Friday, May 21, 2010

Making the Morning Rounds

I opened my door this morning to go to a few local shops for breakfast items. As usual, the first thing I did was sweep the debris the street cleaners left in front of my door. This is the only place I know of where street cleaners deposit dirt at your doorstep rather than take it away. Oh well. I must say, great care seems to have been taken to ensure it is evenly distributed.

After tidying up a bit, I took the short walk to the end of my street. I greeted the egg man. Once again, he is fostering a young chicken. She struts around his shop, pecking at anything and everything on the ground. Once she’s grown and fattened up, she will inevitably become part of a tagine or couscous.

Hakima was lolling around on the ground, as she does every morning. Sometimes she is sitting upright but I gather the heat is depleting her considerable strength. Hairy legs sticking straight out, plastic bags of food and ‘God-only-knows-what’ surrounding her and eyes keeping tabs on everyone who passes, Hakima is a fixture on Derb Ben Salem. I, however, keep my distance from her ever since she tried to poke my eyes out one day when I tried to retrieve the 50 dirham note that fell out of my pocket and which she deftly snatched into her hands. We keep the peace by ignoring one another now.

I turned left onto Talaa Kbira. A lot of the shops won’t open as it is Friday. Those manning the stores were dressed in white to honor this holy day of the week. Wares were being displayed, tea was being poured, and the sounds of Koran recitations filled the air.

I continued down the road to Malika’s shop where I bought some coffee and water. We exchanged our standard greetings and money changed hands. When her father is there, it is necessary to speak very loudly as he is partially deaf and you must be very patient as he peers at each coin handed over to him and makes change. His sight is rather dim and making change takes a little bit of time.

Next, there was a stop for pastries around the corner on Derb Tariana. An old man dressed in a galabah was leaning against the counter and greeted me. I returned the greeting in Arabic. A long, one-sided conversation ensued -- in Arabic. I nodded at what I thought were the appropriate pauses in the ‘conversation’ and took my leave after buying 5 petite pain au chocolate.

I passed a friendly young Moroccan man who always says hello and tells me it’s nice to see him (he could use a little help with his pronouns). He offered me some of his deep fried donuts which he carried on a circle made from a strip of bamboo stalk. I wanted one (they are delicious) but graciously declined his generous offer.

The man who sells light bulbs greeted me, as did the simsar who lives on my street. The simsar was walking with some tourists and greeting a foreigner like me gives him extra credibility. I know this but take the friendly ‘hello’ at face value.

Back to my house. I open the door and close out the world on the streets. I have my coffee, pastries and computer to occupy me until it’s time to prepare for school. Inside, my world is clean, organized, un-peopled and calm. I look at the calendar on my refrigerator …

… in two weeks I will leave for Casablanca and from there, after a 2-day visit of the city, will board a plan to the U.S. for the summer.

I wonder … will I miss the color and the chaos? Or will I revel in the familiarity of the world I grew up in?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Colorful or Contemptible?

Seems to me that the answer to this question is the key to my own peace of mind. – or lack thereof. If I can answer ‘colorful’ I am much happier and accepting. If I answer ‘contemptible’ I am in for a lot of suffering. It’s my choice. As is everything in life I suppose.

So I practice finding the color in situations that give me a start. Here are a few examples of finding the color (sometimes a light tint) in everyday occurrences.

#1 The Man With the Slashed Face

The other day I opened my door to see a man walking past with blood streaming down his face. As I unabashedly followed his progress down the street, I noticed his right ear lobe was flapping and barely hanging on to rest of his ear. Apparently, a neighbor had ‘punished him’ for some insult (or worse) to his wife.

Color it “Expedient Justice”.

The two men had a problem with each other. The aggrieved party could have pressed charges with the police and sent the aggressor to jail. But a quick knife slashing settled the score and the slashed party now has a ‘badge of courage’ in the form of new scars which some young men here seem to covet.

#2 Litter, Litter Everywhere

There is a lot of foot traffic on my street and children come and go many times a day … either for school, to run errands or play in the street. These youngsters are the major contributors to the trash that accumulates everyday. They unwrap their candy, cakes and cookies and just throw the trash on the ground. Of course there isn’t any receptacle for them to use so the wrappers end up being discarded ‘in the moment’.

Color it “Opportunity”.

Because there is trash (and more) on the streets every single day, it creates jobs which must be performed every single day. This keeps people employed and feeling useful. Also, if someday, someone wishes to educate the children about the joys of environmental friendly practices, there is a big need to be fulfilled here offering yet another job opportunity which will serve generations to come.

#3 Donkeys, Carossas, Motorcyles & Other Impediments

Walking through the medina is an exercise in navigating an obstacle course. One needs to keep an eye on the ground for open holes, animal dung and uneven pavement so as to avoid a twisted ankle or redolent footwear. And there are also the obstacles created by machinery, handmade conveyances, trains of donkeys, mules with oversized loads on their backs walking downhill, and masses of people.

Pedestrians come barreling out of a side street without looking, stop unexpectedly with you right on their heels, and aimlessly veer right and left making it impossible to pass. And then there are the herds of tourists following a guide through their tour of the medina. They take up all the space, stop without warning to take photos and generally behave with blithe ignorance of the fact that most of the people traversing the medina are trying to get some where or accomplish some task. And my all-time favorite is two women, each holding one handle of an overstuffed bag, walking side-by-side. They unerringly expand the space they occupy at the very moment when an opportunity to pass them arises, thereby making it impossible to go around them.

Color it “Developing Dexterity”

In order to get from here to there in the medina, it’s necessary to keep good “eye/foot” coordination and be ready to stop and adjust in an instant. This is excellent practice for cultivating quick thinking and even quicker action when responding to an endless array of obstacles. It also helps cultivate mental dexterity for it helps immensely to tint the situation with tolerance and patience for the flow of life before you. I like to look at the traffic in the medina like a river. The obstacles are the boulders in the river and I am the water that must meander or rush around it in order to keep flowing in the direction I want to go.

#4 Give Me …

… a dirham, a pen, a cigarette, 200 dirham. Everyday I get asked to give something. Or lend something. But I’ve learned I must be prepared to part with the requested item forever when someone asks me for a loan. It’s not that the person doesn’t intend to pay me back when they make the request. I believe they do. But often they just can’t … otherwise they wouldn’t be asking for it in the first place.

People knock on my door, grab my arm when I am passing in the street, and follow me for a short while as I am traverse the street of the medina and the new town and beg my favor for something.

Color it “Count Your Blessings”

I come from one of the wealthiest areas in my country. When I am there, I am the one without. Most people where I come from have more money and more holdings than I could ever dream of possessing. Here in Fes, I am the one who has more than most. And even though I barely have enough money to cover my own modest expenses, I do try to remember each day that I have what I need and I remind myself to be grateful.

#5 Being “Strange”

I am a stranger here. People stare and comment because I am different in look, attitude, clothing and experience. I am ‘other’ and that calls forth a host of responses; curiosity, contempt, envy, pity, interest, indifference, delight and more. It runs the gamut.

Color it “Compassion and Understanding”.

I now know what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land. So many people in my own country have been in this position and I’ve never really understood what they deal with day in and day out. I have a newfound compassion for foreigners and expats. Also, I am now deeply aware of my own thoughts when they head in a negative direction and with this awareness I am able to work on turning those thoughts around to something beneficial to me and to my fellow human beings.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More than Homesick

I miss my friends.

Two of the four friends expected last month made it to Fes, despite the air traffic mayhem following the volcanic eruption (the first one, that is). I was so lucky half the party made it and their visit was a needed tonic.

But then again, their visit highlighted something missing in my life ... good friends with whom I share some history. Ever since they left I have been full of wishes to return home to California. I struggle every day with my dissatisfaction about my life here and have to work hard to acknowledge the good things about my life in Morocco.

But there are, indeed, lots of pleasures that fill my day. Many of them are very small moments, but that doesn't mean they aren't full of meaning and good medicine.

The sticky kisses bestowed upon me by the neighborhood children and the ritual of greetings from each and every person I encounter as I walk through the streets let me know I am alive and acknowledged. And the offerings of a prayer on my behalf, the small treats from the shops that I frequent, and the invitations to tea remind me that Fes won't leave me alone. And for me, a person who can be rather reclusive and introspective, that's often a good thing for it forces me to interact and cross a cultural divide that is all too easy judge.

And then there are the big things that jar my sensibilities and continually knock me off balance. Like the recent debacle with the tourist police (who, by the way, refused to let my husband take my friend's niece through the medina the following week even though we registered her presence in our home with the police upon her arrival). And petty thievery from people I know, the unending absence of job opportunities for my husband, and, and, and.

And while I miss the comraderie of my longtime friends and I miss my country, I am willing to acknowledge that it's the new and the challenging experiences in life that afford me with the best opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.

But I can't help but wonder ... have I grown enough? Can I go home now?