A warm winter in Morocco

There is a lot of rain this week in Morocco. There is snow in the Atlas and the south. It may still rain for a week and that is particularly good for the country that is green everywhere. The cold comes with the rain. Real, greasy cold, which cuts into your body and is difficult to shake off because the cold takes possession of houses and offices. Building in Morocco aims on keeping the heat outside as much as possible. It means that during the winter the heat can not simply be restored. Central heating is a rarity, so there is a run on oil and electric heaters, firewood needs to be ordered in time and by this Morocco tries to beat the cold. When people enter an office they put on their coat. It is all in vain, the cold creeps into your body and accompanies you during wintertime.
And this winter, especially this week, feels colder than in previous years. Moroccans around me acknowledge it. Cold is a relative term for our children. Especially for our youngest. Even for me getting on the bus at half past eight in the morning with only shorts and t-shirt is something too ‘summery’.
I am on my way to the weekly swimming lesson with ‘my children’ from the center where I work as a volunteer. Despite a beautiful swimming pool in this center for the disabled in Sale, equipped with all the facilities to keep it warm and clean, maintenance and heating is an annual recurring problem. Only with the appearance of the sun does the water get warmer month after month. So I am not surprised when I see one of our children under a steaming hot shower. He sticks his head around the corner and makes it clear to me that he is not entering the swimming pool. He keeps showering. Use the swimming lesson for a long hot shower. Logical if you can wash yourself calmly here under a good hot shower.
Smiling, I walk into the swimming pool. Just after the holiday it is still quiet. I miss Hassan and his mother. He and his mother are an inseparable duo. The dedication with which she repeatedly drifts around with him in the paddling pool is heart-warming. Hassan is severely physically disabled and also unable to speak. But his mind may be caught in a deficient body, it does not stop him from spreading incredible joy. The joy on his face when I greet him and go into the deep pool with him, washes away every possibly chagrin.
Their story is poignant. She was married, had three children, her husband drank too much and abused her. If you see her, small, fragile, petite, and shy, you would not give it to her: the courage to leave and divorce her husband. Great spirit in a fragile body. Hassan takes after his mother. Divorce remains a big step for women in Morocco, although step by step change is visible. In addition, she is responsible for the care of three children, one of whom is severely handicapped does she have no prospect of work, a home or a reasonable life. And yet she did it.
They have a small house on the ground floor. More a hall with a kitchenette a shower/toilet and a living room that also serves as a bedroom. The family pay the rent so it seems. The cold will not be able to chase away and probably also pulls up from the cold ground.
That Hassan and his mother are not there today is not strange. It happens once in while. I just miss their familiar presence.
After swimming, one of the mothers approaches me. In flawed French laced with Darija she tries to explain and ask me something. I catch something about the mother of Hassan, an operation on Friday and that she needs me and in between there seems to be a story about burning a fire on the toilet and fainting. At first I think that two of the three children are dead and the mother too. But she understands my question well and refutes it. A sigh of relief. Language can be so misleading.
Time for an interpreter.
Then the pieces of the message that I receive fall into place. Yesterday they wanted to give her children a ‘shower’. For hot water, she made a fire in their provisional bathroom. The smoke development caused two children to faint, and she almost fell apart, but at the last moment she managed to keep her door open. In the end everything worked out well. She has to be operated on Friday. It seems to be a necessary but routine intervention. She may need money or a lift to the hospital. I will visit her after swimming with another volunteer. I to make sure they are doing well.
We walk to her home. Narrow alley, opening the door to the apartment building and then the first door left. She is at the end of the hall with Hassan. A pale smile on her face in which I read relief. The living room and bedroom are scantily furnished with typical Moroccan benches along two of the four walls. Some cabinets are scotch and crooked and a TV is on. Everything is well with her and the children. Was scary but ok now. She will not do it like this the next time. Hassan enjoys the small dog that the volunteer has with him. Wildly waving his arms, he seeks contact with the dog who is frightened by the unexpected spasms of him. But we manage to let him pet the dog. Hassan screams for joy.
She goes to the hospital on Thursday. For indeed a routine operation. She has to stay Friday, possibly back on Saturday. We ask if she needs money. No, the operation has already been paid for but maybe I can help with the medicines that are needed afterwards. No problem show me a bill and I will pay it. We say goodbye and I quickly give her money for groceries.
Everything feels cold in me. Not only because of the humidity of the rain that hangs in the house or the cold for which there is no shelter here. I feel desolate cold. I turn in the hall to say goodbye. Above the entrance to the living room I see a photo hanging on post card format. Small frame around it. It is a picture of me and Hassan in my arms during a swimming lesson.
I fall silent. Stumble nonsensical words to the volunteer along the lines of ‘look, I’m hanging on the wall here.’
There is nothing else hanging on the wall.
An insignificant postcard format photo can carry a lot of warmth. The sky opened its locks again on the way home. It does not bother me. Since that morning there is a lot of heat in my body. I’ll manage this winter.

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