Flying back from Munich last year, I sat next to a geeky looking, grey haired pensioner.
I offered to buy him a plastic glass of the finest Easy Jet red.
He refused to accept.
I pursued the offer. This, after all, was a gesture of pre-flight compensation for having to sit next to myself and the Naughty N – and her large piece of Parmesan – for several hours. We may have looked innocent but I knew things about me and the Naughty N that he didn’t. I knew what sitting next to us could mean.
The wine broke the ice. We started to talk and this is what I discovered.
* The pensioner’s name was Tony.
* He was actually a freelance football journalist and not a pensioner at all.
*He had spent many years in the job, gone out partying with loads of big names in the football world and wrote extensively (not just about sport) for the Mail, the Mirror, the Times and the Observer.
* Tony was on his way back to the UK after the sudden death of his brother and the funeral was taking place in Scotland.
Quite suddenly Tony was no longer the person I’d originally laid eyes on. Now he was someone rich in interesting, ungeekish information. I proceeded to abandon Naughty N and her cheese for a conversation fuelled flight with Tone, ending in a Big Hug and Fond Farewells through Passport Control.
Since then I’ve thought a lot about the stereotypical stuff we decide about by people based entirely on their geeky/butch/scruffy/smart/whatever appearances. And I have wondered just how many times we’ve missed out on amazing people through failing to open a simple conversation.
These days I try my best to open conversations with whoever will let me. Take the Moroccan taxi driver who was driving us up to the Atlas Mountains at the beginning of March (yes, I am very behind on my blog posting) As I slipped into the front seat I offered him a grin.
He looked at me sideways, glanced up at Allah, puffed out his cheeks and then started the ignition.
This is what I found out …
* Abdul is a doting Daddy. He has three children. Two girls and one boy. The boy is two days old. His wife is at home being looked after by her mother (who sleeps in the main bed while Abdul has to sleep downstairs on the sofa. Which I think is very nice and shows that Abdul has a good level of loveliness.)
* Abdul is a deep. He goes to mosque every day 5.30am. This means he has to go to bed at 10.00pm each night so he isn’t too tired, but sometimes getting up can be a struggle for him. He says, “It is important to go to mosque and look after your spiritual life as well as your material life.”
*Abdul isn’t planning on any holidays this year. In fact, Abdul hasn’t left Morocco but if he did he would go to Mecca. “It is the one place all Muslims should go to at some point in their life. If I can save the money I will go, but you should never borrow the money to go to Mecca. You should only ever save up and go yourself.”
* Abdul and Bruce Lee have stuff in common. Abdul has a degree in biology and before coming a taxi driver he was a fabric dyer. He studied pigments and colours and textiles. This was his passion. He loved his job but because of cheap fabrics coming in from China, the Moroccan textile industry failed and he had to change jobs and became a taxi driver.
Abdul; “I had to change. I had to be a taxi driver. But that is how life is; it changes and you must move with it.”
Bruce Lee; “To change with change is a changeless state.”
Now, you would think that by the time we had … visited a Berber house, climbed across a rickety bridge, have Abdul insult Ads’ football team, driven to a mountain village, walked up to seven water falls and then driven back again … conversation with our not-so-run-of-the-mill taxi driver could have dried up.
Final discovery =
* Abdul makes a mean tagine. And in his lovely, intelligent, witty, kind and gorgeously generous way, he parked in a lay by and patiently waited while I wrote his own recipe down. All in all Abdul was AMAZING and I liked him better than all of cosmetic, touristy bullshit that we went and visited that day. He was like the true Gorgeousness of a country personified in the driver of a beaten up, papaya coloured taxi with seat belts that didn’t even work and all it took to unpeel that was a simple little conversation. A Simple Little Conversation. And without it we would never have had THIS:
ABDUL’S TAGINE RECIPE
Ingredients: 1 kg chicken (on bone and washed), 1 large onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp turmeric, 1 salted lemon, 1 large potato, 1 large courgette, 1 large carrot, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2-3 cups of water, 2g saffron (top quality), salt and black pepper.
METHOD: Finely chop onion and garlic. Add some hot water to the saffron and when infused rub it all over the chicken. Place tagine pot on the fire pit (yes you need a tagine pot but a normal pot on a stove would probably do the trick). Add the olive oil, onion and garlic mix. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken , season and next pour in one up of water. Cook on low heat for 30-40 minutes and then add your lemon and chopped vegetables (make sure you’ve chopped ’em chunky for rustic vibes). Season this with more black pepper, but not salt as the lemons will season and add flavour. Add another cup of water and cook for another 30-40 minutes, checking regularly to see if more water is needed.
ABDUL RECIPE WITH ADS TWIST
Marinate chicken overnight in garlic, lemon (juice and zest), black pepper, saffron and yoghurt. Wipe off excess yoghurt after 24 hours (24 hours seems a long time but we have to trust in the Ads). Make a flavoured chicken stock to replace water in Abdul’s version. To do this simmer chicken bones with onion, carrot, bay leaf, turmeric, saffron, star anise and garlic for 4 hours. Then pass the stock (hope you know what this means because I’m not sure. Sieve it perhaps?)
Add some chick peas and a few black olives.
Add some fresh mint and coriander to finish.
Serve with grilled pitta breads and olive oil.