#2, Morocco, Nov. 29, 1987

Dear Everybody,

Friday was a beach day, although the weather was barely warm enough. I met Mohammed and his friend, Abrahim (another one) who directed me to their favorite beach. It was virtually deserted, but we had a pleasant day sunning and talking. That evening after a cold (!) water shower, Mohammed and I met for dinner at a no name restaurant where we again had lamb tagine. This time, however, we ate using French bread to scoop up the food as we were offered no knives or forks. I gather that this is how most people eat here.

The next day Mohammed, another friend, and I drove to Mirleft, a small hotel/restaurant on the beach, further south from where we were the day before. We were going to the little village of Zayacoomb, which is on the edge of the Sahara, where we would interact with Tuaregs, the ‘blue people’ of the desert.

We stayed overnight here in that funny little hotel. The bathroom down the hall from my room had an eastern (squat) toilet, a shower with no running water but with a barrel of water and an enamel container with which to dip water and splash it on yourself, and there was no towel and no toilet paper. I began to wonder if this hotel were a brothel, but Mohammed only laughed at that suggestion and said that it wasn’t.

After an early breakfast, we drove south through Sidi Ifne and then Goulimin and on to Zayacoomb where Mohammed’s friend’s sister lived. When we first went to the sister’s house no one was home, or at least no one answered the door. As we drove around this tiny sandy village, we ran into the friend’s brother-in-law and son who invited us back to their house. We were seated in a large living room in one corner where there were cushions and pillows.  The host brought a small boy in to sit with us.  There were shadowy figures of women out of sight in the kitchen, whom I only glimpsed, but I was never able to meet them.

The son brought in mint tea, which Mohammed served to us after aerating the tea three times, which is the custom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the young boy brought in a low round table, which he set in front of me and the other three men gathered around. Next came a large flat bowl of cous-cous that had a big joint of meat on top. Mohammed told me that this was camel meat. We had been given spoons, which Mohammed later told me were used in my honor! I was wondering how we were going to cut/eat portions of the camel meat with just a spoon, but not to worry. The host picked up the meat and tore off portions, which he placed in the bowl on top of the cous-cous, but in front of each of us.

Then the son brought in the beverage—yes, singular. It was a large enamel mug of camel’s milk. It was passed around for each of us to drink—I took a tiny taste and discovered it was slightly sour. After that when it was my turn to drink, I only put it to my lips but didn’t drink any. My thought was not to eat very much of the food in case it would make me sick, but when I quit eating, Mohammed whispered to me in English that it was very bad manners not to keep eating until the food was finished, so I took up my spoon again, and ate a few more bites.

After we finished eating, the host apparently suggested that we go to visit the Tuaregs, the nomadic desert people who Mohammed said were staying for a time in Zayacoomb to trade. Their house had many things displayed on the walls that were for sale. They were wearing light blue jellabas with dark blue turbans wound around their heads. I had read that the Tuaregs were often called the blue people because these traditional turbans were dark blue and the dye would come off and stain their faces blue. These Tuaregs did not have blue faces, however.

There were some of these jellabas displayed on the walls for sale so they took one down and put it on me, over my clothes. They also put a dark blue turban on my head and we were again served tea. Then the drill was to determine what I wanted to buy. Clearly this was the objective of this whole visit. There were some interesting things that I thought I might like to buy, so I wasn’t dismayed. In fact, I did buy a woven throw (blanket). After all, this was a day’s entertainment with food and tea and so merited some money from me.

By now a number of things puzzled me. For example, when we did catch a glimpse of the women at the host’s house, neither of them resembled Mohammed’s friend, who looked quite Negroid, while this whole family looked very Arabic. The friend also didn’t visit with his sister, as he was with the rest of us the whole time. Then these Tuaregs didn’t seem nomadic at all, but their living quarters seemed very permanent. Another thing that was bothering me was that when we made the two-hour drive from Mirleft, we drove on the coastal road, which was just terrible, filled with potholes. While we were driving, the friend was seated in the tiny backseat. When we met a car, which only happened two or three times, the friend ducked down in the seat, as though he didn’t want to be seen. I asked Mohammed about it and he said that the friend was tired and wanted to rest(!)

It really was a fun afternoon to be with these people—when will I ever be in these circumstances again? We were getting ready to leave when Mohammed asked me for the car keys as he said he had to move the car. I resisted, but he insisted so I gave him the keys. He was only gone a few minutes when he returned and then we left. I told Mohammed that I definitely didn’t want to drive on the coastal road, which was so full of potholes, but my map showed a better road going up the middle of the area, which I thought would be much better, as well as more direct to Tiznit. As we left town I was looking for this road, but suddenly we were again on the coastal road. When I suggested turning around and looking for the better road, Mohammed said it was closed. I doubted this, but we continued on the coastal road.

When we got to Mirleft, Mohammed proposed stopping for hot chocolate, a traditional drink that people have here in the late afternoon. I told him that I didn’t want to stop as it was getting late in the day and I wanted to be back to Tiznit before the sun set. He insisted we needed to stop. By now I was mildly alarmed, as I had read about Morocco’s drug trade. In fact, my guidebook had warned about going on a certain road unless one wanted to buy drugs, because it was assumed if you were there, you were only there to acquire drugs. I certainly had stayed away from that road, but was aware that drugs were very prevalent in Morocco.

We did stop at Mirleft and, as soon as we had ordered the hot chocolate, Mohammed asked for the car keys, saying he would be back in five minutes. By now I thought if there were drugs involved, it might be better for him to get rid of them before we went back to Tiznit so I gave him the keys. The friend and I drank our hot chocolate. Mohammed returned in less than five minutes and we drove back to Tiznit. On the way, I said to Mohammed, “Not everything is as it seems, is it?” At first he blew me off, but when I persisted in asking him about the mysteries of the day, he told me that he would explain it all over dinner, which we had planned to eat together without the ‘friend.’ This we did and under questioning, Mohammed explained that his grandfather and his father had supported their families by selling drugs, and yes, he did the same. I told him that he had endangered me that day, which, of course, he denied, as he said there was no risk with the police. Well, I suppose all’s well that ends well, but it was kind of off-putting!  I notice that there is a car wash (!) in Tiznit, and tomorrow before I set out for Marrakesh, I shall have the car thoroughly washed, both inside and out!

Carol

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