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Tuesday 11 May 2010

Visite à Essaouira

On Sunday 9 May 'les filles De dar Asni' spent the most wonderful day – a trip to the beautiful coastal fishing town of Essaouira.

Essaouira is situated 3hrs west off Marrakech and is a popular destination for many tourists, travellers and Moroccans alike. It boasts stunning ramparts, a fishing port and a vibrant medina.
The girls were lucky enough to be invited along by Asni’s local Government boarding house for the trip. Our entourage included 30 of them and 23 of us! Travel was by minibus and grande taxi so we were quite a large convoy and Essaouira being 4 hours drive away; the journey began at the lovely hour of 6am. En route Essaouira, far away from the girls’ mountainous homes, we passed past olives groves and rolling fields of Argan trees filled climbing goats (which we were lucky enough to see!)

It was a really special day for the girls in many ways as it was a relaxing break from their end-of-term studying, possibly the last group activity of this school year and more importantly, for all but one of the girls, it was their first ever visit to a beach :)

We began the tour of the city with a stroll along the pretty harbour filled with tiny, colourful boats, and the busy fishing port where the girls were both intrigued and impressed by the beautiful fish laid out to buy. In the mountainous area of Asni the girls are only exposed to the 2-3 types of fish which are on offer every Thursday at the local market. The smell was something of a shock but after their initial disgust they really were impressed with what was on offer - freshly caught fish, eels and crabs- laid bare on tarpaulin, de-scaled and gutted on the spot and sold within minutes. An exciting event to witness :)

After this we headed straight into the vibrant medina with its buzzing market atmosphere winding our way through the busy streets, browsing the plentiful art galleries, clothes, music and thuya-wood shops.

We were even treated to an explanation of the Gimbri by a local music shop owner. The Gimbri is a 3 stringed guitar which gives character to Gnaoua music, popular Moroccan music significant to Essaouira. It can be heard blasting out of every record store, restaurant and on every corner where you can find space for a musician to practice his love!

After this busy, and rather hot and sunny morning, we popped into Cafe Triskalla where we were shown warm hospitality by manager and good friend Said Enmili. For the girls, who rarely frequent cafes (in Morocco this is really quite a strong custom for men) it was a chance to experience a funky little cafe full of cushy sofas and groovy artwork.

Said has been interested in the work of EFA since hearing of our organisation on the first of one of my many visits to the city. When he heard we would be visiting Essaouira he was quick to offer kind hospitality and the chance to meet our hardworking girls. Thankyou Said and all the staff for a real treat :)

Next stop was the gorgeous and ancient ramparts of Sqala. With beautiful views and cannons to climb all over the girls relaxed and posed for myriad photos. They sang Berber songs to their hearts content, much to the enjoyment of all who heard us. The music continued all the way to Place Moulay Hassan, Essaouira’s main square, to play football, throw frisbess and more importantly, to find lunch. Unfortunately to my bemusement I was informed by Latifa, fantastic housemum here at Dar Asni, that, ‘yes Nicola we are in Essaouira with delicious fresh fish on offer, but no the girls don’t like fish!’ I protested with ‘but girls we eat fish at the house every Thursday’. ‘Well, not today!’ came the reply. It was no problem though as we headed back into the throng of the medina to find some suitably delicious kefta (minced meat) and salad rolls instead :)

Our final destination of the day was the anticipated journey to the beach. We rendezvoused with the Asni boarding house girls, (along with their housemum Souad and guardian/all round good guy Mohammed) and had the BEST afternoon playing football, throwing the Frisbee and SWIMMING!

I was left with all the bags while the girls rolled up their trousers (in most cases their denim trousers) and headed straight for ocean. I did not expect the return of 10 girls to shore, absolutely soaking wet, fully clothed, scarves and all, with wide grins adorning their faces. I guess the first time at the beach for anyone would be enough to not care and just enjoy the moment.

Highlight of the afternoon for me was holding the hands of those girls who were quite nervous about the waves that rolled in but who braved them anyway and of course LOVED it. Our screams were heard up and down the beach and it was so enjoyable.

We spent almost 3 hours on the beach (including drying time) before it was time to jump back in our taxis for the 4 hour drive home to Asni. It was quite a long journey back as you can imagine when you are wet, cold and utterly exhausted. The journey back was lovely with the beautiful horizon behind us. Latifa and I found it quite funny when each girl would wake up, utter ‘Are we there yet?’, then be promptly disappointed and fall back asleep.
When the lights of Chichaoua (still 1 hour from Marrakech) could be seen in the distance many girls even cheered for the wrong city, gave me a scowl and promptly fell back asleep!

We arrived home at 11:30pm, headed directly for bed and slept like we’d never slept before. My heart went out especially for those who began school on
Monday morning at 8am with a lesson of sport!

Our day trip to Essaouira was an absolute pleasure for Latifa and I. Activities like this one are a great form of motivation for the girls to continue working hard at their studies, to be able to participate in future activities with EFA and to look beyond their education to just what they can achieve and where they could be in 5, 10, 20 years time. The girls really deserved this day and it was a pleasure to experience it with them :)

Nicola :)