An evening whooping it up with the Berbers


 By Gerry Moran

On Avenue Hassan 11 a small, bald, beady-eyed man approaches my wife and I. “Where you from? Where you from?” We ignore him. “Francais? German?” he persists. “No,” we say, walking quickly on. “English. You English?” “No,” we reply more vehemently as we Irish do when mistaken for being British.

“Actually we’re Irish”.

“Ah, Irish,” he smiles. “How’s she cutting?”

I laugh. You couldn’t but. Here’s a small, pot-bellied, middle-aged Moroccan regurgitating a classic Irish colloquialism! We’re in Agadir in Morocco and, although we are accustomed to being confronted by pedlars of everything and anything (but mostly leather bags) we are nevertheless amused by this Danny DeVito lookalike.

“Why you nervous?” he cheekily asks. We’re not. We’re just tired of people pushing stuff on us, plus we’re trying to get to a particular market. “Where you looking for?” We tell him. He points us in the direction but as it happens he knows of a nearby market, with special prices, for today only, if we would like to come with him. We don’t. Charming as he is, we part company with a smile.

We’re in Morocco for the sun. The sun, however, didn’t show up. Instead a hell of a wind blew up, howling through kasbah, mosque and souk, leaving us wondering if we’d have been better off in Tramore. Okay, so we got some sun but in a country that boasts 355 days of sunshine, out of our seven-day stay, we got only three decent sunny ones. But thank God (or rather Allah) for the Berbers.

The Berbers made our holiday. The Berbers were the original settlers in Morocco long before the Arab hordes swept in and they are still around in the remote mountain areas where they have preserved their own language and traditional customs to this very day. And so we took ourselves off to the Berber village of Massa about 70kms outside of Agadir where we were promised singing and dancing around an open log fire, a three-course meal and all the red wine we can drink. And all for €30 a head. We were not disappointed.

We arrived at the Berber’s kasbah (fortress) in the magnificent, mauve Moroccan dusk. Habid, our guide, knocked on the great wooden Kasbah door. I was half expecting him to say: “Open sesame” but no, the doors slowly parted and waiting inside was a group of maybe twelve Berbers, standing around a log fire, crackling and sparking in the African twilight. They looked, for all-the-world, like priests, in their long, white, alb-like robes.

As we gathered round, cameras flashing and camcorders purring they broke into a chant, hands clapping and bodies swaying to some age-old rhythm; their version of “Céad míle fáilte” I guess. And welcome we felt.

On a brief tour of the kasbah, they showed us their bread being freshly baked. They also showed us the meal that we were about to partake of being prepared; fish and chicken tajine (tajine being the earthenware pot in which the food is cooked, an ancient method of cooking unchanged for thousands of years).

We (about 30 of us) then settled ourselves in the various small, but snug, compartments of the kasbah, breaking bread together, literally, and dipping it into our fish starter. After the first course we’re up and out into the yard again. The fire flares up and crackles, spitting sparks into the night sky as 20 to 30 Berbers chant and sing and circle the fire – with us in tow. No onlookers here. This is participation with a capital P. Circling the fire we sing, what sounds like, an Arabic variation of Ole, Ole, Ole.

Back inside then for more food and red wine and chat. Then out again. It was in and out, like Lanigans’s Ball, culminating with a party game involving a cushion and some kissing. Good clean fun and I ended up kissing a Berber! But only on the cheek.

Heading home on the bus, Habid our guide tries to get a sing-song going but we are past our fun-by-date judging by the assorted snores throughout the bus. If I had any hint of colour on my face after our stay in Agadir believe me, it was not from the Moroccan sun, it was from whooping it up with the Berbers!

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