Corona Lockdown. Covid-19. Isolation. Aaaaaaaaaghhhhh! I am sure everyone feels the same. I flew back here instinctively, I didn’t even think it through to a possible corona lockdown in Morocco, on the 14th March, although I felt a bit like a person going the wrong way down a one way street as holidaymakers tried desperately to leave. This is my home and I wanted to get home.
I got back and self isolated from my neighbours in the compound (douar) and the village, Imlil in the Atlas Mountains, for 14 days as I had been on a plane and in London on the underground. I had two things in mind. Crucially, I didn’t want to infect anyone if I had the virus and secondly I am very visible here as a foreigner, so not only did I want to make sure I did the right thing, I think it is important to be obviously doing the right thing. Then five days later, boom! Lockdown. No leaving the house except for essential shopping and medical care.
Immediately, my world went quiet. Normally, the sounds from the village waft up; the taxis yelling for passengers, ‘Marrakech, Marrakech, Marrakech”, the men shouting each other cheerful greetings, the little motorbikes putting and backfiring their way up the road. Now, it is silent.
In my village, everyone is taking the lockdown seriously. I can see the main street from my terrace and no-one is out. You will spot a man walking down with an empty gas cannister to get it filled, or with a shopping bag, but that is it. No-one is flouting the letter or the spirit of the law. Every day, one of the local officials stands outside the government office and shouts out through his loud speaker, ‘Stay at home, God be with you, stay safe, stay at home.’ And we do.
My compound is built into the mountain and is home to three extended families and me and Squeaky the Cat. We are about 25 people in all in four houses in a rough circle with an open yard in between us. The two cows and chickens live downstairs and then the land beneath is terraced and planted with walnut trees whose topmost branches clack on my bedroom window, feed for the animals and irises which are just coming into glorious purple bloom. They are used to cement the earth and stop the terraces from crumbling as they have very long roots, which (fabulous fact!) the Germans use as a base for stomach medicine.
The view from my terrace has saved me. I have a big balcony and then stairs up to a roof terrace and from both I get views of the snow-topped mountains, the white blossom which is covering the trees in the valley, the minarets of the local mosque and the wide river bed underneath me.
Comedy is supplied by the mules who are tethered in the river bed. Unused to all this leisure, they are frolicking. I’ll hear a loud braying noise and then the sound of galloping hooves as one of them makes a break for freedom. She – working mules here are female because they have better tempers and don’t suffer from altitude sickness – will dash down to the road, kicking and bucking and then dash back again with her tail swishing. Two or three men will emerge from the neighbouring houses and try to corner her. They’ll run one way, she’ll run the other. They’ll form a cordon, she’ll break through. Eventually, when she has had enough, she’ll accept a tether as long as it is accompanied by a nosebag.
I’ve been keeping busy, I’m sure like you all, writing, pitching new ideas some of them about the corona lockdown in Morocco, working out and cooking with constricted rations. On the whole, I’ve managed to keep really positive and for me I feel extremely lucky to be able to write and record and continue that part of my life.
One wonderful thing has been to see how communities all over the world are pulling together, and people are putting their best foot forward: neighbours in my Mum and Dad’s street in Edinburgh supplying them with tins of tomatoes, which they’d run out of, or putting a note through their door with their phone number on saying to call if they need anything. The videos of people clapping for the NHS staff all over the UK were deeply moving and I truly admire the sacrifice all those who work in the NHS are making, including those like my friend Gus who is working flat out on IT support for Great Ormond Street Hospital which is now becoming the centre for all sick kids and has to gear up. Small things like friends checking in and work contacts starting or ending every email with ‘hope you’re well’ make a difference. I hope we keep all this up afterwards.
Some things have been very hard for me, though. The first has been the extreme cold. It has been snowing, followed by freezing fog. I am 1750m up, my house is cement with huge gaps under the doors and no insulation and I, like everyone else here, have no central heating. I have a calor gas heater but I rationed myself to 15 minutes a night and then the gas ran out and no more was available. Every time I breathe out, there’s a cloud of mist. I wear merino long johns, down jacket and trousers with a wool jellaba on top, scarf, hat, socks, fingerless gloves and when I am writing, I sit under a blanket with a hot water bottle, but I still feel it in my bones. Night time is the worst, when any sun there is goes in and the temperature drops again.
No outside exercise is the other tough thing. Maybe the hardest thing. I thank God every day for these views of the mountains, but I can’t go out in them at all. The law here does not allow for exercise, and I am not a special case. I have started hating on all my friends who blithely post, ‘Did a 20 mile run in the hills, didn’t see a soul.’ It’s pure jealousy on my part, but those Facebook profile pictures of someone running over a moor with the frame “Stay Home, Stay Safe’ …….
My neighbours in the douar have been looking out for me, even in my solitude. They shout and wave and blow kisses and chat from their terraces or windows. They always ask after my Mum and Dad and Brother and that human (distanced) contact is reassuring. Squeaky the Cat is beginning to feel the pressure of being my sole point of physical contact, though, I think I have been over-loving her. She has started running for cover, when I approach her with cuddles in my eye, cooing, “Baby, Flower, Come to Mummy.”
One wonderful thing has come out of the corona lockdown in Morocco. Over the years, I have lost touch with three people who I used to be very close to. We had argued or drifted apart and though I have often thought about them, pride has prevented me from trying to heal the breach. Corona has brought it home to me vividly that life is short and pride is stupid so I reached out and am now back in touch with two of them. In fact, I am having virtual lunch with one of them today. Stay safe, and be well my friends!
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