Ouirgane: Yousaf the broken-hearted - Have this woman washed and brought to my tent - CycleBlaze

Ouirgane: Yousaf the broken-hearted

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"I'D LOVE to meet a girl," Yousaf told me. He brought a coffee and invited himself to sit beside me. He talked of his fascination with trucks, especially new ones, and asked where they came from.

"Renault, that's French. But where do MAN trucks come from?"

"Germany, I think." I didn't really know. "Isn't it the truck division of Mercedes or Volkswagen or someone like that?

He shrugged and went back to watching the road, delighted when an Italian car went by with its tiny registration letters. When Steph went off for shopping, he became more confidential and lowered his voice. He told me he was 24, that he lived in the neighbouring village, and then he hesitated before asking "Do you have children?"

I nodded.

"I'd love to have children," he said. He looked sad.

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"Well, you can. You're young, there's time." He looked round to see if anyone could overhear. Then he said: "But I need to meet a girl."

I smiled. We've all had that problem. "And why can't you?", I asked.

"Because there aren't many in the village." He fell silent for a moment and I gave him time to think. He had deep brown eyes and a smooth face that looked as though it didn't need a daily shave. Maybe he needed to share his thoughts. If he couldn't with those he worked and lived with, a passing tourist with time on his hands would be just as good. People talk to you if you're on a bike and you give them time. You're not threatening. You arrived by humble means and you have humble needs, like food and drink and a moment's rest. Other people recognise that. You're not a tourist like all the others.

He looked up again, held my eyes for a moment and said: "I could go to Marrakech. But I want a village girl. The girls in Marrakech, they want you to have money and a flashy car. They want expensive presents. I just want a simple girl, uncomplicated. I can't give her money and jewels..." He waved at the café where he worked to suggest his job was humble and not well paid. "But I'd look after her and we could have children together and she could stay at home and look after the goats."

I resisted the temptation to smile. I was in another country, another culture. It's not every day at home that I hear of men wanting their wife to stay at home and look after goats.

"How many children gave you got?", Yousaf asked. I told him I had two, two daughters, both married, one with young sons. He smiled affectionately, almost wistfully.

"I'd like four children," he said slowly, his eyes downcast. He looked up again, then felt the need to explain. "In Morocco, children look after their parents in old age. It's not like that in France, is it?"

I wasn't sure. I didn't reply.

"You think I'll meet a girl?"

"I'm sure you will," I said.

He smiled. "Tanumert," he said. It was my first word of Berber. It meant "thank you."

We shook hands, I stood up and he began to clear the table. He waved as I walked away. I couldn't help thinking that wherever you go in the world, whatever the language, however different the people look, whatever they believe, we all have the same concerns, the same problems and pleasures. We are far more alike than we are different.

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THE PLAN today was to stop an extra night in Ouirgane and ride back the way we'd come, to Asni, before turning off for a spectacular hilltop village. We rode as far as Asni and there we stopped, drinking coffee, pestered by touts selling bangles. With a nice sales pitch, too. If I protested that I didn't need bangles and didn't care anyway to carry them round Morocco in my bags, they looked sad-eyed and whispered: "Well, buy some just to please me, then."

I never got to the hilltop village. I didn't fancy a further long climb to get there and I was even less thrilled by the clouds settling on the peaks and dripping downwards. I rode back to Ouirgane, fighting downhill into the wind as we'd done yesterday, and had a doze. Those who did go up came back cold and soaked and said it had been snowing. In a way I envied them. But not so much that I wished I'd joined them.

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