Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

I’m sitting outside the Venezia Ice in Casablanca city at a junction where five roads converge and there is one of the biggest “do not enter box unless exit is clear” crossings I have ever seen.  It is being completely ignored by all and sundry, or course, and there are several cars parked inside it, one is even sitting four-square on a zebra crossing.  The zebra crossing is a joke, as it crosses six lanes of traffic, but only works for three lanes at a time.  So when you get the signal to cross, the first three lanes are clear but the next three have cars screaming across them.  There is no traffic island to shelter on, just a double white line, so you wait in the middle of this maelstrom of cars until the lights change and you can carry on and cross the other three lanes.  The changeover period is never co-ordinated and this gives you the chance for a few seconds every changeover to review your life, promise never to sin again if you get to the other side alive and serves as a reminder to get your last will and testament in order.  This particular part of town is near the Two Towers shopping complex, billed as the biggest in Africa but which falls miserably short of any mall in a decent-sized English town.  There are plenty of brand names to be seen, Zara, Mango, Swatch or Planet Sport to name a few but these are the province of expatriates living in Casablanca.  Locals, except the Casablanca elite, would not dream of shopping there, and nor would I with the inflated prices that imported goods attract.  I have just seen a man in a jellabah, riding his moped with an enormous sack of mint between his legs, his face peeping out from between the leaves.  He is having a right of way dispute with a young rich kid in a red Maserati and the youngster, obviously Moroccan and Muslim and brought up to respect his elders, is apologizing.  Don’t see that on the Kings Road, or many people going to work on mopeds, come to think of it.  I wonder what would have happened if the Maserati, and there are more here than I have ever seen in one city, had knocked the old man off his moped.  I would assume the Maserati is insured so it wouldn’t be a problem for the owner, or he would have friends in high places so no problem there.  But the chances of the moped having insurance, or even of the owner having a licence, are remote, and as the moped is his livelihood he would be stymied.  But he is more likely to be related to a policeman and that can tip the scales.  So it is quite likely that the Maserati’s owner, or at least his Dad, would pay for repairs regardless, or even supply a new moped.  Such are the paradoxes here in Morocco.  Everything revolves around money and power and it is as well to resign yourself to that, get some friends in high and low places and win the lottery.

We were down by the sea in Casablanca city the other day, driving along the Corniche on our way to a restaurant.  Suddenly, a policeman waved me down, our Spanish number plate being a red rag to a bull, and told me that his colleagues had just contacted him by radio.  Cue radio which he waved in my face.  Evidently I had jumped a red light, which I hadn’t as there are no traffic lights on this part of the Corniche, but arguing in these situations is useless.  He asked for my passport and driving licence, took them and put them in his pocket and gloatingly moved to the pavement.  I clambered out of the car and asked him how much the fine was for such a traffic violation, and he told me 500 dirhams.  I acted surprised and told him that in Spain the fine was only 200 dirhams, although in fact I have no idea what it is.  He smiled and said that in that case, as I spoke some Arabic and that made us friends he would take 200 dirhams and we wouldn’t bother with all the paperwork.  Knowing when I am well and truly over a barrel and relishing the fact that I had made a new chum, I paid up, not in public, of course, but with a bit of sleight of hand when he handed me back my documents.  I thereby saved a trip to his colleagues, a further hour or so of discussions, which would have cost me 400 dirhams as I would have had to slip them 200 dirhams as well, or at worst, have paid 500 dirhams for a bogus fine.  But now I have a new friend who waves to me every time I pass his post along the Corniche and who I am sure will protect me if any other policemen try to muscle in on his patch.

The two types of veil most commonly seen in Morocco are the hijab and the niqab.  The hijab is a scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face uncovered, and the niqab covers all but the eyes.  The veil is worn to preserve the modesty of the woman and to avoid arousing desire in men, bless their cotton socks, but the type of veil worn does not necessarily reflect the beauty of the woman and the amount of desire she is likely to arouse.  You see niqab-clad hunchbacked women of obviously advanced years with nothing but their eyes visible, these often covered by bottle-bottom glasses, while young, attractive, and heavily made-up women wearing the latest fashions will be wearing the hijab.  Some young women who wear the niqab take great care to make what little is showing as attractive as possible by the liberal application of khol, at times challenging Cleopatra in their efforts.  Money and education have a direct bearing on whether women wear a veil at all.  If you go around the old medina you will notice that nearly all the women are wearing at least a hijab, but go to the business sector of any city or a branch of a European supermarket and you will see that there are very few women with any kind of covering at all. Much seems to be made of he fact that Islam makes women wear a veil and therefore represses them, but often the women wear the veil of their own volition, as a sign of respect and love for their family traditions or religion, as do Quakers, Amish and Menonites and Catholic nuns to name but a few.  The Quran says that the veil should be worn to reflect modesty, but Mohammed did not introduce the veil, they wore being worn by women in this part of the world millennia before Mohammad, and were mentioned by him purely as they were the style of the day.  When the temperature reaches 40+ºC it makes sense to wear protective clothing and the noble Taureg with his whole face less his eyes covered by his blue headdress to protect him from the Saharan sun is never questioned.  In fact, in my village in Southern Spain, the women wear veils when they working in the fields for the same reason, and they wear scarves or other head-coverings when they go to church.  It is true that there are Islamic fundamentalists who dress in a manner which is not understood by other religions, but there are many other sects in many other religions which do the same; the naked Hindu sadhu in India, the Israeli Hassidim in 17th century Polish garb, Christian monks and friars in their hooded habits, and nuns with their version of the hijab showing chastity and devotion to Christ.  If you seek to understand religion, you have missed the point.  That is why religions are are also called beliefs or convictions.  If it bothers you, that is your problem, just get on with life and live and let live.

It’s all to do with age.  After trying unsuccessfully to log in I realize my left eye, the one that had the detached retina, is now virtually useless and can’t tell the difference between an 8 and an &.  So now I can fill you in on what has been happening here as I haven’t been in the valley for a while, less for fleeting visits.   The weather in the Straits of Gibraltar has been awful all winter and I have only once managed to get away in time.  I have had delays from two to eight hours and last time had to go to Ceuta as that was the only ferry running that day.  A nice drive from Ceuta to Tangier Med, if you like mountains, wind and cloud.  I am using a Mac here, so let’s see if I can transfer my jottings from Mac to Microsoft.

The patisseries in Morocco are spectacular.  I suspect it is the influence of the French but the Moroccans say they influenced the French and who knows the truth?  A great deal of the pastries are finished with a coating of honey and the bees in the area make full use of this and all the displays are covered in bees.  This may seem a bit strange to westerners but the bees love their own produce and come back for more.  I would love to taste the honey these bees produce, twice distilled as it is.  Many shops have holes cut in the windows to let the bees come and go and at times the shop is full of bees.  A little disconcerting for anyone who is allergic to bee stings or who doesn’t like bees, but after a few trips to the patisserie you don’t notice and even start to miss them if they are no longer there, as in the evenings.

The roadside cafes are great value, whether just for tea and coffee of the small restaurants that serve tagine and barbecued meat, sausages, poulet and lamb, all for a pittance but healthy and wholesome, with a couple of small round wholemeal breads thrown in for free.  A meal for two with a couple of soft drinks costs less than the price of the ingredients in European supermarkets and all is ‘that day’ fresh.

It is very easy to make friends in Morocco and indeed in most Arab countries, as a result of Islam’s teachings.  One meeting and you are friends, two meetings and you are bosom buddies.  But don’t ever try to understand them, you will undoubtedly be let down.  This is not intentional, but Arabs will do anything to avoid hurting your feelings, even though this may hurt more when you find out.  An example of this was when I asked a friend, on a Thursday afternoon, if he would like to meet for coffee at the weekend.  He agreed to do so and we arranged a meeting place and time.  I waited for two hours but it was a no-show.  The next time I saw him I asked him where he had been.  He told me that he had been at his brother’s wedding!  I said that surely he knew his brother was getting married when he made the arrangement for coffee on the Thursday and he said that of course he did, but he didn’t want to hurt my feelings by declining the offer. Two hours wasted of a Saturday morning hurt my feelings more but the look of hurt and guilt on his face made it impossible to have a rant at him.