As everything in Casablanca was closed and we wanted to move out of the big city Er Raiche Abdellah brought us nearby the sea outside Mohammedia in between Casablanca and Rabat. Here we have had the time to rest and catch up with life, including internet (blogging!). We have also had the time to go through all impressions and discuss on the second half of the trip. It has really been useful to stop for a few days before continuing towards the desert and our final destination Dakar. Pether has also done some filming with Sousou and Maher for a coming music video.
Tomorrow we will go back to Rabat to hopefully collect our visas at the Mauritanian embassy and then be able to continue towards Marrakech.
The trip to Casablanca was the first time that we actually had the time to go on small roads instead of big highways. And it was really an opportunity to move on without stress and to see abit more of the Moroccan landscape and people. We also stopped by washing our car so that she would be beautiful upon the entrance in the big city of Casablanca.
Casablanca is said to be a big, ugly and uninteresting town for tourists. We found that it was the contrary a vibrating town with movement and open-minded people. This was alot very much thanks to our friend Er Raiche Abdellah who is a Moroccan musician living in Casablanca with brothers in Sweden. He arranged everything for us upon our arrival and had us spend an incredible night out in the big city. Sousou and Maher played both at the rock club B-rock and at Amnestia, a club of water pipes (there is no better way of describing it). In Amnestia we were not allowed to film the audience, so the photos taken secretly do not really give justice to the place that was really fascinating. Both audiences were overwhelmingly appreciating and people were all singing/screaming Jangfata together even after the end of the show. A very positive experience that gave the feeling that more gigs in Morocco could well be planned! While going back to the car we met some Berber musicians so Sousou and Maher took the opportunity for another unexpected musical meeting! Back at the hotel at 3h30 we were all very overwhelmed about people and night life in Casablanca, the openness of the live music clubs and of course – the interest for Sousou and Maher’s music!
As we couldn’t move on and the business town of Rabat seemed to have few attractions, we decided to move out to the sea. So far we have only been to big cities so we longed for some countryside feeling. Temara is probably full during the summer season but now in the cold period of the year (the nights here are freezing) the place was not so crowded. However we had (as always) problems in finding a hotel. Driving around for hours looking for a place to sleep has become a sort of evening ritual. Either too expensive, full or no internet available. We finally ended up at Panorama hotel, a place which had definitely seen its best days. WCs, locks, lights, showers… finding something that worked correctly was not probable. But the people working there were very nice and the night porter taught us both some Arabic and a patriotic Moroccan song.
After having checked in we went out to discover night life in Temara. It happened to be quite vivid with several music groups playing live. The owner of the piano bar “Safari club” was very welcoming and was happy to have Sousou and Maher playing there. The public was very animated and asked a lot of questions about the kora and the languages in which the songs were sung. Several people were interested in organizing other concerts with Sousou and Maher and the very talented bass player invited them to a Gnawa jamming session in Rabat. A great unexpected musical meeting!
We finally had a morning when everyone could take the time without being forced to jump up and get started at the first hour. Karin went out running on the beach and made some interviews whereas some of the others were strolling around or just sleeping. Before leaving Temara we also had some time to discuss about everything that we had experienced so far over a wonderful brunch of fish sandwiches at a small snack bar.
We first thought we were arriving early in Rabat, already at a quarter to nine (the time for depositing the papers for the visa was 9 to 11). But it was quite an adventure to find the embassy and it wasn’t until an Italian girl jumped into the car and drew us a map that we eventually found our way. It was already a quarter past ten and we had neither copies of our passport nor photos. A very stressful car trip later (which also made us meet a Guinean migrant with the intention of going to Europe) we had everything and it was one minute to eleven. The guard closed the door just behind us; we were the last ones to be let in. The man who received the papers was very strict and unpleasant in the beginning, telling us just to hurry up, hurry up when completing the forms. We started wondering what place we were heading towards. But then we made some jokes, spoke some Wolof, showed an interest to the Mauritanian national day and offered him an enlarged copy of one of the passport photos. And that made him smile and talk to us. Just like with the police officer at the Moroccan boarder with whom Karin could finally establish that contact meaning that you are really meeting as human beings above official positions and situations. It was a relief!
As the Mauritanian national day is on Monday the 28th of November we wouldn’t have our visas until Tuesday the 29th, which felt very far. As most of the bunch of people waiting outside the embassy we therefore tried to negotiate to have the visas the same day. This meant spending a whole day at the embassy before we realized that the consul was not going to show up. Still, it was interesting to meet with people on the way to Mauritania and hear their different life stories. Some Germans on huge motorbikes, an Austrian alone in his car, some Italians and two fully packed cars with Senegalese men living in Europe. We also met a Senegalese migrant on his way to Europe who went back to the border Mauritania/Morocco each three months to be able to stay in Morocco. A lot of destinies all heading in the same direction!
Four days seemed like an eternity on our trip that had been moving on constantly since the 16th of November, but we had to remind ourselves that these days are still nothing compared to the time and the efforts of the Subsaharian migrants crossing the border Africa-Europe.
After all the feelings that arose from the meeting with the migrants in Ceuta, we continued to the next border we were to cross on our trip: the one that divides Morocco and Spain (Ceuta). The one that all these migrants have come to cross – but in the opposite direction. Leaving Ceuta and Europe also meant saying goodbye to a well-known environment and driving into new countries where none of us had ever been.
The administrative procedure at the border turned out to be quite long and confusing, especially for declaring the vehicle. Also, Peter thought he would declare his big camera, knowing that if not, he could have problems while leaving the country. But when just mentioned a camera to the first police officer we had the answer “Journalist? Turn around and go back”. When then decided that it was probably better just to pass the border and hope they didn’t open exactly that bag in the front seat.
When we arrived in Morocco, it was already dark. We had crossed a time zone and seen the moon changing position. Half of the trip behind us, half of it in front of us. Sousou had some contacts in Morocco and it was good to have instructions on where to go. We headed towards Larachi, a small town on the way to Rabat. There we found a hotel with internet connection and in front of it a small bakery with wonderful and very cheap breakfast. We went up early, at 6 am local time (7 am in Sweden) in order to arrive in Rabat in time for depositing the demand for our Mauritanian visas.
Today was a big day – crossing the Straits of Gibraltar was one of the most important moments on our journey. Just an hours’ boat trip separates Algeciras on the European continent from the Spanish enclave Ceuta on the African side but it implied so many emotions.
Going south we bought our (extremely expensive) tickets in a little office just outside Torremolinos. Karin also did an interview with the Spanish woman who sold them. She had grown up in Morocco and had been working on the boats that connect Europe and Africa. She spoke about those who are trying to go in the opposite direction than we are, about the small fishing boats from which people were frequently rescued by the commercial boats where she used to be working. About the migrants boarded; some of them dead, some of them small children or pregnant women, people in such conditions that they were hardly conscious. She told us the same stories about the beaches of Tarifa where a friend of hers worked with an organization helping the newly arrived to get decent conditions in the detention camps. “Everybody is seeking better living conditions. It is the smugglers who dupe people, telling lies about what they will meet at their arrival in Europe. Spain is in crisis and even for Spanish people life is tough”.
On the boat we continued chatting with people. Karin interviewed a man who came from a region where a lot of African migrants are working in agriculture. He said that African migrants could come and work but he believed that once unemployed they should be deported. When hearing about our trip, his friend said “So now you’re going to Africa… you’re throwing yourselves into the mouth of the lion”. That has never been our feeling though… we are heading towards a place which is the home country of two of us and the place to which the other two of us have been travelling and living for ten years! Malang started talking to another man who had been living in Ceuta for a long period of time. He told us that 10-15 African migrants are found at the beaches of Ceuta. Every day.
Unfortunately there was no open deck on the boat so the view could hardly be filmed or photographed at all. It was all quite confusing when we left the harbor of Algeciras – there were pieces of land in all direction but one did not really know what was situated on which continent. We were all trying to imagine what could be Africa. Seen to the duration of the boat trip, we first imagined it would be Gibraltar, a little islet behind a white hill.
Ceuta was a strange place. The exclave was a gift by the Portuguese king to Spain in the 16th century. Someone in Ceuta said that in that time the inhabitants had the possibility of choosing to which country they wanted to belong. “So we have already made up our minds on that issue”. Another person found it no more that Spain would have an exclave in Morocco than the way the Spanish borders on the peninsula were drawn. “All borders are fictitious anyway” he said. Out of the interviews Karin did, the Ceutans all believed that Ceuta was a very tolerant place with centuries of experience of living with people from different religions, origins and traditions. On the African migrants living in custody outside the town people said that “There is nothing strange about seeking for a better life. Moroccans also do what they can to get to Europe. But there is a border and they cross it without permission so it is normal that they are kept there until they are sent back”. They all stressed that the African migrants in Ceuta do absolutely no harm and are generally very nice.
We then went up to this place where the migrants are kept – 600 in a place for 300 we were told. It was a very odd feeling going there. We all felt bad, knowing that we were on a very pleasant trip from Europe to Africa whereas these people were actually risking their life to move in the opposite direction. We knew that we would probably not be able to enter without permission – but approaching it we were not sure that we wanted to do so either. When we arrived at the fences of 5-6 meters and saw the Subsaharian African migrants moving in and out from it with their cards , we all felt extremely uncomfortable. Maher just wanted to leave and we all had difficulties in explaining to the guards why we had actually come there: to play for the migrants? Wouldn’t that be an insult? WE could anyhow do no more than seeing the place from the closely guarded entrance. No pictures allowed of course. This is not a place to be seen on the map; still it is like a nation in its own with special passes for the migrants who wanted to go in and out from it. While going down the hill again, we met some of the migrants. They all looked very tired but were interested in meeting us. They told us that they are allowed to go out of the custody for some time every day, but only with their special pass and that they have to be back at certain hours. We spoke to the migrants from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and a third country. All men in the age of 20-35 as all those we saw in the custody. Some of them were kept in the place since seven months, without any idea of when they would go out, either to be sent back to their home countries or with papers to Europe (the first option far more probable). “It is all a question of God’s will” one of them said. We gave them the Sousou and Maher’s album “Adouna” (“The world”) and they were very happy about it and said they would have loved to hear them play in the custody. They didn’t feel well treated by the local population but it was somewhat difficult to tell if it was related to racism or to the feeling of being kept as a detainee without the same rights and conditions as the rest of the Ceutian population. Just for having crossed a border. Like we are doing during this trip. But with different passports.
After the first day without any driving at all (Barcelona) we had to move on! We drove from morning to night, almost 1000 kilometres (1/8 of the total distance from Stockholm to Dakar!). The landscape was very beautiful and varied on our way through the eastern coast and the mountains of Spain. It was a pity though that the sun had already gone done when we drove along the small mountain roads on the southern coast near (150 km before Málaga). We arrived somewhat tired in a hotel in Torremolinos on the hills outside Málaga. To be noted that the language in the car is now slightly changing – we are speaking less French since we left France (but more than when we left Sweden!). Our five languages in the car – Swedish, English, French, Wolof and Mandinka are in various degrees understood by everyone in the car which means that we mix and switch in between them depending on moods and situations. Tomorrow we are heading towards Africa!! Hang on!