From the medina to the marina

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sun 5 Oct 2014 13:13

From our own correspondent: Lagazil Katy Ben Nulty

The post office was somewhere at the top end of the medina, by the vast cemeteries which overlook the Atlantic Ocean. We had stumbled upon it on our first day in Salé after hours of wandering the labyrinth of tiny streets in the medina.

I put on my headscarf, I hadn't worn it yet, I bought it last year in Cardiff from a small shop in the Asian quarter and it seemed a shame not to use it and today I would be on my own without my 'Moroccan' minder (Franco!). I headed into town and took the street which follows the medina walls, a wild guess that it would take me to the post office.

Salé is not a tourist town, the odd yachtie from the marina occasionally wanders through but generally they prefer Rabat which is more 'European'. Despite my bleached blond hair and slightly strange clothing, we had had absolutely no hassle. With the headscarf, however, I was completely invisible. Blue eyes? not a problem here, remember the Salé Rovers used to raid the west coast of Ireland as late as the 19th century - blue eyes and freckles are in the gene pool.

The post office was busy. There was a ticket machine in the hallway to allocate your place in the queue (Moroccans like the Spanish fail to understand the art of queueing) and my number was 284. The machine inside which displays the numbers in order was, predictably (Moroccan chaos theory) broken. I chose a seat, there must have been about twenty women waiting and one man. He was served next. My ticket was in French though it did say 'Post Office' in Arabic as well. The numbers of course are the same in Arabic, French, English since we use arabic numerals.

I worked out that the numbers were being called out in arabic, hmm, no idea, I would need to work out my place in the queue.

A lady in her fifties sat next to me. She asked me in Arabic to explain how it all worked, she was holding her ticket upside down, she couldn't read any of it, not even the number. My cover was blown of course, I could only speak French. A couple of ladies felt sorry for me "poor thing, she can't speak Arabic". Meanwhile I'd nudged enough ladies to get them to show me their numbers and I'd worked out when my turn would be. A man walked in and was served immediately. Another lady, then me, everyone on my side of the room made sure I didn't miss my turn!

I walked back through the medina, stocking up on fruit, veg and spices for our crossing to the Canary Islands at many stalls in the souk. I stopped off at a small cafeteria for one of those delicious filled flatbreads. The man was doing all the work while his wife nattered on the phone.

Two major things have changed in Morocco since 1905 when Budgett Meakin wrote 'Life in Morocco and Glimpses Beyond'. The first is that the status of women is very different; we saw as many women in the streets and at work as you would in the UK, most ladies wore a head scarf though many didn't and only a few were hiding parts of their face. The second is that foreign consuls no longer need to buy back fellow countrymen that have been enslaved.

During our stay in Morocco, we were never asked for 'baksheesh' though tips were gratefully received (by waiters, taxi drivers, our muleteer) when you were genuinely pleased with the service. Bureaucracy can still be onerous, Franco came back exhausted from an afternoon of form filling. Overcoming the red tape necessary to open a restaurant, a hotel, etc. can take many years, sometimes forever. Gaining the right support is important though it may not involve money, instead services in kind, such as free nights in a hotel or hosting parties for high officials. Jobs are often filled through nepotism rather than with the best person for the job and certain posts still require up-front payments. For example in 1905 you could buy a kaïdship (mayor) and this is still the case today, likewise to become a policeman in certain towns you need to pay a hefty sum to the recruitment officers, we heard of one case where Dh 8,000 (£571) is required. Maybe not as much as going to university in the UK but in moroccan terms this is equivalent to £80,000! How do you recoup such a vast outlay? (I'll let you have a guess)! In previous centuries right up to the French "protectorate" in 1912,  if someone had something you wanted, you made up a story about him and reported him to someone greedy in authority, you could then split the difference. This still happens today though not quite as blatantly, access to justice is not universal.

The Sultan Mohammed VI is genuinely championing Morocco as a modern state and is leading by example in Rabat both in terms of women's rights and in stamping out corruption.

Across the road from the medina is a state of the art modern luxury housing project overlooking the Bouregreg river and the marina, each flat costs upwards of Dh 1,600,000, (£114,000) a trifle. The promenade is gated with security guards stationed along it and it hosts quality restaurants with impeccable waiter service where lemonade bottles are served in a style that would be the envy of a top wine waiter in Paris. Alcohol is not missed, fresh juices of all sorts of locally grown fruit fill the drinks menu.

In the marina, a whole pontoon is reserved for the Sultan and visiting dignitaries, a second is for local small craft and the remaining two are for the foreign riffraff that chose to make fast for a few days/weeks/months in this fabulous country.

Janine and John on Orca Joss have been sailing for eight years, they left their home in New Zealand and travelled up the Red Sea, they have spent the last two years in the Mediterranean. John plays guitar.

Lynn and Julian on Dominy are new to long distance cruising, they left London in July and are heading for the Canary Islands to join the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), as their experience increases they are having misgivings about the boat they have chosen. Julian is a professional jazz pianist.

We spent a couple of pleasant evening on Dominy singing all those classic tunes by the Beatles, Cat Stevens and Elton John.

Jérôme on Little Bigorneau is french and a single hander. He has been alone for so long he finds it difficult to talk and smile. He joined us for dinner and once he had relaxed was a real gentleman and pleasant company. He is haunted by a girl he used to love.

Monica and Luis are originally from Chile, they have lived in France for the past 30 years. They will leave their boat in Rabat while they fly back to Chile to visit their daughter.

Finally Caramor's neighbour, a large aluminium cutter, registered in the Seychelles but flying a Moroccan flag in tatters - very odd. The owners arrived a few days later, English, very posh accent. We exchanged cordialities. The following day they went out on their bikes and returned around 4pm. She could barely walk and we surmised she'd been knocked off her bike in the terrible traffic, one of the guards kindly wheeled her bicycle down the pontoon and propped it up on its stand. Her husband John brought up the rear with his bike but as he neared the end of the pontoon, her bike fell in the water and sank rapidly. The marina is over five metres deep!

I suggested to Franco that we should help retrieve it. He wasn't keen. After dinner he softened and we went over to offer the use of our dinghy anchor which we thought could be used as a grappling hook. Eventually the bike was successfully hooked and as John and Franco were hoisting it, she screeched in the most strident girly voice "oh John, you are such an amazing man!" the noise went straight through my brain, it was painful, I turned towards her on the pontoon and realised to my shock and horror that she was wearing a short t-shirt and absolutely nothing else! in full view of the promenade. She was utterly drunk in a country where alcohol is prohibited. She hadn't fallen off her bike, she'd been boozing in some luxury bar.

I was relieved when John's "we must pay you back" never came to anything.