4th of April, 2008
I’ve been in Morocco now for one month. This has been an amazing time of discovery and opening my eyes to things that I have now seen for the first few times in my life. I’ve been hearing dialects around me, the call to prayer five times a day, new bird songs and greetings that are wonderfully extensive and warm. I’ve been going to different cities and towns to experience different things as part of my training. I’ve seen mountains, reservoirs, rivers, fields of barley and alfalfa, almond, olive, date and fig trees. I am in a place where the lines blur between Islam, cultural traditions and folk customs/superstitions, Imazighen (berber) Moroccan culture, Arab culture, European culture, customs that go back thousands of years, and customs that modernity/technology has brought to large pockets of this kingdom. For the first time I am living under the government of a king (Mohamed VI), in a Muslim land, in the north of Africa, a place where I am a minority.
25th of May, 2008
I am at my final ‘site’, a small town in the mountains in the province of Tiznit, the Souss valley. I am 70 Km from the sea and live with an Amazigh family that is very kind. They speak to me with patience and try to understand me when I do. My language is at the point where I can communicate the necessary and sometimes to the point of humor. I can understand the general idea and maybe a third of what is said. I had a good ending to my training, got close to a few people that I now love dearly and miss. I like my new town and I know with time I will grow to love it. The valley and mountains surrounding are covered with Argan trees, from which comes the most expensive oil in the world, “Argan Oil”. In the valley are date-palms, pomegranate, olive, some almond, and henna trees among others. Today I was in the fields with my host sister Zayna and some friends from our neighborhood cluster of houses. They picked some pomegranates that we ate a little green. In the evening before the sun sets I go down a path behind the house with my sister, mother and sister in law to sit under an Argan tree with women neighbors. When I sit there I feel like I am in something out of a story. The sky changes as we sit. The women talk and laugh sitting in a half circle on sack pillows, stones, cardboard pieces and cloths. They wear a cloth over their head, some covering the bottom half of their face below the nose, some over it. They wear mostly a combination of yellow and white cloths they call “adel”. Before we go out, Zayna always asks “where is your zeef”? I then go and get my black silk covering that I wear on my own head (only covering my hair and tied at the back of my head). I don’t know if this is what I will do always, but I feel like I make her proud when I wear it. The women feel more comfortable around me, and in some way I become a part of them. The sun begins to set behind the tree and some of the women’s children play around us. There is one old woman I started to call Khalti (aunt- mother’s sister). There is something special about her. She is always laughing, I also sense that she is genuine and sincere. She is beautiful and frail. Her bones have begun to come together as they tend to do with age, when the muscles grow tired of holding them up. Her name is Ijju.
One evening I was staring at the mountains to the North and saw two caves near the top. I asked what they are called in Tashalheet and what lives in them. “they are Ifren”- they said- “and wild pigs, L’heloof, live in them- they come down at night to eat near the houses”. There is man next door that is said to be 120 years old. He is blind and with time his mind has gotten lost in all of his experiences. I sat next to him today when I was visiting. There was a moment when he put his hand out, found mine and held it. I felt that he was comforted from within his darkness. He kept calling to God.. “Rbbi, Rbbi, Rbbi…”
I wonder what part of my village’s culture is influenced by Islam, folk Islam, and arab culture, European influences and the media , and what part is Amazigh coming from the ancesters that have been in this land for centuries past. One of my favorite Amazigh things is the singing and the rhythms. From the first time I saw people clapping to music, I noticed they go to the second beat automatically. It’s hard for me, since I am used to going to main beat when I clap with the rhythm. Today I gave Zayna some yerba and told her it is tea from Argentina. She prepared it the same way she prepares Moroccan green tea, on the fire and with a lot of sugar. It turned out to be a really good Mate cocido that she really liked. She wants us to make some when we have our neighborhood lunch outside next Thursday under our Argan tree. I was really touched that I could share this part of me with her, if even just a little. This is a story, I realize; my story.
June 27, 2008
I feel myself stretching on the inside; not like the rubber of a balloon that tenses as the balloon grows and eventually will pop, but like a stem or shoot that receives nourishment and must stretch upward toward the sun in order to put the new vitamins and energy into action from within. I am being nourished and watered. I am a fertile earth, even though I live in a place where there has been drought for the past 15 years. It is the beginning of summer and at least 43 C (109 F) today. I asked the women, jokingly, if they would please do the rain ritual, Belghonja, because the heat is too much for me. We laughed. I slept with a wet sheet last night. Don’t tell my host family- they would be outraged and say that I am bringing illness upon myself! In response I would probably try not to grin and say that I always say “b’ismillah” ( in the name of God) before doing it and that they shouldn’t worry.
I’ve been eating cactus fruit every day for the past two weeks. For a long time, my sister wouldn’t let me peel them because she was afraid I would be filled with thorns. One day I convinced her it would be ok and wanted to learn. She hesitated but let me do it. After peeling one, I decided it’s really too complicated for me, and not one of my natural talents. I got thorns in my fingers from peeling the fruit, lips from eating it, and two in my eyelid after rubbing my eye! Good thing my sister in law, Sfia, is an expert with the tweezers. We laughed, and ofcourse I had to tell my sister she was right- she should peel the takinareet.
I finally saw a wild pig, after waiting and watching while sitting outside so many evenings with the women. Finally, one day at dusk, everyone yelled “Mariam!, smokol! L’helof 3yn!” and pointed because they knew how much I had been anticipating it. It was really too far away to enjoy fully. He was cute, though, in his ugliness. I still want to see piglets!
10th of August, 2008
Most men in my town wear tunics. When it’s cooler out they have long sleeves and hoods, and as it gets warmer I see shorter and shorter sleeves and no hood. There are some that also wear a cloth wrapped around their head above their ears in a sort of circle, mostly yellow, white, black or blue. Others wear small white hats with no rim that end slightly above their ears. When I sit out with the women in the evenings under our Argan tree, there is a man that walks by, a little ways away, always with his hood on. The girls know that I like to watch him and point him out to me, as they take their own head coverings and drape it across their faces. I find it amusing to see the point of the hood vertical above his head, bobbing up and down as he walks. He always walks by at 8:00 o’clock. I told them I wondered why it is always at the same time. They told me he is going home to pray, because the call will be heard soon. Some time goes by and I begin to hear different calls to prayer echo one another from all sides. Different voices of boys and men, some high pitched, some low. I hear Baba, my host father, call from the nearest mosque. “Allahu Akbar..”- God is most great; “Allahu Akbar” – God is most great; “La Ilaha illa Allah” – There is no God but God; “hayya ‘ala-ssalah” – Come to prayer; “hayya ‘ala-lfalah” – Come to good.. As I listen, the women around me begin to chant the Koran under their breath. Some get up to go home to pray, one walks a little further away from where we are and lays down a prayer rug. This man that has gone home every day at 8, is facing North East, standing on one end of his rug, then bowing down on his knees and touching his forehead to the floor as many are in their own homes or at the mosque doing the same. I listen to the women chanting in a language they do not know, but have learned fragments of, to be able to pray to God and recite from the Koran. My neighbor boy, who is six, has gone almost every day this summer, to mosque, to be taught the Koran. I find this part of this culture fascinating. People are very devout, very serious about their faith. I sit with some of the women under that same tree, until the sky begins to grow dark, and we get up to go, saying “until tomorrow if it is God’s will”, “God help you”, “God’s grace be upon you”. “ar sbaH inchallah”, “Lla y3awn Rbbi”, “Akm IsabH Rbbi”. We walk our own ways. I pass more trees and different kinds of cactuses, with my neighbor boy holding my hand. My host sister walks in front of me with her adel (head covering) long in the back almost reaching her knees. We go on the same path we take every evening, walk past the back of the house and go around to the front door and say “b’ismillah”- In the name of God- as we walk in the door . “It’s hot tonight” I say, “can we sleep on the terrace again”? “Yes, Zayna says, take up the mats. I love sleeping on the roof. Before my host mother, Fadma, went on her trip to see her sons in the north of Morocco, we all slept up there. It was me, A3tman, Zayna, Yami (mother), and a little further off lay Baba. Zayna and Yami would come up to hang blankets up around us on clothes lines, “to give us some privacy” they said. Yami had to sleep with a cloth over her, across the clothes lines like a tent, because she said the stars give her headaches. I smiled when she said this. I don’t doubt her, it is just that when you hear something you have never heard before it is amusing. We layed down mats and blankets and after we ate, we slept all in a row, my neighbor boy A3tman holding my hand as he drifted off. In the morning I heard roosters at five and saw my host mother, through my sleepy eyes, bowing for her first prayer of the day. I hadn’t woken for the call that day, like I had most days, from the first day I had arrived in Morocco. I heard the call in Rabat, Ouarzazate, Toundout, Agadir, Tiznit, Marrakesh, and I heard the call here, in my town many times at the crack of dawn. The call is comforting to me. I know I will miss it when I am gone. During the day, my host father takes his binoculars and goes up the hill behind the house with the sheep. My host mother, when she was still here, would go to the fields to collect food for the animals in a basket that she carried on her back. Zayna would get up to feed the animals, make bread, pick cactus fruit, and make lunch. After lunch we all had our afternoon sleep. We said “timkeliwin”, good afternoon (but usually used before a nap). There are things I know I will miss, and miss already since having moved to my own little house in the center of town, ten minutes walk to our Argan tree. As I write this, I know I will be going to sit with the women this evening. I want to talk with them, play with their children, hear the gossip, and I want to see the man walk by at 8. After that I will come home, along with those who go home to pray. I will come to my house where there are cats that come for food, potted plants out front that need watering, a tea waiting to be made, and my house, that will be empty without me. I will say, “Ar SbaH inchallah”.., until tomorrow, if it is God’s will. I hope it is.
11th of August, 2008
August is the wedding season. If I am not invited one week to a couple weddings, I hear that there has been one, people that I know have been up till five in the morning, or I hear the cheering as trucks drive by in the middle of the night or early morning following the bride who is making the rounds before she goes to her husband. Families save a long time, if not all their lives, for the weddings of their daughters. The two weddings I have been to in the past week were like feasts with at least a hundred or more people. The wedding takes place in the bride’s house and is a mixture of celebration and mourning. In the rural areas of Tiznit, the bride stays in her room while the guests celebrate the occasion in other rooms and on the terrace. The women celebrate separate from the men and each has their own music and song, sometimes accompanied with dancing. In the first wedding, I knew the bride. People sat around her in her room, crying with her, her close friends, siblings and other family members walked in and out. It was as if they took turns mourning with her, in these moments they knew she should not be alone. After a night of eating with the women on the terrace, joining them in clapping to their drums and singing, sleeping next to them on the same roof, I went in the morning after breakfast to see my friend, the sixteen year old bride who would soon go on a long trip to live with her husband’s family in the city of Casablanca. I was accompanied by another girl. As we walked in, someone was walking out. We sat there with her for a time and as her tears came to her eyes, I felt my own coming to mine. Her grief and joy mixed together like honey and vinegar hung in the room and draped around me. Soon her grandmother came along with some of her close relatives. They covered her in a white cloth tied around her head and waist. A branch tied to her head and a red cloth over her face. When she was ready, the family led her out to the hallway as we followed. It was time for her to go. As we walked through the hall, the wedding guests began to follow behind us in a big crowd, many of them crying. The bride let out a shriek and sobs followed. I saw her shoulders shaking. Her grandmother led her by the shoulders as a basket with sugar cubes, dates and almonds was tossed on her. She was walked all the way out the door and into a car that would drive her around the mountains of her village as a last farewell. Pick up trucks and other cars followed full of wedding guests cheering and some crying. After the cars left, I and the people that stayed behind walked back to the house. This whole time, I wondered where her mother was. We walked in silently, solemnly and sat around, some crying, some preparing a second round of tea. I saw people standing outside a room. It seemed the bride’s mother had been in there the whole time. Now it was her turn to be comforted. Her daughter was leaving.
I admire the freedom people take to express the combined nature of weddings. Celebration takes place for the new life the bride will have with her husband, but she is also allowed to grieve her goodbyes and her loss. Aren’t most things in our lives like this? There is beauty in accepting both sides of life, and strength in allowing our hearts to take part in the contrasting realities that shape us with their power.