7) Youssef the Sidi Ifni beach artist

Youssef at his beach cave fooling around for the photo

Youssef at his beach cave

Youssef spent 20 years in the Moroccan army, based at the barracks in Sidi Ifni. He often patrolled in the Western Sahara, the southern territory administered by Morocco where local tribes, backed by Algeria, have agitated for independence for over 20 years. One day Youssef was fed up with the lack of electricity at his outpost and complained in vociferous terms to his colonel. The result: Youssef spent five months in prison and was dismissed from the army.

He returned to Sidi Ifni where he has a wife, two daughters and a son. With nothing better to do, he starting hanging out in a cavelike structure on the beach. Seven years ago he came up with the idea of making sculptures from found materials. He uses driftwood, tree stumps and trunks, gourds, palm fronds, stones, leather, bones and anything else that inspires him. He specializes in airplanes and helicopters. Youssef collects some of the materials himself, but with tourists and local foreign residents snapping up his creations, he also pays people from the villages in the back country for their finds.

[caption id="attachment_122" align="alignnone" width="300"]Totem sculpture Totem sculpture

Youssef's latest creations

Youssef’s latest creations

We visited Youssef a few days ago. As usual he offered us sweet green tea that he makes over a charcoal fire, served on flat tile set into the sand as a table. Youssef welcomed our gift of a bottle of red wine. He speaks reasonably good French and Spanish, acquired simply from years of talking to European visitors to his beachfront abode. In good weather, he sleeps out there.

We have one of Youssef’s airplanes hanging from the ceiling in our house here and a helicopter at home in France. We have paid between 30 and 50 euros for his pieces. Youssef has a new crop of sculptures for sale but to purchase one requires a trip to the beach in Sidi Ifni and a bit of negotiation.

Youssef dresses in a personal melange of clothing given to him by the retired Europeans who spend their winters in the local campgrounds. He almost always wears a Cuban army beret, the gift of a French friend. Youssef proudly showed us his new sign. It says he’s happy to pose for photos but expects a donation of 20 euros to do so. “For thirteen years all the tourists come by and ask photo? Photo? and not a one has ever given me even a dirham,” he lamented. Since we haven’t either, he could see this worried me. “Of course, not local friends like you,” he added.

Youssef said he got the idea for the sign from a Swiss tourist. One day when he was fed up posing for photos he told the man he wanted 20 euros to have his picture taken. The man countered that he would give Youssef 5 euros to take his picture. Youssef declined. Two days later the Swiss tourist came back with 200 DH, the equivalent of 20 euros, and offered it to Youssef for taking pictures. According to Youssef, he was so thrilled that he gave the man back his 20 euros and let him take photos to his heart’s delight. Youssef now considers this fellow one of his dear friends. We’ve promised to send the Swiss man an email with a photo of Youssef to let him know he’s remembered. As we left, Youssef was putting up his new sign.

Youssef with necklaces he made

Youssef with necklaces he made

A helicopter and a cannon

A helicopter and a cannon

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