Saturday, September 25, 2010

Godzilla Bride

I could see and smell the Juicy Fruit gum as she sat across from me in my house and talked about her trials and tribulations since arriving in Fes. I had been instructed to extol the virtues of Morocco and one Moroccan in particular as she was here to get married.

She met her intended on Facebook and they fell in love, even though he spoke no English and she no Darija. Even though he is at least 35 years her junior and they relied exclusively on the translation feature on their computers to communicate.

Left alone with her I learned she sells beds in the states but her real love is Zumba, the latest aerobic/salsa dance craze. She herself is an instructor and she told me she liked the definition of the muscles on her new love as photos were exchanged across the ocean and the continental U.S. She envisions teaching him to be a Zumba instructor in the States and she was here to arrange his visa. For a while the conversation was “Zumba-this” and “Zumba-that”.

Her entry into Morocco had not been without challenges as she was plucked in the middle of a lively Moroccan household and promptly got sick from drinking tap water. The lack of privacy and the excess of food didn’t sit well with her either. She seemed a bit unyielding to me but no one can be expected to show their best side after 30 hours of travel and such an immediate and strong dose of culture shock.

So I gave her the benefit of the doubt and tried to tell her to take her time. I wanted to impress upon her that she couldn’t possibly know how deep the differences are between our cultures nor find the clarity to assimilate them without the benefit of time and a healthy amount of patience. I cited a few examples from my own experience here. I asked her not to repeat my warning as I had been asked only to say positive things and this might not be received in the manner intended. She said she understood and was soon gathered up to return to her fiancĂ©’s home.

The next day a phone call came. It was said I had told her Moroccans are ‘stealers’ and altogether bad.

What the hell!?

When pressed, she admitted I had said no such thing but that I had asked her not to repeat my words and this, she reported, didn’t sit well with her.

So much for trying to help.

And so, Miss Zumba, I think it best that you turn around and go back where you came from. I can’t begin to imagine what will transpire if you spend an entire month here. And while I am biting my tongue and refraining from issuing strong warnings to the Moroccan family that is increasingly bewildered by your behavior, I won't say another word as I have learned my lesson about dispensing advice to people I don't know. I only hope the next foreign bride-to-be that arrives full of hope and romantic notions doesn't come knocking at my door.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back to Abnormal

After 17 days in Fes, I am finally able to take a breath and begin to consider my options. Believe me, the re-entry hasn’t been easy for a variety of reasons.

There’s the heat. It’s been a lot hotter than where I’ve been these past three months and the last few days have been really hot and muggy. But right now I’m waiting for it to rain and there have even been rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightening but no payoff with a downpour. Which is just as well because my little drain on the terrace can’t accommodate a massive amount of water in a short period of time. The water rushes under the gap at the terrace door and cascades down the steps. But I’ll address that sometime in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, profuse sweating is the order of the day (every day) and I’m taking a lot more showers than usual.

There was work. Practically the minute I set down my suitcases I had to pick up the school books and start teaching. But that’s all over now and I had a terrific group of students. The two weeks passed, exams were given today and the grades have been handed in. I now have nearly 3 weeks of unstructured time to look forward to.

There was my house which was in complete disarray and in desperate need of a thorough cleaning. This I’ve managed to accomplish but still have a mountain of bed linens and towels to launder. Nothing seems to have been washed in my absence but I did haul 4 sets of bed linens and 4 towels across the U.S, through Europe and down into Africa so I’m okay for the moment as far as clean beds and towels are concerned.

Ramadan completed its last week when I first arrived and the celebration after it ended were followed by 3 consecutive days off from work. That was welcomed! It was a bit tough to get into the swing of things when I first arrived, but soon the month-long fasting came to an end and things are pretty much back to normal. Except my husband got very ill that last week of Ramadan. He hasn’t had the vocabulary to let me know exactly what the doctors said was wrong with him (“So many things, Saida”) but he spent days on end in bed and lost a lot of weight. He’s better now (thank God) and quit smoking as a result of the illness. He was cared for by his family during the worst of his illness and seems to be taking a lot better care of himself now.

So life here is slowly returning to normal --- which feels rather abnormal to me after an entire summer in the U.S. But soon what’s abnormal will feel normal again as the summer quickly becomes a distant memory and life in Fes takes gets back the its own arhythmic beat.

Friday, September 10, 2010

One Week Later

I've been in Fes for a little over a week now and Ramadan has just ended. Today is the second day of the holiday that follows. People are no longer fasting and are dressing in their finery to visit friends and relatives in their homes. Everyone is making nice with everyone else, the shops are closed and there is a lot of congratulating going on. And well deserved congratulations I might add. From the little I saw of Ramadan this year, I could tell it took a lot of stamina to adhere to the fasting during the hot summer days. I am told it reached 125 degrees on the first day of Ramadan this year. And next year will be even more difficult. Many people are visibility thinner than the time I last saw them and are aglow with the triumph of adhering to their fast in a challenging situation and are basking in their successful practice of one of the five pilars of Islam.

How different this world is from the one I just came from. Not just the traditional month of fasting but from the very air itself. And by that I mean the mood, the energy level and the quality of the atmosphere in which people live. How interesting to witness a people pursuing a common goal and how they support one another spiritually and physically. In my own country, we are all such individuals with an endless variety of ways in which we approach life. Here, it's all for one and one for all when it comes to religious practices and family traditions. I like aspects of both views and that sometimes leaves me wondering where I fit into things.

One of the first things that I noticed when I returned to the medina was the smells. In the heat of summer things are more pungent than usual and the chickens and butcheries are redolent with a powerful organic odor. I also noticed how dusty everything was from the months of months of heat and the lack of greenery and moisture to help clean the air. And then night turns into day and day turns into night during a summer Ramadan as breakfast doesn't begin until 7pm at night and life picks up the pace from sundown to sunup.

The presence of everyday life is so apparent here and so unlike the overly manicured gardens and housefronts I walked past in Pacific Heights in San Francisco. I feel like Goldilocks as I absorb the contrasts; "this one's too overpowering and this one's too sterile." Again I wonder what I want and where the middle ground can be found. Does it even exist?

Yet here I am, taking it all in and training myself not to judge anything. Just observe and note the differences. It's really difficult to hold back the voices that want to proclaim this one superior to that one. I have to remind myself again and again that my own peace of mind comes from keeping judgements at bay and staying open to experiences.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Return to Fes

Well, I am back in town and it feels like I've passed through a portal into another dimension. The life I experienced in the U.S. this summer was so incredibly different from what awaited me here in Morocco. I must say it's a bit of a shock to the system.

After a 2 hour drive from the beaches of Delaware where I spent the last week in America I traveled to the hustle and bustle of Washington D.C.'s airport. Once there, I had 3 hours to wait for my plane's departure. About 6 hours later I arrived in Frankfurt, feet and ankles so swollen I could hardly fit into my sandals. I found a lounge chair (the best thing about Frankfurt's terminal) and raised my fat feet up to relieve the swelling. I had a long, 10 hour layover in which to catnap, walk around, hydrate myself and eat. The flight from Frankfurt to Casablanca was a little over 4 hours. My feet swelled up to their previous elephantine size and I hobbled through customs to find Hassan waiting for me outside baggage claim. It was very good to see his smiling face. We stayed in Casablanca for the night and arrived in Fes around 6:00 the next day. I put my luggage down and hurried off to the school to get my assignment for the next day. Books in hand, I returned to the house and wept a little bit for all the work ahead of me to right the house again and to mourn a little bit the carefree summer that was now completely and utterly over. But that's the life of the working class. And these days, I count myself lucky to be working at all!

I have been warmly received by my co-workers, neighbors and friends now that I am back in town. This is the last week of Ramadan and schedules are topsy turvy. But this, too, will end soon and life will resume it's regular pace before long. Meanwhile, I am cleaning a little when I have the energy and motivation and preparing my lessons for the intensive course which is now in full swing. Slowly but surely the expats who left the heat are returning to Fes and everyday is a new opportunity to reacquaint myself with the people who have become such a large part of my life here.

This life is like a dream sometimes. One minute you are watching dolphins cavorting in the ocean while you sit in a rocking chair and enjoy the cool ocean breeze. The next minute you are hurtling through the air towards a different destination, enduring the torture of sitting in a small space for hours on end with bad food and recycled air. And then, before you know it, that, too is over and you are sitting in communion with a Muslim community patiently waiting for the call to prayer signifying the end of the long day's fasting. The swifts in the sky above are feeding on the insects and the sky is darkening and the busy area around Bab Boujloud falls strangely silent as everyone momentarily concentrates on eating and drinking.