A Christmas in Morocco

Nine years ago, when I was living in Saudi Arabia, Eid al Hasa arrived at the same time as Christmas, and I took advantage of the break to go to Morocco with a friend. The entire trip is worthy of a post of its own, but this is about Christmas day, in a little cold ryad inside the old city walls of Marrakesh.

We arrived in Marrakesh a few days before Christmas and found the little ryad almost empty. Locals hadn’t returned from their Eid holidays in the countryside, and it wasn’t high season for westerners. My image of Morocco, being in Africa after all, was that it would be hot. Instead I ended up buying and then wearing layer after layer of woolens all day and all night, as no place had any heat. In the morning we would crawl up to the roof and situate ourselves in whatever sunny spot we could find and warm ourselves like frozen lizards. Sometimes we had to nudge mewling cats or put them on our laps. And doze a bit more after a cold fitful night.

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Picture Joanne Bretzer

The ryad was being run by a couple of young people, and by Christmas day it was them and us. They were doing their best, but we were really on our own in the drafty cold place. Breakfast on the sunny windy rooftop got us through the day.

Sometime in the afternoon I sought out an internet cafe. Email from my sister was to be expected on the holiday. This one was urgent though. Call her immediately, she said. Not much else. My gut told me what to expect, but the call had to be made, which meant a phone had to be found, as well as the coinage to pay for it. I have no smart phone today, and this was 9 years ago. I needed something like a public phone. The people at the internet cafe set me up with their phone and I called to get the news. My father had died.

It hadn’t been a nice death, and I do think there is such a thing, but this was a western death in a cold hospital, alone, with equipment, bells and alarms and people prodding in his open chest, desperately trying to keep a heart going that had long ago given all but its last beats. It was a hard death, hardest because it was alone. I had left him 5 months before and he said he was doing fine. I had returned from Korea the previous year to care for him and help a friend with his business, but then I needed to return to work. I needed income and I needed to stay employed. I’m good, he said, go back to work and come see me next year. He said. I left him, standing at his door crying in his heart as his caretaker took her leave. I spoke with him one evening from Al Khobar, and he loved hearing about cheap bananas and lovely little cucumbers, and life at 130 degrees. That was our last conversation. Now he was gone. He had just learned how to do email, and I had a last note from him in huge script, like he was yelling to me because he couldn’t hear well.

The afternoon somehow faded to another cold evening. The four of us in the ryad, distracted by my pain the attendant necessary caring, at a late point realized that the breakfast had been too many hours earlier, and now we were hungry. But everything was closed. In the kitchen there was some bread and eggs and a few other things. A valiant attempt was made to marry them together into a one plate dinner which we all pretty silently sat around in the cold and dark and ate with out fingers.

I wanted to go to my father’s funeral, though I knew it would be emotionally wrenching with family politics and ancient wounds dominating, but I was his daughter who took care of him. I wrote to my boss in Saudi Arabia and asked for permission to not return to school immediately, but to go to the funeral first. Permission is needed to leave Saudi Arabia, an exit visa has to be obtained. And without one, even if you are already out on holiday, you won’t get back into the country. My boss wrote back: “Be at work on the 28th”. Fogged by emotion and lack of sleep, I did as I was told. I went back to work. My father would have understood. He had told me to always see him when I could, but don’t worry about returning for his funeral, it wouldn’t matter to him then.

6 thoughts on “A Christmas in Morocco

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