A New Life.

A New Life.

To be honest, this week has sprinted away on me and now it’s Friday.

Friday is a quiet day in the Islamic world, a bit like Sunday in Western culture; it’s a big day of prayers which is traditionally finished with cous cous shared with family and neighbours. Most shops are closed and the streets are quiet.

Over the past few weeks with Ramadan underway, Friday’s have been different. The mosques are still closed in Morocco under new lockdown laws, which means people are praying at home. The usual afternoon clanging of pots heard from neighbouring flats has paused during Ramadan, and the race to prepare a huge Friday afternoon cous cous is absent. I have to say, I miss the smell of cous cous wafting out of each dwelling late on Friday afternoon as I chug up to my flat in the ancient lift.

Today marks the final Friday in the month of Ramadan, with Eid ul Fitr (the festival which marks the end of the month long fast) set to take place in Morocco on Sunday. Unlike the Gregorian calendar observed by the West, the Islamic calendar is lunar and based on the moon, and the final day of Ramadan marks the first day of the 10th Islamic month, Shawwal.

The final day of Ramadan, Eid ul Fitr (meaning Festival of the breaking of the fast), is not dissimilar to Christmas Day. Families travel for miles and gather together to break the month long fast. Babies are handed around, cheeks are pinched, grandparents, aunts and uncles meet nieces and nephews and grandchildren, presents are given, and a huge feast is prepared. It is a beautiful time, and one that is set to be quite different this year.

Due to our current lockdown, which was extended on Wednesday for a further three weeks, travel is not possible and large gatherings are forbidden. This will ease on June the 10th, two weeks after the end of this holy month and almost three months to the day since the borders to Morocco closed and the lockdown was enforced.

When I spoke to a friend during the week, he remarked that this year had been a ‘quieter’ Ramadan, with just he and his wife and their baby boy celebrating the daily l’ftour together (the daily breaking of the fast, marked by the dusk prayer). No family, neighbours and friends dropping in and no evening promenade along the streets under twinkling lights and the Ramadan moon.

In many ways, he added, it has been a much ‘easier’ month of fasting, with the pressure taken off each household to feed many mouths and entertain grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. It’s been a simple affair, which has taken Ramadan back to it’s original form. A simple fast with those around you.

As with most things, we had seen the world begin to move at such a rapid pace as the speed of the Twenty First Century took its grip. Religious festivals and special days had become completely commercialised and an opportunity for money to be made. I go almost mad at Christmas when I suddenly realise that I should send a note to everyone I love with a present to match. Where do we draw the line? Godchildren, nephews, neighbours, friends, family…

Has this unforeseen global situation put an end to all of this?

Maybe.

The most important thing for many people is family and friends, and the way in which we celebrate them has changed completely, definitely for the short term and maybe longer.

Last week, we welcomed a new little man into our family – Charlie James, a second son for my sister Edwina and her husband, Tim. The child is huge and healthy and, as always when a sister is carrying a baby, I was relieved and excited to hear of his safe arrival.

One thing that will never change, is the happiness that a newborn child brings to a family.

Charlie has entered into a new world, and when he goes off to school and then grows up to be a man, he will hear from his parents and teachers about the world as it was, and how it changed quite dramatically during the year that he was born.

If we take away the awfulness that is the sadness families will have inevitably felt losing someone they love at the hands of this strange virus, many of the changes that we’ve seen as a result of the global lockdown, are positive and for the greater good.

As we edge towards opening up again slowly, we will be more cautious and considered in our approach to most situations. And, the simple things that we may have once taken for granted – such as meal with friends or a first meeting with a grandchild, will be all the more special.

Yesterday, following a meeting with the weavers where I inspected the first batch for madeintangier.com.au I walked home with a friend who has been nothing but helpful during the early days of my new business. He is always at the end of the phone willing to answer questions about numbers, and he translates my ridiculous queries into Moroccan Arabic. Once I’d taken receipt of the first order, huge and exciting, he offered to carry a bundle of Jibli napkins up the hill for me.

As we approached my street, a group of boys stepped across the road carrying their grandmother atop a plastic cafe chair. My friend raced ahead with sixty Jibli table napkins (new range, blue and white striped and finished with 36 white pom-poms) slung over his shoulder as he pulled their car door open and helped grandma inside.

A flurry of ‘thank you my brother, peace be upon you, and upon you, and upon you, thanks to my God’ followed, before they parted ways.

As I took over the sixty blue and white striped table napkins finished with a total of 36 pom-poms, after farewelling my friend, I hopped into the lift in my building with a smile spread across my face.

No matter how much things have changed and as we adapt to a new way of living and I celebrate a new nephew; one thing baby Charlie and all of us will always appreciate, is kindness. It is abundant these days, and no amount of locking down and slowing down will take away the two things I so value.

Good humour and kindness.

Pictured: a table full of fresh flowers from the market with ‘that’ blue and white striped Jibli napkin finished with 36 pom-poms.

From A Distance.

From A Distance.

From a distance the world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white
From a distance the ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight

From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It’s the voice of hope
It’s the voice of peace
It’s the voice of every man

From a distance we all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed…

As a little girl I used to travel to my country primary school on a bus driven by Mr Daly. Mr Daly was our local mechanic who also doubled as a bus driver. He was a nice man who was very sweet to ‘pre teen me’ dressed in a pink jumper teamed with pink corduroys and desert boots on my feet. Each morning I would climb onto the bus and take my seat just behind Mr Daly. Once settled, I’d adjust my headphones before pressing ‘play’ on hits by any given songstress, with Bette Midler being a favourite. I’d sing along to songs such as ‘From a Distance’ as I madly worked on my tapestry for the duration of my trip to school.

No tea towel, shirt sleeve, pillow case or bath towel were safe from my needle and thread and, by the age of about eleven, I had mastered the perfect rosebud and bunch of flowers, stitched furiously by me as I listened to songs on my Walkman.

‘From a Distance’ was written by HBO secretary Julie Gold who believed in an immanent and beneficent God, and she always said that people should interpret the song any way they want – as with all art. Perfect for me who was quite often outside the classroom when I was a child – usually as punishment for asking my teacher why God didn’t fall out of the sky?

On sunny mornings in the late eighties, at the very same time Bette Midler had taken over from Julie and turned my favourite song a hit, my school bus would pull in at the school gate just as I was belting out the chorus of their hit – ‘God is Watching US! God is watching US! God is watching uuussss… From a distance…’. Packing my needle, thread and tapestry ring into my handmade, monogrammed calico sewing bag whilst bracing myself for a day with the boys in my class – most of them sons of dairy farmers – I’d almost thread a tapestry needle through my finger with enthusiasm for the boys, my stitching project, and my self proclaimed ‘ability’ to sing.

Albeit dressed in pink corduroys, a pink jumper and desert boots teamed with a haircut styled around a pudding basin.

I’ve always rather loved this song whose lyrics speak of a world viewed from a distance, and which spells out the difference of how things appear as opposed to how they really are.

During our lockdown I’ve revisited my eleven year old self and have started to sew again.

On a borrowed Singer machine from a favourite Tangier friend, I’ve found myself sewing masks lovingly created from the ends of leftover fabrics from my kitchen curtains, along with cut offs of pure Egyptian cotton sourced on the edge of the Nile on a trip to Egypt last year.

Ends of a pink dress made from Egyptian cotton (a dress normally teamed with a navy blue velvet Alice band and busted out at a cocktail party) are worn on my face in a pleated design, rouged at each side and pulled for effect with a double edged hem stitched tight along white elastic, and neatly tucked behind my COVID19 era lockdown ears.

My neighbour stopped me in the lift the other day (on about day 12 of Ramadan) and began waving her finger at me as she spoke in agressive Arabic. Oh dear I thought, do I smell like food? Can she tell I’ve had water and I’m not fasting. Is my morning coffee spilling out of my every pore? Oh heck, I’m so ‘haram’ right now I concluded as I stepped out of the lift. She smiled as she sailed up one more floor to the top of our building demanding ‘Masque, afek joj en noir’.

Ah, I sighed, she wants two masks, both in black.

So, from the ends of a long dress fashioned from a Moroccan d’jellaba and stitched by my tailor this time last year, I found myself sewing a mask for my neighbour in the darkest navy blue, almost black. For her daughter, I pleated and stitched together the ends of my kitchen curtains in baby pink with happy little pieces of elastic loosely tied through the pleats.

Just before the mad rush that is shopping for l’ftour and the hours that follow, I ran upstairs one day this week to deliver my creations to my neighbour. ‘Pour toi,’ I said proudly as she grabbed them from my hands, hurriedly asking ‘combien?’.

‘Lah, hada cadeau dyal Ramadan’ (no money, this is a present for Ramadan).

Her pretty face lit up – from a distance, as I stood awkwardly on the landing outside her door. We’ve always rather liked each other and her children, guided by their father, often deliver Friday cous cous to my flat. But this day was different.

Bette’s word were more profound than ever when I played them at full strength (thirty years post Walkman and pink corduroys) as I settled in at my kitchen desk following my rendezvous with my neighbour.

From a distance we all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns, no bombs and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed…

All of the above is real. No matter where you sit in 2020.

I saw a tapestry ring in a shop today and I asked the man to put it aside for me. I know I will go and buy it tomorrow as I further engage my eleven year old self with my Walkman playing songs (now replaced by the radio), safe in the knowledge that from a distance, we all have enough.

Even if it is a mask made from the ends of a kitchen curtain.

Press play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN4AcFzxtdE

Pictured: Tangier, on my trip to the shops today.

Mrs Pigeon.

Mrs Pigeon.

Her brooding keeps me company, and a morning in isolation would not be a morning in isolation without her. Mrs Pigeon coos from her nest above my kitchen door all day, every day. It’s a pretty soundtrack and one that brings great comfort.

As I type, Mrs Pigeon has nodded off exhausted following a day of fluffing and puffing. To be fair, she’s been busy today. A dog barks in the distance, and with just an hour until the breaking of the daily fast, kitchen utensils are beginning to clank from the neighbouring flats as l’ftour is prepared, and sirens whirl on the boulevard two streets away.

We have a strict evening curfew in Morocco for the month of Ramadan where everyone must be at home before 7pm. Therefore, wherever you may be as the clock strikes 7, is where you’ll stay until the following morning. It’s a sensible thing to have put in place, and it allows families to be together for the holiest month of the year as the country does all that it can to contain the COVID19 virus.

The numbers in Morocco are nowhere near as dramatic as our close European neighbours, and I take comfort in the restrictions we’ve seen implemented over the last two months and the impact they’ve had towards combatting the spread of the virus. This afternoon, a friend sent me a document released by the Moroccan Government which outlined the various stages we’ll go through as we begin to slowly emerge from our lockdown.

On May the 20th, just two short weeks away, we will see the state of health emergency lifted. Following this, access to friends and family will hopefully become easier and perhaps the evening curfew will be lifted too. Over the next three months we will see things deemed ‘non essential’, begin to open up again. The document was very much ‘subject to review’ and each ‘stage’ merely a guide in helping understand what potentially lies ahead. And, it would appear that our ‘opening up’ is not going to be a rushed one.

I crave lunch with friends, I also crave drinking a cup of coffee outside of my kitchen ‘café’. I crave being able to travel to the beach for a swim, and I crave being able to stay out later than 7pm. Of course this will all become a reality one day, and the time we have spent inside has prepared us for the future.

I also can’t wait for the day that will (hopefully) see an end to unhelpful commentary from people who have spent their entire lockdown watching and listening to the movements of others, as they twitch their curtains with a muttering of passive ‘tut tuts’. I’ve seen it locally, and in the media across the globe, and can only hope the end of lockdown will allow common sense to return, and that we can all turn our attention back to a good book, or enjoy a long walk in the sun without needing to ‘worry’ about what other people are doing. For me, this side of our ‘new normal’ has been exhausting and totally counterproductive. Particularly as the human race has very quickly had to adapt to a way of living that was quite literally thrust upon us overnight. I would say we’ve done pretty well, and my observations here in Morocco are of a society that has been exemplary in adjusting.

To be honest, I have thoroughly enjoyed the lockdown (might I have needed it?) and have spent most of it behind my computer screen setting up my new business and madly documenting my thoughts. Having said that, I am more conscious than ever of my friends who are alone, so I take time each morning and afternoon to pick up the phone and talk to them about the books they’re reading, the films they’ve watched, the news reports we’re following and the podcasts we’re listing to.

Throughout our almost two month lockdown, I have celebrated my birthday on screen with my family and have had long chats on the phone to friends. I’ve enjoyed evening drinks throughout the week (again, on the screen), and have exchanged 500 words each day to my friend Jane in Normandy, and I always look forward to our weekly catch up at 5pm on Tuesday afternoons with a gin and tonic in hand. The line is usually crackly which often distorts our faces, but there is no way it hinders our ability to talk for hours from Tangier to Normandy.

The joy I felt when I launched my new business last week https://www.madeintangier.com.au/ was immense, and it followed months of late nights and early mornings as I worked to dot every i and cross every t with my sister Sophie, whilst we worked across our two time zones. Frankly, I never thought I’d reach a point of ‘getting there’ and when she said one morning ‘I’ve done it’ I thought she meant she’d updated the text we’d just been discussing for the website. Nope, she’d published the site for the world to see, and my imagined ‘champagne cork popping over a Zoom call moment’ was in reality, her crawling into bed late one night in Australia as I made a celebratory cup of morning coffee, just as Mrs Pigeon rose for the day and began her coos.

The following day was my birthday, and I was completely touched when two friends who are in lockdown together in Tangier phoned just as I was finishing my family Zoom session. ‘Look outside’ they urged when I finally picked up the phone. On the street below I found them standing with arms full of beautiful, wild daisies. We had a brief and happy exchange at a distance and behind our masks, before we set off for some shopping together at the little European grocer around the corner.

What could have been deemed a rather ‘simple’ day, particularly in life as we knew it before, was one of the happiest of my life. These tiny gestures are now huge and the milestones we reach, even more rewarding.

A trip to the supermarket is something I avoid in these new COVID times, rather, I go to a tiny baqal (grocery shop) and select what I need when I need it – usually every three or four days. These little shops let one or two people in at a time, they are far less populated and are therefore (in my mind at least) ‘relatively low risk’.

To enter a big supermarket seems far more daunting to me than say, a fortnightly check in with a friend who lives alone for a chat in a garden. But alas, common sense has fallen victim to Corona and the aforementioned little mills that spin with endless observations from ‘concerned’ people, tend to weave tales of elaborate gatherings held on a regular basis. There are certainly stories of people who are not in a happy place during isolation, and I read something that was a helpful reminder of this on the instagram page of a friend last week;

We must stop saying we’re all in the same boat, because some boats might be shipwrecked whilst others sail along relatively smoothly.’

‘Rather, we might acknowledge that we are all sailing on the same ocean, albeit in different sections of water and in boats varying in size and capabilities’.

A dear Moroccan friend who was born and raised in Tangier, spent much of Ramadan last year cooking l’ftour in my flat. He’d arrive after work with, for example, a whole fish and bags full of things that I wouldn’t even be able to begin to interpret. Within an hour, as the sun began to disappear for the day just as Allah Akbar was called from the mosques across the town signalling l’ftour, he’d present beautiful homemade soup and an entire baked fish decorated with fresh vegetables.

‘Where did you learn to do this?’ I asked him one night between mouthfuls of soup. ‘From my mother,’ came his response ‘I remember her through her cooking’.

This morning we spoke on the phone about how he was feeling during Ramadan this year, particularly as he is living alone in these changed circumstances. Normally during Ramadan he would be in a café with friends following the breaking of the daily fast, but this year, with the evening curfew and café’s and restaurants closed for the foreseeable future (it could be a month or even months until we can enjoy that luxury again), he has spent almost two months in his flat, completely on his own.

‘Recently, I am in a new stage,’ he advised earnestly.

‘What’s that?’ I asked, to which he replied with great enthusiasm ‘I am making the cakes of my mother. I’m so good making cakes and I don’t have a recipe; only making it based on my eyes and the my perceptions of the mixture. I remember how it must be by seeing 1,000 times my mother lovingly preparing cakes when I was a child’.

A photo of two perfect cakes fresh from the oven and still in their tins, appeared on my screen in the moments that followed, and I quickly took him up on his offer of a delivery of a one of his cakes to celebrate the ‘soft’ end of our lockdown which will (inshallah) take place in two weeks.

We all find comfort in something, and as blenders begin to whizz in unison across the neighbourhood (a daily observation which gives me great joy) as juice is prepared and the race to l’ftour becomes real, Mrs Pigeon signs off one last time with a final coo, in the same moment seagulls swoop overhead and resume their nightshift.

Pictured: bundles of joy, now available https://www.madeintangier.com.au/