Morocco 1976

When he reached the gate I told the bearded stranger it was compulsory to have a guide to look at the Chellah, the medieval necropolis. I told him it cost 5 dirhams. He said his daily budget was just 15 dirhams and if I wanted to walk with him I was welcome. I joined him. My father hadn’t got any day-work yesterday so I was hungry and asked him for food. As well as for 5 dirhams. He was silent: I speak no English and not much French.  I told him we were friends, and that friendship is important to us Moroccans.


The Chellah has 12th century walls and occupies the space where the Roman town used to be. I showed him the pond where we throw boiled eggs to the eels as peace-offerings for Allah (most people claim it’s for women’s fertility but I didn’t know how to tell him that).  I escorted him to the Tomb of the Black Sultan, a peaceful garden and a fine gate, with a stork’s nest on top of the old minaret. I asked for 5 dirhams at every building we went to. He stayed silent.

He didn’t pay when we left the Chellah. But before we headed back into Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, he gave me some biscuits and cheese, and we spoke. So I stayed with him and took him to the King’s Palace, at least a kilometre long with guards wearing white knickerbockers, red and gold belts, gaily decorated round caps. Still no 5 dirhams. I took him to the unfinished mosque of Al-Manzor, 350 pillars and no roof, the stump of a massive minaret. I suspect my photograph of the stranger will not be straight. He listened for a long time to the Quran-reader in our King’s father’s mausoleum. It was nearly evening now, time for me to get home. Outside the mausoleum he smiled and gave me 10 dirhams. We were friends.