Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Mustafa is grumpy with me - but he loves the King!

Mustafa is stout, in his fifties, and limps. But he has lovely almond eyes and a nice smile and if he makes an effort he can be quite winning in his way. He is the night manager in my hotel – he comes in at 8pm every night and stays until 10.30 the following morning. He closes the main door at midnight, but only locks it at 3, when he can allow himself a short sleep until 5 – at which point he opens the door again.

With this shortage of sleep he is understandably rather grumpy at times. I had imagined that he would spend a lot of the daytime off asleep but no, he tells me he has to shop and cook for his mother (Mustafa has never married – he says this is because weddings are expensive and he is poor but I imagine the real explanation might be a bit more complex).

His mother is only 72, but she is diabetic and never leaves the house he says. He says he has to pay so much for her medication that he is never left with any money. I find it strange that a woman of 72 is so incapacitated and say that my father is 87 and goes out of the house every day.

Hmmmf, that´s because we work very hard in Maroc, it´s a poor country and we work much longer hours than your father, he retorts. I wonder how he knows how many hours my father worked, but decide to leave it. Mustafa is often, as I say, quite grumpy.

Well I am very sorry for her, I say. And very sorry that you have to pay so much for the medicaments. We are very lucky in England that we can have all this quite cheaply.

Mustafa looks even crosser. Yes, you people are rich and you don´t have to pay for anything!

But your King is so rich, I say. Do you not mind that? He doesn´t even pause to consider: ´no I love the king´, he says. And then, on considering, ´je l´aime beaucoup´.

Boy, does that King rock in Morocco …

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The King in Marrakech

The King in Marrakech

Outside the Koutoubia mosque I see cleaning lorries and men with large brooms and buckets. The walls are being painted pinker than ever. Down the middle of Avenue Mohammed V groups of men are arranging artistic displays of big red Moroccan flags with the golden star placed strategically – and broad red bands featuring the same golden star are stretched high above the roads and between trees in the park

Yes, if we hadn’t worked it out from the presence of the police in the hotel, we would for sure have sensed it outside – the King is in town and an expectant atmosphere somehow raises the spirits (well, it raised mine anyway)

Coming out of the souks, we were passing the high walls of the Palais Dar el-Bacha – an exquisite place with even more fabulous gardens which has been taken over by the King’s mother – and were struck by the amount and variety of guards outside its huge wooden gates. There were normal policemen, there were soldiers, there were the shiny suits … and there were also members of the King’s Special Police, dressed smartly in stunning red and white outfits. They all looked very handsome, and I approached, harbouring a notion of taking a quick photo, but was quickly told to move on – and, in fact, to cross the road.

Now we turned the bend in the road we could see it was closed to traffic and people were gathering on one side, clutching headscarves and chattering amongst themselves. It was clear something was about to happen.

And then suddenly a cavalcade of black gleaming cars came screeching by, appearing as if from nowhere. Mercedes after Mercedes, BMW after BMW. Sleek cleanly shaven chauffeurs in the front, and behind … almost always one solitary man, either dressed in traditional cream djellaba with the hood up, or military uniform. No women. Then more cars with diplomatic plates, then nothing.

The King must have passed by already and we have missed him, we thought, for surely the King would go first? But the people were lingering, still excited. I decided to ask a tall imposing gentleman, standing outside a large spice shop on the side of the road.

‘No, the King will not come yet! Come inside and sit down and have some tea and wait’.

This is not always the best idea where selling is concerned but this man was different. Underneath his djellaba he revealed he was wearing jeans from New York, his English was from the same origin, and he was keen to talk. He explained that the king was going with heads of 40 Islamic states and various other dignitaries to lead them in prayers at the great Sidi Bel Abbes mosque (men only).

Soon we were being shown all over the stunning, three-storeyed, house that lay behind the shop – our man had done well from his US education. I was worrying that we might miss the king …but suddenly there were hoots and horns from the street! And we ran back outside, just in time to see a carefully choreographed collection of police motorbikes come roaring by, lights flashing in the warm dusk, and horns blazing for all they were worth. There must have been about 100 of them … and they were announcing the arrival of an Important Presence.

And then before my eyes appeared the longest Mercedes I have ever seen. Elegant and ancient and black, it must have been a 1950s model (dating from when Morocco gained its independence?) and it was gliding slowly along the road.

And standing up in the middle – appearing through the roof – there he was at last, the King of Morocco. Portly in his cream djellaba, he had his hood down so that everyone could see his cheery round face beaming - really beaming - as he waved at us all.

We all waved back and fell into reverential clapping and cheering. And afterwards stood around discussing him and the cavalcade. Heavens knows why it was such an emotional moment, but it really was. Everybody in Morocco loves the king … and if there are people who don’t, they weren’t around Rue Fatima that night.

So, one of the richest men in the world rules over one of its poorest countries. And yet its citizens love him. How does he do it? Subject for another blog!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Why are the police in my hotel in Marrakech?!

I turn up at the hotel I always always stay in when I'm in Marrakech - and the usually cheery Thami on reception looks tense and preoccupied. 'What's up?' I ask and first he tells me that someone's father has died ... which is awful, but doesn't really seem to explain his obvious distraction.

And THEN I learn that my favourite room on the roof is occupied and the hotel is full ... and why? Because the King of Morocco is in town and the rooms are taken up by 65 policemen! 65 in my hotel, and 200 in the hotel next door! The King travels with an Entourage with a capital E ...

Eventually I manage to worm my way into one of the rooms on the roof ... with some pleading and playing and praying ... as long as I dont mind being surrounded by police, Thami says, and who is going to mind THAT?! Anyway, who wants to stay in their room much when they are in Marrakech?!

So the whole of my stay is permeated by the Presence of the Police. In the mornings the scent of their cologne lingers in the corridor - for in my section of the roof reside the plainclothesmen, who leave very silently every morning in shiny dark suits and glasses.

During the day - for even though it is winter, temperatures rise to 23 or so by 2 - all the chairs and tables on the roof are covered with items of police washing: everything from smalls and socks to sweatshirts, towels and flannels, steaming in the sun. They even bizarrely leave their soap boxes out ...

At night the younger policemen all sit around in the lounge (a bit cold on the open roof) locked to their mobile phones and laptops - though the latter are few and far between (an ordinary policeman probably does not get paid very highly). They get used to me and are always very friendly, although my Arabic mostly reduces us to rather quaint greetings and hopes for sleepy nights.

The secret policemen - never to be seen in this lounge - do, however, also get used to my presence, mostly when I am fiddling with my key in the lock in the dark corridor: a head usually pops out of a door just to check that I am who I am and I reassure them that I am who I am by saying 'C'est moi'. Multi-linguistic me!

One morning they also found me tutting and strutting about on the roof cos some of the younger boys (the phone lot) had left their sandwiches (some uneaten, unwrapped and on the floor) and empty coke bottles all over the place. Two of them bent down in their immaculate suits and cleared it all up ...

... well, after all, I was the only legit guest (and only foreigner) staying on the roof. And the police have their standards, especially the King's police.

Tomorrow, I will report back on how I ... SAW THE KING HIMSELF!!!