By Fred Reed
Dearest old friend,
I’m going to pursue the writing of this note intermittently as other tasks may intervene. But what’s the hurry, anyway? I’m not really going anywhere. Came back from the souk this morning, after making my way through aisles of stalls overflowing with fresh vegetables and fruits (now peaches, nectarines, apricots, medlars, strawberries and melons with a few pears and apples thrown in); the poultry market was clucking, not humming, the birds unaware of the fate soon to be visited upon them. Dried fruit stalls were overflowing with dates, that quintessential Ramadan staple—we eat them to break the fast, for they provide an instant boost of sugar and fibre. There were national guardsmen preparing a check-point at the gate (as it was early, no one asked to see my papers) and the usual African beggars in the parking lot, all wearing the required face-masks.
The infection rate is slowly dropping, and the death rate is close to zero across the country. From what I see and hear, people are showing an acute sense of social responsibility and solidarity. From the start, the fact that Morocco’s health-care system was deficient made it clear that prevention was the only possible policy. To date, that’s proven prescient. The infection and death rates here are among the lowest in the world; this is being seen as largely due to the King’s leadership. Unusual to hear me praising hereditary royalty, but in fact M6, as the ultimate authority, knows he has ultimate responsibility. Whatever good happens will reflect well on him; whatever bad, very badly on him and his house.
Next day. Sunday. A mini-heatwave has settled over our town, and we’re laying even lower than usual. Last night as if to proclaim its arrival, the neighbourhood owl was hooting continuously. I almost wrote ‘mournfully', but on reflection found that to be anthropomorphic. What would an innocent owl know of the trials and tribulations of suffering humanity in this era of plague that has come upon us. Did I mention in a previous note that during Ramadan (today is Day 9 and we’re starting to become accustomed to hunger, thirst and fatigue and even welcoming them) the entire country of Morocco is on strict curfew from the time the siren sounds to signal the end of the day’s fast, until the call from the mosque before sunrise, which marks the beginning of another day.
You suggested I write about Friday at the mosque, and how I would have loved to do so. Except that all mosques are closed for the duration, and no one knows how long that will be: weeks, months… That means that the usual communal prayers that are practiced here are not taking place. Nothing is taking place outside of homes, among members of the family or, in our case, among ourselves. I can’t recall if I mentioned that the sense of traditional hospitality is stronger even now than ever, despite isolation and confinement. Twice so far friends have called to say that food would be delivered to our door in one-half hour. And so it was: entire meals, pots of harira, the multi-ingredient soup that’s eaten everywhere to break the fast, and an array of savoury and sweet delicacies arranged in boxes and on trays to display their colours and textures. That and breads and cakes, and even a batch of chocolate covered donuts! It’s more than the two of us can possibly consume, so we pass on the overflow to our neighbours. We are shamed that we lack the capacity to reciprocate, but we’ll do our best nonetheless.
Like just about everywhere else, since the crash of industrial activity and the absence of automobiles from the streets, the air is clearer and the sun and moon brighter than ever. Like just about everywhere else, there are more birds visible and audible. Has misfortune brought with it a taste of what redemption might look like? Last night we saw the just-released documentary ‘Planet of the Humans’ with its very dark view of the prospects for our species. What, I ask myself, if the success of public health-care systems, the chemical medical model, and the general rise of good hygiene turned out not to be a blessing but a curse? That seems to me to be the implicit argument of the film. As an octogenarian, I don’t feel particularly proud of that, nor terribly optimistic either, neither for self nor for what we once called the common good.
Does that exist any more? Our modest experience here suggests that it does. The behaviour of the alpha predators who rule the world suggests otherwise.