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 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

One thought on “Mrs Pigeon.

  1. Your post about Ramadan last year with your Moroccan friend remains one of my favorite. I thought of it as Ramadan started this year under changed circumstances. I can’t quite explain why, but it conveyed is a sense of belonging, understanding and calm. Something quite special. Happy a bit late birthday! Best wishes on your new venture! and may this time of Ramadan generous and full.

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