Moroccans are re-experiencing a taste of the life before. In newly opened public spaces, every sip of coffee in a cafe, every dip in a river with friends, every moment of outdoor intimacy is savored.
In the capital Rabat, people welcomed the end of more than three months of virus lockdown starting Thursday with the joy of a religious holiday. They met friends, planned days at the beach, and visited relatives.
The pandemic left its scars on Morocco’s economy and Moroccans’ well-being, however, that will take a long time to heal.
“Coronavirus is the least of my worries,” says Mohammed Tighiri, a waiter in the Best Coffee café in the city center, his mask resting on his chin. “If my boss isn’t able to pay his bills, I won’t be able to pay mine.”
He paused to watch flower merchants across from his cafe, their voices louder than usual as they called on passersby to buy from their shops. None stopped.
One street away, Hakim Tazi sat on the small terrace of his Parisian-style Mazarine cafe, with COVID-19 awareness signs hanging on every glass window and wall. He greets regulars with a smile and compulsory hand-sanitizer, and sprays and scrubs alcohol on the tables and seats as he bids them goodbye.
“You can never be careful enough,” he said. “By protecting myself, I automatically protect my customers.”
In a hair salon concealed in the maze-like streets of Rabat’s old town, barber Rabiee Serhane gives his childhood friend a haircut and opens up about the emotional disconnect and depression he suffered during lockdown.
“Sometimes I felt like I was unloved and alone in the world. I had dark thoughts that took me to really bad places mentally,” Serhane said.
His friend Youssef El Achiri comforts him and reminds him of his worth. “I’m here for you and you are here for me,” said El Achiri. They two act as each other’s therapist, in a country where mental health care is affordable only for the upper middle class.
In the city of Salé, teenagers and children gathered to cool off in the Bouregreg River.
With no social distancing or parental supervision, they splashed and dipped in the cold water, wrapped arms around each other’s shoulders and sang songs in celebration of their newly found freedom.
For 7-year-old Ayoub Fares, freedom means rolling down a hill of greenery over and over. “I am very happy,” he said timidly, basking in the sun with his family.
His mother Najat Abdelati fears that her only child will be scarred by the loneliness and isolation from other children. “Sometimes out of nowhere he screams ‘I hate you,’ and starts pulling his hair.”
“I don’t know how to help him adjust when I don’t know how to adjust myself,” she says.
Morocco has so far recorded nearly 11,900 coronavirus infections and 220 deaths, and hasn’t yet announced when it will reopen to international travel.
The Rabat Kasbah would normally be bursting with tourists and Moroccans who live in Europe and return home for summer visits. Now, merchants sit and chat with each other, with no customers in sight.
Brik Ait Qeddour, who has been making and selling traditional leather shoes and slippers for over 40 years, said that as long as borders remain closed, “All we can do is sit in front of our shops and wipe the dust.”