Life on a $1-a-day is not uncommon in the rural areas of Morocco, and in Benshasha it is pretty much the norm for most of the inhabitants. It is a gruelling existence at the best of times, and you have to live there to see and understand some of the harsher aspects of life. Benshasha can be full of surprises. Admittedly, most of these are pretty unpleasant ones, but there are the odd exceptions. One of these was when we discovered one night that a, not inconsiderable, colony of ants had chosen my bed in which to reside, bringing up their progeny and doing all the rightful things that ant colonies do. The natural reaction in such cases, would be to reach for the nearest gallon or two of 'Shelltox' or 'Baygon', but this option was neither available nor, as it transpired, necessary.
Fatima, whilst appearing a trifle irked at the uninvited invasion, remained totally unfazed, and proceeded to move the bed away from the wall to find out where they were coming in. She did this very gently, taking great care not to tread on any of the ants, nor disturb them unnecessarily. She then got two small strips of palm leaves and laid them across the point where they were coming into the house. With that she, very quietly, recited the following slogan:
Garleek say-idna Suilliman fit-lee aritah 'shkell woolah rahkili ha-ird minkhaahn
(Translates as - 'The big God of all the animals, Suleiman, says that when you can move these you may come into this place.
Until then you must go and make your house somewhere else.')
And there was, as they say, more to this than you might think. She then sat down, made a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette saying that,
"They go in minute."
Well, it was a little more than a minute but within an hour there was not a sign of a single ant in the place, nor did they return later.
To say I was stunned would be to understate the case. I looked at the woman with a mixture of awe and respect.
"What the Hell did you do?" I asked.
"I asked them go away," she said. "My big mother tell me what speak them."
Not for the first time I found myself wondering about Fatima and her 'Big Mother', Arfidah, and felt sure that had either of them lived in England but a few hundred years ago, they would both have been measured for the local ducking stool. This was 'magic', pure magic, but in the circumstances, I was not going to complain and it struck me as a much more environmentally friendly way of dealing with such a problem than spraying them with a highly toxic, carcinogenic, CFC propelled spray. Quite how or why it works is totally beyond me, and try as I might I cannot come up with any rational explanation for it at all.
There was, however, an unexpected corollary to all this. Having moved the bed back and re-made it, I settled down to sleep only to be woken half an hour later by a scream, which had the penetrating properties of a thermic lance. This was from dear Khadeja, next door. The ants, having dutifully left our premises had simply moved along to the next house where Khadeja had not greeted the uninvited intrusion into her bed at that time of night with quite the same calm and equanimity as had Fatima.
Fatima then proceeded to explain to Khadeja what to do, which she then did, and did it with exactly the same effect! Whence the ants went from there remains an unsolved mystery, but I hope they are all well after all their exertions.