Corona lockdown in Morocco

Tizi Mizik. My favourite training run but no chance of that during corona lockdown in Morocco

Corona Lockdown. Covid-19. Isolation. Aaaaaaaaaghhhhh!  I am sure everyone feels the same. I flew back here instinctively, I didn’t even think it through to a possible corona lockdown in Morocco, on the 14th March, although I felt a bit like a person going the wrong way down a one way street as holidaymakers tried desperately to leave. This is my home and I wanted to get home.

I got back and self isolated from my neighbours in the compound (douar) and the village, Imlil in the Atlas Mountains, for 14 days as I had been on a plane and in London on the underground. I had two things in mind. Crucially, I didn’t want to infect anyone if I had the virus and secondly I am very visible here as a foreigner, so not only did I want to make sure I did the right thing, I think it is important to be obviously doing the right thing. Then five days later, boom! Lockdown. No leaving the house except for essential shopping and medical care.

Immediately, my world went quiet. Normally, the sounds from the village waft up;  the taxis yelling for passengers, ‘Marrakech, Marrakech, Marrakech”, the men shouting each other cheerful greetings, the little motorbikes putting and backfiring their way up the road. Now, it is silent.

The extreme cold has been hard to cope with at the beginning of corona lockdown in Morocco
Imlil deserted

In my village, everyone is taking the lockdown seriously. I can see the main street from my terrace and no-one is out. You will spot a man walking down with an empty gas cannister to get it filled, or with a shopping bag, but that is it. No-one is flouting the letter or the spirit of the law. Every day, one of the local officials stands outside the government office and shouts out through his loud speaker, ‘Stay at home, God be with you, stay safe, stay at home.’ And we do.

Communal yard deserted during corona lockdown in Morocco
Looking out of my front door into our shared yard

My compound is built into the mountain and is home to three extended families and me and Squeaky the Cat. We are about 25 people in all in four houses in a rough circle with an open yard in between us. The two cows and chickens live downstairs and then the land beneath is terraced and planted with walnut trees whose topmost branches clack on my bedroom window, feed for the animals and irises which are just coming into glorious purple bloom. They are used to cement the earth and stop the terraces from crumbling as they have very long roots, which (fabulous fact!) the Germans use as a base for stomach medicine.

The view from my terrace has saved me. I have a big balcony and then stairs up to a roof terrace and from both I get views of the snow-topped mountains, the white blossom which is covering the trees in the valley, the minarets of the local mosque and the wide river bed underneath me.

Comedy is supplied by the mules who are tethered in the river bed. Unused to all this leisure, they are frolicking. I’ll hear a loud braying noise and then the sound of galloping hooves as one of them makes a break for freedom. She – working mules here are female because they have better tempers and don’t suffer from altitude sickness –  will dash down to the road, kicking and bucking and then dash back again with her tail swishing. Two or three men will emerge from the neighbouring houses and try to corner her. They’ll run one way, she’ll run the other. They’ll form a cordon, she’ll break through. Eventually, when she has had enough, she’ll accept a tether as long as it is accompanied by a nosebag.

I’ve been keeping busy, I’m sure like you all, writing, pitching new ideas some of them about the corona lockdown in Morocco, working out and cooking with constricted rations. On the whole, I’ve managed to keep really positive and for me I feel extremely lucky to be able to write and record and continue that part of my life.

One wonderful thing has been to see how communities all over the world are pulling together, and people are putting their best foot forward:  neighbours in my Mum and Dad’s street in Edinburgh supplying them with tins of tomatoes, which they’d run out of, or putting a note through their door with their phone number on saying to call if they need anything. The videos of people clapping for the NHS staff all over the UK were deeply moving and I truly admire the sacrifice all those who work in the NHS are making, including those like my friend Gus who is working flat out on IT support for Great Ormond Street Hospital which is now becoming the centre for all sick kids and has to gear up. Small things like friends checking in and work contacts starting or ending every email with ‘hope you’re well’ make a difference.  I hope we keep all this up afterwards.

Squeaky the Cat surveys the snow during corona lockdown in Morocco
Squeaky the Cat is not convinced that snow is a good thing

Some things have been very hard for me, though. The first has been the extreme cold. It has been snowing, followed by freezing fog. I am 1750m up, my house is cement with huge gaps under the doors and no insulation and I, like everyone else here, have no central heating. I have a calor gas heater but I rationed myself to 15 minutes a night and then the gas ran out and no more was available. Every time I breathe out, there’s a cloud of mist. I wear merino long johns, down jacket and trousers with a wool jellaba on top, scarf, hat, socks, fingerless gloves and when I am writing, I sit under a blanket with a hot water bottle, but I still feel it in my bones. Night time is the worst, when any sun there is goes in and the temperature drops again.

No outside exercise is the other tough thing. Maybe the hardest thing. I thank God every day for these views of the mountains, but I can’t go out in them at all. The law here does not allow for exercise, and I am not a special case. I have started hating on all my friends who blithely post, ‘Did a 20 mile run in the hills, didn’t see a soul.’ It’s pure jealousy on my part, but those Facebook profile pictures of someone running over a moor with the frame “Stay Home, Stay Safe’ …….

Neighbours looking out for me during corona lockdown in Morocco
My neighbours – the boys have their own little area where they can drink tea and chat

My neighbours in the douar have been looking out for me, even in my solitude. They shout and wave and blow kisses and chat from their terraces or windows. They always ask after my Mum and Dad and Brother and that human (distanced) contact is reassuring. Squeaky the Cat is beginning to feel the pressure of being my sole point of physical contact, though, I think I have been over-loving her. She has started running for cover, when I approach her with cuddles in my eye, cooing, “Baby, Flower, Come to Mummy.”

Fight or flee?

One wonderful thing has come out of the corona lockdown in Morocco. Over the years, I have lost touch with three people who I used to be very close to. We had argued or drifted apart and though I have often thought about them, pride has prevented me from trying to heal the breach. Corona has brought it home to me vividly that life is short and pride is stupid so I reached out and am now back in touch with two of them. In fact, I am having virtual lunch with one of them today. Stay safe, and be well my friends!

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I can’t offer free sandwiches unfortunately but I do have lots of content for you to enjoy for nothing which I hope will give you some moments of escape from the daily reality. There are many more blogs here – why not try https://www.alicemorrison.co.uk/babel-babble/

You can have a listen to my podcast, Alice in Wanderland, it is on all major platforms or here and covers my adventures (episodes 4-10 are live from the Sahara Expedition) and life now.

If you’d like to invest a small amount of cash and buy any of my books, that would be wonderful. Check them out here. They are all on kindle/ereader as well as in print. Cycle across Africa with me in Dodging Elephants, learn what went on behind the scenes on my TV show in Morocco to Timbuktu, or whizz round Morocco with me from the Atlas to the Sahara, from Fez to Marrakech in Adventures in Morocco.

My first ten days of corona lockdown in Morocco

21 comments on “Corona lockdown in Morocco

  1. Christine South on

    Dear Alice, inspiring as ever. I have particularly held onto your advice about treating it all like an endurance run and shared that advice with many… although that might be a hard thought in time of lockdown. I have been self isolating in Nyon as we had cases at work and in choir and now looking at when best to make a dash to London (mad I know). Will be thinking of you and sharing love, courage and solidarity. Take care my friend! cx

    Reply
  2. Alexander Wilson on

    Corona Lockdown was so well written that I immediately ordered your 100l Nights book even if it turns out to be porn as your Mum feared. I’m sure it will be delightful like your other books. Sorry you’re finding it so cold. Where we are on Vancouver Island, although no longer attractive enough for Harry and Meg, it is quite Spring-like and consoles us for having to cancel our planned visit to Scotland. Keep writing!

    Reply
  3. Lorna Young on

    As ever your writing has drawn me into your life and made me feel and experience a part of your day. Be safe and try and keep warm my lovely friend, you are a continual inspiration

    Reply
  4. Elaine O'Flaherty on

    Good to hear you are well and sorry it’s so cold! I will retell this story when the kids complain about how cold our Victorian terrace house in Manchester is!!
    Stay safe and sane and remember the sun will continue to shine and get warmer and this will all pass and hopefully we will be better people after this. X

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  5. Anna Baird on

    Hey Alice, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Imlil and your words took me straight back to all the beautiful sights and sounds and smells. Stay safe. Anna x

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  6. Amanda Earlam on

    So much snow! I hope you are still loving your life as much as you seem to be. I love the story of the mules and of the brothers in your compound.
    Love
    Amanda

    Reply
  7. Bebe Pentland on

    So lovely to imagine you in beautiful Imlil and surrounded by caring neighbours. The cold took me back to memories of school in the 70’s when it was freezing in the dorms and we got dressed to go to bed!! Stay safe and soon you will be running again.

    Reply
  8. Cilia Boddaert on

    Thank you so much for sharing.
    I can understand your feeling of being at home in Morocco.
    In 2007, a friend asked me to join for a short journey.
    So, let’s go for 10 days to Marrakech.
    A Thomas Cook, all in journey.
    Something I never did before, but why not, let’s give it a chance.
    And so it happened.
    I really mean it, I felt great and happy in Morocco.
    In 2015, 2016 I went back, this time in a more adventurous way.
    Again there was that strong feeling of happiness and coming home.
    So I really know now, I feel it in every cell, one day I will be there to live.
    I am sure it will happen and I will be guided to the right place.
    And like it’s always: everything happens on the right moment, not sooner or later.
    I am very grateful I could meet you here and I really enjoy your stories and pictures, like I said, they bring me closer to my goal.
    I am also very happy you are in touch again with some people of the past. Enjoy.
    So thank you very much and lots of love from Belgium.
    Cilia

    Reply
    • Stephanie Rosh on

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I had plans to relocate to Morocco this summer, but for now quarantined in Florida. I’d love to visit you when I return to the magic of Morocco that feels like ‘home’.

      Reply
  9. Mohamed Akazou on

    Hello Alice,

    Thank you for sharing your story in Imlil. I was born in Marrakech so I know that place very well as it is not very far from Marrakech. I just love going to that area, including Moulay Ibrahim, Tahnawt, Amzmiz, Ourika valley, Oukaymden etc etc I have a lots of memories in that region as I started going there when I was really young with my family. I left Morocco 27 years ago now but when I go back home to visit my family and without a fail, I always go there to pay a visit to that breathtaking scenery of the mountains & the smell of the herbs.

    I hope that you carry on having a great time in Morocco and that you stay healthy & safe!!
    All the best

    Mohamed

    Reply
  10. Toma McCullim on

    Hello Alice, I was in Imlil in January and a friend of yours working at the new Museum of Women in Marrakesh had said contact you, of course you were still on your travels. It’s such a hard time right now I would urge those of us with friends In Morroco who have lost all their livelihood , to send a bit of money to families we know. I am glad I had the mountain air in my lungs before all of this. I send my regards to Ibrahim and Fatima at Dar Atlas Prestige which must be near you ?? I look forward to reading more about your adventures. Hope the weather gets warmer . And you get to sit under the apple blossom free again, soooooon.

    Reply
  11. Valerie Aspden on

    Alice. I have just finished 1001 nights. Wow. It has brought back so many memories. I think we have visited most of the places in your book. We have visited Morocco 5 times in our motorhome with Ray Smith, Desert Detours. He has taken us to so many places we’d never have seen on our own and we have stayed on after the tours going down as far as Dakhla and going inland to Smara. Essaouira is always on our list to visit. Our Moroccan friend from Meski has friends there. I now have to catch up on all your blogs. Thank goodness I am a regular listener to Saturday Live. That’s how I found you!!!

    Reply
  12. Deasun on

    Hi Alice
    Just happen to click on your bbc4 adventure programme and loved your spirit of can do and your fearlessness/openness- it made me envious of the life you lead although I know it ain’t all chocolate treats!
    Take good care be safe
    deasun

    Reply
  13. Penny Munden on

    I was watching the repeat episodes of your ‘Morocco to Timbuktoo”. I should have been coming out to Morocco on a 2 week trip on 19th March; the first week touring the imperial cities and the second in Marrakesh. Decided to Google you and was pleased to find your website and books. Would like to get hold of the latest to read before I eventually get to Morocco. Was hoping to get away from Corona virus, but realise nothing would have been open had I come. It is good to read your blog and see how you’ve been weathering the lockdown and how Morocco is coping. Loved the Gay Gordons video. Back in the 90s at a camp for Albanian migrants in Greece a Scottish lass taught the Gay Gordons to some of the Albanian lads.

    Reply
  14. Annette Lyburn on

    Dear Alice,
    Having read your book quite some time ago, I have always been amazed by your accomplishments. Yes…..you make feel slightly inadequate but as a fellow adventure traveller……your inspiration is very helpful indeed! It has spurred me on for sure! I can’t lie……I also love the fact that you’re Scottish!
    As a fellow Scot…..well, what can I say?! I love your references to your country of birth…..and all the very important people who still live here.
    I hope you continue to keep well?
    Having been fortunate enough to have spent time in Imlil on a number of different occasions, I do actually fully appreciate the toughness of a winter spent there.
    Not funny……
    I do however totally understand your need to return to Morocco as the skies and borders shut as lockdown kicked in.
    I definitely feel that Morocco is my second home and return regularly. It is an unbelievably special place.

    I was due to return in May but obviously that didn’t happen.

    I have continued to work throughout the pandemic and my next annual leave is booked for October.
    I am hoping to go hiking in Iran ( long time on my radar ! ) and I am remaining positive that this may happen.
    It’s a solo trek ( my preference ) and as you will be more than aware, this makes my Visa application even more complicated!
    If I cannot secure my Visa for Iran in October, my plan is to return to Morocco.
    If you were to be in Imlil in October ( or indeed anywhere else in Morocco ) at that time…..it would be great to meet you!
    My love of Morocco does not limit itself to Imlil…….that is for sure!

    Stay safe Alice and keep doing what you’re doing to promote Morocco and more specifically Imlil.
    I suspect your input will be invaluable.

    Best wishes,
    Annette ( Falkirk, Scotland )
    p.s when you next see Abderrahim Aitidar ( Abdou ) who runs Dar Amandine in Imlil ( he previously worked and may still do……not sure…… for Kasbah de Toubkal ), please pass on my good wishes to himself and his family. I hope they are all well.
    He is a superb guide and his family are delightful.

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  15. Penny Munden on

    I was also supposed to visit Morocco on 19th March and had my trip cancelled. I wonder how things are in Morocco with regard to the virus. Are you still in lockdown and how many have been affected by the virus?

    Reply

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