AP PHOTOS: Moroccans swim, sing, reconnect while the latch goes up

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RABAT, Morocco (AP) – Moroccans have a new taste of life before. In newly opened public areas, every sip of coffee in a cafe, every dip in a river with friends, every moment of intimacy is enjoyed outdoors.

In the capital, Rabat, people welcomed the end of more than three months of virus locking from Thursday with the joy of a religious holiday. They met friends, planned days on the beach and visited relatives.

The pandemic has left its mark on the Moroccan economy and the well-being of the Moroccans, but it will take a long time to heal.

“Coronavirus is the least of my concerns,” said Mohammed Tighiri, a waiter at the Best Coffee cafe in the city center, with his mask on his chin. “If my boss can’t pay his bills, I can’t pay mine.”

He paused to watch flower traders opposite his cafe, their voices louder than usual as they called passersby to buy in their stores. Nobody stopped.

A block away, Hakim Tazi sat on the small terrace of his Parisian Mazarine cafe, with COVID-19 warning signs on every glass window and wall. He greets regular customers with a smile and mandatory hand disinfection, and sprays and scrubs alcohol on the tables and chairs while saying goodbye.

“You can never be too careful,” he said. “By protecting myself, I automatically protect my customers.”

In a hair salon hidden in the maze-like streets of the old town of Rabat, hairdresser Rabiee Serhane gives his childhood friend a haircut and reveals about the emotional disconnect and depression he suffered while confined.

“Sometimes I felt that I was unloved and alone in the world. I had dark thoughts that took me to very bad places mentally, “Serhane said.

His friend Youssef El Achiri comforts him and reminds him of his worth. “I am here for you and you are here for me,” said El Achiri. Both act as each other’s therapist, in a country where mental health care is affordable only to the upper middle class.

In Rabat’s Kasbah of the Udayas, Fatima Ghalaf and her friend hold hands and hug each other while enjoying a panoramic view of the beach. “We’ve spent three months vigilance and fear with coronavirus, but it’s time to have fun again,” she says with a giggle.

In the neighboring town of Salé, teenagers and children gathered to cool off in the Bouregreg River.

Without social distance or parental supervision, they splashed and dipped in the cold water, wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders and sang songs to celebrate their newfound freedom.

For 7-year-old Ayoub Fares, freedom means rolling down a hill of green again and again. “I am very happy,” he said timidly while sunbathing with his family in the sun.

His mother Najat Abdelati fears that her only child will be scarred by the loneliness and isolation of other children. “Sometimes, out of the blue, he shouts” I hate you “and starts pulling his hair.”

“I don’t know how to help adjust if I don’t know how to adjust,” she says.

Morocco has registered nearly 11,900 coronavirus infections and 220 deaths to date and has not yet announced when it will open again for international travel.

The Rabat Kasbah is usually bursting with tourists and Moroccans living in Europe and returning home for summer visits. Now salespeople are chatting with each other, without customers in sight.

Brik Ait Qeddour, who has been making and selling traditional leather shoes and slippers for over 40 years, said that as long as the borders remain closed, “we can just sit in front of our stores and wipe the dust.”

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