Tangerine Dream

  • red_dress
  • el_morocco_terrace
  • colon
  • Tangerin
  • roof-view
  • Ligation
  • 73364203_10157874666268628_520598423376756736_o
  • 74214606_10157869109898628_4228331080266022912_o

Tangier or Tangiers as the French call it is having a moment. Like an ancient artefact happened upon by accident and dusted down to reveal wonderful faded beauty, I found it a place which is full of hidden secrets and many exotic stories, and a real gem for artistic photography.

I arrived a day early, as is often the case when travelling with my friend Julia, I had a bit of time to soak up the place before she arrived with her friends, an entourage which included Richard Hamilton the author and a former BBC North Africa correspondent.

Richard’s book ‘Tangier from the Romans to the Rolling Stones’ is a fantastic find if you’re trying to get to grips with the history of the place, it’s a kind of literary archeology which starts off with Hercules and ancient mythology (Hercules Cave on the coast of Tangier is where the fabled hero rested on his way to complete one of his audacious tasks, to collect the Golden Apples). He goes on to excavate the history of the place from Romans through to the famous historic Berber traveller and explorer Ibn Battuta who is buried in Tangier, to Samuel Pepys and onto artists such as Matisse and Bacon and a litany of famous writers; Bowles, Burroughs, Orton finishing with musician Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

I hadn’t read the book before I came, so I just kind of experienced the place with the help of my friend who had a few stops in mind both old and new to discover. We stayed near the port in Hotel El Muniria which is where William Burrows famously wrote Naked Lunch, his room is room 9 which is now part of the owners flat on the ground floor, a nice Moroccan family – you can ask to see it, it’s the more elegant part of the building the rest is a simple boarding house which is clean and paired back but no frills. Jack Kerouac stayed in Room 4 apparently, we stayed in room 8 which looks out onto the terrace – bathrooms are shared but its not a real problem they’re very clean.

This part of the city near the port is a bit more run down than others, although the port is being renovated and there is a marina now. Beneath our hotel was the Tangerinn a local bar which is popular with the local Moroccan hipsters and was also a favourite haunt of the Beat Generation. Outside there is the occasional noisy argument, racing moped or football game in the street. But there was a sadness about the El Muniria I felt, which was matched by the grey and rainy weather perhaps, I was reading about Burrows and I sensed the kind of seediness that surrounded his life of drugs, the death of his wife and his sybaritical liberal lifestyle in Tangier. This is the side of Tangier which while famous and part of a bigger story about the Beat Generation is for me a bit dark and not for everyone and it leaves it’s shadow on the city which you can feel when you’re there, the Mohammed Choukri kind of Tangier.

Just down the hill around the corner of the harbour from the hotel are steps up into the old town which you can climb to see the Hotel Continental, another favourite hang out on the literary trail. It sits on top of a hill and looks out across the harbour, I get the feeling very little has changed in the hotel for many decades and the dining room in particular reminds me of days gone by where you can imagine travellers from the 40’s and 50’s pitching up once their trunks had been disembarked and taking their first lunch off the boat. Walking around the city walls in a clockwise direction you then find the renovated sand coloured stone of the Kasbah which is home to many beautifully restored buildings, the Hotel Tangerina is a lovely family owned hotel which was renovated to incorporate a polished kind of Victorian Grandeur – rooms are very reasonable for the level of luxury and there are stunning views from the roof top. There is a special kind of light in Tangier that painters talk about because it is one of the few places where there is a confluence between the Med and Atlantic which apparently causes the effect, Richard told me one of the only other places which features light of this kind is an Island in Denmark. It must have been this light which attracted painters like Matisse and Francis Bacon along with the general artistic vibe and liberal atmosphere of the place.

The Kasbah houses many cool places to visit: Le Sable Bleu for lunch and dinner, El Morocco a restaurant, café, restaurant and bar just within the gates of the Kasbah inspired by the original El Morocco club of New York with photos from the original club in the coctail bar. There is a Spanish designer concept store ‘Las Chichas’ and just a short work away along the sea walls is Café Hafa, a 1920’s café with a sea view, which is popular with the locals and has many stepped terraces with tables and chairs where you can bring your own food down from the bakery or restaurant above, and strong and sweet mint tea is served in glasses for 20 dirham.

Further downtown the Grand and Petit Socco market squares are surrounded by narrow medina style streets, with busy local markets where you can buy healthy oils and spices, fresh fish, and traditional cheese made by the Rif mountain ladies which they sell wrapped in palm leaves, while dressed in traditional striped Rif dress. On the Grand Socco you will find the landmark Rif Cinema a renovated 1930’s cinema which shows the latest films and has a great cafe bar attached, a place to see and be seen with a great vantage point onto life in the square. There are also a few art galleries, and a cafe and shop above the cinema called the ‘Dharma Woman’s Refuge’ for lunch and a browse, the organisation funds work with single mothers and struggling women giving them a place to stay, purpose and school for their kids.

Not far away from the Grand Socco is the American Ligation. Tangier was one of the first places to recognise the American Independence with this elegant building, there is a great art collection inside as well as a museum dedicated to the writer Paul Bowles. I actually heard a story about Paul Bowles from my cousin’s husband, his friend was a fan and managed to get one of the last ever interviews on film of the writer after travelling to Tangier and bumping into Bowles’ former Moroccan lover who took him to him. Returning home he decided to have friends round and after imbibing perhaps a bit too much and deciding to cut what he thought was a video of Moroccan dancers, found he had cut up this last ever interview instead by mistake! I thought wryly of the ‘cut up’ technique the beat generation were famous for and wondered if it was in fact a wry joke played on him by these famous ghosts of the past!

Dotted along the streets of Tangier, you will see glimpses of faded grandeur, like the old Spanish Pavilions now a bit run down and rusty, the ‘Grand Teatro Cervantes’ with its cigar label signage stands out, as well as the old cinemas and local street cafes. It’s a treasure trove for art photographers with no end of material to keep you involved and inspired to tell your own story of Tangier.

In the evenings we often visited Hotel El Minzah a classic style 5 star hotel with a piano bar overlooking the hotel pool and gardens. The experience was made even better by one of Julia’s friends who had been gifted with the voice of Frank Sinatra, he slid up to the pianist and belted out Frank numbers with such rich warm tones that for a moment we were transported back to a time of dinner dances and celebrity crooners. A Moroccan boy was filming the scene with his jaw dropped in amazement at the spectacle that had been created that night, it was heartwarming to see his passion for these old numbers belted out by our Frank impersonator.

And Tangier is like that a mix up of happenstances, small vignettes which when glued together create a rich tapestry of experience that you want to crawl over again and again. There is so much I could write that this feels like a glance across the top of the trip, so I will write more I’m sure.

They say about Tangier that ‘you arrive crying and when you leave you cry’ I can see that, its an emotive place that doesn’t have the immediate impact of Marrakech but slowly reveals itself. There is so much to discover when you start digging that you will want to return again and again just to see the place in different lights and seasons and soak up the atmosphere.

Book suggestions:
‘The Sheltering Sky’ – Paul Bowles
‘Naked Lunch’ – William Burroughs
‘Tangier From the Romans to the Rolling Stones’ – Richard Hamilton
‘Tangerine’ – Christine Mangan
‘In Tangier’ – Mohammed Choukri

Marrying a Younger Moroccan Man

Our Honeymoon

Even writing the title of this blog I know that some people will already be waiting to read about some gruesome detail of being tricked out of money or romanced for a passport – these stereotypes are unfortunately hardwired in Western consciousness. And in all honesty it can happen to some people, so I can see why.

Well, it’s one year on since we had our wedding at Riad Ilfoulki in Marrakech, and 3 years since we first met, and we’re moving forward all the time. When I met Ali, I was happily single, I had a good life, great friends and support networks, there were no gaps, I wasn’t looking to be loved, I just met a guy (on holiday) that I cracked on with who spoke about interesting stuff that a lot of English blokes tend to shy away from; – life, the Universe and which flavour cheesecake you like the best! With Ali over time, getting to know each other better, I felt I had found a companion in life who wants the same things, and understands the bigger picture, comes from a place of having to fend for himself from an early age and has values and principles I admire. But I need to talk about how it feels to be on the receiving end of prejudice when you’re living a life which can be seen as a cliche, a huge risk, simply unusual or breaking unspoken cultural rules.

I was surprised at the feelings that ran through the expat community here when I arrived to explore a life out here with Ali; ‘I’ve never seen it work in all my time here’ was one comment, not a great foreboding of a positive future. ‘I’m glad I wasn’t one of those who met a Moroccan guy – I’ve done it on my own’ was another comment from a woman who lives in Morocco on her own, without thinking about my own situation – a clear signal that you have ‘sold out’ if you didn’t tough it out without a local bloke.

Well I am ‘one of those’ and I think that I’m lucky for many reasons, actually being with a Moroccan gives you a deeper appreciation of the culture here than you would have if you ‘did it on your own’, but more than that, I like the sharing, the shouldering of support, the fun times and silly things we laugh at, having a best friend and a confidante by my side. For me finding that kind of human relationship with a significant other is the real stuff of life, as much as achieving your dreams or personal ambitions. I don’t feel less for having done it, I feel more – but I also know I would have been ok on my own.

Ali seems to take all this in his stride, perhaps having worked with some Internationals who call him ‘Ali Baba’ and who are used to being waited on by brown faced people has created a state of unwitting acceptance, and for him I think he doesn’t care what people think which is a great gift in life if you can attain it – he is extremely positive as a person and focussed more on who he is and how he show’s up in the World than how other people are to him.

But I do get a bit weary of the looks, pauses and underlying patronising comments which can follow your announcement that you’re married to a Moroccan, especially when you say he’s younger. You can hear the cogs turning ‘sold out’, ‘how long until she divorces’, ‘she’s taken the easy way of living in Morocco – not toughed it out’, ‘why would he marry her?’.

I must admit that it’s taken me a long time to get over these voices in my head myself, the internal and external critics. I didn’t tell a new employer that I was going to marry Ali when I went for the job because I knew that they would see me differently – not the independent, intelligent and experienced person I am, but a quirky creative woman who’s ‘one of those’ who came over and fell in love with a handsome smooth talking muslim boy. It’s not how I want to be judged, for my relationship – I want to be seen for who I am, so I’m still careful about how I bring my situation into conversation, and maybe sometimes don’t help myself with a lack of confidence about talking about it.

Reading about prejudice it comes from several places; one is stereotyping and negative storytelling in society which people use to make quick decisions about another (a human way of quickly navigating around people and groups) these negatives can be combatted by changing the stories; another is the ‘them and us’ dynamic which is neatly expressed in the cartoon below – (us = the puritan imperialists with money, them = the barbarians who want to steal our resources) when you cross these boundaries you play with peoples understanding of social identity – hence the ‘he wants her passport, or money’ kind of thinking, finally prejudice is more likely to come from Authoritarian Personalities – these people tend to be hostile to people they see as inferior, and obedient to those they see have high status, rigid in beliefs and upholding of more traditional values (people from our older generations often seem to sit here, although it’s more about personality than age). If you want to read more you can here.

When we’re together (reaching across the water) I know Ali’s a great guy, I’m realistic that with any relationship there is a meeting of needs, ours is no different. It is difficult not being from the same place financially as it is culturally but Ali makes it so easy, he never really spends on much, he’s a dab hand at getting great second hand clothes that he looks a million dollars in because he is naturally stylish, he is ecologically conscious anyway so doesn’t believe in buying lots of new things when you can get good quality second hand that is often better made. He spends all his own money on other people, his mum whom he supports, our food, and with just a bit left for him he makes the most of it. I bought him clothes once from England and he made me take them back – ‘don’t do that again’ he said. And he looks for ways I can save money on things like bills – putting in a gas water heater and getting rid of the electric one, he’s come from a place where money was scarce, I’ve come from a place where you don’t always look at receipts you just buy – a throw away, instant gratification kind of society.

He wants to spend as much time with me as possible, and that also creates a bit of conflict as I like to explore, travel, meet friends for dinner – we’re used to having all those freedoms in my world. In a typical local Amazigh marriage from his town things are a lot more home based, there are roles for everyone, and people don’t eat out – he’d never been to a restaurant with a woman before he met me. However Ali is emotionally intelligent, he has got his own head round the fact that us English types like ‘experiences’ and ‘events’ and ‘eating out’, that our life experiences are different, so we find a way to compromise on those things, which gets easier the more we know and trust each other. However as a true warm hearted Moroccan, he also reminds me that sometimes the most valuable times are actually quiet times with good food, and the people we love and care about (in our case the trio of Ali, Me and Ruby – our dog) that you don’t need a lot of outside whizz-bang stimulation to be happy – that happiness comes from the inside and doing things for others like cooking nice food and showing love. When I met him I’d had many years of that external stuff spending long days at work and rewarding myself with nights out, so part of what attracted me was the desire to get back to something more real and meaningful, the pivotal moment was when I was in a belly dancing restaurant in Marrakech the owner of my riad recommended I visit, and I just felt I’d much rather be having a proper conversation and a giggle with Ali at home than in this restaurant with dressed up people spending too much on dinner and ogling girls in glittery bikini’s. Ali for me represented what’s real and good in the world not the stuff we get excited by and doesn’t mean anything really, I think that you learn something from everyone you meet – we have many teachers.

One of the sweetest things Ali has done, which is quite natural for him because it comes purely from his heart, is to send in a picture of both of us to National Geographic for a competition – it was to illustrate the possibility of love across cultures and ages he said, he had written ‘look at me and my wife, different cultures, different ages but we still love each other’ it really touched me that he would think of doing such a thing so proudly, it’s a shame it didn’t get published so I’m publishing it here.

My wish for the next year is that I find ways of communicating the positivity of our situation to others to help alleviate prejudice which may be founded on old stories, and not wait for the put downs, and that I can continue my work on being a better human being, guided by my lovely muslim, moroccan, 32 year old husband.

Wish me luck!

Comparing the North and South of Morocco

This Summer we stayed in Morocco again – having enjoyed last Summer’s easy temperatures late August saw temperatures soar into the late 40’s and 50’s apparently because of the thermals from the Sahara. However, although hot, we’ve had plenty to discover with exploration first to the North and the Northern beaches, cities and towns, and then to the South again to the gorgeous Ghris Valley with its warm Berber villages and endless date palm groves.

Here are some of the differences I saw:

THE NORTH – Cooler, more modern with a rich history to explore

Spanish and Arabic Influence
The North is a place which is much more Spanish and Arabic in influence, you won’t find many locals who speak French quite as fluently as they do in Marrakech for instance – and people look different to the more Berber and Sub Saharan inhabited areas, with lighter skin and sometimes lighter eyes and more Spanish or Arabic features. There are also more Spanish inflections in architecture as cities such as Tetouan have been both Spanish and Moroccan at different times.

Striped Traditional Dress
The traditional dress is distinctive and worn mainly by the more rural Rif Mountain women who you see in the markets and in the mountains going about their daily life. The main feature is a vertical striped woven apron typically in red and white which serves as both a tribal signifier for the region, and useful protector of clothes, set off often with a straw hat with colourful pompoms adorning it. You’ll find lots of opportunities to buy these along the coast and in the more touristy towns like Chefchouen.

cof

More Plugged in Cities
Towns such as Tetouan appear a bit more flashy in a sense, people are more concerned about money, cars and appearance; a kind of Miami of Morocco, but not unappealing we really quite liked it and it was cleaner than Marrakech (which can be said of a lot of the North) with the exception of the old medina which is a bit run down but houses some really great example of Spanish influenced riads. Towns are predominantly white in the North a stark contrast to the earthy hues of the south, its a very different looking place.

dav

Larache was a drive through for us but seemed to be really well groomed and pretty and off the tourist trail generally, although there is a renovated Roman site, Lixus, which is an interesting stop – with a visitor centre which is nicely designed and has two rooms of exhibits and facilities. At the top of the hill at Lixus you can survey the river and city from the ruins and imagine you are a Roman Emperor or Empress for a moment, or that Hercules is coming to find the fabled Golden Apples from an orchard which was believed to have been situated near Lixus.

Lots of Historic Monuments to visit:
Meknes was well worth a stop (albeit impromptu as our car broke down), the legacy of the fierce Sultan Moulay Ishmail dominates the old town which features a Palace, Cavalry, Sudanese Slave quarters and many ornate arches (some of the decoration for which was taken from Palais Badi in Marrakech I believe). There are many stories including those about the underground prison which sounds fit for a Minotaur with its labyrinth of underground tunnels. Legend has it no one ever escaped this prison and that some members of a French team who set out to map the tunnels in modern times also got lost somewhere in the darkness. Meknes has 3 old medina’s to visit; one Berber, one Arabic and one Jewish which are each quite distinctive – we stayed in the Arabic old town at a nice riad – Riad Zahra quite near everything and wondering the streets you can see the tradition of embroidery at work, with spools flying and beautiful patterns adorning shop windows. I was less comfortable in the old Berber town, I’d prefer to go with a local or a guide there as it’s a bit more off the beaten track and you don’t want to get lost there.

cof

Tangier was a quick stop for us this time, we drove directly to the Caves of Hercules, where the Greek and Roman legend Hercules was meant to have rested his head on the way to complete his 12 challenges. There is one cave you can go into for free which still takes your breath away when you go down into it to emerge looking at a cut away rock face which frames an azure sea.

Great Beaches:
Going up North in July in August is a challenge as there are so many Moroccan tourists coming back home for the Summer that the beaches can get pretty packed, although there is a holiday vibe about the place with large stretches of sand peppered with umbrellas and donut and tea sellers strolling up and down. We were lucky enough to be shown around by Ali’s Nephew who is a dentist up there and has good local knowledge, so we ate at some pretty fantastic seafood places in and around Martil on Tetouan. One in Tetouan was really outstanding in its choice of seafood – the best Prawn Pil Pil I’ve ever had, but to look at it you would have just driven past it. Others had more of an upscale stylish restaurant vibe. The nephew (Simo) also took us on a drive to a quieter beach which is a lovely drive with the coast on one side and Rif Mountains on the other, these less discovered beaches are also becoming popular in the Summer months but are worth visiting and I can see will become quite upscale over time.

smacap_Bright

Local Delicacies
There is a kind of chickpea flan called Karane or Kalinti which is Moroccan / Spanish in origin, sprinkled with Cinnamon we tried, it makes a really delicious snack and is sold by the slice freshly baked by street vendors. We found this in Asilah and Meknes and I’m sure its in the other Northern Cities in different forms – but I’ve never seen it in the South.

THE SOUTH – warmer, rural with a rich culture and landscape

Berber, Roman, Jewish Influences
While Arabic and Arabs are obviously an important feature across Morocco the Berber populations dominate in these Southern regions alongside Jewish tribes. Within Berber or we should say Amazigh culture there are different tribes also, some more from Mauritania or further south originally. Europeans have also influenced these areas quite heavily from the Portuguese to Italians (via Romans) and European Jews who both have left legacies and monuments in the local area, as well as influences in the way people look. One friend of the family claimed his mother had blue eyes (an Italian throwback) and you will find when you are driving in the more remote places that the locals call out to you ‘Romani’ – short hand for a European.

Black Taharout Traditional Dress
As you drive through the towns of Kalat Maguna, Tinrir and Goulmima you will see the women wearing various different forms of wrap which are used partly for badging and partly as a cover up and general purpose wrap, blanket and throw. They vary in small ways from place to place, with a uniting feature of being made from black cloth. These shawls become part of daily life providing protection from the heat and harmful rays of the sun, or offering a make-shift covering to those (usually children) who need to take a nap and they can be beautifully decorated with embroidery and mirrors, or they can be more sheer and lace like. While fashion is a bit more important to the younger next generation, most women in the region have been wearing similar clothes for centuries.

Rural Building Skills and Rural Life:
The towns and villages of the Ghris Valley have mostly been built using the earth from the land which when mixed with straw and baked into bricks creates a warm and empathetic addition to the landscape around it, as well as providing practical warmth as a building material. You can see old Ksours (walled villages) which use this technique and feature many recurring Berber architectural themes in the construction. This use of local resources including the local wood is very attractive but many of the old Ksours have not been well maintained so have been shut down so they don’t cause harm, in their place families have moved into new homes which are a bit more practical but thankfully still retain some traditional features. We were lucky enough to be taken around by a local friend who is a builder and decorative artist, he showed us some of the more recent building with traditional skills and the paint work he had carried out using traditional pigments which you can find in the ground like a rich burnt sienna colour he had painted on one wall.

Warmth of the people:
People here help each other, they are so friendly and welcoming – I was invited into tea many times with strangers, fed with bountiful local produce and watched as people who have been born into an arable way of living lead their day. One thing I noticed was the balanced and important roles of men and women and in particularly the strength of women in these areas, physically their days are long and there are very few convenient short cuts but they take everything on whether butchering sheep or carrying large bales of animal feed on their backs. It’s a badge of honour being strong and getting on with it here, a far step away from the traditional European view of muslim women who are demure and repressed, although there certainly are rules when it comes to husbands and wives.

Nomadic Life
We met nomads and shepherds in these parts. Rachid was a camel hurder, he hurded 60 camels which we had happened upon during a trip down to the river for a walk and possibly a swim. It was a beautiful sight, seeing the camels drinking from the river living naturally in the wild. Rachid’s living is hurding camels which he then takes to Camel souks to sell, the largest of which in Morocco I’ve heard is held in Tan Tan on the coast every year.
Aziz a nomad was a pixie like fellow who popped up at our car window for a chat and a lift, he told the tale of how he faces frequent theft of his goats, and that the gang that stole his last goats ended up in prison and then stole again as retribution when they came out and had left him bound and gagged. Apparently excepting for rustlers, when he is not there the goats do not move, they know their place in the mountain when he comes down to town for a rest and something to eat he usually finds them there when he returns.

cof

Beautiful journeys
There are some great routes you can take out of the town of Goulmima, past Tadighoust and into the mountains through the Ghris Valley, where you can stop at a local village, some of which have old Ksours which seem to be carved out of the mountain, or take a picnic down to the river. Its a rich arable land full of Pomegranates (called Romain here after the Romans who most likely brought them here), olives, figs and of course dates including the increasingly popular Medjool dates. The irrigation systems alone are worth a visit for the more engineering minded, the ones in Goulmima were apparently created by a Jewish European and have created rich groves of palms and lush gardens along the back of the town and the old Ksour which transformed the local area.

Local Delicacies

Among many of the local delicacies to be enjoyed are local breads such as Khobz (meaning bread) Shayma which is created to a secret recipe using herbs sourced locally. Homes often have their own small livestock and fresh fruit and vegetables are freely available at the local souk, local dishes tend to be Chicken stuffed with olives and vermicelli, lamb with prunes and lamb barbeque skewers. Some of the biscuits made by local women are worthy of a high end patisserie as making biscuits tends to be one way to show love and demonstrate your skills in the kitchen.

This has been a whistle stop tour of literally some of the first early observations when you go North and then do South but you could write a book on it! Like any country the people and landscapes are so diverse it’s sometimes difficult to say it’s one country – but one thing that unites all of Morocco is the Moroccan hospitality you find on the way.

Ramadan and Water

Last week it was 43 degrees, that meant staying in mostly, keeping out of the sun and sleeping on the bottom floor of the Riad to avoid using the air conditioning. Thankfully its a bit less hot now and we don’t have to cold shower the dog! But it’s also Ramadan – meaning the opportunity to cool down with a glass of water in the day is taken away.

I’m not a Muslim but I do go along with Ramadan in Marrakech for many reasons really; firstly cultural empathy – its not a great feeling if you are stuffing your face on the street or in a restaurant while those around you are hungry and thirsty which is a lesson in awareness. Secondly – intrigue, why did the prophet Mohammed so many centuries ago communicate the benefits of fasting? How does it relate to today? I’m told by my husband who is muslim that its partly to clear the dead cells that your body needs to get rid of, but also obviously to concentrate the mind on other things and more spiritual pursuits. Fasting has become the thing to do if you are seeking a healthier balance and to manage your weight in the West – but it’s something Muslims do regularly, not just during Ramadan as part of a culture of cleansing.

The third reason is to explore the concept of abstinence and sacrifice, which during Ramadan is not just limited to no water or food (before sun-down) but also other daily distractions including sex which many limit for the whole 40 day period. There is a focus on self discipline, prayer and also the giving of alms. This has two effects; it does make you think, and you notice the lack of things you normally have to make your life more comfortable and sustain you.

I started to imagine how much water must be saved during Ramadan during these hours of not drinking, but I also remembered that in Islam water that is used to cleanse as part of the prayer ritual and a kind of purification, so does that make up for the water that would have been drunk?. It just gets you a lot more focussed on water overall – it’s the one thing you can’t wait to have at sundown, just waiting for the Imam to sing, and it makes you realise how difficult it is to even spend 1 day without water.

My husband believes I’m a one woman threat to the environment and he’s right, having grown up in rainy lush England where fresh and delicious Welsh valley water was piped to our Birmingham home, I took water for granted, only a hot Summer and hosepipe ban one year highlighted a potential shortage, but even then we still could drink water freely and have a shallow bath or a shower even if our cars were a bit dusty and gardens baked. I’m pretty bad with water, I confess that I still leave the water running while I clean my teeth out of habit, I have the shower on all the time when I’m in it rather than stopping it when cleaning with soap and showering after or in between, I like to run the water during washing up rather than soaping the dishes then swilling them all at once. These are ingrained habits and a lack of consciousness on my part.

In the countryside here in Morocco, and of course in the desert, water is still at a premium, you don’t have pipes to get rid of washing up water, you have a bucket, you don’t have a running shower you have a bucket Hammam outside or inside, and it’s not always warm. When you put this against lives in the developed world where one of the latest trends in Essex where I was last living was the garden Jacuzzi to supplement your walk in power shower – it hits home how vastly different our world is from one person’s experience to the next.

In the Quran there is lots written about water, there was a belief, now scientifically proven, that everything sprang from water, “And God has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. God creates what He wills; for verily God has power over all things (Quran, 24-45)”

Today we know that as babies we are 75% water and as we grow older the body of an adult human being is made of approximately 60% water. Animals contain on average 60% water while vegetables up to 75%. Human brain is composed of 90% water. This means that humans talk, think, do, write and invent on the basis of water – and it might explain why I’ve been less able to concentrate for long periods.

So I will spend my Ramadan being thankful for water, and trying to become more conscious, people here see water as sacred, water in Islam is considered as a gift belonging to all equally, which has to be managed and distributed with equity among all living beings, humans, animals and plant life. There is even an Islamic law or right concerning water named Safa after the place where Abraham (Ibrahim) and his wife and baby son set down on a search for water and were eventually saved by the Zamzam well (great name!) which magically sprang up at baby Ishmaels feet.

Climate change will challenge us all, to think differently, part of this is not just a technical challenge for innovators, but a behavioural challenge for us all – maybe non muslims need a kind of secular Ramadan to reflect on this from time to time and appreciate the value of the simple things.

To learn more about water and culture you can visit The Water Museum in Marrakech.