Chaos and Kindness in Morocco
Mint teas saturated with sugar, men lounging in alleyways filled with ginger and paprika, and women squeezing henna designs onto unsuspecting skin were our first experiences of Morocco. The land I’d so often heard was full of vivid sights, sounds and smells that only adjoin themselves to the red-lamp ambience of northern Africa suddenly seemed to beat faster than my heart ever could. Dizziness ensued, and the chained trickster monkeys certainly didn’t help calm me down.
Rob was sternly quiet, his brows furrowing like strawberry-blonde caterpillars. This was by no means the first time we’d travelled together, but the heat and happening headiness of the first few days in Marrakech were starting to take their toll, alongside the fact that very little wheelchair access existed for me. Once you’ve bumped up a few hefty curbs in the world, you’ve bumped up ’em all, but these seemed never-ending. Cobbled streets encouraged pushy sellers to crowd us; our slow progress proving to be a substantial money-maker. Curious stares and emptying pockets started to wear us down. Our real haven was the swimming pool by our apartment and the water that made me weightless, allowing us to canoodle like any couple would, but a couple of hours of loveliness soon gave way to hot days and restless nights. We needed to get out.
So began the first four-and-a-half hour train journey of our trip. Not the last, but certainly the most memorable. An invasive scent of BO filled the air. Kids were sprawled on tables, their toys having exhausted all novelty hours ago. Bosoms and bottoms cushioned against one another in-between the faces that frowned as, like liquid slowly seeping through a blocked straw, the two of us and our wheelchair made our way into the already cramped carriage. Sweat was running down our cheeks, but eventually, we found a space, filling it quickly and squeezing our bags into the gaps that remained. I felt myself wanting to shrink in size and somehow make space for everyone; surely we’d be more comfortable if arses and armpits weren’t the view of the day.
After giving the parents opposite us a break by holding onto their little girl, who had a non-existent smile but beautiful saucer eyes, our view changed. An elderly lady draped in elaborate lavender-gold cloth was shuffling into the carriage. She was silently waiting for others to notice her and respectfully move, but was having little luck. Her presence was commanding to me; she had a face with stories to tell but a body that was running out of breath. Pinky-purple rings sparkled on her fingers, and she oozed glamour and femininity. Her eyes, however, were pained, as she was having trouble finding a seat, table or even a square of floor to rest upon.
Rob moved fast, lifting me out of my wheelchair before swinging it around in the sweaty carriage aisle, making bosoms and bottoms squeeze and heave. He gestured to the chair, offering our purple lady a seat. For several seconds she declined, looking around for a spare corner to back into, checking our faces for approval and staring at the small seat we’d now be sharing. Her face voiced thoughts she didn’t need to articulate: that, although this may be a luxury, she didn’t want anyone to mistake her as having a not-so-glamourous disability. But she was struggling. And she was tired…
Finally, she sat and she smiled. She slept. She spoke to the saucer–eyed girl, who considered herself the new captain of this magical chair-toy. They played together and we laughed. Language wasn’t needed for this journey; its beauty transcended speech.
I felt a true contentment wash over me, making the body odour, phone-shouting and undeniable heat all okay. I was proud of the thoughtfulness that Rob always shows but I sometimes forget. I was happy that this lady would be free of pain for a few hours and, wherever she was going, her gorgeousness would still radiate, sweat-and-struggle free, just as it did when I first saw her. But most of all, I almost cried at how good it felt to see my wheelchair helping someone else, to be the provider rather than the dependent, to see freedom rather than limitation. Tears stung, but I didn’t let them roll.
Reflection and several crows-feet laughs passed. We arrived in Casablanca, bodies audibly applauded and our lady got to her feet. She nodded at us, thanking us sincerely with her eyes and turned to pick up her bags. She stood for seconds, her complex dress taking up a good two-thirds of the aisle, with halted men sighing behind her. She turned back to face me, said a few hushed phrases that I’m sad I’ll never be able to remember, and handed me the stunning amethyst ring she’d taken off her finger moments before. She clasped my hands together, thanked me and smiled. In-between disbelief, I attempted the typical British phrase of, “No, I can’t have that, it’s yours!” but she’d turned away, bags in each hand.
The ring that I never take off will always remind me of the importance of sharing experiences, possessions and gratitude with others. Just like its previous owner, it’s ageing and imperfect; the stones that are missing just adding to its character. But, my, has it a story to tell.