Oct 032012

I did not know of Chefchaouen’s existence until a week ago, when I googled ’10 best things to do in Morocco’.

For all my longing to visit Morocco, in truth I have known nothing at all about its reality, drawn instead to imaginings conjured by words: desert wind, Aladdin, magic carpets, Sheherezade, Bedouin, dates, mint, storytellers.

When an image of Chefchaouen popped onto my computer screen I knew immediately this would be the starting place of my week’s adventure in Morocco.

And even having pictured Chefchaouen on the screen, I was still unprepared for its beauty – and its peace.

Chefchaouen is blue.

Blue blue blue.

Jewish refugees painted it blue and tides of humanity have kept it so since.

It is smaller than I expected, nestled into the Rif Mountains east of Tangier.

As I wandered up the steep hill from the bus station, following a scrawled map on a piece of paper I’d copied from Google Maps, sweat pouring into my clothes from the afternoon sun, there was nothing blue about Chefchaouen at all. Just dusty streets, concrete and people going about their business: the usual for just about anywhere on earth.

I had checked my bearings with a man at the bus station. He had told me to head ‘up up up’ to the (gestured the roundabout) and ‘go through door’, gesturing to indicate it was a very big door.

So I did. The door was massive indeed, a giant paired archway the colour of mustard. My little hand drawn map told me to turn right. I ummed and ahhed, went with the map. Soon, I was out of my depth, mine and Google’s both. I asked a policeman standing on the street looking important.

He told me to head back to the roundabout and pointed to go straight, the same direction as ‘the door’.

I turned on my heels, made it back to the roundabout and looked around for the giant paired archway the colour of mustard. There was no ‘door’. The massive gateway had vanished.


I allowed confusion to have its way for only a few moments, and walked on as if the door was indeed there. I walked on and on, putting my head inside the beautiful blue office of a travel agent. I asked him for ‘Hotel Chams’.

‘Oooooo,’ he said. ‘Very confusing.’

Then he led me outside and pointed to a stone stairway in a wall.

‘Go up and up and up – then ask,’ he said.

I laughed. Bounded up the stone stairway, curiosity overcoming the heat. And entered a world of labrynthine stone pathways and blue walls, blue doors, blue blue blue blue blue.

I scrunched up my little map and gave thanks that Google had botched this one. For I was in the heart of beauty and I was happy to be lost among it.

Eventually I asked a man outside a shop for ‘Hotel Chams’. He pointed. I laughed. I was just three doors away from my sweet little blue hotel in the heart of blue.

Chams Hotel

I showered and walked into the early evening, armed with the name of the best, most expensive restaurant in town: Aladdin, as it happens. I’ll scrimp on everything, except my food.

Marbur the Berber (left) and his friend

I wandered about the square, photographed a pair of blue Berber men in front of an irresistible blue mural, one of whom then insisted I look at his wares, beautiful silver trinkets on a blue mat; in the end I told him my sister, who loved to shop would be by soon and I would insist she buy only from Marbur the Berber; I chuckled at the old old gum tree at the centre of the square, sentry to the imposing pair of mountains staring down the town; I drank mint tea, sat around the fountain, played a smiling game with a little boy and watched Chefchaouen go about its business.

Give me a home among the gum trees

The restaurant where I drank mint tea on sunset

There are only two words that come to mind to describe Chefchaouen, Blue and Beauty. If there is a third, it would be Peace.

Dinner was divine. My first tangine. The restaurant was not blue, but beautiful nonetheless. I ate on the verandah, from where I could look into the sunset as the cool breeze of night whispered around me, dueling muezzins cried out from the mosques, the old castle tower of the Alkazabar and the minaret of the new mosque beaming through an Aladdin shaped ‘window’ of wrought iron, proclaiming ‘time’.

The view from my dining table

My ‘most expensive meal in Chefchaouen’ cost me 95 dirham, with mint tea – about ten bucks.

I wandered home, lost the bearings I was so sure of in the maze of the medina, found them again and fell into the deep deep sleep of a woman content with the world around her – and so very pleased she came to Morocco.

Aladdin’s lamp and my shadow on the cave wall

The entry to my restaurant (yellow awning on the right)

Chefchaouen shop

The restaurant where I drank mint tea on sunset

The view from my dining table

Marbur the Berber (left) and his friend


 October 3, 2012  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Sep 302012
If I am going to live in fear, let me fear what is real. 

I do not generally speak of fear, choosing instead to tell a different story, one that I hope inspires women to shed the darkening cloak of stay-home paranoia – and choose life.

Jill Meagher’s murder last week has shaken the hearts of Australian women. Mine too.

But this I found last night; a private diary, it was written three years ago . . . when courage failed me, exhaustion claimed me and I sped home from an endless journey to rest.

The call to Morocco blew softly in my ear, the touch of breath, sweet and small, grazing skin. I wonder . . . I will be in Europe after the Middle East . . . I will have many weeks to fill in before my flight home . . . Morocco . . . the wind blew a little harder . . . I do not have the courage to cross the sea from Espana to the tip of Africa . . . still the wind blew . . . Morocco . . . I do not have the courage . . . men, angry men, hard men . . . a woman alone in a cruel, furious world . . . Morocco . . .

The call of the wind. I have dedicated my life to answering the call, the call of the wind blowing through my heart.

Morocco . . . desert, camels, stories . . . Morocco . . . billowing robes, date palms, water wells . . . Morocco . . . golden sands, sun on skin . . . Morocco . . . mint tea, pretty geometry, earthen colours in the walls . . . Morocco . . . I do not have the courage to cross the sea.

I stop at the bookshop in Mullumbimby and buy the only two books she has on Morocco. I don’t notice at the time, but they are by the same author, Tahir Shah. I begin to read the biggest one . . . storytellers . . . magic carpets . . . a thousand and one nights . . . Sheherezade – my favourite word in all the world! . . . the Berber tradition – find the story of your heart and a doorway opens . . . Morocco . . .

I will go to Morocco to find the story of my heart.

I seek other doorways – I google ‘woman traveling alone in Morocco’ and for every ten that say ‘yes’ there is one naysayer. I run with the yeses. Doorways. I find the doorways, I step through. I find the pathways.

Morocco . . . I find the courage.


Being brave? It is more than this . . . it is learning to be brave. And it is more than this . . . I cannot bear to live with fear. When fear of the unknown takes hold of a heart before you know it, you do not have the courage to leave your own house. I can imagine no worse fate than to live in fear of what might happen and to never enter into the world of the living – what if . . . nothing happens?

There is nothing to fear but death . . . and that’s not a matter of if, but when.

I wrote to my friend whose husband had died two years before. Death is random and it is blameless, I said, acutely aware that my thoughts had not been forged in death’s fire. 

She said: I agree that death is blameless. But not random. Death says ‘you – but not yet’. 


I will ride the desert wind to Morocco.

What are we doing here on this Earth at all if we are not finding the story of our heart?

If I am going to live in fear, let me fear what is real – not the stories others tell to make sense of the fear in their own hearts.


One day, a few months back, I asked myself what I would do if I had three months to live. The answer startled the blood in my veins: Arabia! I would risk all that I am and all that I have and I would go to Arabia. I borrowed Lawrence of Arabia from the video shop.


I did not go to Morocco on that journey; yet the breath of the desert wind blows still in my heart.

Tomorrow, I sail for Morocco.

When women all over the world hear I am going to Morocco, their first question is ‘will you be safe?’

My answer has always been a quizzical frown, as if I do not understand the question.

My confidence of the week past has been rattled by the murder of Jill Meagher. Now, as I witness the passionate, intelligent fury of Australian women in their outpouring for Jill, my confidence is reinforced.

Here is one such: How many metres can I walk alone at night? Others include Clementine Ford (above) and this poster (below).

Am I safe?

As a woman I have no country; as a woman, my country is the whole world.

Emma Goldman, the Russo-American revolutionary said that. It is as true now as it was at the turn of centuries past.

And so I turn to women in the west and I say ‘are you safe?’

I take a deep breath.

For in truth we do not know.

What I do know is I am going to Morocco.

What I do know is we live in mysogynistic times, and as always we fail to recognise it until something dreadful forces our hand – and then we must battle all over again against the idiot fearmongers whose only response is to tell women to go home, stay home. Like that protects us.

Well – I am going home, home to the warmth of the desert wind:

 September 30, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »