Hideous Kinky and the golden threads

Do you remember Hideous Kinky? The nineties film starring Kate Winslet, based on the novel by Esther Freud (great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud)? It documented the childhood of its narrator with her sister and mother, whom uprooted them from London to go on journey of enlightenment to Marrakech in the seventies.

Now the trip that my daughter and I have just made to the Red City in no way compares to Freud’s mother’s complete life-change, but in our own small way it felt just as meaningful. Many people told me I was nuts taking my 6-year-old to Morocco, especially in these times of terror, and enquired as to whether a nice break in Lanzarote wouldn’t be better. Not that there’s a thing wrong with Lanzarote either.

But Morocco had particular resonance for me because my dad had such a history with it, living as he did high up in the mountains during his glory days on the wrong side of the law. In fact, in many ways I relate to Freud’s unconventional, bohemian childhood with parents living alternative lifestyles.

We lived in Spain when my Dad used to disappear to Morocco in our VW campervan, although sometimes he used to row a boat across the strait of water between Gibralter and Ceuta, to be met on the other side by his North African ‘colleagues’. It was the eighties, anything went really, and like Freud’s mother, my parents didn’t see the need for conventional schooling either, so my education consisted of swimming and playing in the sun.

Anyway, I digress… this trip on the eve of my fortieth birthday, was about reconnecting with the world again. In so many ways becoming a parent shrinks your world, and your aspirations – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for those precious first few years. We adopt a new identity as caregiver and life becomes about the minutiae. Feeding, weaning, potty training, teething, learning to walk, getting through each day and learning the language of this new world we inhabit as mothers.

In my case, throw in a divorce and several relapses of my mental health and the picture becomes intently focussed on the ground I am standing on. On learning how to be mindful and in the present, of rebuilding foundations – establishing stability for my girl and I.

And all that work was important and vital, I needed to put in those hard yards, I needed to focus so intensely on where I was that the world around me went out of view. Because each journey needs a launch pad, a starting point. And I needed to get Aurora and I to a place of stability and strength so that one day we could begin to fall in love with the world again.

And so it was, we jetted off last week to Morocco and what an assault on the senses that country is. The heat, the dust, the colours, the smells and strange sounds. We rode camels, we visited an Argan oil factory and acquired snail slime moisturiser, we saw snake charmers in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, we perused the souks and I got a traditional tagine and a Moroccan teapot for mint tea.

We saw the Koutoubia mosque and heard the enchanting call to prayer, and Aurora was like a child who had seen that magic really does exist. Open-mouthed and awestruck at the strange sights she asked question after question – why do the ladies cover their faces, why aren’t the Moroccans allowed to eat during the day, what is a mosque, how does that man make the snake dance, what are all those spices for?

And with every curiosity she showed about a culture so vastly different to her own, the more resolute I became that taking her there had been absolutely the right thing to do. Because there is something about being completely out of your comfort zone, in a place so foreign, so exotic that you have no frame of reference with which to view it, no cultural compass with which to steer you, there is something about that type of logistical disorientation that is dizzying and addictive, and absolutely vital.

Because being uncomfortable is the place where learning and growth happens. Standing in central Marrakech trying to cross the road with my 6-year-old as cars and bicycles and mopeds and horse-drawn carriages flew past us tooting their horns was petrifying and exhilarating. Drinking mint tea in traditional clothes in a Berber village, having just rode a camel there, when our hosts spoke only French and we only English, but somehow being able to communicate nonetheless, was touching in the extreme.

Or watching snake charmers and acrobats in the technicolour chaos of Jemaa el-Fnaa was the stuff that dreams are made of. The juxtaposition between the exotic smells of kefta tagines and makouda mixed with the acrid stench of horse manure and open sewers felt raw and palpable and utterly breath-taking. They were pinch yourself moments, moments that jolted us into uncompromised mindfulness, being in the present completely.

Morocco demands your attention, it is an unruly, chaotic, impossibly beautiful mistress, you cannot be half-there, if you’re in Marrakech then you’re there 100 per cent, the Red City will accept no less than absolute, undivided attention from any visitor. For Aurora, it was like riding a magic carpet to a parallel world. The things she saw, the lessons she learned, I hope will stay with her for a lifetime, and colour her own life-story.

But there were also skills she took with her, the ability to mix and mingle and make new friends. I had worried at first about it just being me and her, worried that she’d have no one to play with and be bored or lonely. Not a chance. Within hours at the hotel she had made friends, and by the second day she was part of a fully-formed and multi-cultural little girl gang.

She learnt French phrases, she learned African phrases, she taught her pals English phrases – she belonged to this global group of little people who were completely accepting, and enthralled with each other’s difference. We, as adults, could learn a lot from the easy-going tolerance of children.

And you know what else occurred to me whilst I sat by the pool and watched her play, is how little we actually need. Think about it, people go on holiday to relax, usually on their list of must-haves is a pool and a bar and a good book to read whilst sunbathing. Water, sun, sustenance, a place to sleep and some words of wisdom.

That’s what so many people aspire to when living our ridiculously complicated lives, bogged down with technology, to earn enough money to be able to afford to eat, sleep in the sun and swim. When it comes down to it we are all driven by the most basic of desires, the most primal of needs in all their beautiful simplicity. Travelling puts us back in touch with those parts of ourselves. Reconnects us to our core.

On the way back Aurora jumped on her unicorn hand luggage (trying to be a unicorn) and broke the tagine I had spent hours choosing in the souks. I was cross, and then I wasn’t. On arriving home, I glued the pieces back together, and it is a rather shabby version of its former self. But you know what, I don’t care. Because it occurs to me that right there, is what travelling is all about, not having a pristine tagine to symbolise somewhere we’ve ticked off the bucket list – but rather the memory in every crack of the time when my spirited 6-year-old thought she was a unicorn at Marrakech airport.

It’s the memories we make, the colour and spices we add to our stories as they unfold, the roads less travelled, the unexpected twists in the plotline, the great wide open, the times we wandered off track and things didn’t go to plan but we figured it out anyway using our own resilience and resourcefulness. These are the golden threads that are woven through the rich tapestries of our lives, one battered, broken tagine at a time.

© 2017.

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