That Africa!

Diary of one journey (part 1)

A JOURNEY OF THOUGHT, TOWARDS THE MOTHER

Madrid, it is Tuesday, December 14th. The flight is delayed. As I wait by the conveyor belt for my luggage, I remember the saying: Navigare necesse est, vivat not – To travel is necessary, to live is not. Travel is substantial because opportunities come to life in you. The bag, of course, came last. After the feeling of mild paranoia subsided, I laughed to myself. My life is in a constant tone of delay. I am looking for a way out, and there he is – salida (Spanish). Interesting word, I think. It has a more complex undertone than the word exit. It is as if it hides the nuances of other words, other concepts, such as hope or salvation. I laugh again. Am I getting busy with my thoughts because I am nervous? Davor (my boyfriend) was waiting for me at the first exit, inside the airport. Click, click, the moment recorded. We have not seen each other in over a month. We quickly got ready and got on the bike. A familiar feeling overwhelmed me. The feel of the road, of the movement, the emotion that makes me feel good. Hotel, shower, bed. We won’t talk now. We do not need to say anything to each other yet. We have time for everything, time that flies so fast.

Dinner and walk. It is cold in Madrid. Cold and dry. The city is refined and clean. The architecture is exceptional. At least that is what everyone says, even the architects. Urban provincial. Balconies and windows with high shutters. The ultimate romance, I say. Um, yet that it is 35 degrees, that it is a tough, steamy day, that one shutter is open, and that the breeze sways the curtain which, with its whiteness, complements the sky under the sun. Yet that the fan is humming with lower speed because it has been pulled by many hands before. And because it has cooled many heated bodies since. I am comforted that this awaits us wherever we go. I laugh. I do not want to expect. I do not know if it is out of fear of being disappointed, or I just realized it is clever, more rational.

I am tired, tired, and sad. I did not get enough sleep before the trip. The mood in which I was in Zagreb, the level of relaxation, awareness, and strength as if it had to be broken, broken before the heaviest challenges. Maybe. Are the heaviest challenges so far really waiting for me, us? Him, who passed the World, the Jungle? What is the risk for him? Is it maybe me, us? It is a broad journey. My major so far. The longest, I hope. If God willing.

We headed for Andalusia. After days and hours of doing the necessary in Madrid, reducing luggage, we sent 12 kilos back to Zagreb. Pegasus took off. The Pegasus is the name of ours, sorry Davor’s sky blue metal pet, Yamaha Tenere 660 XtZ. A deep doubt arose in the feasibility of the whole story on this trip in the previous days. The engine was struggling. Partly because of the city crowds, because of the load, and the steep streets of Madrid. What we could influence, we did. We made it easier for the boy, and as far as the field is concerned, the question mark remains. But the new-found ease of movement left a sense of hope. I tried to keep that feeling which warmed me as the minus, and the wind froze my knees and arms. I am well-equipped and cleverly, but I am damn cold. I am comforted that it is because of insomnia. I raise my visor and voice: Step on the throttle to the warmer parts! I guess he heard me.

The journey through southern Spain proves to be very tame. Impeccably paved empty roads are a balm for the engine and its two wheels. The serene nature of deciduous forests, on the other hand, is a balm for the soul. The cities we pass through are also calm and deserted. Ghost towns, I am thinking. But the fact that it is Sunday, on time removes the hint of spooky. People rest lazily in the peace of their home. It is time for our break too. We set up a tent next to the church by the road, the first night in the camping version. The initial fears of sleeping in the unknown appear. This Spanish stage comes in handy as an African prelude. It is better to start by getting used to the relatively known safe than the unknown unsafe. The sound of a stream beside us gently lulls me to sleep. Rise and shine! Here we are in Córdoba. Orange trees greet us at the entrance to the city. Córdoba is full of them. The first hints of sun, heat, south. This province lies at the crossroads of Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Córdoba contains Spanish, Arabic, and African flavors. It is a good intro for Africa, for the Sahara, I am thinking – tasting before a bite. We continue. Those hills of olive groves, green and black olives, make me happy.

The rain and darkness once again made us take shelter on the way before the trip. We arrive at the great port of Algeciras. We hurry to catch the ferry. I notice an unusual combination of light hovering over the harbor this morning. Black heavy clouds look like they are going to fall on us. A crash from the weight of the rain they squeeze inside. As if deliberately holding it back. And the sun is breaking through them so powerfully as if purposely teasing them to give way. Strange play. As if they want us to humble ourselves in respect before going to another continent, to another world. I feel the excitement. On the ferry, the first encounter with black eyes, with a different world. Nothing out of the ordinary. I smoke a cigarette on the deck while talking to the locals through laughter. Welcome to Morocco! Welcome to Africa! Welcome to Tangier! Welcome, my friend! They welcomed me. If only the Black Mother greets us too.

The first rays of the hot sun greet us. So far, the sun has only shone on us, but it has not warmed us. We look at each other. Ready? Ready. Let’s go. Mom Africa, here we come! Suddenly, a torrential. The rain began to fall wildly. The wind is blowing even crazier. Hello, mom Africa, what’s the matter? What are you complaining about it? Are you rushing us or scaring us? Are you testing us? Okay, go ahead. The storm is starting to get stronger. Mother checks of what we are made. She is beautiful, magnificent, hilly, green, foggy, sunny, warm, aggressive, crazy, mighty. It has the sea, has mountains, rivers, roads, entrances. It has hands through whose fingers it passes travelers, explorers, passers-by, wanderers, and those returning home. It is hard. She is tall. She needs to be succeeded, to be accepted, respected, embraced, and surrendered to her. Only then will she let you. Let you in, come back. She is like all mothers. She gave birth to us in torment, she loves us, but she makes it difficult for us to return.

We have to make up for leaving. Returning is always harder than departure. At least for me. It is hard on the engine. Our Pegasus is struggling. Although I am not a specialist, the sound reveals that he suffers. I pass that on to myself. His defeat is also my defeat. I weigh the credit. Did I deserve it? Am I ready for the experience? How is it measured? Is it measured by what I have been through before or by the way it is experienced? I am on the verge. The roads are solid and winding. Drivers are careless. Lines are not respected, and overtaking in a curve is the most normal thing. The wind is still blowing like crazy.

Cities do not surprise us, but nature conquers us. It wins with its variability – meadows, valleys, wastelands, forests, cacti. No one expected Black Mother to be so green! Ouch! Am I green too? Green as Mother Africa? The more we can bear, the more we will get. Well, then it is all okay! Pegasus seemed to cough well and hurried on. Our mother opened up to us. She let us into her womb. We arrived in Chefchaouen in the early evening. Blue city. A celestial city under the clouds, hidden in the mountains. Chefchouen is a city on a hill at the foot of the bare slopes of the Rif Mountains. It is a city close to the gods, close to ancient mysticism and forgotten myths. I love waking up by the minaret, the piercing voice of the Imam calling for morning prayer. Interesting is the feeling which the song of grace awakens in me. I feel closer to the World. This sacred song is reminiscent of the spiritual power, of God’s presence, and the power of this universe. Inshallah (may it be the will of God), they say.

I argue with Davor about that expression. I wonder if we like the feeling that something is powerful, more influential, and decisive for us, and if it causes a sense of humility and doubt to strive to be better, or is giving in to the “higher” a sign of the “lesser” in us. To line up somewhere in the middle of that thought, or is it too safe a zone? Hm, we all carry the fire, but. For some, it has become too much of a burden. Some are tired, and some do not want to put it in front of the wind of fear going out. With these thoughts, I fall asleep under the star on the ceiling of our room in Riyadh – a traditional townhouse with an inner garden. Tomorrow I wake up early. I have to take photos. Chefchouen is an excellent city for photography. All those narrow streets, narrow passages of sky blue color, and lovely textures stretch from the floors over the walls to the roofs. Not even the rain can steal my will to explore this beautiful place.

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE SENSES, TOWARDS THE COUNTRY

After a shorter break, Pegaz again rushes. A couple of hours separates us from the Fesa. Once the Spiritual and the University of Morocco, with its most famous Medina El-Bali, the World’s biggest Islamic medieval town. I turn my head. The panoramic view of Chefchouen is exceptional. We do not stop to capture it with the camera. I note it with my eyes and save it in memory. I will remember that at the exit from Chefchouen, there was a blue door, the blue door of oblivion. We get to Fes in the evening. We enter with the last rays of the sun, in the sunset. The scene looks like a glowing pink-colored vault with silhouettes of palm trees in the distance, and on the side, giant medieval medina walls. The scenery is like a postcard. I feel like a road king!

We are staying with our host Youssef Lamni. We connected through CouchSurfing (an online travel network). He has a small apartment on the roof of a building in a Fez neighborhood. The neighborhood reminds me of mine. We all huddled around a small table. He, his brothers, friends, neighbors, us. Tajine! (traditional way of preparing Moroccan dishes in a clay pot covered with a conical lid) There are about ten of us and only one Tajine. How many times have I already burned my fingers! It is hot, tasty, and inconvenient. It is awkward to catch peas with your fingers, but I enjoy that game. A game that makes you think a little about your teammates and leave them some extra peas. After Tajine, no cold! – yelled Youssef. That is the truth. I laugh. Afterward, a shisha spun in a circle. Ah, life is beautiful.

Sunday morning in Fez. I walk through the medina. The largest urban center in the World without traffic. So much distraction on each side. The smells are stunning, the scenes are astounding. Each square contains so many thousands of different moments. You can get lost in the colors, the crowds of people, the merchants’ stories, the ruse, the wires, and the mazes of the streets. I would indulge in wandering whose price is time. For a fee, you get the ultimate entertainment. Find it, walk out. I often think through games. People should turn things into a game more often. I do not mean it is frivolous think it is healthy. But I am late. I can not afford it. I was already supposed to be at the famous skin dye shop. Dye shop in which the ways of processing leather have not changed for thousands of years.

In the evening, we had a wish to go to the hammam, a Turkish bath with a sauna and massage. Along the way, we come across a local hammam in the medina for 10 dirhams (Moroccan currency). After a minute of skepticism, I opt for a representative experience instead of one more finely packaged for a Western man. The locker rooms do not look any better than the ones I undressed into long before, in elementary school, before physical education class. The spoilage of my littleness quickly disappears. Scenes of naked women with children, young girls enjoying performing washing rituals embarrass my initial discomfort. I quickly take everything off myself and impatiently walk towards the clouds of steam. Washerwoman is mixing buckets of cold and hot water to set the ideal temperature. I sit in a small chair and begin the ritual. I combed and washed my hair. She comes and soaps my body with black soap – natural soap made only from argan and olive oil. Grab a bucket of water from a bulkier bucket and start watering. Oh, how it feels good. These waterfalls work more naturally than those broken into thousands of drops by a shower. Primordial. How we women like pampering. These female rituals are meditative. She then did an exfoliation and shyly whispered how beautiful I am. Ugh, I feel like a new, a genuine rite of purity, purification, real baptism. My first hammam experience!

We are leaving for Marrakesh on New Year’s Eve. Along the way, neat olive groves and endless fields of orange marigold following us. Green and orange are hips this season. And the fruits of the cactus are ripe and beautiful in their orange. The places along the road, where we stop for a short refreshment, are the only reminders that we are in a third-world country. Black car repair shops and construction have been gaping for renovation for years. Beggars and stray dogs are a common sight. We sit down to lunch; the food is delicious. One gets used to everything.

As we decided not to drive at night on this trip, we took shelter before sunset. Again, the camping variant is next up. We set up a tent halfway between Casablanca and Marrakech. In the grove of a regular tree line, we are preparing for New Year’s Eve. We have lit a fire and contemplate by it. I like to review the previous year and think about the wishes and goals in the next one. 10, 9, 8 … 3, 2, 1. Happy New Year! We congratulate each other and toast with tea to the sounds of a shepherd’s song in the distance.

Here he is, the famous Marrakech. A city of pink walls. Moroccan gardens and sultanates begin in Marrakesh, a city in the background of which the snowy slopes of the high atlas and the entrance door to the vast Sahara desert are outlined. Tourists pop out from everywhere. So far, we have not seen many of them, and we commented that with amazement. And here, now we are commenting on this with astonishment. It is a typical traveler problem, tourist-traveler correlation. Davor solved it, and I have not had a chance so far. The term tourist evokes a parasitic connotation, a colonizer. I prefer the terms adventurer, traveler, explorer. Awful. That desire to be special, different, unique, and for the experience to be only yours, exceptional. My ego is impossible. But one gets used to everything, including the invasion of tourists. I try to flow through those thoughts. I do not want to experience them. Everyone sees and undergoes things in their way. The blue sky is one and, no one can see it from your angle except yourself. We stayed in Marrakech for about ten days.

Every night we allowed Djemaa el-Fna, the largest square in the Maghreb and a masterpiece of world oral heritage (UNESCO, 2001), to seduce us, to absorb us. Djemaa, like a burning ring of fire. Like a prelude to hell that would open every day when the sun began to set. This strangest street theater in the World was in the past a place where public executions took place. Term Djemaa el-Fna means the assembly of the dead. It was as if the souls of the dead remained trapped here waiting in Purgatory. Every night the previous one is repeated, and each time it is somehow different. The fruit sellers stack towers of orange and grapefruit on their mobile stands. The smells of fried food, cooked snails, ginger cakes are mixed. Everything collides, from the sounds of gnaou musicians and their drums, the rattling of the tin vessels of the water carrier, to the unchanging rhythm of a violin always played in the same place, the same tone and beat by a blind violinist.

People crowd like canned sardines. They push themselves in circles formed around every curiosity that is going on. Around dance, music, and competition attractions. Who will catch a bottle of Coca-Cola? Who will allow fortune-telling? Or resist decorating the body with henna (traditional hand-painting with henna, married women also legs; uniform or patterned)? Dirham here, dirham there, they’re looking for you. We already know a couple of tricks, so we manage to get through without a charge. You only ignore them and do not be afraid of their shouting and calling the police. From stress at first, this play turned into fun. They call you from all sides. Madam, madam, come here, eat 77 takes you to heaven. I am laughing.

THE JOURNEY OF THE HEART, TOWARDS THE JOURNEY

Essaouira. White city. This city on the coast of the wild Atlantic has everything. His port, medina, 18th-century fort, islands, and kilometers of sandy beaches. We write with lunch in 18th century Riyadh. House servants also lunch with us. They are a little embarrassed. I am glad they are here. The combination of gulls’ cries and hodja’s call from minaret melodically soothes the soul. I enjoy. White Essaouira. From the city of heavenly blue – the city of heaven, across the coast and mountains, we reach the white city – the city of the clouds.

A real mythical journey. I am already a month on my journey. Already. I have no sense that I did not see my home for a month, my family, friends, my everyday life. It does not seem so long ago. Sense like I did not leave. Should more time pass? Should I make more kilometers? Should I get more away to increasing the visibility angle? I think a sense of proximity has nothing to do with a spatial-time perspective; this perspective comes from the heart. Seagull has landed on the fence, tilted his head toward me, as if to better understand, then flew into the open sea, to the horizon. How good is to fly, I mean. Fly whenever you like it. It is the privilege of magnificent, magnificent white. White is the sheet of paper on which I write, with my blue pencil.

We went from Essaouira, a city that pervades a diverse smell every day. We travel to West Sahara. After the celebrated Christmas, New Year, Davor’s birthday, and our anniversary, we still hold on. It is good to be on the move again. We pass near the forest of argan – a new olive tree. Argan oil is an expensive and precious product rich in vitamin E. It is located mainly in the area around Essaouira. Only women work on his processing. Manually and without any additives. I start thinking about the woman I met on this journey, Amina Bounite, a woman from the village at the Atlas’ foot, and Hasna Borja, the girl from Essaouira. Amina is in the early thirties and divorced, and Hasna is a graduate student of the economy searching for a job. Amina retreated to the countryside and is not thinking of returning to the city. She is helping old parents and would love to fall in love again, but she does not think about marriage. He also likes to jump from one bank of the river to the other and kick-up a lettuce head as a real football player. In the mentality of some of the Morocco inhabitants, mostly Arabs dominate animosity towards divorced women. Some consider them ordinary dogs. I emphasize, not all the inhabitants, and it is not the rule. But for divorced women is difficult to rebuild a life. Yet, it is part of the collective consciousness that affects their stand according to things.

Hasna, on the other hand, can not find a job because she is too qualified. States that there are many more women than highly educated men. There are fewer of them, namely, who have a job or who are employed. She told us an experience. She applied for a job at the hotel reception and a couple of hours later saw the fish seller, who was selling near to the hotel, swirling the fish in her application papers. Through laughter, she said, “I will always remember that, and it will always be a motive for further insistence in what I want.” That’s the spirit! These women are strong and hold very much to their families. Family is considered the largest and the only support in life. Amina did not want to send immobile parents to the nursing home, and Hasna everyday lunch with her family. Hasna has not married yet. It is concerned. She says she already becomes too old to marry. Is 22 years old. She did not have a boyfriend.

We passed Agadir, Legzir, Sidi Ifni. Morocco, Goodbye! We passed it. We crossed a country that is not just a desert with camels, tents, and nomads from tourist guides. It is a land that is so contrasting, colorful, alive. It is a country where the mosques, madrassa, a cafe, a glass skyscraper, and medieval medina are right next to each other.

What is waiting for us in Western Sahara, the land of the desert? And in Mauritania? Step on it! Let’s go! It is the fifth speed at 6000 rpm that is a rocket drive. I want to get to the target, the target of our journey, the point in Nigeria where we will board on the plane for the trip home. I want to get to the target. The goal of our relationship. The purpose of ourselves. We all need travel; life is the way. The journey is life on Speed Dial. That is the challenge that I accept, which I want. I expect everything, and therefore I am depriving expectations. Good trick. I will be ready, I know. I surrender.

TEXT & PHOTO – Maja Tanasovski