Adventure in the Time of Corona

Alice Morrison

3 April 2020
Sunset over the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. A small village sits in the valley.

Alice Morrison is a writer, television presenter, and full-time adventurer who attended Wigtown Book Festival in 2019. 

After entering the gruelling Marathon Des Sables, the toughest footrace on earth running six marathons across the Sahara in six days, Alice moved to Morocco, where she now lives permanently. We asked her to write about her life there in the current crisis. 

I am that odd woman out – the one who leaves her own country at this time of crisis, instinctively making for what is now my home, Imlil: a small village in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Honestly, I didn’t really think it through and I certainly had no idea on the 14th March how bad things were going to get and how quickly. My choice was made, though, and now here I am, sitting on a sunny but very cold terrace looking out onto a coronet of 3000m+ peaks, dusted in snow. It feels like a million miles from Wigtown Book Festival, where I was last autumn presenting my latest book, My 1001 Nights.

Morocco went into lockdown a couple of days after I returned and it is more stringent here than in the UK or USA. We are not allowed out at all except for vital shopping. I moved to this village because of the mountains when I had to train for a ridiculous race – ultra running six days around Everest – so being denied access is hard, but my adventures have just had to take a different turn. Now, I am exploring how this place and these people and I are dealing with Covid-19.

I feel privileged, because this Amazigh (Berber) community took me to their hearts when I first moved here and they have kept me there. I live in a family compound set into the rock of the mountain comprised of three big multi-generational houses and my little one-bedroom flat perched above the home of the two cows and many chickens, and with the tips of the walnut trees knocking on my window. We all look out onto a shared yard and there are about 25 people in here in total.

There are discoveries every day, but the big thing I have seen here that has surprised me is that immediately lockdown was announced, everyone obeyed it and they are sticking to the rules. The one street of the village is empty. Each day, the village chief comes out with his loud speaker and urges us all to stay at home, and we do. There is an exemption for the muezzin, who is allowed to climb the solitary stairs of the empty mosque – closed for the duration – to call the faithful to prayer five times a day, his voice echoing out into the mountains. It’s not cool here to be a rebel or to think you are special and go out anyway.

I wonder if this is due to the innate difference that I believe exists between this Islamic culture I am living in and the Western culture I come from. In Islam, the Umma (the community) is the most important thing. The rights of society trump the rights of the individual. Islam has a set of rules and they work pretty well for a healthy community. In our culture, the individual is paramount, and even if their needs make things more difficult for the majority, we respect those rights which works well for each individual. Including me, I must add, as my chosen life as a single, childless woman who spends her time roaming across the world in quest of experiences would be unacceptable for 99% of women here. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact, though, that most Moroccan women pity me for being as I am, as for them a woman’s worth is wrapped up in her home and family.

Now, though, community is paramount all over the world and I am filled with admiration how the health workers, supermarket workers, delivery workers and so many others are risking their own health to help others. I am doing my little bit for the Umma by doing sport with the kids every day in the yard, to get them out from under the feet of their harassed mothers. It’s all part of the adventure.

Alice’s latest book, My 1001 Nights, has just been published in paperback by Simon & Schuster under the new title of Adventures in Morocco. It is also available as an e-book.

Check out Alice’s podcast, Alice In Wanderland, on all major platforms or here:

Filed in: essay, read