Back home in England in what feels like another life entirely now, I used to be a bit of a fitness junkie, quickly becoming obsessed with ‘Spinning’ classes when they were first introduced and berating myself if I didn’t squeeze in at least three sessions at the gym each week. Here in this traditional Moroccan village that I now call home, however, my exercise options are somewhat limited, and after a fitness DVD cruelly inflicted Tendonitis upon me, I resigned myself to taking our dog, Douglas, for some monstrously long walks in an effort to stave off the flab that threatens to consume me. There is a gym here actually, but it’s only open to male members of the village population, and even if it weren’t, it’s bad enough being the centre of attention when wearing my normal clothes, let alone having all eyes on me when I’m rather bulgingly clad in lycra!
When we first arrived here and adopted ourselves a flea-ridden, tick-infested, mongrel puppy, I started taking her for several walks at various times of the day. But I found that unless I walked a good distance away from the village, I simply drew far too much unwanted attention to myself. At one point I can honestly say that I felt like The Pied Piper of Hamelin but instead of playing a pipe, I had a puppy on a lead and instead of rats, I had a throng of little boys trailing behind me. The children were friendly for the most part, but they often had with them little puppies or dogs of their own that they had found and were playing with, and I didn’t want my freshly vaccinated hound getting into a fight with one of them and being infected with goodness knows what. Not only that but the boys would constantly pester me for money or sweets, neither of which I ever carried with me, and the language barrier made it quite tricky for me to rid myself of them. If it wasn’t young boys continuously asking me for cash or confectionary, then it was older ones asking me for my telephone number or email address. It was fast getting to the point where I dreaded taking her out for a walk and so I decided that I would get up earlier in the mornings and take Douglas out while the local children and the Prince Charmings were still tucked up in bed. I have to say that my plan worked, and each morning, give or take the odd person on a donkey or bent over double in a field, I barely see a soul and I am free to walk unpestered. My dog can run free to chase ground squirrels and sniff at the huge piles of rubbish that people dump all over the place.
I don’t know if it is because Douglas began her life in the wild and is used to scavenging for food, but she is instantly drawn to the stinking heaps of rubbish and rotting animal carcasses that my delicate English nostrils are subjected to on our daily outings, and many times I’ve had to forcibly drag her away from a donkey’s rotting hindquarters that she is chewing at with stomach-churning gusto. I’ve been told that the local people are continuing to live as they did when the village was home to merely a fraction of the people it is home to today, and the older generation in particular still dispose of their rubbish by dumping it in the countryside, despite the fact that there are regular, and free, rubbish collections. Decades ago this would not have caused too many problems. Nowadays however, the village is brimming with residents and as tourism increases in the region, there is growing pressure from the younger generation to find more environmental ways of disposing of rubbish.
Many Moroccan households, (at least here in the village), leave the remnants of their meals outside their front doors, for passing hungry animals to partake of. Every day I see turmeric stained bones and hunks of stale bread piled up in this manner, and as commendable as this is, it goes hand in hand with encouraging wild and potentially dangerous animals to your very front door, namely cats, rats and dogs.
Muslims are forbidden from keeping dogs as pets. They may be kept as guard dogs to protect properties or herds of sheep and goats, but they are not permitted to enter inside the home as it would then be rendered unclean and impure. In knowing this, you would think that inviting them to dine at your door would be one of the last things they would want to do, particularly when many of the houses are home to countless small children, each of whom would undoubtedly meet an untimely demise should they happen to be savaged by a rabid dog, or cat for that matter, carrier of the dreaded disease as they are too.
Carcasses and rubbish aside though, despite the surrounding landscape being for the most part impenetrably rocky and barren, there is a rugged beauty to be found in it, particularly when the morning sun begins to pierce the already cobalt blue sky, highlighting the distant mountains and making me feel like singing simply because not a soul would hear me. My mum often says that she would love to see my dog frolicking in a green meadow or splashing around in a stream, but this dry and dusty land is all Douglas has ever known, and I imagine that depositing her in the English countryside would only cause bewilderment and doubtless disappointment, as she fruitlessly foraged for even the merest sniff of litter!