24 July 2012

The End?

Today has been spent packing - tomorrow we fly back to the UK. Over the last 9 months we have flown in and out of the UK a number of times in order to satisfy the demands of the tourist stamp and also because each three months has been a stand-alone period of time whereby we have made our mind up whilst still living in this fabulous place that we must come back for the next stint, for further exploration. This is the first time we are returning to the UK without having booked a return flight to the beautiful country of Morocco - and it's scary!

So much has happened whilst we have been here, some of which I have written about and some of which just cannot be captured in words. How can one describe the everyday experience of living in such a culturally different country where at every turn there is a new discovery to be made? From the  generosity of heart of the poorest people to the sight of the most spectacular mountain scenery, from the serene beauty of the desert to the windswept beaches, this country has so much to offer...and we feel privileged to have shared in this.

I'm talking as though this is the end....but is it? Who knows what the future holds? All we know right now is that we are returning to the UK on that aeroplane tomorrow afternoon, carrying a multitude of memories with us...and thousands of photos as physical evidence should those memories start to fade.

I can't believe somehow that this is the last time we will be here, so I'll finish by using the French phrase along with the arabic prayer:

À bientôt....See you soon!

Insh'Allah... God willing!

04 July 2012


Every time we go out in the car we see the same ragged poster hanging from the wall at the roundabout in Tahannaout....'Awaln'Art - 16-17 juin' it reads. Only one way to find out what this is all about....

So it is that we make our way up to the main road in the sweltering heat of the evening of 17th June. There is no-one around. Have we got the wrong evening? Did the poster really say that whatever this is begins at 5.30pm tonight? Finally we come across some Berber tents set up in a field at the side of the road and a group of young boys are clambering on the barriers around them, straining to see whatever is happening beyond. We begin to chat to them in French and they, like boys the world over, begin to make cheeky remarks. Soon we are having fun though as one boy shows us his dad's mobile phone that he says he has been given...but I doubt that somehow; another tells us he likes eeenglish, yet another asks for 'un dirham, un dirham'. They shrug their shoulders as we ask where everyone is.

Cheeky boys

It's nearing 6.30pm before an official exits a tent and we quickly grab him to find out what's happening. "L'école", he says and points down the road in the direction of the school. Ah, so that's where everyone is! Sure enough, as we amble down the road we can see many people in the distance; young and old, babes swaddled in makeshift harnesses on their mothers' backs, toddlers running around in the middle of the sealed-off road, boys kicking a deflated football to each other, old women sitting on plastic stools they've brought with them for comfort, whole families gathered together for an evening out in their home town. It seems like all the inhabitants of Tahannaout and maybe even the surrounding villages are here, waiting for the spectacle to commence.

As we arrive at the school we are confronted with 15 foot high giant papier mache figures which illustrate the diversity of the Moroccan people. There are figures of Gnawa musicians playing instruments, a djellabah-clad lady carrying a baby on her back, blue men of the desert, old men wearing turbans with very distinct facial features...many lifeless figures strewn around the front of the school, surrounded by students wearing face paint. One of the students wears a massive hat, obviously part of a costume for a giant figure that we have yet to spot. A young man approaches us and speaks in broken English asking if we'd like to take photos - hardly a surprising request as both Mart and I have our cameras slung around our necks as ever! Soon we find ourselves taking many photos as the students gather around and pose with understandable pride alongside their magnificent creations.

Students wearing face paint

So proud

Where did you get that hat?

Waiting patiently

A hand made out of plastic bottles

At the exit of the school stands an enormous figure of a camel, again handcrafted by the students. It is made of papier mâché, canvas, plastic bottles, materials, rope, wool - you name it, I'm sure it is in there somewhere - it really is an amazing feat, standing about 20 feet tall, mounted on a trolley, waiting to be pulled by a tuk-tuk along the road. Astride the camel sits a young man who will 'ride' and 'steer' the camel along the route. As we watch, the blindfold which has been covering the camel's head up until now is taken off to reveal a very life-like face with moving jaws. We are amazed once again at this amazing feat of creativity.

The blindfolded camel

How life-like is that camel's face?!

It is time for the procession to start. Groups of men and women gather together, all dressed in bright colourful costumes, stripy djellabahs for the men and white for the women, the women's heads adorned with a yellow headdress, the men with drums in hand waiting for the command to start the musical accompaniment to the procession. As they start playing, singing and clapping, women in pink, white and red costumes with fringes of co-ordinating colours follow behind the musicians, dancing steps to the left and then to the right in time to the drummed music.

Musicians in full flow


Does my bum look big in this? :)

A second group of musicians joins in, adding their own rhythms to the overall sound.

Then we have the sword-fighting dancers who perform acrobatics as they make their way along the route, alternately running, jumping, somersaulting and performing karate-type moves whilst brandishing their 'swords'.

And now we see the procession of the figures we saw earlier, ably led by the camel caravan being pulled by the tuk-tuk.

The tuk-tuk and the camel

The camelteer

Here come the figures, now brought to life by the students who are camouflaged nicely in the 'tummies' of the giant figures by the use of their face paints, controlling their every move with the aid of long sticks attached to the arms of the figures. Ingenious!

The Gnawa musicians

Fab expression on his face

Berber woman complete with 'Henna'...

...and baby on her back!

'Henna' detail

Young and old line the streets to watch the procession in all its glory, the sights and sounds filling this small town with cheer as people smile, clap and run ahead to try to take that perfect photo as a memory of a very special day in Tahannaout.

Grannies and babes

Lining the street

A cheerie chappie

Musicians and characters

A blue man of the desert

Student in the 'tummy'

Fingernails detail

Gnawas dancing

My favourite figure - smiley Gnawa

The camel makes its way along the route

At last the procession reaches its end - the empty field with the Berber tents where we started from all those hours ago. Here the procession ends but there are more activities just beginning. There are acrobatics, people flying through the air as they are flung from trampettes, arms and legs flying in all directions. The giant figures watch the spectacle along with the crowds of people gathered.

Acrobats 'flying' through the air

The onlookers

Many boys and young teens have climbed onto the top of goalposts in order to get a better view.

From this vantage point they watch the drama group, one of whom is now seated even higher than the boys on top of the gantry of the stage, playing his guitar.

Silhouetted against the night sky.

Aerial dramatics

The costumes are now taken off and the students must stack them away safely, maybe to be used again at a later date. Once again the figures become lifeless.

The Gnawa

An old man

The musicians relax at the back of the field.

The camel looks forlorn as it is led to its shelter, probably to be blindfolded once more.

What a fabulous evening this has turned out to be. Smiley faces make their way home with much laughter and cheer. I hope we get to see a festival like this again - it is lovely to see families come together as a community to support their young people.