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Cranes of Agadir

By Fred A. Reed

When I look eastward out of the kitchen window every morning, I survey the urban roof-scape of Agadir, our Moroccan hometown. Beyond the corrugated sheds of the sardine canneries—whose particular odour often pervades the air we breathe—are a series of apartment buildings in various stages of stasis. Begun years ago, they’ve ground to a halt.

But what catch my eye are the cranes. Construction cranes, that is. They’ve been there since we took up residence here, five years ago first for the winter, and now for good. Mute sentinels, they turn and twist in the wind creating the impression of work in progress. But it is not. Instead they’ve become roosting places for the gulls that throng the district, drawn by fish scraps no doubt.

Once an indicator of economic vigour, they stand now as harbingers of despair. Or, a friend wryly remarked, as monuments to our town’s eminence as a money-laundering destination. New construction, he told me, along with the old favourites hotels and restaurants are the preferred venues for the men with thick bankrolls from the drug producing zones in the North.

Whether it’s money laundering or insufficient investment, if nothing continues to happen, the cranes will slowly rust and creak to a halt. Perhaps they will crash to the ground, but no construction workers will be crushed or otherwise injured, for there are no construction workers pending the end of the epidemic and the return of the tourists who would purchase the apartments in these buildings for their summer holidays. And these days, that’s a lot of "woulds."

But when I see the cranes, I think of birds. And of those close relatives of the crane, the storks.

Agadir stands astride north-south avian migration routes. We are visited in spring by swallows and later, by swifts that swoop and dart about our building chasing dinner on the fly. But one of our most tender memories is of a wayward stork that must have been blown off course and found refuge at the yacht harbour for a few days until a gang of vicious and aggressive gulls drove it away.

A few years back, in Marrakech, we came to appreciate these majestic birds. Far from harbingers of despair, they are winged bearers of hope. It was early June and we were —unexpectedly — attending the wedding of a friend’s daughter, which is in itself a story to be told.

So, the ceremony over, the guests dispersed, we had some time to explore the town. One thing struck us immediately: the large number of resident storks, whose nests were built atop minarets and in other high and commanding spots. Unlike their cousins the cranes, which have a complex ‘language’, storks have no vocal apparatus. They communicate by clacking their long bills. You knew by the clatter when you were passing beneath one of their nesting sites.

We were staying in a ryad on the western edge of the old walled city. From the roof, we could see a storks’ nest atop the minaret of the neighbourhood mosque. It was Ramadan, so we were up early to take the pre-fast meal that would last us all day. Then, we would repair to the roof that looked out over the town to watch the sunrise.

As first light crept over Marrakech we watched as the storks returned from a night’s foraging. With slow graceful wing strokes, long legs stretched out behind them, these great birds swept in low over the rooftops, making for their nests.

Here no gulls would importune them; they were the masters of the dawn sky.

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