Sunday, March 22, 2020
This is our second day of lockdown in Morocco. Last week King Mohammed VI and his government suspended most flights in and out of Morocco and mid-week, ordered all restaurants, cafes, non-essential stores and even mosques closed. Even in our mid-size town of Sidi Ifni, they were shuttered within hours. These actions were taken way ahead of a significant spread of the new coronavirus. So far, there are still fewer than 100 confirmed cases nationwide.
My husband and I were foolish to return to Morocco in early March from Paris, but we never thought about how difficult it might be to leave. We came back to check on the new tile at our house, our cat and to enjoy Spring in Morocco. Last week, when chaos ensued at all the major airports with tourists fighting to get onto the last remaining flights, we couldn’t face joining them. We thought there might be more chance of catching the virus at the airport or on a plane back to Europe.
When we made the decision most shops were open and we could still enjoy our comfortable home, fresh fish, local produce from our Sunday market, and our Atlantic beach. With the virus spreading rapidly in France and reports from friends of the difficulties of daily life there, we thought we might as well hunker down here. I now think we made the wrong choice.
On Thursday, the government announced a total lockdown would begin on Friday March 20. As of 6 p.m. from that day forward, everyone of Morocco’s 36 million people and the rest of us foolhardy expatriates, must stay home. The complete curfew lasts until 6 a.m. After that one person from each household may go out in their local area for limited shopping, work essential to the functioning of society, medical care, and other reasons approved by the local Mokadem. The Mokadem is a neighborhood captain who reports to the Caid, head of a larger area. There are several levels of hierarchy above that, but this structure boils down to complete surveillance — not by drones and cameras — but by human watchers. Each day Provincial and national officials receive complete reports. This system has long been in place. It’s why in Morocco you can still park your car with items inside and find everything in place when you return.
None of us were prepared for the speed with which Morocco has halted most features of daily life. On Friday, we lined up at local shops, one meter apart, and did our shopping. There were no shortages. Most Moroccans live on low incomes. They cannot afford to stockpile things and do their shopping day to day. For example, you can buy shampoo here in individual packets. We’ve stockpiled some items, but since there are no more alcohol outlets open, we will have to stretch out our wine and beer supplies. This is perhaps a good thing as we might be tempted otherwise.
Just before 6 p.m. on Friday, a military style contingent started spraying chemical disinfectant down the town’s main business thoroughfare. Last night, they sprayed even our small street. This seems of doubtful efficacy, but now that the authorities here get going on command and control, they are going all out. Yesterday at around 8 p.m. it was announced that inter-city buses and taxis would stop running at midnight. Today they are closing the airports. Our housekeeper Aziza is thus stuck with her family in Marrakech. This mean I will be getting my exercise doing housework. She feels responsible for the cleanliness of our house and burst into tears over the phone when she finally accepted that she won’t be able to join us during the lockdown.
Yesterday friends sent us video of Casablanca police wielding truncheons chasing down people in the street. It reminded me of the demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968. But this was local enforcement of the new curfew. Today we are seeing video of marchers in Fez and Tangier shouting Allah Ahkbar (God is Great) and demanding an end to the lockdown. One of our Moroccan friends says she fears this will end in civil war. So now instead of worrying about the virus, I am scared of landing in the middle violent civil unrest instead.
Since the repatriation planes are gone now, we are stuck with our decision. I had big plans to try to get on a schedule and try to maintaint a healthy lifestyle while confined. Instead we ate left over lasagna for lunch and watched an old French World War II comedy called “La Grande Vadrouille” on television. Every French person seems to know all the gags in the movie by heart, but as I had never watched it, I laughed at some of them. Maybe I will outline a schedule tomorrow. Now I am going to open one of the few beer