By Fred Reed
Agadir, Morocco – When the East wind blows, our town goes slightly crazy. Plastic bottles bounce and roll down the street with an empty clatter where they join with scraps of oily paper, aluminum foil candy-bar wrappers and the odd sardine can. In the teahouses that line la Rue de Marrakech the customers— males only of course—huddle close to the wall, hiding from the sun beneath flapping canvas awnings. Others struggle down the street tacking like sailboats against the wind, the hoods of their jellabas pulled low over their foreheads, while portly ladies strive futilely to control the loose extremities of their veils and multi-coloured shawls.
East wind days are overwhelmingly days of dust and sand: fine sand that insinuates itself into the tiniest cracks and crevices; dust that swirls down the street, now hugging the ground, now forming dust devils that leap and dance across the pavement.
Stray dogs move with a curious sidewise gait, tongues hanging out, while the cats that normally spend their mornings curled up on the hoods of parked cars or snoozing on chairs have long sought out a cool and sheltered corner.
The itinerant merchants and rag pickers that work the narrow side streets and alleys retreat deep into their shady warrens. What housewife will venture out to buy a kilogram of sardines or pass on a broken teapot?
In houses shutters clatter and curtains billow out like sails before a gale, and the sun—already hot by mid-morning—bores through the merest cracks like a laser beam. And following the sunlight, fine dust that alights on all horizontal surfaces, scratches beneath your slippers, adheres to the fruits in the bowl and the covers of magazines left carelessly about. On counterpanes and on doorsills it forms miniature, rippling dunes.
Agadir, normally mild, is transformed into a burning fiery furnace. The wind that sweeps up sand from the encroaching Sahara and deposits it upon the town purges the atmosphere of its impurities. Visibility seems unlimited. Were it not for the curve of the Earth, you could surely see the volcanic peaks of Madeira, several thousand kilometres distant, on the far western horizon. Or the Canaries, a mere five hundred kilometres to the south.
Every shrub on the Agadir Oufella, the hill where the ancient city stood before it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1960, stands out in sharp relief against the parched ochre earth. Every blade of the wind-whipped palm fronds seem etched like the incised strokes of fine Arabic calligraphy.
Humidity plummets: best take plenty of water and if you must walk, hug the wall and seek the shade. Only mad dogs and Englishmen, as Noël Coward famously wrote, go out in the noonday sun. No Brits here, but plenty of French pensioners, most of them attired in shorts and the obligatory scarf knotted around the neck: people from the dreary and rain-swept north coasts, places like Brittany and Calais, squat and compact, with close-cropped hair and grim determination to enjoy themselves written on their faces.
It was on one such day in April last year that my wife and I had gone for a walk along Agadir’s seafront promenade, the town’s chief attraction. The place was all but deserted, strollers driven to cover by the roaring surf and sand from the beach carried by the wind across the plaza.
Two high school students carrying clipboards came up to us. They were doing a survey for a term paper, they explained. Their question was: “Why did you choose Morocco?”
It was a hell of a day to ask that question and their random sampling could well have produced some negative responses uttered through a mouthful of sand. Not from us though. The day was magical. The roaring easterlies had stripped away the town’s disguises and sent infiltrating dust beneath doors and through badly hung windows like prying eyes and enquiring ears.
Only the thickest of walls could hide the city’s most intimate secrets and those, too, we would learn.
We weren’t even prepared for the answer when it came, spontaneously: "Morocco chose us!”
It must have been the wind.