No picnic

Aicha, Sana, Ismael and Khadija revealing their way of dealing with the coronavirus lockdown in Morocco

The Moroccan lockdown between March and July tells a story in a whisper: coming together by staying apart was no picnic for us at l’Orangeraie, and this was unfortunately the new way we cared for one another in Morocco. One part of our l’Orangeraie family: Khadija, Aicha, Ismael and Sana, share anecdotes of their lives during lockdown – from catching their ghostly reflections in empty store windows to stocking up on diapers, medication, disinfecting wipes, and gallons of bags of flour for homemade bread and pancakes. And, of course, they did not forget their famous sidekicks of coffee beans and fresh mint leaves.

Khadija, returned back home to the Atlas mountains when the lockdown started in March. Her hometown, one hour away from Marrakech, is best described as a small Berber town where cavernous kitchens are still lit by oak fires, laundry hangs outdoors on a clothesline, and where you will find the occasional Berber-Moroccans who is toothless by thirty. Khadija’s version of the lockdown in the Atlas Mountains contrasted greatly against that of Ismael, Sana and Aicha, who had no choice but to spend it at home in one of the hardest-hit cities of Morocco: Marrakech. The ever-increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Marrakech was nowhere to be found in the Atlas Mountains. From working 6 days a week at l’Orangeraie almost all year round, the lockdown was a bittersweet break for Khadija. She got to spend quality time with her mother and family. And with her newfound free time at home in the calm of the Atlas Mountains, she started learning traditional Moroccan recipes taught by her mother, and spent the other time brushing up on her English language skills. The detox from digital signals in the mountains and the reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech was something she never knew she needed for her peace of mind.

While the pandemic meant separation from the arms of their loved ones for many, for Aicha it meant the opposite. Although hungry for reassurance that this unhappy Covid story would end sooner than later, she got to bond with her son (25) and daughter (23) in a way she had never before. In the absence of day-to-day work and activities, intimate conversations and interactions had space to flourish. Aicha would typically wake up early and go grocery shopping on days she was allowed to (Government mandates only allowed shopping to be done every four days). It was exactly in the ghostly streets of Marrakech that Aicha often found her ghostly reflection in empty store windows, a reflection that seemed to bring to surface the deeper emotions and fear within. Once back home, Aicha would prepare her children’s breakfast as if they were still the helpless children they once were. Awaking to the smell of fresh mint tea, the children and Aicha start their days by sharing breakfast before watching a movie together or cleaning the house, all while allowing the given intimacy of a parent-child relationship to blossom into a hearty laughter. And this is what got Aicha through the lockdown, staying optimistic and wearing a smile everyday from ear to ear especially for her children.

”When will the germs go away?”
”When can we play outside?”
”When can I see my grandma?”

Ismael and his wife had their hands full with three kids, each ten, six and two years old respectively. While so much fear, uncertainty and panic surged in the inhabitants of Marrakech, Ismael preferred spending his time looking after the garden, helping his kids with their homework, cooking together with his beloved wife and of course, FaceTiming with his l’Orangeraie family to get news from them. He had made a group on WhatsApp to better keep in touch with each other but digital communication could never replace the daily warm interactions they used to have. The inadequacy of the phone was even more apparent during Ramadan in May. Every year, Ismael and his family would visit his mama and his mother-in-law to break fasts, and typically leaving with generous boxes of his favorite pastries, handmade by his mama and his mother-in-law. But this year, the in-person visits were unfortunately replaced by FaceTime as Ismael and his wife learnt the authentic recipes of his favorite pastries from his mama and his mother-in-law, and baked it themselves in their home. Ismael counts his vastly improved cooking skills as his greatest achievement during the lockdown – and that it brought back the sweet nostalgic times of family gatherings as he knew it before March.

For Sana, there was a silver lining during the lockdown in Marrakech that came in the shape of cleaner air. She noticed that the pollution caused by excessive motorcycles and cars significantly decreased. Of course, she would rather put her shoes on and grab her motorcycle to enjoy the Marrakchi sun, but the lockdown caused her to ponder – from how to be kinder to mother nature, to her personal spending habits, and reflections on what really mattered to her in life. Although she doesn’t like to be forced to stay at home, or forced to do anything for that matter, she made peace with the lockdown for the first two weeks. After that, she began to yearn for the ordinary Marrakchi day-to-day activities – the smell of jasmine-scented air, the freshly baked msemen at l’Orangeraie, the yellow sun caressing her face – all of which evoked pleasurable feelings in her. For her, these simple things were what made her feel aglow. But she is also aware that for now, she has to do what is necessary..

About the author
Chadia El Hajari

Amsterdam-born creative writer and travel bug Chadia has lived in Marrakech on and off since 2016 and fell into creative advertising by chance. She is a big fan of Marrakech’ beguiling sunsets, its Arabic and Berber people and laidback lifestyle. She is always on the hunt for an adventure and a great pair of heels, whether on the rocky desert of Agafay or boating on Lake Como!