Tetouan is a town in Northern Morocco, 60 km from Tangier. Nicknamed the White Dove, with a sculpture of a white dove in a square, the city’s walls are predominantly white.
After about five days living in Tetouan, in the middle of the ancient medina, I got a sense that space is a lot different here than what I am used to. To get to our flat, we enter through Bab Al Okla, one of their seven gates. Bab al Okla is a beautiful gate, with cascading steps, high arches and palm trees. It is especially beautiful at dawn. Our little flat is 3 minutes walk into the medina from this entrance, and it's as one would expect, very busy with people selling fruits, breads, socks, shoes, vegetables, and more. Our little street is filled with rows of little shops selling olives, cheese, eggs, and chicken. On top of that there are the pop up/drop in sellers who just plop down with whatever their goods are anywhere there's space for a while, before moving on to another location. It was fascinating to see the egg sellers who sit amongst their pecking chickens brought in every morning from the farm. Talk about inspirational marketing. The eggs couldn’t have been more fresh! Their local cheese tasted more like a mix of cottage cheese and yogurt, crumbly but also slightly sour. The assortment of olives go from super sour, super strong to spicy in a cadence of colours of greens and black.
Yousef sells his olives left of our door, the vegetable man is across the door, the cheese man on our right and the chicken butchers, dry goods, pasta and milk further along. Apart from the occasional staring, nobody bothered us most of the time. The bustling sounds of the Medina are quite consistent from around 9 am until just past midnight when finally the cheese shop closes and we intermittently hear garbage bins on wheels being dragged through the streets. Once a while you'll hear someone talking really loudly or sounding angry and aggressively yelling into the street. I wish I knew what they're saying. There seem to be a lot of passionate communicating here.
Ro’s little flat is within a bigger house she has yet to renovate fully. It’s cute with steep stairs, which are common in Moroccon medinas, and uneven floors with unexpected wall bumps and crevices in the ceiling. The first few days we got here, both Tom and I were constantly stubbing our toes or banging our heads or body parts on something. While this isn’t something that we could have planned to avoid, it was still in the scale of 7 out of 10 for Annoying. Thankfully, we got used to it eventually. The kitchenette is adequate for making light meals, but not to make a full blown dinner because there’s only one electric cooker. We knew that going in so that’s ok. There is a strong cedar wood smell to the new wood furniture in the flat, and it’s so strong it transfers a natural cedar perfume on my clothes. Another interesting observation is the mosques' prayers which are very different from the ones in Indonesian mosques. There’s a more monotonous drone in their prayers, almost like a siren, while in Indonesia, there is a more singing kind of praying. To my relief, here the prayers are a lot shorter: 5 times a day for a maximum of one minute each time, versus 3-5 minutes in Indonesia (specifically what I heard in Yogyakarta) and sometimes longer.
A week into living in Tetouan, I am feeling less in a funk, less in a rut from lacking female friendly cafes I can hang out in on my own, and feeling less confronted by the very masculine public space, where it is mostly for men, and women go in twos or in a bigger group. We have made friends with our neighbour the olive man Yousef, and I finally decided to have ‘fluent’ French conversation with our host Said, who only speaks French and Spanish, over WhatsApp (with the help of google translate of course). This French ‘fluency’ after a few days made little sense since I have enrolled in a Spanish language course online and have committed to continue to learn Spanish. I have since switched to WhatsApp ‘fluency’ in Espanol so that it adds to my daily dose of Spanish. Vale!
Here’s a small list of groceries we have bought on our street and how much they cost. For reference, 10 dirhams is roughly 1 euro or SGD $1.60. You’ll notice that almost everything is roughly about 5D.
Khobz (Round Bread) 2D
Smaller Khobz 1D
Cheese (smallest round) 8D
Avocados (small) 4D
Large avocado 8D
100 g dates 5D
1.5L of mineral water 5D
6 eggs 5D
500 ml milk 3.5D
A fresh pile of cilantro off a lady with tooth decay was 3 dirhams but I think she short changed us that one time. Does this act of overcharging, on purpose or not, matter less when things are so inexpensive and done with a toothless smile? It sure does.