We were on the bus from Chefchouen going back to Fez. It must have been eight years ago. It was a clear winter day, one of those days where there are no clouds and the cold seems to descend straight from the outer space with no barrier to filter it before it hits earth.
We had gone to visit the tomb of Mulay Abdessalam Ibn Mashish, which is on a hill nearby a town called Al-hamrá, which is nearby Chefchouen. We had spent the night in Chefchouen, the blue city they call it. It’s a very special type of blue that it is omnipresent, almost mystical, which is used to paint the houses.
I remember my teacher telling me, when I was studying in a Quran school in Mallorca, that those who study Quran have to go visit Mulay Abdesslam Ibn Mashish. Visiting him is like putting a seal on your memorization. I remember that we use to recite his dua quite often at the school as means of helping with the dauting task of memorizing.
We were on the way back and it was close to sunset, when the Maghrib prayer is due. I was traveling with other three young men that were studying in Fez. At that time, I was already living in Cape Town and studying at Dallas College. I think it was January and I was on the southern hemisphere summer’s holiday. The warm weather and beach sights could not be further from my mind at that moment.
The bus driver decided to stop in one of those road restaurants that populates Morocco’s map. They are small complexes where you can stop to buy traditional food, pray and sometimes they also have local handicrafts. Roads have always been a source of income, especially in rural areas.
We were sitting on the bus and we were not sure how long the stop would be. Bus drivers in Morocco can be quite anarchic in that regard, and almost any other regard, including driving. It was getting close to Maghrib time and I had not prayed the mid-day prayer, Dhuhur, neither the afternoon one, Asr, and I didn’t want to miss the time.
For a few minutes I sat on the coach trying to figure out an excuse that would allow me to postpone praying until we would reach our destination. It was really cold and the prospect of making the ablution with freezing water and praying on the ground was not very enthusing. I wasn’t able to come out with a good enough excuse so I decided that the least I could do was going out to take a look and see if I could find a way to make it a bit less dramatic.
I walked out the bus and started to curious around. I wasn’t very confident in my Arabic to ask anyone, so I just started popping my head in various rooms. It is usual that these places have a designated praying area, a mussallah, and that is what I was looking for.
I mustn’t have looked very Moroccan because no sooner I started walking around I heard a voice calling me. It was the man in charge of the grill that was placed outside and where a few tajines were cooking. I guess that I looked more like a lost tourist than someone looking for the prayer room. In any case, I was actually lost.
For what I understood of what the man was saying he wasn’t very happy about me looking around, but I took the opportunity to try to explain to him in my broken Arabic, while trying to maximize me gestures, that I was looking for a place to make wudu and pray. After a few minutes he understood me and his facial expression changed to a warm smile.
He told me, or at least is what I understood, to follow him. He had a big aluminium kettle on the coals that was constantly ready for anyone needing a shot of theine (and loads of sugar). He poured for me some hot water in a plastic bucket. Then he took a pair of old plastic slippers and an equally old but impressively clean towel and handed them to me.
I sat on a little plastic stool on the open and comfortably made Wudu’. The situation was way less dramatic than I had imagined, on the contrary, it was quite pleasant. When I finished the same man pointed to me where the praying room was. As I was walking there I saw that my friends had also come out of the bus and where all making wudu with hot water from the coals, the plastic slippers and the not so clean and dry towel anymore. Few minutes later they joined me in the prayer room.
When the last one of us finished his prayer we all climbed back on the bus while the driver was telling us to hurry up, although he had waited for us to finish. It was just a few minutes before maghrib when the driver was setting off again.
These are some pictures from that trip. We have to thank Facebook for becoming part of our collective memory.