Before the days of cheap long range travel the destination of choice for a self-respecting hippy was Morocco. It was 1975, I was 20 years old and it was the first time I’d been abroad.
I was on the Marrakech express from Tangiers with two guys and a girl I’d met that day on the ferry from Algeciras. We fell into conversation with a uniformed Moroccan soldier who insisted that we share pipe after pipe of kif. Mohammed also insisted that we meet him the next day, whereupon he would give us a guided tour of the old souk and sort us out a supply of the local smoking material.
After rendezvousing at the appointed hour we took in the sites before Mohammed announced that it was time to meet the dealer. We assumed it would be a furtive meeting in a dark back alley – a hurried exchange of money and merchandise. That, evidently, is not the Moroccan way.
The pony and trap hailed by our host took us ever further from the centre of the city. We were off to Mohammed’s home where, since his father’s death, he was head of the household. He wanted his family to meet his new friends. The house was a little larger than most in the immediate area, a low, two-story sandstone villa with a high wall and a large, brass-studded wooden gate. As we entered Mohammed called out and within minutes the courtyard was filled with people. Mother, younger brothers and sisters, several aged aunts with their children and grandchildren and a particularly fierce looking bearded uncle. It transpired that those not of the immediate family had been summoned from their homes to greet us.
“It’s time to eat,” announced Mohammed. Our protestations were in vain. To have refused would have been as rude as our hosts would have deemed it not to have offered hospitality to guests. We were led to a long, low table in a cloistered area off the courtyard and given bowls of rose-scented water in order to wash our hands. Mother, sisters and aunts brought dish after dish of wonderfully aromatic food. I can’t recall everything we ate, but I do remember having my first couscous, my first tagine and my first fresh figs.
My strongest memory is of one of Mohammed’s sisters. She was 15 or 16, very shy and very beautiful. Around her head was wrapped a huge towel under which she had applied raw henna. Tiny rivulets of red ran down the nape of her neck. I think I fell in love.
The dealer arrived not long after the meal commenced. From an ancient leather bag he produced some huge marijuana buds, a solitary tobacco leaf, a large knife and a wooden board. His rhythmical, staccato chopping soon reduced the foliage to a large mound of kif.
All too soon the meal was finished, the deal done and the farewells said.
That evening we sat, a little stoned, on the terrace of our hotel sipping mint tea, watching the sun die over the Atlas Mountains and reflecting upon what had been one of the most memorable days of our lives.