A Moroccan Christmas Miracle

4.45 am and the alarm goes off.  Groan. No, time to snooze. I’m off to Italy for a few days’ reunion with my old university flatmates Tanya and Sandra. It’s a three-hour drive to Marrakech from Essaouira and I need to be at the aiport for 7.50 for a 9.50 flight. It always takes a stressful minimum of an hour and a half to navigate Marrakech airport. Last time I was there, it took three hours. Saturday is to be avoided.

5.01 last check of documents. Say goodbye to cats who are totally unconcerned at my departure, lug suitcase down three flights of stairs and am in the street. Our alley cats, Mimi and Cat, open one eye each and, seeing I have no food, ignore me.

5.03 reach car park after a very brisk walk pulling the trolley dolly over the cobbles and breaking the stillness of the city at sleep. Open door, turn key, ghak ghak ghak, nothing. Remember last week’s discussion with Moustapha the Mechanic regarding my battery after he serviced my car and fixed the horn (the most important tool for driving in Morocco).

“It’s old,” he said. “Not much juice.”

“Too old?” I asked anxiously.

“No, no, no. By God, it will last till the next service,” he replied. Well, I like an optimist, but in this case, it seems that God was not on my side.

5.10 by now have flooded the engine and there isn’t even a ghak ghak ghak happening when I turn the key. But, someone is stirring in the car park attendant’s hut.

“Peace be upon you.”

“Upon you be peace.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, thank you. Good Morning.”

“Good Morning. I have a problem with my car.”

Even in times of crisis, the niceties must be observed.

5.15 we go for the jump start. Mohammed pushes and I put the car into second and try to jump start. One small detail prevents success, I have forgotten how to jump start and so I don’t let the clutch out, I just keep turning the key. Sadly, this light bulb only illuminates at around 7.30am.

5.26 Mohammed is sweating a lot and he has now pushed me round the car park four times and is slowing down. Neither of us are aware of the clutch letting out issue. We decide we need help and walk into the main square. We draw a blank at the first man and the fishermen overnighting in the truck but then gold is struck. A tall figure looms from the gloom and greets me fondly.

Peace be upon you.”

“Upon you be peace.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, thank you. Good Morning.”

“Good Morning. Do you remember me?”

“Ummm, let me think, did we meet….” (this is the stock answer when anyone asks me this minefield of a question).

“Yes, yes in Ahmed’s shop. You came in to buy a jellaba, The black one with red sparkles.”

“Ah yes, of course, I remember you. How are you? How is the family?”

“Good, good. Thanks be to God.”

“Thanks be to God. I have a problem, with my car.”


5.48 we’ve now circumnavigated the car park 8 times and Abdel Latif  (the man from the shop) has taken a turn in the driver’s seat – he probably knew about the clutch letting out – but still nothing. No doubt, the engine is swimming in petrol and has decided to shut down totally before it drowns.

5.51 we stop 5 taxis asking for jump leads. All are sympathetic. None can help. Finally, one says he will go to the petrol station to try and find them. Latif and I sit on the seawall.

“It’s written,” I say.

“It’s fate,” he says. “There is a reason.”

We lapse into gloomy, but companionable, silence.

6.01 our jump lead lead has not led anywhere and by now desperation is setting in. We stand in the middle of the road, stop the next taxi and make the driver come to the car park. He is small and looks like a friendly mouse. We both proclaim him an expert and I tell him that my fate is in his hands. He shakes his head modestly at the expert tag.

6.02 Mohammed, Latif and I achieve warp factor 5 with our pushing. The car is spinning round the car park like a Porsche (it’s a Toyota Yaris). Taxi Driver turns the key and lo! The car coughs into action.

6.05 a full three minutes is spent in serious rejoicing, tipping, refusing or accepting of tips, thanking God, clapping the taxi driver on the back, thanking and thanking and thanking again and stopping just short of declaring undying love to all three men.

8.59 arrive at Marrakech airport having driven like a demon road hog from hell (or a normal Moroccan on a day trip); used my new horn many times, had to open all the windows because the car steamed up in the cold; not slowed for thick; freezing fog, flirted outrageously with all policemen who stopped me en route to avoid papers having to be shown and long delays; and had numerous, illegal whatsapp calls to Italy saying I’m worried I won’t make it.

9.17 arrive at gate A3 just 18 minutes after entering the airport. The airport is empty. There are no queues at the first security check, there are no queues at Easyjet checkin, there are no queues at passport control  – in fact two guards fight for my custom.  In four years living in Morocco and many, many trips through the airport, I have never ever experienced anything like it. “Relax,” says the custom’s official who I favoured with my passport and regaled with my tale of woe, “You, have plenty of time. No problem. God go with you.”

And that, my friends, is what we call a Christmas Miracle, A Moroccan Christmas Miracle.

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7 comments on “A Moroccan Christmas Miracle

  1. f on

    Thank you Alice. Translating arabic the way you do is genius. For someone like me, who don’t know this culture and mindset, it makes it alive.

  2. Alison on

    Loved this vivid description of life in Morocco. I love the details – I can see it vividly and yes – the miracle! Hope you had a wonderful time with your friends.


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