Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chez Pauline, Goulmima, Morocco

 Arriving at Chez Pauline's compound was what I had always imagined Africa would be.  Having left  Fes that morning, we had a long journey ahead of us to our first remote and slightly uncivilized destination.  Passing through one primitive town or village after another helped bring my expectations lower and lower.  The scenery was amazing and the people intriguing along the route, but as things got scruffier and dirtier I was beginning to wonder what our final stop would be like.

As we entered into the village of Goulmima, a one road town as I soon found out most of them would be, we turned off the main road and began bumping along broken pot-holed pavement, then gravel, down alleys, through pastures and forest;  little roads no bigger than a goat path that included 90 degree turns and dropped off on either side into piles of rocks and debris.  Men and women dressed in their djellebahs with the women covering their heads and faces with scarves, walked the alleys, rode their bikes, or straddled their donkeys while on their way to wherever.  I was never sure where they were going as it appeared there was really nowhere to go.

After what seemed like quite some time we started to see crudely handmade signs indicating Chez Pauline was just around a few more corners and down a few more alleys, 400 meters here, 600 meters there, none of which was accurate although that didn't really matter in the big scheme of things.

(.....yes, this is one of the roads we took to arrive at Chez Pauline's!)

Still in a skeptical and somewhat anxious mode, wondering what we might be getting ourselves into, we arrived to the edge of the property.  Parking our car on the gravel  we were immediately greeted by Andre', the very friendly and humorous husband of this French duo.  In grubby clothes and covered in grease from working on his Mitsubishi Trooper that he had driven up from Conarky, Guinea West Africa with all of their cats and dogs, he instantly made us feel welcomed.  So far, so good!

The grounds were lush, overgrown and primitive.  We made a quick decision to not haul our suitcases across all of the dirt and gravel and pulled our luggage from the car and plopped it on the ground.  The three of us then proceeded to dig through our bags in search of clean underwear, a change of clothes for the next day, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and of course a bottle of wine!  Once everyone had their gear we zipped up our now dirty luggage and put it back into the trunk for the night.  

(....found it!  Digging for underware, pajamas, deodorant and toothbrushes, with Veronique Stalmans)

Next came Chantal, out to greet us in all of her Frenchness, tempered by twenty plus years of running a hotel in Guinea, West Africa, and another ten years in Morocco. These two were true ex-pats and living a life that I had always imagined.  As we strolled through the grounds a beautiful property unfolded and again I was reminded that I was actually in Africa!  Enormous palm trees were planted throughout the terrace and outdoor dining.  Apricot trees were heavy with fruit, and the sultry scent of jasmine and honeysuckle hung as if suspended in the hot, dry air.  Hibiscus, cactus and bougainvillea added brilliant bursts of magenta, red and orange into our field of vision.  Dogs lolled about in the grass chewing on the bones of I don't want to know what, and cats lazed around on the chairs and warm stone terrace.  The property was enclosed by a high wall done in the typical Moroccan fashion of mud mixed with straw, and as far I could see beyond the compound walls were palm trees and forest.  We could hear the donkey braying in the background and dutifully went over and introduced ourselves to him after we had settled in.

As we entered into their home another world opened up.  The rooms were filled with hand carved wooden furniture from Africa, sitting atop large, colorful Moroccan rugs.  Tribal masks hung from the walls, and one room was dedicated to a collection of what seemed like a thousand books and French and Moroccan magazines.   Another sitting room appeared to be a tribute to their French origins, with antique European furniture and lace doilies on the end tables,  These two were ex-pats to the nthn degree and I loved it.  

As we walked down the hallway to our rooms beautiful blue oriental rugs showed us the way, and black and white photos of them as a younger couple on their worldy adventures were atop every cabinet and hung from the walls.  At this point I was pretty sure I didn't ever want to leave.

Later that night an evening meal of Tagine and moroccan salads, wine and bread under a beautiful night sky was the perfect ending to a fantastic day.  The primitive sounds of crickets and frogs were our symphony during dinner, and we had front row seats!

I know I have painted a pretty picture for you so far, and it is at this point that the story takes a sharp turn.

Our bedroom for the night was pretty in an simple kind of way,and the bathroom too, done in beautiful tiles and decor.  However, there was no door to the bathroom or the toilet, which is key to the rest of the story.  

Under normal circumstances the lack of a door would be of no concern after 23 years of marriage.  But, with intestinal problems looming for Steve, I know he was really wishing for some privacy.  I didn't help matters much by laughing hysterically when the problems officially started.  Over the course of the night we eventually shared many intimate " first" moments totally unrelated to sex.  The sounds of trumpets and a small three piece ensemble bellowed from the bathroom.  It was like attending a free concert spontaneously set-up near a raw, open sewer.  This is really fun I had to keep reminding myself as I smothered my own head with my pillow.

To top it off we ran out of toilet paper in the darkness of the night - not a spare roll to be found.  Digging through my purse and tote bag I managed to come up with enough Kleenex to get us through till daybreak when we were finally comfortable to knock on Veronique's door and grab some from her.  I think for the rest of our lives we will always refer to intestinal issues as having a case of the "Chez Pauline's"!!!

The tables eventually turned and I got to experience the unpleasantness of 'Marrakech Express' without a bathroom door to protect me either.  Fortunately, as the author of these tales, this is where my story starts and ends!  Poor Steve, I bet he wishes he had been the one taking those writing courses along the way....

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