We say goodbye quickly in the center of Tagounite, Morocco, on March 14. My driver all ready has the car running to take me on my journey north. I take a quick look out over the eerie playground that only a few days ago had 350 kids laughing and attending a grand celebration of happiness of collaboration when we had the official opening of the Tanmirt Junior Playground. I promise myself to carry this memory as a remembrance of what I will continue after this storm.

Who knows when we will meet again? At that moment, it is just not possible to know when that will be or to even think about it. All I know in that moment, with two small packed bags, 5 L of water by my feet, that I must go. My health comes first and right now my whole body signals fatigue and tingling arms and legs. In the last months, I have learnt that this is the time I need new blood, a transfusion to give new fuel, new energy for my organs to function. The world’s borders closing by the hour and if I want to get to my country of residence, my doctors, and to my children, I must go.

I started packing up my desert life more than 10 days ago, ready to go at an hour’s notice if needed. Not really knowing if I would be returning home to Spain or to my family in Sweden and therefore packing for all eventualities. I also packed a bag if summer would be as planned in Essaouira later. That bag would come later but be packed as a silent promise that we would meet sooner rather than later. To pack bags is a big part of my chosen Nomadic lifestyle but never has it felt harder and so surreal. The feeling of a tsunami coming from a far but yet foggy as a summer morning mist in Sweden over open fields.

I lock the door to our recent finished rural home and hug my Moroccan family with tears rolling down my cheeks. Be safe, I say. I take mental pictures of every face, letting warm memories fill my heart instead of fear for the future and what lies ahead. At that moment, not knowing what will come here in the Saharan region, only praying that the heat will stop the virus and give respit to its people before other solutions appear for a vulnerable region, as in many places in Africa and in the developing world. In part, it feels like a betrayal sneaking out when danger comes and not taking anyone with me. I would not want to stay either to be a burden on the local healthcare system. At this given moment, I do not know that Spain will be hit with by hard the virus and on top of the world statistics only a few weeks later.

I cannot drive myself since my body is not functioning. My stomach overwhelmed with pain from my in part undiagnosed disease and tripled by fear and anxiety, I am grateful for the solution to have a first safe passage to Marrakesh. On the more than 7 hrs route driving through the lush Draa Valley and across the Atlas mountains, I am in constant contact with the Swedish Embassy, friends and official pages/organizations trying to secure a safe passage first of all to Ceuta, the closest Spanish town that will be able to provide me with a needed blood transfusion. The airline option at this time, is closed. All my trials to be flown out even from Zagora, Ouarzazate or Marrakech to Spain, Bordeaux on to Copenhagen have closed. There is a night train to Tangier at 9 pm. Will I make it? The gps says arrival 8:54 pm on the other side of the Atlas mountains. Well before I loose connection passing the highest peaks, I get confirmation that the border to Ceuta should be open the following morning still if I can prove I have a ferry ticket. Kind friends of mine in Tangier at Kasbah Rose quickly organize a taxi to collect me 6 am in Tangier train station to drive me to Ceuta border , an hour or so on the road. As we cross the white mountains and I run in for a 3 minute toilet break, I feel a moment of relief. I will make it.

My kind friend in Casablanca, head of Amis des Ecoles, reassures me there will be backup plan for a safe blood transfusion in Morocco if all borders close. Knowing this, I also relax thinking to myself, that the world is a beautiful place with many kindred spirits if we only take the time to see them. There will an enormous need to support families that will have their lives shattered and no way to feed their families over the weeks to come. But for the first time in my life, I know, I will let others support and help. This time there is simply not that possibility for me to be a front runner, my body screams rest and it really saddens me.

We close in on Marrakesh and right as I really need to help my driver with the GPS to find the quickest path to the train station my phone rings. My mother calling to check on me and I reply, we talk in 30 min, I am trying to make a vital connection north.

With only four minutes left to spare, I find my crowded cabin. My fantastic driver, got me to the station in time to even buy a fruit smoothie (to serve as my lunch and dinner). My brain, not concentrating at the ticket counter forgot to buy a sleeping compartment. I find myself sharing space with four others. This is my first fearful Corona realization. Last summer, I had pneumonia and my immune system is shut due to my anemia. Should I stand outside in the corridor instead? I hide behind my desert scarf and wear gloves as protection. 30 minutes into the journey, the lady two seats down coughs and sneezes… no mask, only a tissue. My heart leaps and I think to myself, may we all be safe, I can only try to sleep. My heart beats fast. As the train passes Casablanca close to midnight, it slows down and my cabin is empty. I curl up with one of my bags as pillow case and manage to get a few hours of rest before my alarm announces along with the conductor that we made it to Tangier.

At the station, my kind friend and taxi driver Hassan meets me with a smile and takes all my luggage. Many times before have we gone around Tangier on tours with clients and with my kids, this will be no joyride though. The morning rain cleans the air and the empty streets. Again, I double check the latest news about the border being open and send a few messages to family and friends. I know that here in Tangier, I have friends that are like family that will look after me whatever happens and there is a bed waiting for me if the border is closed.

Close to 7:40 am, we reach the border and he first Moroccan police stops our taxi to check our papers and my passport. We drive the last hundred meters along the waterfront and there we make a plan with Hassan for him to wait until I can announce I made it across (it is only a passage on foot of maximum 150–200 m). The last time, I came by here with a car, it was crazy filled with human mules (women carrying goods across the border), cars and mayhem in general. This early morning, it is me and one more man. It reminds me of World War II films with dramatic border crossings and prison exchanges when all is quiet in the midst of the barb wired fences and the air filled with suspense. The rain pours. I barely notice since my only focus is to be back on Spanish and European soil. I have to walk up and touch the Spanish road sign and the raindrops hide my tears of relief.

A short taxi ride through Ceuta towards the Maritime Station with my new friend Nic and our driver Mohamed in good spirits playing loud Spanish music on the radio. We take a selfie together and this is the first time I can have a good laugh in days. Inside the terminal, the ferry company quickly issue my paper ticket and I head for the café. Food is needed even if I know, there will not be much to offer my tough gluten and lactose-free diet. I manage to get a plate of serrano ham and cup of tea. I bless the remaining nuts and apricots I have in my bag that feed me. It will have to do. They apologize in the café that they cannot boil me rice but the Guardia Civil have shown up closing the establishment. All of Spain is headed for lockdown.

We board the ferry two hours later and almost all passengers hide behind masks, gloves and keep a distance of at least 1.5 m in between us. We smile and speak with our eyes. We know we are all in this together. On the ferry, I manage to call my children to say good morning. I tell them that by lunch I am there to hug them in person. I give instructions to prepare disinfectant for my luggage and for me to take a hot shower before we hug in a few hours.

As the ferry leaves the port, I leave a country I love, one of my homes, I overwhelmed by sadness. Back at university more than twenty years ago, I interviewed more than 100 World War II veterans and heard their life stories that forever impacted who I have become. Right there, out on the Mediterranean Sea, for the first time I can really feel a piece of what they felt back then leaving and saying goodbye to their families heading to fight a war with an unknown ending. I leave behind a loved one that will not have an easy passage or maybe not even possible passage to Europe if I get more sick and unable to return. I push those thoughts away. The ferry closes in on Algeciras to a Spain I now know is in lockdown. A new reality awaits but I will be with my children. Their hugs and kisses less than two hours later fill my heart with love and comfort.

A few days later, on March 18, the competent Spanish health care system provided me with a safe blood transfusion. Before entering the hospital, I had to call my mentor in Sweden for strength since my fears overwhelmed me. I felt as I was walking into the lion’s den and HQ of the Corona Virus. That day, I faced my deepest fears head on alone. My friends sent me support messages throughout the day from all over the world. To all of you, you know who you are. I will never forget. All nurses and doctors I met had masks, gloves or in the ward were blood was given to me they had full protective gear. Towards the later part of the evening, I could feel their pressure increasing. I salute every single one of our healthcare workers for your daily work and bravery.

To everyone in lockdown in Andalucia and around the world, I want to send my deepest thank you for creating safe passage to all of us that need medical care and that the system still works. I pray that this will continue in the weeks to come to keep us all safe. For all government officials and all organizations trying to communicate, support and aid during these challenging times, I am with you and salute you. I find comfort in reading about the kindness of people donating and looking out for families in need at home in Morocco and in the world protecting its people. No Corona cases reported in the Sahara region I left as of yet (April 4).

To all of my fellow world citizens, we are one. Together we are stronger and the world will be even more beautiful now. Hug your loved ones. Cherish each precious moment. Save every memory in your heart. You never know when the last moment is to be with the people you love.

My comfort music tonight when I write my story by Ulf and Åsa Nomark: Until we meet again.

“ I wish you love and light wherever you may go…. I pray that life will keep you safe until we meet again.”

Stay Safe. Live to Love the Road.

Tanmirt Juniors on the Tanmirt Playground March 8, 2020
Tanmirt Juniors on Tagounite Playground