We turn into the lane way and he drives tentatively up the lane looking right and left then he stops
. He CANT just leave me here !!! It looks like I have stepped back in time. A small lane way with medieval looking shops either side with a cobbled stone/dirt road…. Surely this cant be where my accommodation is.?? I point and ask where the hotel is and he motions that he does not know but the words painted on the wall was indeed the lane name that I had copied from the internet. Suddenly Mohammed alights from the Taxi and walks around the back (I assume to remove my backpack from the boot) and I look up and down the lane looking for any establishment that may remotely look like a guest house. By now Mohammed is talking to a local man and animatedly the man is pointing in the direction of an even smaller lane way that leads from the one we are parked on. I turn around and there are two men now come to see what all the commotion is about and in rather good English asks if I know where I need to go. I could have kissed him but resist and give him the name of my booked accommodation. Smiling, he points gesturing that the establishment is in the small laneway. Thanking him he then points to the Police station (not your usual type of building for such a service) which is opposite where we are standing. I now am very confident I am in the right place (An arch, a lane, the Police station) but boy have I picked an incredible place to stay. You would think you were living in the 1800's because of the surrounding area and its incredibly old fashioned facades.
Not waiting another moment I pay Mohammed and give him a tip for his diligence in finding my guest house. He seems very pleased at this and I say a little prayer and hope that the BOMB of a car that he is driving will actually return him safely to Casablanca because even as I try to summon up my optimism I am not convinced it will. He leaves and I stand in the centre of the lane with my back pack and day bag on my back looking like (I am very sure) a lost soul here in El Jadid. The guy who spoke great English (Karim) shows me that HIS shop is the one on the corner and invites me to check into my room and return as he would like to give me a cup of tea ! Great sales tactic and very entrepreneurial but right now I am just so pleased to see what appears to be a very friendly face and I tell him that I will do just that !
My Guest house is a small three storey building painted blue (very Moroccan) and looks more like a house as do the other buildings in the lane. There are children playing in the lane and they look at me with eyes of disbelief. They remain silent until I pass and then chat excitedly amongst themselves obviously I am the entertainment for the day if their giggles can be interpreted. I can’t knock on the door because there is a small wrought iron fence and gate that protects the door from the outside and so I yell “hello” instead. Again I yell “hello” and an older looking woman opens the door staring at me intently.
Eve I smile introducing myself and she gestures for me to come inside. She has little English but she takes me to my room via the brightest / loudest tiled and painted hall and stair ways I have ever seen
. A small second floor room containing a wardrobe, a window, two single beds and a hand basin. Brightly painted the room is clean and I love the view across to the other buildings that I have from the window. I am sharing a bathroom but from what I can see I am the only occupant at this time because there are keys in the doors of other three rooms upstairs. I drop my bags and change into my sandals for my initiation walk into El Jadid via Karim’s shop for a cup of tea. Trying very hard to tell her I will be back later I wave to the woman who appears to run the hotel.
When I get to the corner and Karim’s shop he is very busy selling his wares to a young couple, I wait but after 10 minutes its obvious that I am not going to be able to chat to him now I say “later” and walk in to the town via the arch way to investigate my new home. I was instantly aware that I was the ONLY female for miles. While there were people in the street not ONE was female. Knowing that this could be because they were HOME looking after the kids/cooking/animals/farms/washing etc I was surprised to see quite a few of the male population occupying seats at the local coffee shops. (nothing to do today?)
A coffee was in need so I walked along the street carefully not making eye contact with anyone (I really didn’t want to be stoned for being ONE of THOSE women… one who travels alone and is out in public on her own.) Honestly, I am very aware of the cultural differences for western women in an Arabic nation and whilst I observe the restrictions and obey the requirements it doesn’t mean that I have to like or agree with them
. The chairs in all of the coffee shops along the road were turned outward to face the street so that the person occupying the chair could watch who walked past with ease. There were only men occupying these seats (not a female in sight) and interestingly they were all sitting alone (unlike females who will sit in twos or threes to have coffee). I walked briskly with my head held high and then approached a little Café where there were only two men sitting outside. Inside I approached the counter and said “Merci Monsieur Café ? The young guy looked at me and obviously impressed with my amazing French linguistic skills proceeded to make me a coffee with us using MIME as a the mode of communication ! coffee was lovely and as I sat outside admiring the locality and the warm sunshine a young guy walked past. Maybe 25 or a little older it was one of those moments when he walked past fleetingly, looked at me (and smiled) and not wanting to be rude or dismissive I smiled in response. It took a total of 3 seconds in the whole exchange and then he past. But two feet on he stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and looked at me again. I ignored him from behind my sunglasses. He walked to the edge of the road, and looked back. (WHAT THE !) and then he crossed the road and stood for some minutes looking back at me which at that point I looked in the opposite direction. He walked a little further and stopped again and looked directly at me. It was then I realized even for his tender years (younger than my own son) that I was an 'easy target’. I was on my own in a café where no other women were seated and from that moment on I became more aware of my surroundings, more than I have ever been in my entire life. I was approached, whistled at, followed, sworn at, leered at and generally made to feel very uncomfortable when walking out in the town or down on the beach or Esplanade. The only time I felt ‘comfortable’ was when I was within the safe confines of the ‘Cite de Portugaise’ (Old city of Portuguese) Behind that stone walled arch where my new friends were and where I now resided
Needless to say I felt more comfortable close to home and as there were no ‘tours’ per say organized by anyone that I could find in the town I did stay close to home. That afternoon I returned to Karim’s shop to find the local Police man Abdul and Karim waiting for me. They were very friendly and Karim interpreted for Abdul and we chatted for a while until Karim left to return with the BEST cup of tea I have ever had. Made with local tea and sweetened with honey this black concoction was gorgeous ! The three of us sat chatting about Australia and about Karim’s home – the Sahara Desert where his wife and daughter live while he comes here to the city in the off season to sell his wares (his family make most of the handicrafts in his shop). Abdul has been a policeman since he was 16 years old when he left school and his office (the Police Station) is in what looks like a castle turret across the lane from my Guest house and Karim’s shop. He is about my age and despite the lack of similarity in languages we have a laugh and a conversation easily. We are then joined by a second police man (his name escapes me) who is the local plain clothes policeman who takes care that the city is not being infiltrated by undesirables. The four of us continue chatting and then Karim’s sister is introduced. I feel very comfortable with them all and Karim disappears from the shop suddenly returning with a lovely handmade terracotta bowl containing hot, delicious lentil and vegetable soup. He hands it to me and gestures for me to eat (I know I will repay him by buying one of his rugs ! ) but the gesture of friendliness is so unexpected its overwhelming.
We drive into the township and he looks at me in the rear vision mirror and utters "El Jadid". “Do you know where the hotel is”? I ask … no response so I hand him the paper and point to the address. He shrugs his shoulders and then continues to drive the length of the township. Ok think ….. it says opposite the Police station into the lane through the arch. So we drive looking for an arch. The only arch we find is 3 small arches at the far end of the town that look like they go to market places. He turns the car around and then drives back the way we came. I want to GET OUT of this cab so I motion for him to stop and ask someone. He does this and enlightened by the reply from the man he asks we drive directly back to the ARCH at the other end of the town.