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On our travels so far, we have rarely slowed down and stayed for a few weeks, or even days in any one town. So we’ve decided to stay around in Boujdour a while and experience daily life here. It is not one of the towns on any holidaymaker’s itinerary; Thompson Holidays, Ryanair nor Easy Jet has this town as a destination.
It is a fishing village, a regional town for Saharawi desert tribes and has a strong military presence.
For many it is just a stopover on the main North South route between Laâyoune, 300kms to the north and Dhakla, 300km to the south.
Laâyoune is a bustling city full of UNHCR staff and rock throwing youths, so we quickly passed it by only stopping for a brief visit to it’s supermarket full of expensive, European standard supplies of coffee, chocolate and scaggy biscuits. Dhakla is in the top 10 places to visit according to the New York Times 2012 bucket list, but that’s an experience yet to come for us. We are not completely convinced it being on the NYT list is really any recommendation at all. Only time will tell.
Boujdour, like many North African towns, has a steady, slow and constant rhythm to life. The days are marked by the 5 calls to prayer at dawn, 11’s, mid-afternoon, sunset and bed time. The mornings can be damp and cool at 27°c and afternoons in the low 30°s. Humidity can be 70-80% so the afternoons are quiet. That will be time for a siesta then…. a fine thing the Spanish left behind after they surrendered their occupancy in the early 1970’s.
Locals seem to dedicate their mornings to shopping for daily supplies and busy workshops full of the usual Moroccan bodge repairs for cars, trucks, bikes and out board engines. The repairs are of course guaranteed for the life of the repair….
If they’re not shopping or repairing then the men folk sit, drink coffee and chat the morning away, probably about their latest and greatest bodge. There are few children and even less women around. The ones who are out appear to be brandishing a folder of paper work, striding with purpose between the regional government offices and businesses.
I jokingly suggest it is a man’s world here to Angela, but I suspect the opposite is more likely. Surprising how one’s opinion can change after a good dose of bruised ribs….;-)
The afternoons, during our long siesta, are quiet but come 5 o’clock, as the day cools, the streets begin to fill. Again bodging shops and coffee shops are full with the men folk bodging, chatting and quite a few are watching the world cup football but there are also a lot more women and young children out in the squares and open areas looking relaxed, giggling, laughing and chatting with each other.
The street market becomes a bit of a busy free for all, where there are packs of women folk shopping.
Here they are not so relaxed and there is no giggling as they barter the stall owners in to submission to sell their wares at the cheapest price. Noisy, smelly, hustly and bustly and all the basics of life can be found here. The traders are good natured and without the pushy “hey westerner come, you must buy this for an extortionate price”.
There are not many families shopping together in the market, occasionally down on the beach you do see a father figure and his family having a picnic and paddling along the shore and that is when you see a close, loving family unit.
In the evening’s, if the men are not fishing on the beach then they are more likely to be at one of the popular social clubs on the street corners.
Friday is dominoes night, playing a round robin in pairs on the floor using cardboard as their table; Sunday is draughts night using the pavement as the board, bottle tops and small rocks for the pieces. Tuesday is card night, which looks like a complicated game of Snap to me. The games are friendly, fast, and sometimes argumentative and for us, there is no working out the rules. These games are always accompanied by tea. Women are not allowed to play, not even Angela, hard as she tried, was allowed to touch the games let alone sit with the men folk and play a hand or two. But they do smile and laugh as we watch from the side.
Early evening is the time of the teenage terror boys in groups playing football in the streets, sometimes barefoot and sometimes with roller blades; girls tend to be in their own group or out shopping with their mothers.
The younger children do play in mixed groups or at least they do when they follow us around.
Schooling here is compulsory until the age of 12 and after that it is down to private education. Even in Boujdour, which does not appear to be overly wealthy, seems to make the investment and many girls and boys we speak to claim to be staying on at school.
The teenagers are generally very polite, shouting across “Bonjour, Ça va”, sometimes even crossing the road to shake hands. There is often a nervous excited aura with the children practising their French, Spanish and occasionally English with us. A short conversation more often than not results in us being invited to their family homes for food.
There are of course a small element of boys who say “bonjour, give me 1 dirham”. I have been told they are immigrants from the north, local tribe children would not ask. Seems the same perception of immigration problems wherever you go these days…
But we are trying different tactics to this type of begging here, from “La” (Arabic for No), ignoring them, stern looks, asking” why” and giving lectures of “no, go to school, learn, get a job and earn your own money” in our finest English. We have had varying degrees of success, once or twice the response has been swearing or the finger sign, and followed by rapid running away if we turn to confront them. Fortunately we have not been plagued by this. It is irritating and occasionally funny when Angela starts running down the road after them ……….. Next time I might ask them for 3 dib dobs.
It seems every day has pretty much the same ebb and flow, even the weekends are not really different. If I were here for a two week holiday I might be disappointed at the normality of it all. Like every town in the world, there are issues underneath this exterior façade. Over the next couple of weeks we are hoping to work with the High Atlas Foundation to learn more about the social problems many here face and get under the covers just a little bit more. So watch this space for the next update.