Kénitra, Morocco - Polarsteps

Two interactions with Moroccan men: 1. Kini's outside the tent and boiling water before I get up. The new camp guard comes to chat, and Kini offers him some coffee, and he accepts. I hear them floundering with his French, so I put on some sweaters (cold nights right now) and come out to help. We drink our hot drinks together, and it starts fine but slowly gets weird; he's fixated on me and decides we're going to get married, and then he's reiterating it over and over and not letting it go-- he promises I'll never have to work again, and that I can sleep in in the mornings, and that he and Kini will be friends, but actually also that maybe the three of us, *light pelvic thrusting*, and that when we finish cycling Morocco we need to come to his house for couscous; it goes on, repetitively, and we try to make light of it because it's all absurd and he's still drinking coffee out of one of our camp mugs, but realize late that he might actually be quite serious. When we're finally able to end it and say goodbye I end up in another handshake-trap, but he's trying to pull me in for a kiss; I'm pulling back and Kini also physically gets in the way and, I'm pretty sure, actually pushes on his face in the process. We decide after this that, from now on, I'm married and my husband is in Canada but coming to meet us in Marrakesh. His name is Tom and I'm going to find some photos of him to save on my phone-- I've decided he's a burly, bearded hipster-man, and we're going to shop for a ring I can wear. I'm figuring this story is also a bit of a cushion from the what's-wrong-with-you-ness of being an unmarried woman in your thirties here. Kini's not getting the same attention or disbelief, so for now they decide to just explain their marital status by saying, "I'm difficult." 2. We're cycling down a rural road and from behind a fence an older man emerges and calls out, "Atay!", the Arabic for "tea!", and we stop. He leads us into his work-yard, where he makes concrete blocks, has us lean the bikes on the fence, and sets up two chairs for us in the sun. He disappears into a little lean-to shack and in a few minutes comes out with glasses and the ubiquitous metal teapot of sweet, strong Moroccan mint tea. His name is Abdeslam, and he's lovely. He's Arabic-speaking with only a few fragments of French and Spanish; we get by with gestures and are effusive about the tea and the invitation and how nice it is. The yard is full of chickens, and he gets up and holds up two eggs, indicating that he could cook them for us. He disappears into the shack again and comes back quickly with the eggs scrambled in a pool of olive oil, and fresh rounds of bread, which we tear apart and dip in the dish. It's so good, and the olive oil tastes fresh and tangy, and then he points at it, points, at himself, and points to the far corner of the yard: several olive trees are standing there. He Facetimes in his son and grandson, who we gather are in Spain, to say hello; I've been wondering about asking to take his photo, a request that becomes easy when he gathers us around his phone first for a selfie. This is a thing about travelling in 2023: as Western visitors, we're not at one end of a one-way camera lens, the way we would have been before mobile technology. Even in a small, traditional village it seems like everyone has a phone, and it works as a bit of an equalizing force-- the people we meet often take photos of/with us and share them with their families, and any photos on my DSLR can be sent back their way, not just kept for us. Abdeslam has one of the helpers in his work yard add our number to his phone-- we do this exchange of photos over Whatsapp, and over the next week or so he sort of becomes our Moroccan grandpa, sending voice messages to say hello and check up on us. At one point we get a sweet message from his English-speaking nephew; his uncle has conscripted him to make sure we're doing okay, offer any help and advice we might need down the road, and to make sure we understand that if we return by the same road, we're invited to stay with Abdeslam and his family. The voicemails gradually include more Arabic, which we don't understand, but there's one where he's listing off the places we're going to-- so in Rabat we send a short video saying hi from outside the big mausoleum and Hassan Tower, a recognizable place. We get a really delighted response with about five 'Shukran bezzaf's (thank you very much) for the video, and asking us to send another when we get to Marrakesh, and then the next day he sends a video back, saying hello to us from his yard while feeding his chickens. He's visibly thrilled; it's the sweetest thing in the world. The day we meet him, for lack of other options, we decide to try our luck at a spot listed as a campground on Google Maps; there are several of these around, with Arabic names and no information, reviews, or anything online. The pin takes us to a rest stop on the edge of a rural community, with a restaurant, cafe, gas station, water tap, bathrooms, a small residence, and a soccer field. Behind the back fence is a large avocado farm. We mime our way through asking at the restaurant about camping-- everyone on-site at the moment is Arabic-speaking only-- and are led to the back of the field between the soccer pitch and the compound, which is ammended a couple of hours later by the English-speaking son of the owner, who moves us into the fenced yard behind the restaurant. There's all-night security and they turn floodlights on on our tent. In the morning Housan, who runs the cafe, brings us in for coffee (which he won't accept our money for, nor will the owner for the camping), and then, as we pack up, keeps bringing us snacks of hard-boiled eggs and bits of warm bread.
  1. derailed
  2. 🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
  3. Kénitra