Sunday, 6 October 2013

North Africa's answer to South Africa

At least two caveats should accompany the title to this post. Firstly, i've never been to South Africa. Secondly, the only country i've been to in North Africa is Morocco. And in fact i haven't been here for very long. However, among the countless Barcelona shirts (most of them #10 - Messi), there are occasional South African Springbok rugby shirts, which gave me the idea. I have a mental picture of South Africa as a place with western levels of affluence in some places, though the wealth is not evenly spread, and this is my (albeit limited) impression of Morocco. Walking south from fascinating Fès the other day, there was a restaurant called Titanic which, i kid you not, would have looked upmarket in Knightsbridge, London. However, i've also seen poverty of a kind that is extremely rare in the developed world.

But there's an awful lot of Morocco that is completely unknown to me.
“The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, / Gang aft agley,”*
Without troubling you with details, for bureaucratic and other reasons, most of my time since disembarking near Tanger on Tuesday 17th September, St Robert Bellarmine's day, has been spent in the capital, Rabat; a nice enough place, especially the Casbah, and with the impressive St Peter's RC cathedral, but not usually at the top of visitors' lists of priorities. And this means actual walking has been at a premium, but one way or another i've made it as far as a town called Midelt, amid the commanding heights of the legendary Atlas mountains. This is a great country, reminding me of the Middle East in the summer of 2010 when i was there, during the South Africa World Cup; not least as people flock to cafés, as they did then, to see football (i won't forget Messi's hat-trick for Barcelona against Ajax on my first evening in Rabat). And i've picked up that Morocco has a genuinely strong footballing tradition. At Mexico '86, not only did they hold England to a 0:0 draw - they finished top of the group which included Portugal and Poland! There is mounting controversy over one or two of FIFA's more recent decisions, as to who should host the world's greatest tournament, but for what it's worth, if there was a desire to allow a predominantly Muslim country to host the World Cup, i believe Morocco and Turkey would have to be the frontrunners. 

Excitement to report the other day, when i saw a living preying mantis for the first time (the one i saw near Jericho in 2010 was dead). Then last night, given that it was after dark, i got a relatively excellent view of what seems most likely to have been a Little Owl. And i've had some great food, mostly at very affordable prices. Mind you, i probably wouldn't be the first to note that Morocco is a place where it is deceptively easy to spend money, but as Dr David Livingstone might point out, given the emphasis he put on 'Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation', the economy has to keep ticking over one way or another.

Oh, and i've never seen so many cats. 

*“the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”; from To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough by Robert Burns.