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Day 3: Tangier

Tangier, Morocco 
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Backstage at St Andrew's Church, Tangier. Mustapha Chergui, sexton for the last thirty-eight years, introduces me to Fatima, his wife of forty years, and their son (framed).
Michael Palin - SaharaThen there is the church itself. It emerges from all this greenery looking like something out of the Cotswolds, except that the tower from which the blue cross of St Andrew flies is decorated with Moorish tiles. The church porch has an Islamic horseshoe arch and inside is a chancel arch, around which the Lord's Prayer is picked out in Arabic.

I'm warmly welcomed by a manic garrulous Moroccan, in white djellaba and black astrakhan hat, given to fits of giggling, lunging kisses and a curious staccato English punctuated regularly by the phrase 'thank you very much'. He introduces himself as Mustapha Chergui, the church caretaker. Thank you very much. For thirty-eight years, thank you very much. In between pointing out such features as the coffered chancel ceiling, carved from cedar wood by master craftsmen from Fez, and the display of arum lilies, which he fetches every Sunday from the market, he has to rush away to help Mary Evans, one of the churchwardens, prepare the hymn books.

Mustapha Chergui and Mary Evans are not really off the same menu. She is quintessentially English, pronounces lost 'lorst' and, very much in the tradition of Tangier travellers, is just back from Syria and Jordan. The congregation begins to assemble. Only a smattering of the 150-strong British community comes to church, one of them being an engaging Australian-born journalist called Jonathan Dawson.

Thanks to him, I soon know all the dramatis personae, that Mrs Evans, the churchwarden, married 'one of the few straight chaplains the church ever had' and that by far the greater proportion of the congregation are Nigerians involved in getting themselves and others across the Strait of Gibraltar. So here we all are: the British upper-class ladies, the Nigerian migrants, Mustapha the sexton and myself, all leafing through our books to find Hymn Number One Hundred and Forty-Four and in our own ways, and often our own keys, giving voice to 'Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken'.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 3
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Tangier
  • Book page no: 20

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