The First of One Thousand and One Nights
September 9, 2010 § 3 Comments
As my stepfather, mother and I backed out of the driveway at midnight on Sunday, a cool Northwest fog begged me to put on a thicker jacket. I would later curse having to lug that same jacket around in addition to my luggage, carry-on, and messenger bag as I stepped off the plane in Casablanca on Tuesday afternoon. After a haphazard customs inspection, I stumbled out of the airport to my Humboldt acquaintance, Robert, and a two-hour train ride. Suffice to say I have arrived in Rabat.
I searched for a payphone on the walk from the train station in centre-ville to the apartment in the medina. I admit to defeat, hopefully I can figure out how to load credit on Skype. But telephones were pushed to the back of my mind when I arrived at the house.
The family was mostly out when I arrived. Turns out that the older child in the family is a boy, not a girl as I thought. Robert and I work up Marouane, who is 20, from his afternoon nap. At16, Méryam is the middle child and the only girl. She was mopping the stairs when we arrived. Méryam is hospitable, insisting that I “stay”, meaning that I sit, relax, and eat. Though the journey had distorted my appetite, who was I to refuse when my young host offered me an afternoon meal? I settled on of the long, low couches in the main room of the house. Because everyone else was still fasting, the meal was simple: Chicken and French fries served from a tagine.
After eating I toured the house and its many levels. The rooms and stairs are intricately laced in an upward spiral, all centered on the first main room. The floors and walls are either stone or tile, the ceilings are either a vaulted white color or nonexistent. Given that combination it almost goes without saying very little of what’s said goes without hearing. It was this quality that let me know the rest of the family had returned home, though I was on a different level. Aoufiya, barking commands as she walked, kissed my cheeks before offering me some mango yogurt from her shopping bag. At the risk of sounding straight out of “Dances with Wolves”, I must mention that she bestowed me with a Moroccan name: Leila. She seems to be in constant motion, sitting still only later that evening when a cousin came to visit, and even then she fussed with the food, the sugary tea, and her youngest son, Abdhorrmane. Hamedi, Aoufiya’s husband doesn’t enter much into the household affairs or lengthy introductions. The only member of the household that didn’t notice my jumbled pleased-to-meet-you’s was Lucy, the puppy.
Because we’re in the medina, (meaning city or old city in Arabic) the road is lined with cube-shaped shop fronts. Even with Ramadan, where many shops open late or not at all, its seems there is no shortage of merchants waiting to take your dirham. My first purchase, aside from my billet à Rabat, was a remarkably simple adapter for my electronics. During my first walk through the medina without having to drag suitcases I was given some troubling advice. “You don’t want that you speak french”, Aoufiya recommended. Robert explained that as a foreigner, people are likely to put more effort into persuading you to buy or do something if they know you can understand more. Apparently, there’s a time and place for speaking French in Morocco, and I’m still jet-lagged and disoriented.
At nightfall, a chorus of men alerted the masses: it was time to eat. After we had the breaking of the fast meal, I had my first automobile experience. We hopped in Aoufiya’s car to drive some of the guest home across the river in Salè. Though it was late, the city was bustling. Since everyone was fasting during the day, they enjoy buying sweets and fruit at the markets. There’s even what I’ve likened to the muslim version of pictures with Santa Claus: elaborately decorated couches and mini-living room sets that people bring their kids, scrubbed clean and in their best clothes, for Ramadan photos.
We bargained for some olives before driving back home, Aoufiya’s invincibility questioned only once in a tight pinch. Even then, she managed to overcome by asking the other frustrated driver why he wanted to fight with her, a woman. And he gave us the right of way. After that near-suicidal outing, being afraid to drive in the US seems like being afraid to eat ice cream.
Oops. I was trying not to talk about food. Today was my first full day observing Ramadan, so I did not eat or drink all day. Eating wasn’t terribly hard to avoid, since I feasted on politeness yesterday. However, given the dry dusty climate, the late summer heat, dehydration and the fact that I hadn’t had caffeine since my cappuccino in Madrid, drinking proved my biggest temptation. Despite many encounters with the family and their “you want eat? Iss no problem!” I persisted until an alluring sundown that smelled of chicken tagine with prunes, vegetable soup with hearty bread, and best of all, coffee, granted my indulgences.
My room has high caged windows that are completely open to the street, complete with rambunctious kids, motorcyles, the 4-hour nightly Qur’an recordings (I’m hoping its just for Ramadan…) and spiders. It is difficult for me to focus on writing and just as difficult to pick up a good wifi signal (pronounced “weefee”). Let me wrap up by saying formal Arabic lessons at the language school will start on the 20th, inshallah. As far as the internship that sparked this escapade, I was told (unsurprisingly) to wait until after the holiday.