If you enjoy a tipple, travelling in Morocco during Ramadan can be frustrating.
But even the most devout find ways ...
Getaway magazine, October 2021 - illustration by Jess Nicholson
The sky was a Fanta commercial, the dunes were pink waves, the palm trees cardboard cutout silhouettes. From my perch atop the roof of the kasbah, I took a long pull of my drink. The ice clinked; the clear liquid sparkled; I felt its chilly passage down my throat and I gagged realizing Ahmed had been cruel enough to serve me neat, unadulterated water. How inappropriate.
Ahmed had certainly seen countless similar sunsets but his face was rapturous (surely put on for the benefit of travelers such as myself) so I waited until the sky had mellowed to a dusky red before I disturbed him.
“Hah! Here among Allah’s people you ask for a gee and tee? You make me laugh South African!”
“But surely Ahmed, with all the foreigners travelling through here…”
“This is not Marrakech. We are Berber and it is Ramadan! You are among the most devout here in the desert.” He scolded “The sun has not even set and you want to drink! I have yet to taste food or water today.” He flashed a mocking, yellow grin and turned to watch the sun until the moment its copper head disappeared behind the dunes. Then he scampered off the roof to the cooking fires below.
That night, after sharing a table of the most delicious lamb tagine with a quiet young couple from Spain and a noisy Australian woman, we retired to the brightly woven cushions of the courtyard to smoke smelly Moroccan cigarettes and sip endless cups of mint tee.
Conversation was difficult: I think the Spanish understood English well enough yet I’m sure they pleaded ignorance to avoid the verbal onslaught of the Australian who insisted she had seen more and traveled further and harder. A drink would have drowned her out or made me feel justified in telling her to shut up.
I tried to think of an excuse to retire early, but before I could leave, Ahmed perched himself on a cushion beside me and, after ceremoniously pouring another round of tea from the silver urn, sidled up to me as only a Moroccan schooled in the laws of carpet selling can.
“Tonight South African, because I like you and you are far from home, we have a special treat.”
Dancing girls? A hookah loaded with hash?
“Tonight we serve you all Vodka!”
Allah be praised!
“Berber Vodka.” He whispered “Very strong, our own special brew. But only later, when there are not too many eyes.”
Proof that not even the most devout could resist. My taste buds popped.
I endured the litany of the Ozzie in anticipation of this fabled nectar. Periodic glances in Ahmed’s direction were met with the same assuring, yellow smile and when I watched him rise enthusiastically to greet a large group of Berbers, he winked confidentially in my direction.
The group carried decorative ceramic drums and small iron cymbals, musical instruments, I was sure, to enhance the effects of the home made desert brew. I watched eagerly for the moment they drew the bottles from the folds of their djelabas.
One by one they chose cushions and sat among us. Soon the drummers’ hands were beating the taught skins in ecstatic pulsating rhythm and the cymbals were crashing between flashing fingers. Their closed eyes were raised to the constellation of Orion and their ululating voices soared in rhythm to their frenetic hands. I did not need to understand the words to know they sang of love for the desert and the breadth of their nomadic wanderings.
Ahmed handed me a drum and he beat his slowly until I caught up to join the pace. “This” he said “is Berber Vodka!” That night, I got incredibly drunk.