Southern Morocco Translated by Mary Kitroef  
     
 

 

 
     
 

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I had always thought, dear Italo,* [ITALO CALVINO] that traveling is like giving birth: pregnancy, labor, confinement. Thatís why I had always envied all you Italos who were able, and all you Jean Pascals who are still able, to prepare each journey in a fitting way. That is a great luxury, you must admit. It is a luxury which even the pregnant women of this planet no longer enjoy. Fortunately for them, there is a baby in their arms to convince them of the miracle they have experienced.

But what could ever convince me, the unprepared traveler, of that which I have experienced? I call upon the objects I brought back with me and I shudder. What experiences need evidence? I call upon my memory, trying to recall the smells, the gazes and the conversations in a foreign language, and I shudder even more. There were times when other peopleís memories brought me smells, gazes and conversations which were equally pleasurable. Could it be that you were right after all, dear Italo? Are cities invisible, are all journeys inner journeys, is preparation unnecessary? As a friend told me the other day, her newborn daughter in her arms: "Miracles are beyond our possibilities. Weíre simply their caretakers."

 

I would like to act as caretaker of the experience my eyes, nose, ears, hands and feet had during a short trip to Morocco of the South. I suspect I will hide a few things. Does it matter?

 

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Ten days earlier, on the plane taking me from Athens to Casablanca, I was met with a surprise: a friend of old. I recognized him by his eyes. Work was fine, the kids were fine, our friends were fine, our parents were getting old. We agreed to meet in Rabat and have lunch one day, or get together for a coffee. Until then, I was given a card with phone numbers and names for whatever I might need while in Morocco. So long, take care, if we donít meet again for another twenty years, give my best to Michalis and Ariadne. Say hello to Angeliki and Maria for me. By the way, have you heard from Gerassimos? Give him my best!

 

At Casablanca airport, Ahmed was dressed in black slacks and a white shirt. Smiling, he stood waiting for me past passport control to show me around the city until the afternoon when I would fly to the South. Sitting in the passenger seat of a blue Mercedes, I tried to smell the air of Casablanca. What had I expected? I had barely set foot here and I was already seeking out the aroma of Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman. I think that this is how this journey began; with the wrong expectations. For example, Casablanca wasnít actually filmed in Casablanca, a fact I was not aware of. Then Ahmed said that we were driving towards the Great Mosque of Hassan II, as if there were no other choice; as if a visit there was a self-evident priority. And here I was, thinking I would

 

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once again lead our sightseeing tour to the parts of the city I had already imagined - as if I never made a trip for the first time; as if I never arrive in a place but am always returning to it. I was forced to close the notebook I had just balanced on my knees. I didnít know what it was like to be taken by the hand, but I felt it was about time I tried it.

 

Ahmed and I speak French to each other. "Iíll wait for you here," he says and parks the car on the side of the road. I look around, trying to understand. Does he mean Iím supposed to go somewhere? And if so, where? I look at him and then I look towards the sea. "The Great Mosque?" I ask. "The Great Mosque of Hassan II," he says, proud of the sight that appears before my eyes. In his gaze there is the certainty that the Great Mosque is the first thing I would wish to see upon arriving in Casablanca.

 

Iím not the monument and museum type. I prefer the areas of a city which will allow me to experience their daily life and, for some reason, I have formed the impression that these areas always consist of narrow streets, buildings locked tightly together and crowds of people; something along those lines. Well, I think that the first thing I should put out of my mind, if I want to get to know Casa, is precisely that.

 

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The broad streets, the sprawling sidewalks, the towering palm trees, the enormous palaces, and even the endless beaches of the Atlantic which define the seaward limits of the city, in other words, all that the gaze of the traveler first rests upon, can easily convince a first-time visitor, as I myself was ten days ago, that the city exaggerates its importance. In fact, observing the size of the people, which is no different from that which he is used to, a visitor may think that there is something self-serving about the city: to make people look, letís say, or, even worse, feel Lilliputian.

 

Sitting on the stone walls which protect the mosque from the waves of the Atlantic, held in the windís passionate embrace, a visitor may have many such thoughts as he looks upon the unbelievably tall iron doors of the mosque and the people in their colorful galabias standing in line on the landing as they wait to remove their shoes. As a European, he can have as many thoughts as he likes. However, if he tends to jump to conclusions, Iím afraid he will never know Morocco or its people. And if there is no time for mature conclusions and if there is the slightest possibility that he can only spare ten days of his life to travel to Morocco, then he should tell Ahmed, Abdel or Mehmed that he wants to get to know their country and then let himself be taken by the hand. In any case, hands in Morocco are a very long story!

 

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After three hours of wandering around Casablanca, I had begun to realize that Ahmed meant to take me first to the city sights which made him proud and then to those beloved by tourists. So, after driving me to the royal palace and letting me walk around new Medina, where every kind of Moroccan handicraft is on display for the tourist, he took me for a spin through the luxurious suburb of Anfa and from there steered downhill towards the Atlantic.

 

He drove slowly along the wide coastal road, as if to make sure that all those sunning themselves by the pools of the modern hotels would earn a prestigious place among my impressions of Casablanca, and did not much like the fact that I would shake my head every time he asked: "Shall we stop here?" When, at last, I said "Stop wherever you can," the car kept going past Ďwherever you caní - a huge sandy beach stretching out beside us - and drew to an abrupt halt outside a luxury hotel complex. But that was not what had drawn my attention. Gazing back in the distance, I could make out dark-skinned bodies playing, chasing after something; dozens of bodies sitting on the sand soaking up the sun; black heads bobbing in the waves. "Whatís there?" I asked. "Ain Dieb," he replied cursorily, intent on telling me about the facilities offered by the hotel. But my gaze was fixed on the beach. Ahmed became impatient. "Thatís where the children go swimming, and those who donít own a car," he was finally forced to explain. "Would you like to have

 

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a glass of juice?" he asked, nodding towards the bar next to the swimming pool. "I would like to go to the beach," I said, and immediately regretted it. Was I or was I not going to let him take me by the hand? "What does Ain Dieb mean?" I quickly asked. I was going to let him after all. "Wolfís EyeÖ" he replied. "Ah, wolfís eye," I repeated and we left for the center of town. Ahmed was disappointed that I didnít take a picture of the hotel swimming pool, but he would have been angry if I had taken one of Wolfís Eye.

 

Men dressed in European clothes, broad streets, spacious sidewalks, palm trees, expensive cars: such were the images which accompanied us to the restaurant Ahmed had chosen for me. As I sat upon thick cushions, I was brought warm tazhine, couscous and fruit on a round, bronze tray which served as my table, by men dressed in the traditional white costume, who then stood to attention on the side, ready to refill my glass before it was drained of red wine. Ahmed had refused to eat with me, refusing even to keep me company and have a glass of wine. He had simply smiled and said: "Iíll be waiting for you in the car. When itís time to leave, Iíll let you know. Donít concern yourself." However, I cannot help but be concerned when I know someone is waiting for me, so I hurriedly consumed my sumptuous meal at Al Mounia.

 
     
   
     
 

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By Ďtime to leaveĒ , Ahmed had meant the time he would have to take me to the airport for my flight to Ouarzazate. And there was plenty of time until then. I suggested a walk through old Medina. I hadnít anything specific in mind, but I must admit that the more Ahmed kept saying "You wonít like old Medina," the more I became intent on the idea that I should not leave Casa without stopping there. Itís easy to tell someone to take you by the hand when your hands are still in your pockets.

 

An image carved itself on my arm following that walk, and it is true that behind the apparent dereliction of old Medina, the visible poverty and the pungent smell of urine on the alley corners, I was unable to guess at the cityís ancient grandeur. Ahmed had been walking five or six paces ahead of me - it took me a few days in Morocco to realize that this protected me from all kinds of harassment -  when I hesitated in front of a majestic gate. I tried to look inside without being able to see more than a paved archway. I had a feeling that something interesting lay behind the high walls which stopped me from seeing more and, without a second thought, advancing by six or seven paces, I found myself among dozens of men who were reclining on colored rugs. Some of them - those who werenít asleep -  had hurried angrily to their feet, when I suddenly felt someone squeezing my arm so hard it almost hurt! It was Ahmed. He spoke to the old men in

 

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Arabic and then, without releasing his grip around my arm, turned to me. "Allez!" he snapped, and practically dragged me out into the street. He was furious! "Never again will you enter somewhere without asking me! Do you understand?" he said angrily, letting go of my arm but remaining at my side, waiting for me to start walking ahead of him. "Díaccord," I replied, apologizing, and we resumed our walk. "What you did was very dangerous," he said later, as we drove the car to Casa airport. "What would have happened if I hadnít stopped?" I asked. "A lot could have happened," he answered, as if not wanting to elaborate. But then, in reply to my puzzled look, he added: "In the places where men pray, women are NOT allowed." 

 

Going up the steps to the plane that would take me to Ouarzazate, I carried with me the image of the reclining men in the mosqueís courtyard. But most of them had been sleeping. How could they have been praying? I couldnít understand. I wanted to ask, I wanted someone to explain, I wanted to learn, but Ahmed was gone - I was to meet him at the same airport, nine days later, in order for him to take me to Rabat - and his parting words had been: "Till we meet again, take care of yourself." I sensed something unspoken in his manner: "You wonít learn our secrets so quickly," or something along those linesÖ

 

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Regardless of how often I might return to Ouarzazate, I will never forget the color of the desert that met my eyes for the first time ten days ago, as I looked out from the window of the small aircraft. We were flying low - that is the great luxury enjoyed by passengers of small planes - and we were fortunate enough to find ourselves above the desert at sunset: three Italians, an English couple, me and the crew. 

 

I donít know to what extent mood affects our sense of taste. All I know is that I sipped my coffee and felt as if my bosom was being infused with nectar; I looked out onto the deep red desert and kept being reminded of the low level flight scene in Out of Africa; I rested my head against the pillow and thought to myself how wonderful life is for the privileged of this world.

 

If I should never return to Ouarzazate, there is one thing I will always remember: the hot air that enveloped me as soon as I came out of the airplane. I wouldnít even need a change of clothes. I would wash the ones I was wearing and I would dry them in the air which, as it was now evening, had taken on a purple hue. Ten days later, when Abdel said "After all these years of meeting people at airports, I can tell at first sight what kind of person they are. And as soon as I saw you I knew that you

 

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were a good person and that we would have a good time," I wanted to tell him that a caress can tame even the wildest beast, but there wasnít time to enter into yet another lengthy conversation. So I just hugged him, kissed him three times on the cheeks and said: "Sherif, sherif, thank you for everything. Bíslemah." These were two of the three words I had learned in Morocco. My good man and till we meet again.

 

Abdel was waiting for me at Ouarzazateís small airport, behind the plate glass of luggage control, holding a sign with my last name printed in capital letters, and that was where we shook hands. One of the things that gives me great joy when traveling is that my last name is written in the nominative case, Theodoropoulos, rather than Theodoropoulou, the possessive genitive. Thereís no feminist tendency hiding behind this joy I feel; Iím feminine and I donít need a grammatical rule to prove it. All there is is a memory from my adolescence which comes to mind each time I see my surname written this way and makes me smile. I was a pupil at a girlsí school, we were in ancient Greek class, and Professor Karlos, who taught ancient Greek at the university, had been invited to give a special lecture. "I would like to make an observation which is not related to the text," he said - I can no longer remember what had brought it on. "Until the possessive genitive has been abolished in the way you write your names, you will continue to belong to your fathers or your husbands, and the feminist movement will go on not seeing the forest for the trees. Since then I have often recalled his words. And it is fortunate that memories are accompanied by

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an image, as every time these words flash in my mind, I can see the tall, fortyish Professor Karlos, his hair slick with pomade, trying to grab the attention of thirty seventeen-year-old girls with observations unrelated to the text, and the image always makes me smile. I think to myself how big this game of the possessive genitive is and I forget to get angry at its rules. Of course, I know that this most ancient of all games without frontiers is often painful for those who are forced to participate in it as pawns, as I also know that, in some cases, certain of them, by breaking the rules, have succeeded in stealing the playerís coffee and cigarette, causing him acute embarrassment. What I have always wondered, and still do, is what can this game possibly mean to the pawns who ask nothing more from their life than a mere square on the chessboard. At that point, my mind stops thinking of the world like a sphere spinning around these things and in relation to the other things it is able to conceive I remember that when the sun is warming us, the moon is singing a lullaby to others, and then I take off for the places around the world where the moon can sing me a lullaby while my friends are being warmed by the sun.

 

I meet Abdel at the airport, I insist he have dinner with me that evening, he accepts after making sure I am not asking him out of a sense of obligation and, as we are drinking red Moroccan wine, I bring up the subject of polygamy. It is very foolish to try, however good oneís intentions, to draw out thoughts concerning centuries-old

 

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customs the minute one sets foot in a foreign land, but it is worth traveling in order to learn that lesson. Experience will teach you that as a tourist one can intrude; but as a traveler, one should wait for the door to be opened.

 

So here I am, rushing into a discussion of their concept of a male-dominated world. Abdelís monosyllabic answers allow me to learn that here, few men have four wives, some have three and most have two, but when I ask him how many wives his father has, his brow becomes dangerously furrowed and, after a momentary silence, he replies, "Two." When I insist on understanding more and laughingly ask "And so how many women will you marry?" he replies "A hundred," and I smile in embarrassment, because heís obviously joking, although Iím not so sure. Iím in a land where there is much I donít understand. What is one not supposed to ask about? What is one not supposed to laugh at? It is still early for it to be explained to me. And the only thing theyíre trying to tell me, as best they can, is that thereís no reason for me to be in a hurry.

 

They say that Ouarzazate means quiet city. Word for word, Ouar zazat means: no scandal. It was in this city, which spreads out, sparkling clean in the High Atlas, that I woke up this morning. I have found myself in other cities

 

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around the world in the month of August, but never until now has the air played so much with my mood. It is warm, pleasantly warm and soft like a caress. Together with the new flavors sampled at breakfast, where at least twenty smiling Moroccans are serving nine solitary travelers by the pool at the Berbère Palace, the wind whispers promises and makes me realize that this is the first time I have made an appointment without fixing the time. "See you in the morning, then," Abdel had said and, perhaps because of the wine, I too said "See you in the morning." "Make sure you bring water," he had added, and that was it.

 

The idea of time and the different way it was conceived and managed was the first thing that impressed me on this journey. The second was peopleís relation to space. There is a spaciousness which is almost excessive, but what else can you think when youíve spent your life in a tight squeeze? When you have learned to determine the where of space the same way you determine the minutes of time? And what can it mean when, someone asking you "Where are you meeting?" suddenly makes you think "Good question! Where are we meeting?"

 

I donít know whether the fact that I am not flustered when I see that Abdel is waiting for me sitting in the shade on the sidewalk across from the hotel means that I have begun my initiation into the local dimension of time - many mysteries must take place before you get from imitation to initiation - but when I see him throwing away

 

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his cigarette and starting to get up as soon as he sees me, instead of thinking "Oh, no! Iím late! What time is it? What time had we said?", I drop my things on the sidewalk and, crossing the street, catch him while heís still under the shade. "Good morning, Abdel," I say, and sit myself down on a stone.

 

At the top of my bag I may have been carrying the map where I had marked the dayís itinerary - the itinerary I planned while still in Athens, anxious and insecure as to whether there would be enough time to complete it - but instead of pulling it out and getting us all organized, I took out a pack of cigarettes. "Cigarette?" I asked. Abdel sat on the stone next to mine and we began chatting about sleep. From sleep we went on to dreams, from dreams on to their interpretation and from their interpretation on to food. That was how I learned some of the names of the delicacies I had tasted at breakfast and by then the polite tone we had used became more familiar. Only a few hours later, as we crossed the valley of Drâa headed towards Zagora - the last village before the sand dunes of the Sahara - I realized I had already forgotten them.

 

What to retain first? The names of places seem like riddles and the images - recorded in some sort of code which is foreign to me -  keep changing at such a speed that I feel as if Iíve put my head in a kaleidoscope. Tourirt Kasbah, Ait-Benhaddou, Tamdaght Kasbah, Ait-SaounÖ

 
     
   
     
 

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I pronounce them one way, reading them off the map in French, and they sound a different way when Abdel pronounces them. How am I supposed to pronounce Agdz, the village which lies where the valley of Drâa begins? And how many women washing clothes by the river, how many small children sitting waiting in the shade, how many older children helping with the washing can I take with me by pressing the shutter of my camera? "Do you want to see the village school?" Abdel asks and, guessing at my desire, steps on the brake. "No! No!" I can tell that the greengrocer is shouting at me when he hears my camera click behind his back. "He wants baksheesh," explains Abdel. They exchange a few words in their language. Thatíll be five dirhams to immortalize his wares and not himself. "Madame, madame!" a little boy calls out to me and poses with a smile. "Should we give him something?" I ask Abdel. He smiles at my concern. "Leave it to me," he says. "But tell me, what are these red holes we keep coming across in all the villages?" I ask. "Our butcher shops," he replies with a faint smile. I must look very stupid as I express my admiration for their butcher shops, in fact I absent-mindedly ask him something in Greek. We both burst out laughing when, puzzled at his silence, I turn to look at him.

 

Letís face it: when you cross a country with the intentions of a traveler and the pace of a tourist, things can get tough. Thatís all I have to say. And whatever happens, good or bad, is a matter of luck.

 

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Abdel and I are speaking English to each other. We started off speaking French - it is understood that this is the language with which to communicate in Morocco - but as soon as we got to know each other a little better he politely asked: "Do you think we could talk in English?" "It would be a pleasure, since itís easier for me," I said, and we began talking about how heís more comfortable with English while most Moroccans speak French. Thus I found out that Abdel went to an English school in Marrakech. "My father felt that in that way he was offering his children a better education," Abdel explained. "How many children are we talking about?" I asked. "Four," he replied. "The eldest lives in Paris, the rest of us live here."

 

In a car which, for a period of nine days, swallowed up South Moroccan miles with incredible greed, I learned plenty about Abdel, and he learned an equal amount about me. In this way, talking about our lives, we learned all about our different customs and just as much about our similar desires.

 

On the very first day, for example, speeding down the paved national road towards Moroccoís southern borders with Algeria, passing by settlements - kasbahs, that is - named Timidert, Tansikht, Tilmesla or Tinezouline, I learned that we were not going to crash into an oncoming car because, even at the last minute, one of the two drivers would give way, allowing his two wheels to hit

 

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the dirt. It wasnít a disregard for death, as I had begun to believe during the first hours of the journey, it was just that, seeing as the road is narrow, that is their game.

 

Crossing the valley of Drâa, I learned that the children point out the various frog species to us in order to make some pocket-money, that the young woman is not hot under all those clothes, even though the temperature is 43 degrees in the shade, that I should not have eaten the dates given to me by the boy at the oasis and that at the next settlement we may find cold water. As for the wives of the Bedouins, who live deep in the desert and whom we met by chance along the way, I learnt that "children splashing about in the river are one thing; Bedouin wives quite another. The children play and look smiling at the camera lens, hoping to earn baksheesh. But with the women, apart from the fact that our religion does not allow us to be photographed, since only Allah can reproduce our image, you first need to ask permission of their husbands." Fortunately, there werenít any men aroundÖ

 

When we arrived in Zagora, the sun was setting. "Weíre late," Abdel said. We took a walk around the open-air market which was just closing. "Once, Zagora wasnít as poor as it is today," I heard him say as we walked past an old beggar woman. And when I sat on the sidewalk to

 

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gaze at at least thirty men who, dressed in their white galabias, were sitting, almost lying, on the wide, dirt sidewalk across from me, the picture of a flock of herons at rest came to mind. "If we donít hurry weíll be traveling during the night," Abdel had just said calmly, at the moment when a young boy approached me and said: "Madame, would you like to buy a Southern cross?" He opened his palms to show me the crosses hanging on necklaces of black beads. I asked him something, he replied, and his smile, flashing against the setting sun, made me think that this was the good-luck charm I had wanted to give a friend in Greece. I was dropping the cross into my pocket, when Abdel said: "If we donít leave now, we might have to spend the night here," and he got up with an air of determination.  

 

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Our return from Zagora to Ouarzazate, kilometers and hours without a single stop, is something I want to always remember. For the setting sun in our eyes, limiting our visibility to no more than fifty meters; for my fear at the beginning of the trip as I thought that "this is it, weíre bound to crash into an oncoming car;" for Abdelís reassuring words -  "Donít be frightened, Iíve done this before," he kept saying every so often; for the women I would see running as we drove through the settlements. "Itís the hour of prayer," he explained. For the men I saw lying prostrate on the side of the road and about whom, upon asking, I learned that those who havenít made it home pray wherever they may find themselves; and for the night! Heavens, what a night! For at least three hours we traveled through the night. A moonlit night in the desert of Southern Morocco!

 

Fortunately, throughout the drive - by now we were mute with exhaustion -  Abdel made sure not to mention the dangers of such a journey and so, as I looked upon this lunar landscape, I thought to myself that under moonlight such as this I could get out of the car and walk for miles; that the moon must have looked something like this when the astronauts walked on it; that, if I ever return, I would like to stay in a tent in the desert with the Bedouins; and all kinds of things along those lines. When, next day, I told Abdel of my thoughts, he smiled ruefully.

 

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We had slept very little, having arranged to meet outside my hotel at dawn. During the first hour of the drive, until we reached the village of Skoura and stopped at the grocery with the hope of having a coffee, we were both half asleep. As soon as we sat down I went on a photographic spree. "Theyíre only delivering gas bottles," Abdel kept saying, as if that explanation would make me stop, and it was then that he smiled ruefully, after I had told him all my lovely thoughts of the night before. The only thing he was thinking about, he confessed, was "Letís hope we make it back," because the fuel indicator had been on "reserve" for quite some time. Thus began yet another day of touring Morocco of the South.

 

Heading towards the eastern borders between Morocco and Algeria, we crossed the Dadès valley, also known as the valley of the thousand kasbahs. Our destination was Tinerhir and the Todra Gorge. We were to cover more kilometers than on the previous day. Abdel had explained that we couldnít make too many stops. "You might like it, but weíre not traveling at night again," he had said, and so we drove through the Dadès valley all the way to Imassine and Ait-Ridi without stopping. We had been chatting and I had wanted to show him something, so I unfastened the wallet I had hanging round my neck and reached inside for my passport. "Oh, not again!" I said in Greek. My fingers were covered in blue ink. "Is there

 

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something wrong with all the pens Iíve brought with me?" I added, and Abdel pulled over to the side of the road. The same thing had happened the day before: I had tossed the pen out of the car window in the nick of time. Abdel had told me then: "Itís better to use a pencil." But I had not heeded his words. In the morning, before setting out, I had put a new pen in my wallet. "Iím not about to start writing with a pencil," I had thought to myself. It was only when he brought me some earth to rub between my fingers and said: "Pens flood in these temperatures. I told you yesterday, itís best to use a pencil," that I understood. Later, as I gazed down at my passport and tickets which Abdel had laid out at my feet to dry protected from the wind, I thought a thousand different thoughts. My momentum, their slow pace, my haste, their calm, my luck, their luckÖ

 

Silently, we drove through the valley, passing outside the kasbahs which, like the road we were on, followed the fertile banks of the river Dadès. I was thinking that the women of the Dadès valley were dressed in clothes which were more colorful than those of the Drâa valley and that here too the men were lounging about whereas the women were running about with loads on their heads or with children tied to their backs, washing rugs and colored fabrics, which they then spread out on the bushes to dry.

 

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It was almost noon when, upon seeing a man dressed in his white galabia taking a nap on the ground, in the shade of an earthen wall, I said: "Could you stop, please?" I opened the car door and got out. I was at least fifty meters away from him - luckily - when, through my lens, I saw him get to his feet, grab a stone with lightning speed and fling it towards me. Abdel also moved with lightning speed. He ran to my side. "Get into the car," he said, and started yelling at the man in their language. Abdel was yelling and the man in the white galabia was angrily moving his arms about; I felt so ashamed. What had I thought these people were? Tourist attractions? How could I raise my camera like that, with no advance warning, without asking their permission? Would I have done that in Greece? They stopped shouting. Abdel got behind the wheel, slammed the door and turned the ignition in a huff. "Donít blame them," he said, and I was stunned, having thought it was me he was angry at. He hastened to explain: "Very often, tourists come here and take pictures of them sleeping, eating, what have you, and then they go back home and publish their photographs as proof of our misery and poverty. Thatís why theyíre so hostile." "I understand," I said. "They may be poor, but theyíre proud, and they may like to sleep in the shade, but that doesnít mean they want to offer a spectacle to tourists," he added. I wanted the earth to open and swallow me up. "Still, that doesnít justify his throwing a stone at you," Abdel said. "I, on

 

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the other hand, think he was right to do so," I said. "No, he was not right at all, and thatís why I shouted at him. By throwing a stone he forfeits his rights and puts himself in the wrong. Not to mention that sometimes that stone may hit someone like you, someone whoís not taking his picture because you think heís a circus actÖ" I turned and looked at him. "I mean what I say," he went on. "Do you think I donít see that youíre impressed by my country?" The circumspect and rather reticent Abdul had turned into a torrent and I was left gaping at him. "Iím not new at this job. I can tell what the intentions of foreigners are concerning my homeland from the very first moment I start touring with them," he said, and we never broached that topic again.

 

He drove in silence. I was thinking a thousand different things; I was thinking of what he had told me the previous day, when we were talking of similar desires and thoughts: "Receiving foreigners, crossing my country with them, seeing Morocco through their eyes - and donít think that everyone sees it the way you do - sometimes being able to explain, other times feeling as if I have helped them a little to understand it: that, for me, is my life."

 

We were entering the village of El-Kelaâ MíGouna, when I heard him say: "How about some mint tea?" He had interrupted my thoughts, so I didnít answer immediately. "So?" he said, slowing down in front of the café. "Why not?" I replied. "Ití ll quench our thirst and refresh

 

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us," he added, and we laughed, because until then, every time we had been offered boiling mint tea to quench our thirst and refresh us, I had had a glass - a truly delicious beverageÖÖÖ..

 

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