What are alarms for? Bilal told me to set my mobile phone to alarm at 8.30 so that we could get onto the road early, to catch drivers headed for Barcelona. So I did. And it went off – but we did not get up.
Rubbing the sleep from our eyes around 11o’clock, we dressed and prepared to leave Said and his wife´s flat, our bed for the night, only to realize that she had prepared us a traditional French breakfast of baguettes, croissants and coffee. After filling our bellies and taking the obligatory photographs with the couple and one of their sons who had already returned from school, Said gave us a quick driving tour around Carcassone, showing us the castle, before taking us to a toll station near Narbonne, where he said we would definitely be able to hitch a ride to Barcelona.
Now, this would be true, if we were standing in the right place. After roughly an hour of funny looks and people vaguely pointing in the direction we thought we wanted to go, a Spanish couple (who unfortunately weren’t going to Spain) informed us that we were standing on the wrong side of the road.
With this blunder out of the way, after about fifteen minutes, we were picked up by Loic, a French builder who lived in Perpignan. Despite the language barrier, Bilal kept up conversation with him for what has been our shortest journey so far, of about an hour. Mostly small talk, about the lovely scenery of the south of France, and the great weather, but it was conversation nonetheless. Sometimes I wish I was less hung up on getting things right and just trudged on with broken English as Bilal does, though I must say my GCSE French has gotten me some way, with phrases such as “vous allez a espagne” and “nous faissons un autostop pour charite” brokering lifts, as well as the pleasantries of “bonjour/merci beaucoup/Ça va bien” and other random words here, there, and in between.
We thanked Loic and waved him goodbye at a toll station just outside Perpignan, where we proceeded to smile and wave emphatically at lots of lovely French people who thought we were hilarious(-looking, probably)! Deciding that we were too close to the exit, not giving our potential driver’s anywhere safe to pull over, Bilal and I took our frantic waving to the edge of the roundabout leading into the toll station. After about twenty minutes, a jolly looking French couple who, luckily for me, were very fluent in Spanish, and willing to take us all the way to Barcelona if we so wished.
It turned out that Marie and Joel own a market stall and were headed to a city near Barcelona to buy clothes to sell, and make the journey as often as once a fortnight! They were a carefree pair who played buoyant music, which Bilal recognized to be Andalucian (due to his affiliation with an Andalucian producer who makes hip hop beats incorporating traditional music of his region), and talked of their children, who were all older than Bilal and I.
Along the way, Bilal decided that it might be a better idea to pass through Girona rather than going directly to Barcelona, so as to see some family, seeing as he was in the region. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, more Moroccan hospitality was in store. Marie and Joel dropped us outside the Carrefour on the outskirts of the city, and by the time I had freed a Spanish SIM card from jail (paying its €10 euro bail, signing and leaving a copy of my passport for it), and ordered a double cheeseburger and fries from ‘Kim’, his cousin Lafrayekh and her husband Noureddine had come and found us.
We visited their flat, where I began writing this post, only to be whisked off to see more cousins than I could count. We visited three or four different apartments within central Girona, where both Bilal and I were greeted with tremendous joy and surprise. This is where I have to once again re-iterate:
You will never go unhappy around Moroccans.
The first apartment we visited, of one of Bilal’s uncles, his wife prepared us a feast of popcorn, oat puffs in sugar shells, chocolate cake, Moroccan bread and olive oil with various cheese spreads, chocolate wafers and inumberable other biscuit-type delights.
Oh and I cannot forget: tea. Moroccans are big on tea. Though not the builders sort we make up in great old Yorkshire; rather, tea of a lovely, almost sickly sweet disposition, served hot in small glasses, from an elegant silver teapot. Every flat we enter, we are offered some of this cloying* confection. After playing with Bilal’s young cousin, Selma, an enchanting two year old who eventually responds to my calls to play after I held her small ball hostage for a short while, and convincing her I would make a good friend, we head over to the house of Bilal’s cousin -who is the same age as my mother, and his mother too- where he is greeted with kisses from the man’s wife, and a bear hug from his cousin. We are there only a short while, (though long enough to have a cup of tea), before going to his uncle’s.
Greeted with more hugs, kisses, and surprise that I speak Spanish, here we sit for a while with more of Bilal’s cousins and his uncle, who get me to show them where I’m from on the map, before two of his female cousins, engage me in some Spanish conversation. After a meal of homemade chips, minty lamb patties, Moroccan bread, and tuna salad, we watch the four men (Bilal, his uncle, and two cousins, Oussama and Walid) play a game they call Shcamba. Played in pairs, with cards unfamiliar to me, the aim seemed to be for each pair to reach the highest total, with the winner declared after several rounds. Ikrham tells me that the financial crisis means that work is hard to come by, and the men often spend their days playing rounds of Shcamba, while the women clean and work.
to be continued…
*cloying (ˈklɔɪɪŋ) — adj initially pleasurable or sweet but wearying in excess