We were in the old medina of a coastal city, walking around the remains of a Portuguese fort.
As we wandered, ocean-gazing and sun-soaking, I began to search with my eyes on the ground for any colour or line of a broken tile. I needed some tiles you see for a project. Not just any tiles though; mosaic tiles.
Something about that fitting together and fashioning of many different shapes and colours. Where tiny fragments, which are nothing special to look at on their own, suddenly become beautiful and mesmerising.
Sure enough, being Morocco after all, we found fragments of discarded and half-buried tiles by the walls of houses neighbouring the fort. The sheer magic of unearthing, flipping over, finding...
Then later in the night, I was in the kitchen washing and scrubbing away at the tiles - revealing what lay beneath caked dirt and dust. I thought about how I had had such clear image in my head of the tiles I wanted to find; a mosaic that was perfectly formed and coloured; a traditional arab design with an eight point star, hexagons, and preferably, varying hues of blue glaze. And yet in the sink lay shards of tile in such varied size and colour; grids and swirls, modern designs and a few traditional. Some ugly, most plain, some hinting of beauty.
Lying together, they emerged as a different kind of mosaic; one I could never have imagined - chaotic, disjointed, weathered, vulnerable, compelling, truthful... The kind of mosaic of life I find myself in. And breathe freely...
We were on a crowded train travelling from Casablanca to Marrakech.
As we stepped up into the carriage I noticed straight away that there were no seats to be had, and many were already standing. I nudged my way along the asile with Reuben slung against my chest. A young woman saw us and offered her seat, as we accepted, an elderly woman behind us pulled up Reu's socks that were making their escape from his feet. Sitting next to us was a woman with a baby. In my rusty arabic I found out she was from Fez and her little boy was 10 months old.
Reu wriggled and writhed on my lap. I gazed out the window and wished I was somewhere else, somewhere cool, somewhere comfortable, somewhere Reu could crawl around freely and I could nurse him easily. I worried a lot about the logistics of nursing him on the train, especially with so many onlooking men.
The little Moroccan boy writhed and wriggled on his mother's lap too - I wondered if she was wishing the same thing.
When I gave Reu a sip of water, the woman asked if she could give her boy some. I said of course, and then realised I had another unopened bottle in my bag they could have as well. When I got Reu a piece of bread and cucumber from out of my bag to munch on the little boy looked on with eager eyes - so I offered him some bread which he munched on gladly.
And so the trip continued with Reu and his little dark-eyed companion wriggling, pawing the window, playing with a multitude of strange toys from my bag. At one point, when the boy was beginning to really grizzle his mum pulled him in close and nursed him. Just like that. No fuss or hesitation. It inspired me to pluck up the courage and do the same a little while later.
When the mother and son got off the train, I could see that the little boy was tied securely with a blanket on her back, his hands gripping her top as they walked. I knew that feeling, when Reu clings to me as we walk. And I thought to myself, how funny, that in those short moments I felt so much in common with her, despite our different language, attire, culture, histories...
So much of life is about categorising ourselves and others. Without noticing I too find myself simplifying and reducing, and yet, in so many instances we complicated, nuanced human beings are so similar. Our needs and desires find themselves overlapped and shaking hands, mosaic-ing if you like. Where us and them just becomes us.