind.
The sun rises, the air becomes dry, and the distant mountains in a wash of blue seemed to rise and retreat before us. The sight of a camel now for some hours has been consigned by Florence to her diary. Watching the only cotton wool cloud break up into Indian smoke signals we bump along longingly for relief from the heat. “Look, Look, it’s a swarm of donkeys,” says Florence.
In the sweltering heat, they all have nostrils that look like mini versions of the entrance to the channel tunnel. A tailback of jackasses, jennies, horses, donkeys, burdened down with loads endangering to split the animals in half are heading in the same direction as us.
This time without the aid of our bible (Lonely Planet) or a Djellabah flapping biker, we arrived using the old and tested Tonto/ Kimosabi tracking method. If the turd is steaming you are hot on the trail into a small village that had no use for parking meters.
Every tree has a circle of animals tied to it. There is not a spot to be had that does not have a herd of Jesus hobbled carriers standing mutely in the shade looking like they could drink the Nile. The only free parking is right in front of the police station.
Reining in Williwaw, we dismounted at the feet of law. You could read their minds as they watched me lock up. “Tell me, fellows, what going down there, how come Allah never rode a donkey? Can I park? I know your mother,” a warm handshake dispels their urge to demand papers. I move Williwaw into the field beside the police station.
Avoiding many an irritated hoof on the way back out of the field I join the girls to cross the road into our first real tourist free market. Here we remain for some hours trapped by our curiosity and fascination. Surrounded by passing colours that would put an artist’s palette to shame the market is for us to pollute along with the junk made in China. Our senses are hit with a casserole of sound and smell that has us in a state of careless anticipation of what we might see, except for Florence who is in a state of near panic and has long taken to my shoulders.
Our first find is a bunch of small white upside down ice cream cone-shaped tents. They turn out to be Trumpers of Morocco. To Florence’s horror and to the obvious surprise of the young resident Berber barber hairdresser, I enter. Before he can recover I am sitting on his three and a three-quarter legged chair, looking into a small cracked mirror, rubbing my three-day red growth. In the cracked mirror, Fanny’s face appears at the entrance. “I’ll be about ten minutes love “The appearance of the cutthroat razor puts Florence to flight and my Adam’s apple, into bungee mode.
The heat inside the tent has a stream of perspiration running down the back of my neck never mind my face. There is no need for water to get lather up. In true Trumpers tradition, the spoken word is kept to the bare minimum. I in some way or other have managed to add to the atmosphere by adding an ingredient of intensity and intrepidity, when I demand that the blade be sterilised by running it over my lighter.
Squeezing shaving cream from a green Palmolive tube into the palm of his quivering shaking hand, his eyes don’t leave the mirror, The razor edge looks like it could slice effortlessly through flesh, bone and muscle. I never thought it would end this way. A man should not die at the hands of Berber Barber.
“Hold it there, not another inch.” Holding his wrist we have a cultural exchange. “One cut my friend and you will feel the wrath of Cuchulain the hounds of Ulster”
His fingers, which are lathering up the two squirts of Palmolive shaving soap instantly developed Parkinson’s disease. A rich mixed smell of Arab/Celtic body odours drifted out the tent flap to join the rest of the market scents, and odours. From the strength of his hand, I sense his indignity at my suggestion of a cut. I also get a strong feeling that he has misunderstood the myth of Cuchulian, that he is swearing vengeance on the hound and the unclean dog that is now sitting on his seat.
An enamelled cup of water is placed firmly in my hands. Ten strokes: Re lathering. Ten more strokes. Followed by thumb pressure equivalent to opening of one’s mouth in the dentist chair for a backfilling a lifting of each nostril. A few minutes later I walk into the daylight free of nostril hair, cut free, several kilos lighter. We both shake hands.
Catching up with Flo and Fanny I find them surrounded by a fan club of six to seven years old, all demanding dirhams. A threatened boot brings smiles all around with renewed squeals of laughter. My best new get lost baby face look is met with renewed hilarious laughter.
We take refuge in an eating hut, with an open fire on the ground surrounded by a long table and benches. Roasted sardines, bread, are the only choice, picked at by all of us under the ever watchful eyes of our new-found fan club. Nothing goes to waste. The word has spread. The fan club now outnumbering the parked animals by a considerable quantity makes the retreat to Williwaw an event to behold.
A few hours later after a couple of mint tea stops in the cooling part of the day, we find ourselves higher up into the Atlas. Pitch: number fifteen is beside a crystal clear small watercourse. A quick look at our map confirms that we are still a long way off the high Atlas. Florence and I find a deep sandy pool the size of a large bathtub. We divert the course of the flowing water into our bathtub. Returning after dinner, we are treated to a wonderful bath in a tub decorated with the jewellery of nature all under a cosmic star canopy frozen on a black blue Moroccan sky. The sounds of the toads, frogs, crickets and running water gets rid of any urban feelings that Fanny or I might have. A few glasses of French cognac around our campfire with the sound of our daughter deep sleep re-enforces that in a world of infinite beauty we are indeed zilch.
Morning is announced by a sharp whistle. Looking across the tent from the inside of my sleeping bag Fanny face in the early morning sunshine looks at ease but far from rested. I discover one of our stabilising pegs has worked its way loose in the night, causing tent wobble on her side during the night. This is our first pitch on the roof of Williwaw and with all new designs, there is some fine-tuning to be done.
With the aroma of coffee in the early morning mountain air, the intense shrill whistle is once more repeated. High above us three small waving figures are the source of the piercing bush twitter. Before I could say ‘no’, a returned wave from the girls sees a dust trail descend down through the rocks. Locked like a heat-seeking missile on to the breakfast table the cloud of dust sweeps down at rate of knots.
Blessed with the agility of their flock of goats, five young ones suddenly across the river become visible like little genies out of a bottle. Two so small they did not warrant a silhouette on the mountaintop. ‘Berbers’! Say’s Fanny.
At a safe distance, all five under their raven black hair smile a dazzling Morse code in white ivory. “What’s that”? “Look at that” “Look at her, did you ever”
“Should we” is written all over their faces.
One small little smasher that you would kill for with dyed red hands encourages the eldest one to approach. A few slices of bread and cheese and we are friends for life. After a lineup farewell photo, we break camp with more helping hands than one can keep an eye on. The intensity of Florence’s blond hair in the photo in contrast to theirs is startling. (Photo no DVD)
The cool fresh air of the Atlas Mountains is such a magnet of immense draw there are no arguments as to which way we turn. Left or Right, we are heading for High Atlas as quick as possible.
Hot, Hot, Hot, Stop in Chefchaouen for beer. We have mint tea and 7up. Hello you are English, this is how we play Ludo, would you like some Hash, don’t go to Ketama because – has us leaving the dope pusher to meet a more hopeful dope who has appointed himself our parking attendant while we were having our 7ups.
He is now demanding payment for services rendered. Unfortunately, I still have not learned to suppress my western hate of parking attendants so he is lucky I did not stuff his turban and armbands where the sun does not shine. On the grounds of good relations, I resist the urge to do so.
It’s Ouazzane for lunch, and on to Rabat to renew our Mauritania visa which is due to expire at the end of the month. We check into Hotel Central on rue de Mohammed V with parking at your own risk in the garage some blocks away.
We dined that night in Mac Donald’s. What a contrast from earlier in the day at Restaurant No 3 where our fan club of hopefuls watched every bit. Here in Mac Donald’s every Arab in our eyes is totally out-of-place. “Not so,” says Florence’s. “A Big Mac is a big Mac.” She’s right of course. The Big Mac has the power to annexe all cultural divides. The girls retire early. I go for a wander in the Medina which confirms why Arabs are the touts and traders I have come to adore in small doses.
After a flawless night’s sleep, I set off by taxi to the Embassy. My taxi driver knows every blade of grass in town. He has driven horses around Rabat in the nineteen fifties. I am half tempted, having spent the last few days under the illusion that we were in the high Atlas to ask him which direction one might find the Sahara, just in case we turn out to be the first Overlanders to miss it all together.
He is full of chat, “did I know that Mons, René Caillié passed through Rabat on his way back from Timbuktu around about 2.30 p.m. in 1829 to collect his prize from the French Geographical Society?” “That the town acquires its name from Ribat Arabic for a fortification disguised as a monastery.” “That the media is big, and so was Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah by all accounts?” If he was not, who cares, I like the sound of the name as it emerges in deep echoes from his mouth that would put the fear of Allah in any man’s heart. “As the capital of Morocco, Rabat had aspirations at one time of housing the second biggest mosque in the Muslim world.” “If it had being completed,” said Mohammed “a full house would have seen over forty thousand bums in the air all at once.” Then with a gold gleaming glitter of his front tooth reflected in his rear view mirror, he says. “Think how many prayer mats I could have sold,” For some reason, I think it is the thought of all the bums, not the dirham’s that are grieving him. Not a question to ask.
“Mohammed V is also buried here; the present king’s dad.” We arrive with the comment, “No matter how poor a country is, its ambassador, chargé d’affairs, envoy, residence ends up in the best part of town.”
“Good morning,” “Bonjour, do you speak English, no French, English good.” Producing our passports I explain that we are travelling overland to Cape Town.
The visas I had got in London are due to expire in a few days, and I would be grateful if they could be extended or renewed for one or two months. Prior to us leaving England I had spent some energy in identifying which country had what embassies and in which towns in an effort to plan a routing: all to no avail. Here I am in the first embassy being asked to produce an air ticket in order to have our visa renewed/extended.
“I am driving a Land Rover not a Jumbo Jet to Mauritania.” The bible says stay calm don’t blow your aft burners. “May I see the Ambassador, or make an appointment to see him.” No! “His name please,” I write down the phone number of his residence. “Mr Mesl Yalyq, but you will have to speak to me first.” Thanks.
(TOP Tip: Visa and visa extensions or renewals are a major headache to any overland passage. You are well advised to draw up a list of cities where it is possible to obtain them with the least hassle. Africa is no exception.)
Returning in my taxi I am unable to consider our options as Mohammed is determined to continue his guided tour.
[Before leaving Ireland I had taken the precaution of printing up some official looking Government headed notepaper – quality paper with a gold shamrock printed on the top. On the bottom, a succession of Gaelic meaning nothing but looking every bit a mouthful – Innamonanahar, agus an vic, agus an spirit nave, I also had a round rubber date brand made up with some more Gaelic garbage written on it.]
A one hundred and fifty dirham’s ride around the airline offices of Rabat confirms that a little doctoring of the expiring visa is going to be a much cheaper option than an air ticket costing £706.96 sterling. That settled, I return for lunch recommended by the bible, in some seafood restaurant across from the Majestic Hotel on the Medina side of Building Hassan II. On this occasion, we were not had by the price or the fish stew, which is left undamaged.
(Top Tip: Our bibles are the publication called The Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide, both valuable source of knowledge although somewhat biased towards an American pitch on their description.)
The second recommendation Restaurant Bahia turns out to be better, a haven of shade, where we pass the afternoon siesta in traditional Arab style stretched out on pillows. I tell Fanny of our problem with the visas – a bad move.
Fanny, awake from 5 a.m. gets the jump on me next morning. “I told you so! It’s too late to continue, too hot, we won’t get across the Mauritania border.”
My knee-jerk reaction is not good at that hour of the morning. She could be right about the heat, and the frontier crossing, but now that we have a whole month in Morocco due to self-renewal of our Mauritania visas my reaction is that we have come this far so lets at least go and see if we can get across. Not a good start to the day. I will have to win her around over the next few weeks.
Check out of Hotel Central. Williwaw, who has been parked in the street for the night looks intact, but her little security light on the dash is not on. Not another faulty Fox security system I moan. There is no sign of a break in. It is the Colman’s cold box/car fridge this time. It has run the batteries flat overnight.
(Top Tip: There are – much better German Army car fridge to be had that will produce an ice cold beer in the middle of the Kalahari)
Unpack the jump leads from the toolbox. Remove the spare tyre from the bonnet. Open bonnet. Silly ass I am, I still have got a lot to learn. The batteries are under the passenger’s seat where they have been since we bought Williwaw in Brooklyn Motors for seven thousand pounds. This price included a one-week Mechanical Course under their chief Mechanic who turned out to be carrying a chip on his shoulder when it came to the Irish. So much so that it had left him with an attitude problem, that no spanner could move, or fix. So it is no wonder I am still on a learning curve.
Try flagging down some assistance. No good. In the end, I resort to the dash. Not the dashboard, the wallet, a bribe.
(Top Tip: Always keep a twenty-dollar bill in your passport)
Two blue coated parking officials. One hundred dirham’s each gets us a positive and negative dose of kindness and battery power.
Leavening Rabat for Fez we cross a river to Salé. This is where the Long John Silver, swashbuckling, with a parrot on the shoulder, sword in the mouth, mother’s scarf tied in a knot at the back of the head, pirates use to hang out. They were known as the Salé Rovers and I am told they made a visit to the Emerald Isle and came back singing, ‘ No Nay never no more will I play the wild rover no nay never no more.’ It would make you wonder where they got their name.
We end up in Meknés a city of some size between Rabat and Fez that we omitted to see on our map. Out with the Bible, Hôtel Maroc on rue Rouamzine is described and I quote, “It’s quiet, clean, pleasantly decorated and furnished, all the rooms have a hand basin and most face onto a well-kept courtyard. The (cold) showers and toilets are also clean and well maintained.”
OK, let’s give it a try. It’s in the old part of the city just at the back of the Medina. With a rendering of vernacular (Irish) that had us classified as Russians we shaking off the unwanted guides, water sellers and hustlers. Arrive at the Hotel.
Fanny comes out with a face that says ’s stay here and I will be on the first plane home tomorrow morning.
(The Bibles would benefit their readers greatly if they were to date their “factual information.”)
Return to Williwaw. We three star it at the aptly named Hotel, the Palace in the new town. Nearly all Moroccan towns have split personalities one new and one old. The old Arab town of Meknés is set in behind twenty-five miles of triple wall ramparts, while the new French-built town is outside in the dust.
After dinner, we take a taxi back between one of the many gates into the old town. A hassle-free walkabout brings us out with some considerable luck to where we had started out having passed through the
Souk Sekkarine — Cutlers and ironmongers.
Souk Bezzazaine —- Baskets and materials.
Souk Nejjarine —— Carpenter.
Souk es Sabbat —– Cobblers.
Souk el Herir —– Silk.
Souk el Ghezara —- Butchers.
Sulk of Florence —– Purchase of a Djellaba
Wandering back to the gates a full Arabian moon hangs low over Molay Ismaïl Mausoleum. The needle is placed on Morocco’s’ number one ‘ Allah be praised. ‘ From the top of minarets, the wail of evening’s call to prayer starts to drift around the city. It seems that the city stands bewildered in the late evening haze as if it is spooked by the sudden eerily disruption to it daily life.
The promise of a soak in a Turkish bathtub in our hotel room has rekindled Fanny’s sense of adventure. Or perhaps the wailing has brought on a shiver of fear of losing her man in the Sahara to a harem of throat warbling Berber woman. Or it could be a vision of herself ending her days in a harem out in the middle of the shifting sands. Either way, it gets me a squeeze of the hand.
On our way again to Fez, we pass under the main entrance gate to Meknés. The inscription over the gate reads “I am the gate which is open to all races, whether from the West or the East.” “You see,” says Fanny, “Our man Moulay Ismaïl who built the gate was expecting us after all.”
This time hotel-wise, the Bible gets it right and we forgive its American spelling Fès for this ancient city Fez. Up an alleyway on our right just before the gate to the largest Medina in Morocco, which is under UNESCO protection we book into the Hótel du Jardin Publique. So we all knew where to find the hotel, we rename the gate’s Big Bad Bob’s loud fart gate, after its true Arabic name, Bab Bou Jeloud.
I park Williwaw outside the city walls that look like they have just been sprayed by gunfire for a week. Thousands of swifts or house martins have turned the wall into a block of Emerdale Cheese. (TIP: a bird book is a must for Africa)
Locking Williwaw up, I look around for a suitable night guard. That is one that can be trusted not to nod off I also decide that any contender must be known to the hotel, so I return to the Hotel with Ali security to have him checked out for dependability. On the way back to Williwaw we stop for a mint tea and a game of pool in the local cafe. It becomes quite obvious that Ali is well-known for his staying power. Exchanging a few dollars in the cafe I pay Ali half his negotiated fee, and agree on a full car wash in the morning for an extra thirty Dirham’s.
In the morning it’s a day in the Souk.
Fez souks are a chaotic splotch of African Arabian living culture that has survived for God knows how many centuries without any protection. They present us with Africa’s first real mask, Living Islam.
Islam for some inexplicable reason seems to rest easier than other religious beliefs within the dark narrow alleyways of souks. The Mosques hidden deep inside promote a concept of worship founded on five principles of belief, a way of life, that regulate human life on all levels, individual, social, political, spiritual, and economically.
Shahada Profession of faith
Siyam Feast of Ramadan
Al-Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca
A religion with a billion adherents worldwide which seems these days to brashly impart an atmosphere of mystery and menace to the non-believers. I can remember my first encounter with Islam which took place here in Morocco back in the sixties. Walking down a narrow sulk alleyway with large chains hanging from walls I was suddenly physical ejected as unworthy to use what was obviously a shortcut between one mosque and another. Then and now I came to the conclusion what religious belief is not the root of all ugliness in our world.
Mr bin Laden ensured Islam ugliness by staining Muslims with his desire to murder his way to salvation: Jihad. Fight the holy war against the infidel. Some century’s earlier Pope Urban ІІ stained Christendom by offering to get out of Purgatory points. Fight the holy wars against the Islam. Get your sins forgiven and go to heaven: The Crusades. Take your pick. Both said that their mission was to make God’s word victorious, but the real question is surely is whether Jesus or Allah or Buda, or Ra, or whoever you like is divine or human.
Anyway considering that a great deal of Fez souks heritage is its Mosques which lie behind closed doors to non-Muslims one could not be blamed for thinking that it is somewhat tongue in cheek that their restoration is funded by UNESCO which rely to a great extent on voluntary funding from all religions for its restoration programmes.
Money has no God other than itself. The great unwashed I suppose will have to wait on a World based on collective will and reciprocated understanding rather than the power and profit before we get an understanding of a true God from a true God; such a world is a long way off. With the arrival of the internet, we are now somehow or other less connected to each other. It could be said that we are living in malevolent times.
Less disposed to accountable justice, less interested in disarmament, in the removal of trade barriers, in multilateral aid free of political relationships, in curtailment the mass-produced culture, in the unequal currency exchange that lead to dependency relationships, in gashing western media soap operas that promote false developed world values, in Religious tolerance, to mention but a few of the current worlds non climatic problems.
We are all aware that we are fast heading for an antithetical world, where the UN will not survive if the present day gunboat politics of USA, Nato, and Britain have their way. There is little doubt that the United Nations Gobble Shop in need of core reform with a crying need for it to redefine itself in regard to its relationship with International Governmental Organisations, the EU:OAU:OPEC.:COM:ECON. ASEAN: OECD: NATO, and the G7. With its present-day membership of one hundred and eighty-four member states, managed by two thousand four hundred and thirty-eight full-time staff, together with international and regional networks, it is no wonder that the chances of achieving peace and security in the world are zilch.
These two aspirations are supposed to be promoting by collaboration through education, science, culture, and communications. Has not its soul being sold to economic institutions and has it not long-lost the meaning of its parent’s aspiration of Peace and Security for the World. Another word the cultural importance of a worldview of Peace and Security is no longer reflected by the UN. It has become a puppet organisation carrying out the wishes of its major financiers.
Struggling to recover from high-level corruption it is too bulky, too slow, too vetoed, too poor and a very bad world beggar. It’s no wonder that the AK- 47 and the Kalashivikov have been immortalised in the national flag of Mozambique, and that Sovernity Funds are as you read buying up the world without any allegiance other than profit.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s primary objective was adopted in the year it came into being in London under its constitution in 1945. In December 1994 out of the one hundred and eight four-member states, only 75 had paid their assessments for the regular budget in full.
The remaining 109 had failed to meet their statutory financial obligations to the Organisation.
An example: On a UN budget of US $518,445,000 – 1995 Allocation for 1996 – 1997 (Source United Nations Year Book) Unpaid assessed contributions totalled almost $1.8billion. This is apart from the cost of Peacekeeping, which also has a shortfall of $1.3billion to 31 Dec 1994. (Website: http://www.un.org.)
In some ways, recent events are offering Africa a chance to take off its mask of mimicry of the west, to shed its interdependence (a media word to mask the hard realities) and go it alone. Our journey I hope will reveal if such a possibility exists.
Africans second mask is UNESCO. Is UNESCO a United Nations mask for western style constitutions? Constitutions that have little or no foundations in African Culture, in African Heritage, in African Religions, in Africa’s Peace and Security, in fifty-three independent African countries, not to mention it’s richness of over one thousand odd languages/ dialects.
UNESCO is a partnership with,
UNISPAR (University – Industry – Science – Partnership)
UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation)
UNESCO (Biotechnology Action Council)
Plus its support,
The International Institute for Theoretical and Applied Physics.
The International Organisation for Chemical Sciences in Development.
The International Centre of Pure and Applied Chemistry
Just like Sovernity Funds, UNESCO is harness to aspirations of the business. Worldwide greed rather than world need.
How can it not place the centre of its values and controls either in the individual nor in the collective but in the reality that transcends both, when, in point of fact would it not be a better aspiration for peace and security of the world if the UN were to promote more RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE.
At the heart of religious beliefs, we find fear, the true enemy of man. The modern secular world claims to solve religious pluralism by reducing religion to private life whereas it is an infinitely more complicated problem. Practice shows that religions are cultures which, consciously or not shape attitudes and induce unshakable reflexes in everyday life.
One can say ‘so what’ – it is of no importance as all cultures cannot be handed down to a people, the people must rise to them. However, the strength of any culture is not measured by the extent of its protection, rather by its ongoing development and growth. There is one thing for sure globalization requires corporate responsibility. No amount of international law will turn the tide of world greed. Individual projects taken on by large multinational corporations are seen only as a means to mollify their world image of profit at all costs.
The UN would be well advised to harness the power of every Stock exchange in the world by getting them to agree to a minimal commission payable to a United Nations Fund on every stock exchange transaction.
We all know that Multinational corporations and world Sovereign funds have no real responsibility to country, governments, or to the world as a whole so why not tap the source of world greed to contribute to world need.
It should also invite all multinationals to contribute to a fund to enable it to set up its own independent internet-based world television channel. Here it could at least broadcast its transparency, its willingness to listen and to adapt and to show the world what it is doing with the funds.
There can be no living culture, no sense of time, no heritage, without a people’s language, or languages. Communication not cloak-and-dagger would enhance its world image a thousandfold. If there is no change we ARE GOING TO FIND THAT THE WORLD, its recourses, its people, its future will be owned and controlled by Sovereign Funds.
Ok, Ok an enough is enough.
Where was I? O yes, Fez! – Back to the real world. As I have already said it is my contention that the very soul of Fez’s its souk is now in danger as a result of its World Heritage Listing. (It being one of four hundred such sites listed in the world in one hundred different countries by UNESCO’s Heritage list)
Rather than upholding the managed development of the souk its listing is attracting short-term (who gives a shit) profit. Western Money grabbing values. Recoup the costs, at any cost.
Having a coffee we watch the flow of human traffic mixed with mules laden with goods evaporate down the souk alleyways. All seems to go in and down never to rematerialize. Movement is ceaseless. Florence is warned by Fanny to hold on as we step into the river of colour, to be swept without further ado down over the well-polished cobbles and flagstones. Merchants squat like waiting for spiders on the riverbanks to pounce on every movement. “I think, a Guide is a good idea after all”.
Our path into the Souk slants downward summoning the mind to descend into the innermost recess of the bazaar, where light penetrates in fleeting flickers.
We are entering a world where fat robed Arabs sit on large sequined pillows stuffing the odd date with short gold-ringed fingers into golden-capped teeth. A world where one can find wobbling belly buttons undulated in ever tightening circles. Where long eyelashes flutter behind veil covered faces. Where castanets finger clicks in rhythm to some strange-sounding string instruments, where all fulfilments are achieved in a haze of curling smoke. “A guide is a good idea,” says Fanny again. OK, we get one tomorrow.
Florence sitting high up on my shoulders out of harm’s way is not in the least affected by any fantasy of the mind; her only concerned is getting a Djellabah. Small glasses of tea follow us everywhere. By the time some cloth is chosen for the Djellabah which will be ready tomorrow, if we can find it again I am bursting for a pump ship. Returning up a parallel passage, Palais des Merinides now a Restaurant is discovered. Earmarked it for tomorrow’s evening meal I make use of its excellent heads before we reemerge at the start of the alleyway.
Later that night the full of moon Arabian sky has a milky way that stretches without end. Nights call to prayer echoes and bounces from wall to wall. Swaying in volume it has no definite direction. Suddenly, total silence; just long enough to nod off but not for long. Our hotel window rattles at 6 am with the vibrations of a holler that penetrates the innermost corner of each and every souk alleyway of the mind. Seven am, our souk guide ‘Admin’ is biting at the bit. Firstly I check Williwaw who has already got an early morning wash and is now once more covered in a fine film of red-brown dust. I am assured of a re-wash tomorrow morning.
A quick visit to the Bank, all of which hang out in the poxy modern part of Fez, and it’s back to check on Admins command of English. Not bad, but not good. Next a clear understanding of what we want to see, not what he wants to show us is agreed. Also, an agreement that all purchases will be done without him hanging around so as to avoid any markups. His guide fee, time, and bonus are agreed.
Off we set at a cracking Medina pace well over the speed limit. Our guide is five feet three, dressed in denims from top to bottom. He disappears almost a once. “Don’t worry he’ll reappear a quick as a flash if we slip into here.” “Deal or no deal, commission is commission.” It is obvious our guide’s nose is still out of joint with the agreement for he is still in a headlong rush downwards so we leave the shop and cross the alleyway for our first tea of the day.
Like a wagging terrier, Admin reappears. “Listen, Admin, we are not interested in seeing the Souk in ten minutes; at our pace – we are not your everyday tourist.”
Everyday tourist: our first European mask. It will take us quite some time to realise that this mask, no matter how hard you might try to get rid of it, remains in place. You might perceive yourself to be different from the common Traveller. In as much that you are more eco-friendly, more assessable, more exposed, more at one, more knowledgeable, more understanding, whatever.
The fact remains no matter how hard you might try you are viewed as a tourist. A blow in even when a friendship is created.
Admin earns his living, or supplements his income, or pays his educational fees, or helps his family, by being a Tourist Guide. He has seen it, done it all a thousand times over. The trick for us is to make it a bit unconventional for him, less boring. Then with a little good luck perhaps he might give us a little extra glimpse of his culture that remains hidden behind the studded doorways.
So it was. Over our syrup hot tea Admin decided that we are not his everyday run of the mill tourists.
Following him up a white-walled alleyway, we enter a courtyard, housing a small fountain gossiping to itself and its captive plants. It is a cool and peaceful setting. The sound of water gives the courtyards surrounded tiled walkway a freshness that the sole of your feet wants to experience. Taking a broad open stair we arrive in an empty room where a frail unveiled woman is sitting on the floor. On noticing our presence she freezes like a rabbit caught in the head lights of a car. “My mother,” says, Admin. There is no greeting we are an unwanted intrusion. An unmasking embarrassment: Tourists.
Admid satisfied that he can now return us to the real world. To his maze of hidden homes, blind alleys, doors closed to prying eyes, T junctions in the form of small squares, says his goodbye to mum and we follow him to our first requested port of call: The tanneries of Guerniz built-in the seventeenth century. (Photo No DVD)
He waves us in and with good reason, utters that he will wait for us outside. The stench has me instantly retching my guts up alongside a large vat of dye. The dye receiving an added ingredient called the insides of my stomach.
Florence comes to my rescue with a handful of mint. This is a medieval place, with working practices to match. Skiving, Bating/Pickling, Graining/Fleshing.
Walking the gangways between the vats one has to be extremely careful not to slip and end up in the evil-looking liquid that ranges in colour from blood-red to crap orange, to white, to ash grey, to black, to yellow. It’s like walking down the middle or crisscrossing a Bill Boa board with each cup big enough and deep enough to drown any misfortune that happened to slip in any sauce colour he or she wishes to gulp down.
Across this minefield the source of my urge to techniq colour yawn with each step is a large washing drum. Avoiding its revolving drum full of skins in different stages of gut ridding wash, I take refuge up a ladder on to the roof of the Tannery. Urged on by my need to get a lung full of fresh air I venture further up another small ladder to disturb in true tourist style (camera dangling from my neck), two of the incarcerated workers who are having a late morning sleep in.
An immediate demand for dirhams by one of the awakened occupants is met by
a rebuke from his mate. I am unable to reverse so I point my camera out of their
Bedroom window, before either of them could pull their leather shorts on, I snap the tannery from on high. To show that the early bird does not always get the worm I pay the non-greedy one a few dirhams. With Admin attempting to earn extra commission at every opportunity we leave the Tannery. His inability to stop doing so eventually sees us Part Company. He is far from content.
We are all exhausted by the time we crash out for the midday snooze. After a few hours kip, we petit taxi it over to Hótel Palais Jamais for a G and T. This top of the range Féz Hotel is set in Jardin Andalous or Andalusian Style Gardens. We are not sure which, but I do know it once was a pleasure Pavilion for the Jamai Family, built-in 1296. There is one thing for sure it has not forgotten how to charge for pleasure with the cost of our three drinks regurgitating the same price as three nights in our posh hotel. Nevertheless, the view over Féz is worth it.
This is where the wealthy dip their toes into “Morocan Cultural a la Western Tourist.” Credit cards style. It’s air-conditioning and opulence all piggybacking on the interwoven carpet of Arabic magic. The sharp taste of gin combined with the smell of fresh lemon wafting up from my glass, make a vain attempt to heighten and in some bizarre way to suppress the very essences of Féz.
On the ritual notes of warbling Arabic prayer, the lifeblood of the souk floats up to us. Each note locking the towers of the medina far below us into one unit engendering a believer or non-believer.
Féz leaves every one of its visitors, wealthy or otherwise, imprinted with a sense of Aladdin Magic Carpet and the night of a thousand veils.
The last call to prayer is our dinner call so we return to the roof-top terraces of Féz el Bali. Our intention is to pick up Florence’s Djellabah before dinner a true test of any culture. Like a black man playing rugby for South Africa in the snow, we are spotted by a set of angled eyes named Simon. All best-unveiled plans never go according to plan. Under the influence of Simon soft-spoken voice, we change our match play and visit a Restaurant – Au Palais Mnebhi. Why? I don’t know. In fact, that’s not quite true. I wanted to give Florence and Fanny that below the horizon nervous feeling of eating a tajine of mutton with one’s fingers while seated on leather cushions, watching some sumptuous veiled dancer smile behind her silk veil as the snake charmer waves his flute to and fro in front of cobra basket. Daft I know.
What we got was five hundred and seventy dirham’s more expensive than I had bargained for. Fire eaters, acrobats, belly dancing, long knives, drums, flutes and a free dinner for Simon. Florence had a ball; Fanny had difficulty remembering which hand to use and I had no qualms in turning down Simon demands for a sweetener.
Next morning Florence and I miss the early morning tower shrill and the one after. Fanny, moved by last nights tajine is downstairs locked on the loo. She returns somewhat flushed with a leftover from the original Marrakesh hash cake – Kevin.
He is an English drop out from 1964; with a smile that has seen many a Charlie Watts in its day. Whether it was her fifth cup of tea or a puff of wacky tobacco compliments of Kev she has sourced a Turkish style bath house not far from our hotel. Armed with a bottle of baby oil she leaves us to our sleep. I am sure from behind one of those dark heavy doors in the hallowed depths of Féz an hour later I hear her shattering blue sky-high pitched wail. The decision to move on had come. The spell of Féz is broken. On her silent knackered return before returning to the land of the nomadic Berber we made a weak effort to explore Fez’s outside walls.
The town of Rich is our next target. Pitch: number sixteen. What a contrast to Fez. Mountains at every point of the compass there is not a sound to be heard. (Photo no see DVD) Like the Irish, every Berber family has its blood feuds. But it’s the women that jingle the silver and pick their man. Once you have broken bread together you are friends for life or death. Home: from home.
(To be Continued)
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