Bab Doukkala is my neighborhood in Marrakech, Morocco. It’s where my guesthouse / riad, Dar Basyma, is located. A gritty place with few to no tourists, it’s an authentic neighborhood with authentic people living authentic lives. Natural. Unassuming. Vibrant.
Soon after opening Dar Basyma, we met a gentle man we called L’Abadee, which means ‘old man’ in one of the African languages, or at least that’s what we surmised. Nonetheless, this man was dubbed that by us, even though he was probably only in his 50’s or 60’s. He owned a cardboard-lined, wire cart which he used to haul things for hire. Taking an immediate liking to him, he became our “luggage man,” toting luggage for the guests at Dar Basyma, which he did happily and with a toothless smile!
Over the next year and a half, we became as close as we could, considering we don’t speak the same language. He was the first person who greeted me when I arrived to the neighborhood and the last to bid me farewell. I looked forward to seeing him. When he was sick, I took him to the pharmacy and bought whatever medication I thought would help him, with the help of a diagnosis by the pharmacist. The team at the house did what we could for him, offering a little extra cash for the work he did for us, just to help him. He was kind and sweet and we all wanted to do whatever we could for him.
One day my business partner, Mokhtar, announced that L’Abadee had died. He died. I couldn’t grasp it. I knew he had been sick the last time I saw him, but I never suspected the sickness would kill him. When? I asked. No one knew, Mokhtar said. But apparently it was true since no one had seen him for at least 4 months. I was due to visit within days and I couldn’t imagine the neighborhood – – or even my visits to Morocco – – without him. The news was devastating.
On a quiet evening in autumn, soon after I arrived in Marrakech, the doorbell rang. we glanced at the computer image of the security camera aimed at the front door. No one was there; just the palms on either side of the front door. Then Mokhtar announced, “It’s L’Abadee!” I leapt up and flung open the door, helping the frail old man inside. He was alive! I couldn’t believe it. Instinctively I hugged him and felt his bones poking at me through his thin clothing. He must’ve weighed only 30 kg (65-70 pounds)! But he was alive. We couldn’t believe it.
While Mokhtar and L’Abadee spoke, I could see inside his gandora, (traditional dress for a man in Morocco), and saw tubing and a bag. Putting 2+2 together, between this and his very yellow skin, I determined he had liver cancer. Mokhtar confirmed it. We both hunched that he had probably just left the hospital as he had little strength and was out of breath from the walk to the house.
Desperate to tell him what he meant to me – – and thankful for this second chance! – – I spoke fast English to him even knowing that he didn’t understand. I needed to express my feelings for him. Luckily Mokhtar jumped in and translated as L’Abadee listened, with a slight smile, as we (they) spoke. We hugged, gave him the equivalent of 20USD and he was on his way. As quickly as he had arrived. In and out. Leaving behind a whirlwind of emotion.
After closing the door we went to the computer image of the security camera and watched as he leaned against the wall to adjust his tubing, his gandora, himself. And then he was gone. I knew that would be the last time I saw him.
In stunned silence we sat there. What had just happened!? After 4 months, this man came to see us! Unbelievable.
We had to go to the parking lot so we could share with the workers there our excitement that our friend was still alive. Zachariah, my favorite attendant, greeted us. We excitedly told our news about L’Abadee. His face fell and he stepped backwards and told us to stop! Stop talking about this, it can’t be true! He treated us like we were liars and refused to believe us. So we left. It was clear that L’Abadee had only visited us.
A few weeks later we got news from the parking attendants that L’Abadee had officially died. A man in the neighborhood, who remains anonymous, paid for his hospital stay and a group of the parking attendants collected enough money to pay for a proper burial.
L’Abadee left this earth knowing he was loved. ❤