By Jaouad Radouani
By Jaouad Radouani
Tangier – This story takes place in Tangier in the city of Arousat Shamal or “Bride of the North,” in Moroccan local Arabic.
In this story, which is nothing less than truth, the author and hero of this marvellous tale will shortly relate the incidents of his intrepid trip from a small village to a city of wonders, for the first time in his life, in a decaying bus through timorous mountains of Jebala.
As you may have guessed, I am the author of this tale. But before I begin narrating the ‘remnants’ of my prodigious journey, I would like to give a word about myself and the circumstances that took me to Tangier in the first place. I am originally from Midar, a Rif village in the heart of magnificent Rif mountains in the Beni Touzin region. Many people from the Rif actually quite like Tangier and visit it regularly and some even leave their motherland for a life-stay in this fascinating city. Thus, Tangier becomes a famous Terra Incognita for a Rif individual who, by nature, desires to pay it a visit one day or settle down there if life conditions allow.
The circumstances surrounding my trip began on July 6th 1999 when I received a letter from Fahd Ibn Abdelaziz School of Translation inviting me to sit for entry exams. The letter stated that the exams will be held on July 17th and 18th and that everybody should be there, right in the school’s administration terrace, at half past eight, accompanied with all necessary documents including my identity card, the letter of invitation, and a copy of the Diplome d’Etudes Univesritaires Génèrales. Tangier was calling me from afar.
After I received the letter and carefully studied the included instructions, I began packing for the journey. I really felt, then, an urging to go discover the city no matter the obstacles I might face. Therefore, I decided to seize the opportunity and go discover the city and learn about it in addition to sitting for the exam. I asked my brother for money. And although he said he didn’t have any at the time, he would secure for me a ‘go-sum’ but not a back-one. I waited some days. Finally, he handed me a bill of MAD 100. Thanking him, I put the brown money-bill in my pocket and deeply exhaled. The final and most important travel arrangement was fixed. “I am finally, I am going to Tangier,” I said.
July 17th that year happened to be a Tuesday. The day before, I woke up at 5:00am, picked up my bag and walked out of the house through a back door so that I wouldn’t wake anyone up. On my way to the bus station, I met a friend who had been to Tangier many times before visiting a sister who lived there. He picked me up from ‘bab sbitar’ in his dad’s car, which he was unusually riding that morning, and suggested we have breakfast together at Hitler’s café before I left. After about an hour spent in the café, he drove me to the bus station. We waited together in the car and listened to midi1 radio, while he talked about many places in Tangier including names of streets and neighbourhoods, markets, souks, the language of ‘jebala’ and all that may seem exotic to a newcomer to the city. In fact, the more he talked about ‘Tanja’ the more I grew eager to see it.
At 6:45 the bus arrived, I bid my friend goodbye and I vanished into the old bus. The moment I put my feet in this decaying piece of a lorry, the ‘chauffeur,’ a ‘tanjaoui’ in both looks and accent, asked me for my destination.
“Tanja.” I replied in a wavering voice.
“Ok,” he said. “Find a seat and sit down. There is no reason to hurry. Tanja Mazala Baida w Trik Twila (Tangier is still far and the way is too long).”
I did not answer him back as it was morning and I had no will to engage in unnecessary talks. I found myself a seat next to a man whose destination I would later discover was Alhoceima.
This trip to Tangier was the first long journey I ever had. On the way, I constantly tried to close my eyes and sleep in an attempt to avoid long times of waiting, the sound of the roaring engine, and gloomy forests and mountains. But, each time I woke up, I would still find myself on the bus with the engine still moaning faint sounds that would obscurely fade into the long, curved, and never-ending cracked roads. I felt very tired and began to think of Tangier as a remote place not worth the troublesome trip. I kept reminding myself that once in ‘Tanja,’ it would be worth the trouble.
After a long shaky day, the bus entered Tetouan’s bus station to drop off some passengers. As I was not well acquainted with the road, I asked someone about how far from Tangier we were and learned it was about an hour journey. At Al-Maghreb prayers, the bus finally made it way inside Tangier towards the station. At first sight, Tangier’s beauty seemed heavenly. I never imagined such a beautiful city could exist some four hundred kilometres North from my hometown. Tangier, I found, was a two-world’s-city. A modest town combining the aspects of a western developed polis with a peculiar traditional eastern part of the world.
Out of the bus station, the town seemed different. I saw a mosque with purely Eastern architecture . I later on learned the mosque’s name was Masjid Souryin. A couple of blue Taxis were queuing by the side of the street right in front of the door of Al-Mahatta (the bus station). The taxi drivers were busily speaking a different Arabic from than I was familiar. I waved to one of them.
“Fain A khay (Where to, pal?)” he replied.
“Dini Lemdina,’ cinema Mauretania badapt (take me to Lemdina, right to Cinema Mauritania).” I said.
As we made our way, many things around gave me the impression I was no longer in Morocco. Although I recognized the city that I was in Tangier (with many signs to prove it), I couldn’t beleive such a beautiful city existed on Moroccan soil. Tangier is another world with different people, culture, weather and atmosphere. I finally understood why they gave it the name ‘Arousat Ashamal.’ I even said to myself “Indeed, ‘àroussa Hia’ and so a bride should be.” Everything along the boulevard had Western characteristics including the streets, bazaars, cafés, shops, and people … a disguised Moroccan city it seemed. Geography was eastern but the atmosphere looked purely western.
Once we arrived, I paid the Taxi driver and found myself near a small shop of a Soussi selling ‘Zeriàa.’ I decided to ask him about the right place to go. As I got closer to the small shop, I nodded my head in a humble salamou alaikoum and asked the coloured boy about a certain billiard named Milano. He, with a Moroccan willingness and readiness to help a lost visitor, answered in his untainted Soussi accent “Lhiha kdamek, hadik li enface” meaning “there, the place right in front of you.”
Once in front of a huge open door, I heard throbbing sounds of music. I followed them down a few stairs to a room full of snooker and billiard tables. There were crowds of young boys and girls busy playing games in a half dark milieu. The mingled smell of rot, alcohol, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke filled the air. Once down, I studied their faces trying to recognise my cousin; however, their pictures did not match with the who I was looking for. I leaned on the counter and asked a slim girl serving coffee and lemonade whether she knew Rachid Riffi. She indifferently answered that he will be back in a few minutes and moved away toward a couple of young men in a dark corner of the underground large room.
While busy reminiscing some cherished feelings of home, the cousin I was looking for suddenly appeared wearing a khaki suit and holding a Marlboro cigarette in his hand. He expressed deep feelings of happiness to see me and warmly received me with a fresh hug. He insisted on the spot that we should go have coffee in a nice place around the corner. Later that night, he switched off the lights of the billiard, closed the big door, and we walked to his house in Dradeb. There I met his humble wife and two cute daughters who spoke perfect Darija in impeccable Jebli accent. After we had a delicious dinner, he suggested he would take me to see beautiful places in Tangier the next day. I liked the idea and humbly acquiesced but then I immediately remembered that I had to sit for entry exams in Fahd Institute. I told him so and he wished me good luck and said he would take me the day after.
The day of the tour, we started from Dradeb and took a long trip through wide avenues and narrow paths through the marvellous city. Here, I discovered another face of Tangier, this city that keeps unfolding in front of my eyes in very ambivalent faces. I discovered a purely traditional world living in complete harmony with another far developed modern one. I saw different small and beautiful places I never thought could come together combined in one city. Traditional neighbourhoods leading through narrow paths to huge postmodern streets, avenues, flats, shops, cafés, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. The city’s general atmosphere, joyful and sunny, but never hot, gave me more power to keep moving and seeing. I walked for about four hours on feet before we stopped at a café for a cup of Atai khdar or “green tea,” as they call it.
The moment I sat in the café chair and asked for tea and water, my mind raced with images of a haunting city I never knew existed. In fact, I thought and said to my cousin, “Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakkesh, Agadir… are beautiful cities, but Tangier was a one of a kind city.” He answered immediately and said, “yes, you’re right” and added “now you can understand why I could not go back home.” He stated that he fell in love with this part of the world and could not leave it, just like Mohammed Shoukri’s narrator of his famous story ’Lkhobz Lhafi.’
There is something charming and attractive in Tangier. I can not say what it is exactly, but I can feel, now that many years passed, that Tangier is a great Mediterranean city that shelters everybody and welcomes all with no distinction. It is a melting pot where nationalities, cultures, and races of different kinds meet and peacefully lead a dream-like life.
My fourth-night, I got lost in this platonic city. I tirelessly walked and got lost in shining streets and narrow dark paths. I ate cheap ‘bisara’ bowls and drank tea whenever I got tired. I found Tangier to be a magical city where whatever one could want can be easily found. The city is neither wide nor dispersed. Everything in it is closely at hand.
It is two worlds forming a wonderful Nirvana. It is a place where the East meets West. The modern face of the city feels like Los Angeles. The traditional face has a traditional eastern Islamic feel with all its aspects of life. Tangier oscillates between two limits of a pendulum representing the edges of a modern world and a traditional one. These two worlds are not separated from each other in Tangier; they live together in complete harmony and make the past, present, and the future of this marvellous city. When in Tangier, one never knows when he will shift from modernity to tradition. You can be on the boulevard (which represents a 21st century view), by the French embassy or be lead to ‘Souk Dbarra,’ – a traditional market zone ornamented with very ancient colonial mansions and local traditional views. Modernity and traditionalism echo in Tangier, the city that shelters the world.
Race, ethnicity, language, colour and social status vanish in Tangier. The poor and the rich live together in mutual love and harmony. Intellectuals and mere craftsmen sip tea and drink coffee in the same cafés, terraces, street pavements, and roam the same neighbourhoods and boulevards. Everybody is given an opportunity to live in ‘Tingis,’ as the Romans named it, in a peaceful modern and traditional life at the same time. The city organizes itself, distributes roles, and each knows by mere intuition and social level his rights, limits, and possibilities.
When I returned home, I continuously think of Tangier as a place of beauty, love, and warm tranquil living. A place where two worlds come together in full harmony and alliance. Moreover, as an ex-visitor to Tangier on an adventurous trip, I now understand better why famous world intellectuals, authors, artists, and politicians fall in love with it and decide to never leave it. As a Moroccan traveller who saw Tangier for the first time, I myself was held by the beauty of this city. It’s cultural, social, and economic “ambivalence” gave it the charm to be considered an international zone where two worlds, two civilisations, two cultures, meet, interweave, and peacefully live together.
Morocco’s interior traditional and cultural heritage, as well as its modern and postmodern face can be found in Tangier. This is a city that combines two great seas and two great worlds in one artistic city.
Edited by Sigalle Barness