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Expatriate back chat - Morocco
Hugh Rochford talks to Barnaby Rogerson, The Independent, 1999

What's the weather like?
Absolutely fabulous. Blue, warm and windless. Sitting out in the evening you have to use a knife to cut your way through the blossom-scent wafting up from the garden.

What are the locals complaining about?
Morocco is free, fair and democratic but no one would be stupid enough to put these liberties to the test by blabbing to a foreigner about politics or the police. My neighbours are currently incensed about each other’s behaviour. I can't quite get to the bottom of the plot but somewhere in the middle of the intrigue is a dispute about who has the right to steal electricity from my line. Curiously my bills seem unaffected by all the illegal lines tapping into my metered supply. That however is my secret, and on the street I try and look as concerned and anguished as possible.

Who's the talk of the town?
Everyone is still madly in love with the young King. Where he is, who he talks to, who has access to him, does he now prefer Tangier to Marrakech? It’s a never-ending circle of gossip from the top to the tail of society. First-hand stories about Mohammed VI reduce a room to silence, while everyone else has to fight for air space in the rumour factory. No one seems in the least impressed by the story that the current prime minister may have been aware of the 1972 coup before it happened, or concerned that the energy minister should have been sacked just weeks after Morocco first discovers oil, or that one of the leading firebrand socialists was all along in the pocket of the ex-minister of interior.

What's the cool drink to order?
In order to outflank criticism of Western foreign policy in the Middle East I have begun a personal sanctions campaign against all American soft drinks until US policy on Jerusalem shapes up. This has impressed noone. I drink mint tea with locals but have taken to offering guests chilled quarter bottles of Pop champagne to be drunk with a straw. I loved their ad in Wallpaper.

What are people eating?
Couscous you fool, what else in this country. Oh, the expatriate white settlers? They pretend to like fish in a French sauce, but having pushed something small around a large plate in a public space I bet they sneak back home and guzzle couscous.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?
Outrage happens every five minutes on those interminable Egyptian soap operas that still dominate Channel 1. Channel 2 has some very good chat shows dealing with beaten wives, corrupt lawyers and sorcerers, subjects of enduring interest over here. The truly outrageous stuff is on Al Jazeera (the closest the Arab world gets to a free-spoken news channel) which is beamed all over the world from Qatar. Al Jazeera is especially free about Moroccan affairs due to an old feud between the two dynasties, heated up by accusations that Qatar is currently running guns into the Sahara.

Where won't the locals dream of going?
The Casino in the Mamounia Hotel. Apart from being a forbidden activity to Muslims they would die of grief at the money being thrown away by all those rich, bored tourists.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?
Everything has at least four levels of perception here before you even get to the front door. As an example take the famous annual marriage market of the Ait Haddidou tribe tucked away in an inaccessible valley in the High Atlas mountains. Adventurous travellers and journalists have always been able to visit this market and drop a veritable dowry of photography tips into the laps of locals. However for many years the real marriage-fair has taken place in a neighbouring valley. Recently I heard that there may even be a third fair in existence.

Where are the chic doing their shopping?
Paris, bien sūr.

What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend?
Paris, bien sūr.

Hugh Rochford talks to Barnaby Rogerson, author of the Cadogan Guide to Morocco.


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