Dinner was basera soup like we had made in cooking class for starters. “I can make this”, I proudly told Gilbert. “Beauty”, he said with a smile. The waiter said ‘chicken tagine with couscous’ as he put the second course down. I don’t know what kind of meat it was but it sure as hell wasn’t chicken. When I looked I assumed it was beef, and it probably was, but it was so tough I didn’t eat more than a tiny bit. The apple sauce with the meat however was delicious. The couscous tasted a bit earthy but layered over it was steamed lengths of carrots, marrow and aubergine in strips. Spilling over it all in the centre was caramelised onion and that was delicious. Dessert was a platter of apples and oranges, which is what they grow here but I was full of couscous and didn’t want to eat too much anyway. The place is pretty deserted just a french family and us here.
I slipped in to bed and the sheets were pretty coarse cotton. No Egyptian of any number here, but it didn’t stop me sleeping well, waking at about 5am when I heard a mozzie. I pulled the sheet right up and over us both and told Gilbert there was a mozzie around as he stirred. I know, I’ve been bitten he said. Jeepers, hope he was a clean one I thought wondering how far Sierra Leone was from here. I know…Just being a drama queen.
Breakfast was olives which were particularly salty, Moroccan breads, fig jam and honey, a kind of cake that seemed to be a cross between Madeira and bread, herbal teas and coffee. The flies were so bad Gilbert went back and put a light jacket on which the guides all thought hilarious as he is only in light shorts and singlet when they are in jeans, shirts, sweatshirts and the big robe thing over it all and a turban thing. I am wearing light cotton trousers and a sleeveless top that I have a huge scarf draped around my shoulders, neck and arms. I had knee length shorts but felt naked with lots of staring so changed. They suggested we swim if we like but with about ten men sitting around smoking…I don’t think so.
We have chosen the longer option of four days and three nights so it’s not rushed and today is a tour of Rissani with a lovely guide called Hisham. Hisham explains things to us as we walk throught the town. Like that there are four different tribes here in this town. Mostly Berber. In fact 70% of Morocco is Berber and he tells us they would very much like to have their independence.
With these four tribes we will see many women wearing different kinds of clothes as we travel around here. They are the Berber, the Bedouin, another is the Nomad tribes and the last is the Tourag. One wears the black with her face covered. Another wears the striped cloth wrapped around like I remember Mary in the bible stories. Another wears bright colours which are embroidered and to be honest I can’t remember the last.
“Of the ones where you can see their face, he said one kind has a henna tattoo on her chin. That means she is available. If it’s on her nose, she is married, if it’s on her forehead she is divorced.” “What if she remarries?” I ask. “She will be lucky”, he answers with a forced smile as if it’s not very likely. “Another tribe marks left cheek for married, right for available and centre for divorced.” “What if she remarries?” I ask. “She also will be lucky”. “But what if” I ask again. Oh it can be washed off, he says. And another tribe uses a brooch that holds her robes in place. If she is available the brooch is on her right. You see her heart is still available. Right side if she is married. You see her heart is taken. And centre….if she is divorced”. “Ok I answer. That’s easy to move”. “Yes”, he smiles, more amused than anything. This makes it easy for the man he continues earnestly. Then he doesn’t need to be rude and ask her if she is available.”
Now he’s not that easy to understand but he takes us through what they call a Kasbah which is where many families live, in fact as many as 250 he tells Gilbert. But within its walls several generations will live in each house. This particular one was built in about the seventeenth century and just in the gate area is a place with seating. “This is where conflict will be resolved. People will sit here and give advice. So if you have a problem, you can come here to ask a solution” he tells us. Aha good idea.
He takes us down dusty alleyways and some children run out and giggle and want to talk. “What are they saying” I ask Hisham. “They ask if you have chocolate” he says with a big smile and starts to shoo them away. “What about this” I ask as I reach into my bag and bring out lollies hoping I have three. I do and they pose for me and run away laughing. At the next corner a pretty little girl with a huge smile asks me if I can please take her photo and stands with her brother. I snap and bend down to show her. Our guide has walked on with Gilbert and the little girl calls out as I turn to follow them and wave back…”can I have dirham?”. Gee that was dumb of me. I should have realised that was going to happen and I don’t have any lollies left. I have to hurry to catch up the men and I look back at the little girl who smiles and waves.
Hisham takes us to a place to buy peanuts, almonds and fresh dates. We also visit a pharmacy with natural remedies. “You can tell what you have wrong and they will give you what you need”. He starts to pick up the jars and I know enough French to see this is for sexual problems in men. He reads the Arabic and then says….”so this is of you are a man and you have a problem….with….Ummmm….he points to his belly and twirling his hand around looks at us both and says “and that” and quickly puts it down and picks up the next, and this is for headaches and thus us for….”
Next he takes us to the hamman. “You can only go certain times he says. If the flag is up it is only for the womans, and if it is not up then it is for the mans. So you check the flag first before you go in he smiles. Or there is some big trouble!” As we pass a doorway he points in to show us how the water is heated for the baths.
It is fuelled from a huge stack of wood which you climb down to refill the fire. Just leaning in to take the photo it feels like hell and that is hot water coming out of that pipe.
Now I will take you somewhere to learn about the area of Rissani because actually it is very old. The first Moroccan King came from here and his tomb is here. We visit the mosque and hear an elder reading Koran to children and then we go to meet another guy. At first I think it is a museum but quickly figure it’s not. About the time he calls me sister actually. And says “if you buy its ok and if you don’t it’s ok. Big welcome. A thousand welcomes because actually we are family. Yes. We are! Then he whips a rug out and it’s on the floor for my approval before you can blink and then he calls his assistant and they start to peel off one after the other. Please stop I say I’m not going to buy. No you don’t have to but if you did want one which one. Flipping heck. I’m not sure I can go through this again. I’m waiting for Gilbert who is looking at rings before I say we are leaving and Gilbert brings a ring back and suddenly the teapot and the two necklaces I have admired are waiting to be wrapped.
“1400dh”, he says with a smile. That’s about $200nz. “And this is negotiable” he adds as he leans back satisfied that we are going to make a deal. “No, I say, I cannot pay that”. Gilbert meanwhile opens his wallet and counts aloud that he has 500 DH and asks me how much I have. “I have nothing” I reply lying. “What, I thought you had some!”, Gilbert looks at me quizzically. “Nope. I have none”, I assure him with the message ‘shut up’ hopefully being transmitted. I stand. “Just the ring for him, I say, How much for that?” Well to cut a long story short we get the two necklaces and the ring for 500dh. I kept taking things off the table and he kept putting them back. “You are worse than a Berber” he mutters as he wraps it up in newspaper. He smiled as we left but didn’t call me sister anymore and I never heard a thousand welcomes again either. I walk quickly from the shop doorway fairly certain the message that I am worse than a Berber wife is being transmitted to the group of men sitting outside the door. Goodbye I nod and smile as we turn to meet our guide who greets us as if we are cousins. He’s possibly getting a cut from this and is hoping it has been a good transaction.
We are going to have traditional stuffed bread. I ask for vegetarian for us both and we get minced and curried lamb. It’s delicious but I’m a little over all the games. I just want to go camel riding now…our guide tells us we will meet the car now and we head off to the desert in a cloud of dust.
It’s an uneventful four wheel drive into the desert where we meet Marbarack who offers us tea and tells us we have a few hours to wait so please, take a swim, or rest and have some tea. We go to the pool and I’m desperate for a swim. It’s about 30-32 degrees but I haven’t bought togs so I decide if these no one else there I will swim in my black bra and Gilbert’s shorts but once I have grabbed the towels and am there I find Gilbert already in the water.
It’s funny but they are trying to imitate a five star hotel but don’t quite pull it off. The water has a greenish tinge and the place is dusty and dirty. I look into the water as Gilbert gets out and he tells me “probably don’t open your mouth”. I had stepped in up to my thigh. “Geez mate I’m not getting in that” I say. “It looks like soup”. Gilbert has to agree and gets out and we lie back on the ‘sun loungers’ and start to laugh. “It’s like a comedy show. he says. It’s like when we first went to China. It’s like….well I guess it’s like a country trying to meet the tourist market but don’t quite know how.” The flies are so thick if you don’t have a constant swing going on they are matted on you. You and your bloody camel ride Gilbert looks at me with a grin. “Hey, I reply. ‘A thousand welcomes’….You’re gunna love it my brother.”