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Day 3: Tangier

Michael Palin - SaharaThe Nigerians treat the service as a moveable feast, coming and going according to the demands of their mobile phones, which go off frequently, often in the middle of prayers. (Jonathan tells me that the Christmas service was constantly interrupted by mobiles playing 'Jingle Bells'.) No-one seems to mind them nipping out to do business during Matins. Their attendance rate today is impressive, if variable, rising from eight before the collection to twenty-five afterwards.

At the end, when we've filed out and the chaplain has shaken hands with everyone, I ask him about the Nigerians. He says life is precarious for them here. The Moroccans arrest them and then dump them back at the Algerian border. The chaplain introduces me to a young man called Regis, a Catholic with a plastic rosary around his neck. He has just walked back from the border by foot. It took him four days, but he didn't dare take public transport in case he was arrested again. Once again, I find myself wondering what it is about their own country that makes these young men risk arrest, beatings, drownings and the Sahara Desert.

Then something reminds me I'm still in Wonderland.

Hobbling out behind Regis is a tiny Englishwoman with a fierce stare. Her name is Lady Baird. She must be well into her eighties and yet has come to live here relatively recently. When I ask her what brought her to Tangier, she replies crisply, 'A garden! The most beautiful garden in Morocco.'

I'm about to ask her whether this wasn't a lot to take on at such a late age, when, on seeing Jonathan Dawson pass by, Lady Baird indignantly indicates her right leg.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 3
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Tangier
  • Book page no: 21

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