My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Kit Hes­keth-harvey Kit Hes­keth-harvey is a So­ci­ety cabaret en­ter­tainer and reg­u­lar broad­caster for the BBC. He lives in Nor­folk

‘His­toric palace in the Me­d­ina at Es­saouira any­one?’

AT the long se­cu­rity bag­gage check in de­par­tures, I found my­self sur­rounded by a stag party from Ket­ter­ing, em­bark­ing upon three days of al­co­holic obliv­ion. Lively young lads all, they were col­leagues work­ing in fraud pre­ven­tion. The banks, you un­der­stand, hav­ing bul­lied us into us­ing their wretched on­line colan­ders, must now em­ploy en­tire squads, at our ex­pense, to mop up the leaks of their own cre­ation. We were at Lu­ton, which is like an air­port, only more rub­bish.

‘Join us, why don’t you?’ asked my neigh­bour in the queue, who hap­pened to be a dwarf. He held na­tional brav­ery awards, he told me, af­ter en­dur­ing a se­ries of hor­ri­ble spinal op­er­a­tions. ‘We’re gonna be dress­ing up, all of us, as Pamela An­der­son and an­ni­hi­lat­ing Ma­galuf.’

An­dré Gide de­creed: ‘Don’t write down your life as you’ve lived it. Live your life as you would like it to be writ­ten down.’ As much as I’d adore to record that I spent this week dressed as Pamela An­der­son, hog-whim­per­ing on the Ma­jor­can strip with a group from Ket­ter­ing, my own flight was Morocco-bound.

His­toric palace in the Me­d­ina at Es­saouira, any­one? A bar­gain at £200,000. I’ve been try­ing to flog it, on be­half of a friend, for four years. Only now has it fi­nally shifted—per­haps be­cause of atroc­i­ties against tourists in other North African coun­tries or, per­haps, be­cause I haven’t been try­ing very hard.

How­ever, the lofty rooms of the Caid Yus­sif Di­jjy have fi­nally been emp­tied of fur­ni­ture. Bougainvil­lea petals rus­tle pro­tec­tively around the foun­tain as I turn it off. Sun­light scalds the white ter­races far above, yet, down here, it’s dap­pled by the harem screens carved from lo­cal thuya wood. Flut­ter­ing doves are the only oc­cu­pants now and, with­out the trick­ling foun­tain, the wail of a distant muezzin call­ing Ra­madan is the only sound.

Out­side the riad, in the souk, the streets of Es­saouira are pros­per­ing. Di­rect flights from the UK have en­abled a strik­ing restora­tion of the ram­parts, built by Théodore Cor­nut, a French mil­i­tary ar­chi­tect, in the 1760s, which rear up against the At­lantic. They’re ex­tend­ing the har­bour, too—in­sha’al­lah, for yachts, al­though I fear the ar­rival of cruise ships. Still, no stag par­ties, mer­ci­fully, as al­co­hol is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive in south­west Morocco. The al­ley cats look sleeker, now, af­ter a cou­ple of vets from Brighton set up a char­ity in the town to in­oc­u­late them. Mean­while, Tesco 4G reaches deep into the sur­round­ing wilder­ness.

The Cor­niche has been re­built. This boule­vard sweeps around the bay and leads to the end­less miles of daz­zling sand along which the kite-surfers are rac­ing us as Hakram and I gal­lop fu­ri­ously on fast Ara­bian horses to­wards the Sa­hara.

Come sun­set, he sips his first drink of the long day and lights his first ci­garette. Like the Chris­tian Lent, the Ra­madan fast will re­mind him of what the truly des­ti­tute en­dure, that he may be more gen­er­ous in his alms­giv­ing. Soon will come the fes­ti­val of Eid al-fitr to cel­e­brate the end of Ra­madan. This ‘Sugar Feast’ should not be con­fused with the Eid (al-adha) or ‘Fes­ti­val of Sac­ri­fice’ later in the year, which commemorates the leg­end of Abra­ham and Isaac. Th­ese con­sci­en­tious young male Mus­lims re­vere the Jewish pa­tri­archs in the same way that they re­vere Je­sus of Nazareth. We have so colos­sally much in com­mon.

‘Could a Tu­nis hap­pen here?’ I won­der. Hakram, slurp­ing his sheep’s milk (he never touches al­co­hol) grins and replies: ‘No way. We Moroc­cans are far too nosey. Everybody knows everybody else’s busi­ness. We po­lice our­selves.’ He pokes the brush­wood fire for our mint tea and, mur­mur­ing, adds the po­litely con­ven­tional ‘with peace be it spo­ken’.

Ah, ‘with peace be it spo­ken’. It’s a phrase I first en­coun­tered when read­ing Trav­els in

Ara­bia De­serta by the ad­ven­turer Charles Doughty. He lived in an East Anglian rec­tory and was Cam­bridge-ed­u­cated (a lot in com­mon, then). In 1876, as a Nazreny trav­el­ling in the desert in ar­eas of ex­treme per­sonal dan­ger, he earnt the re­spect and trust of his hosts sim­ply by re­spect­ing and trust­ing them.

There’s no peace, even un­der th­ese teem­ing, silent stars. My phone pings. It’s a text mes­sage from my bank—some plonker has phished my ac­count. Not to worry, it says, the bank’s fraud­pre­ven­tion squad is onto it. They’ve blocked my credit card and I’m ma­rooned, with­out funds, in the West­ern Sa­hara. Any emailed ap­peal home out­lin­ing my plight will doubt­less be fire­walled as a Nige­rian scam. (Ap­par­ently, one can th­ese days at­tend Fraud School in Nige­ria.) I’ve no means of re­turn­ing to West­ern civil­i­sa­tion. Could be worse. Next week: Ja­son Good­win

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