The rose petalled fountain at Palace Didi at Meknes was left behind as we funnelled through a tunnel and were ushered through the morning traffic by a swarm of attendants wearing safety vests; with the traffic mayhem once again being directed by one of those men behind a strong black moustache. Very quickly buses were replaced with long lines of mounds of drying onions hanging on low stone walls with bales of hay perched on the top for protection from frost and moisture, and the covered by orange plastic. Concrete rectangular dwellings were replaced by vast expanses of open landscape…with the geology exposed due to sparse vegetation. The people whose generous smiles were a catalyst for me feeling quite alien in their world – were replaced by….space. Space where the air was empty of dust and smoke. Space where the sound of horns was absent. Space where the stench of faeces and urine lay trapped in the say trapped in the soil.
There were some though who continued to walk …singly and in groups ….or side saddled perched on a laden donkey.. seemingly aimlessly meandering across and along the highway….but what was I to know? I began to feel like an alien in this world of harsh extremes and confronting challenges to sheer existence.
Sheep and goats once again flanked the highway under the guardianship of often a single child sometimes as young as about 8 years old…standing watching over the precious life giving commodity which grazed the rocky embankments and expanding plains.
Communities seemed to become smaller with cubic dwellings now often bare without paint and were becoming camouflaged into the softly coloured hills and valleys. Boundary walls appeared, and dwellings revealed through their structure the geology of the area. Rather than mud bricks; dwellings were made from stone – and dry stone walls ensured the evidence of human habitation remained …even if it was to be only in a pile of rubble centuries after daily life past within and beyond those walls.
Apricots, almonds and tender lamb tagine in a clay dish with steam carrying cinnamon and nutmeg and sticky sauce delighted my senses and satisfied my craving for delicious flavours of Morocco for lunch! Ifrane was an interesting town and when we arrived it seemed that school was out and as we had a fun quiz to complete on the rally and I didn’t know some answers…I decided to run across the road and sit on a long white bench seat and ask some high school girls the questions. My Arabic salutation was met with welcome and laughter…and a reply which let me to try another language in an attempt to understand their response. Amongst much giggling and laughter between us all, French seemed to be the language of greatest comprehension, and after hugs all around; beautiful connections; much laughter; AND the answers to a couple of questions….we were on our way.
The afternoon brought with it more space for reflection…yet with moments of more connection with the local people. Penny found herself alongside a fellow rally participant which was having a few “mechanical issues”…and within about 5 minutes we were being brought sweet mint tea on a silver platter whilst we worked on the car. A small van was driving along and in the tray in the back were about 10 people..and they brought out their instruments….so there we were…under the hood of a vintage car….sipping sweet mint tea… to the rhythm of a mini orchestra of musicians playing Arabic music in the back of a truck!!! It was insane!!… and then the lads came with small bags of precious fossils wrapped in torn bits of year old newspapers and lay them out on the bonnet of the Land Cruiser Service vehicle. So more tea was poured…much haggling and bartering over chuncks of rock encasing evidence of life millions of years ago….. heaps of laughter and mechanics now transporting some beautiful ammonite specimens alongside their tool wraps and grease.
It wasn’t long before once again Penny was silhouetted on the rocky ground as she approached our accommodation just north of Midelt. Today for me was filled with more space…space in the landscape and space in my thoughts. I am experiencing both witnessing and interacting in this world where I feel like I am at times – intruding…yet at other times – invited.