When my husband accepted a job as the manager of a large fruit farm in rural Morocco, we moved there with no preconceptions of what our life would be like, and not because we chose not to think about it, but because we really didn’t have a clue what to expect. We certainly weren’t under any illusions as to just how different our lives would be, though, and we were both prepared to make significant changes not only to our daily routines, but to our outlooks also. Yet somehow we instantly found the hectic and noisy main street of this village we now call home to bear many similarities to our respective home towns, particularly from an aural perspective.
Children of varying ages tear up and down the streets on their way to and from school, calling out to each other with excitable whoops and whistles, while cars and scooters whizz past, honking at anyone or anything that looks as if it might stray into their path, occasionally swerving to avoid dogs or potholes. When walking to work back in England, my ears were often met with those very same sounds, although admittedly the honking of horns was less prevalent, there weren’t so many scooters and there were certainly no stray dogs to avoid. Visually, however, these dusty village streets are about as different as they can get; the buildings that line the street are basic concrete structures, often left unfinished, and aside from the odd glimpse of a woman sweeping her front doorstep or walking her children to school, it is a place mainly dominated by men.
Donkeys and mules are still a common mode of transport here, and the sight of a young man bobbing up and down on a briskly trotting donkey, while chatting animatedly into a mobile phone, is one that never ceases to amuse and charm me.
There are also numerous small shops, many of which are selling the exact same products at the exact same prices, but if you step inside and let your eyes adjust to the dusty gloom, you will find most of the daily items needed to maintain a basic household.
As many of the village women do not leave their homes due to the constraints of their religion, men and children are sent out to do the shopping, and a particularly thoughtful husband may even choose to treat his wife to a tub of ‘breast enlarging cream’ when he picks up the weekly supplies, I kid you not. It was in the first shop that I happened to wander into when we first arrived, that my already overwhelmed and bewildered eyes blinked in disbelief at the sight of the industrial sized tub sitting innocently beneath the shopkeepers glass counter. The contents of the tub were illustrated, somewhat inappropriately I thought, by a woman of indeterminate race who was crouched down, daubing her undersized mammary glands with the magic cream, and the ‘instructions’ were written only in English. I did notice that there was a thick layer of undisturbed dust on the lid though, and guessed that either nobody had dared to purchase the naughty ointment, or they weren’t quite sure what it was actually intended for, despite the informative diagram!
I have to admit that shopping in the village is rather more of a chore than a pleasure for me, and if I can scrape by without having to buy anything for that night’s dinner, then I gladly will. It isn’t just that the streets are full of noisy and inquisitive children, and long lines of men sitting in the myriad cafés sipping mint tea and watching the world go by, or even that there is often not another female in sight, but more the fact that whoever should happen to pass me by cannot seem to resist the urge to speak to me. More often than not, I’m sad to say, I am harangued by teenage boys as they make their way to and from school, which is but a stone’s throw from our home, or pestered for my phone number by young males telling me how they’re desperately searching for a European wife. Perhaps with my ginger hair and abundance of freckles, not to mention the once wild mongrel that trots along at my side wearing a bright blue harness, I should expect to draw unwanted attention, but I still fail to understand quite why I am so frequently oggled. I always try and dress conservatively too, knowing how many Muslims feel about exposing their own skin and the assumptions they make about the kind of women who choose to, so I never show any more than the narrowest strip of bare flesh above my knees or even my wobbly biceps, and my even wobblier midriff never sees the light of day; I rarely even expose my husband to that sight!
As miserable and anti-social as that might make me sound, however, I do believe in a woman’s basic right to be able to pop to her local shop for a baguette without having to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘I’m happily married thank you very much’ to every man she sees. But as is so often the case, we do tend to remember those who leave us with unhappy memories over those who have treated us well, and I have had many encounters with some hugely welcoming and friendly people here, and on a good day I can smile to myself as I’m bombarded from every direction by those who cannot resist my English charm!