Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Knock, Knock

Yesterday there was a knock at the door. I pulled my weary body off the sofa, threw a scarf around my bare shoulders and went to see who was there. Opening the door I saw a man holding a rather large metal frame. I didn’t understand what he wanted. He gestured from the metal frame to me. I took a closer look and saw some leaf designs on what appeared to be a small bench of some kind. Only it had a peculiar truncated L-shape to it. Under his arm was what I imagined to be the cushion for the bench.

“Not me” I said in my limited Arabic.

“Said”, he replied and then made circles of with the thumbs and fingers of each hand and put them in front of his eyes.

Did he want me to look at the piece more closely? Was he selling it? What did he want????

“Meshi ana” I repeated and apologetically closed the door.

About 10 minutes later a loud conversation was taking place outside my door. I went to peer through the gap between the two doors and I saw a head about waist high. Someone was sitting right in front of my door. In fact, he was leaning on the door and having a lively conversation with some young boys.

Oh well. I thought. Leave them be. Perhaps it’s the only shade they can find on this hot afternoon.

I returned to the sofa only to be disturbed fifteen minutes later by another rap on the door. Once again I threw a scarf around my shoulders and went to see who it was this time.

The same guy stood there with the same bench. He repeated the mysterious gesture and once again said “Said”.

I said “Hassan”.

He said “Said”.

Just then, a young boy I hadn’t noticed emitted that sound everyone here makes when a light bulb goes off in their head

“AAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaa” (the ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘a’ in attic)

All of a sudden, the man, the bench and the boy headed up the street without such much as a backward glance in my direction. I imagine it finally dawned on the man that he was at the wrong house and the boy knew where to lead him.

But what was so funny to me was that this man came to the wrong door, didn’t get the answer he wanted and then proceeded to plop himself on my doorstep and wait about 15 minutes to try the whole routine over again. Nothing changed from the first attempt to the next. But the crazy part is it worked. Because trying again resulted in someone standing nearby to overhear (well, actively listen) and send him off in the right direction, presumably to get the answer he wanted in the first place.

I hope Said -- who obviously wears glasses -- is happy with his new bench.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Conversation About Religion

HIM: So, which religion do you choose now that you know about Islam?

HER: Why do I have to choose?

HIM: Okay then, which religion do you think is the best?

HER: I think they all have their good points.

HIM: Do you believe in Allah?

HER: Yes, I most certainly do believe in a Higher Power!

HIM: Do you believe in Paradise?

HER: Not in the same way you believe in it.

HIM: What do you believe?

HER: I believe Paradise is an expansion of mind.

HIM: But there’s the problem …. If you knew about Paradise, how green it is, how beautiful it is and if you knew that when you enter Paradise you will see all the people you have loved who have died before you, and everything you ever wanted is there before you, you would run to be Muslim.

HER: (smiling) But I don’t really see Paradise so literally.

HIM: If only you knew.

HER: If only I did.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Leave-Taking

On the last night of my Conversation class, I told my students I was leaving The American Language Center. I wanted them to have some idea of how much they – and, indeed, all my students at the ALC – had touched my life. I thanked them for their willingness to share their thoughts with me and I told them I would always hold very fond memories of my years at the American Language Center.

The students gathered around me (there were about 8 of them). One student reached into her massive handbag (the young ladies always carry handbags with the capacity of carryon luggage) and pulled out a plastic bag. She dug her hand inside the bag, all the time muttering words to downplay what she was about to offer.

“Sorry it took so long to make this for you, teacher.”

And having said this, she handed me a scarf she had made. Months earlier, I had arranged to have her Aunt make me a tunic like the one this young lady had worn to class. I admired the tunic during a class and then turned that comment into a discussion about the artisans of Fes and how we should actively support their work. When she offered to have her Aunt make a similar tunic for me I simply couldn’t refuse … not after lecturing them about supporting local artists. The tunic was made after several delays trying to get measurements. Not having a tape measure in meters resulted in my grabbing something off the hanger that fit me and providing it as a pattern. In due time the tunic was made and it is an outstanding piece. The scarf which was now being presented to me had been fashioned from the leftover material, and it had always been maintained by my student that this was rightfully my material and should be returned to me. But this young lady wanted to return it to me as a scarf.

The scarf was – is – lovely. Beautiful turquoise fringe embellishes each end of the scarf, making it the perfect length and weight. The gesture was even lovelier.

Next, the only male student in the class came and shook my hand. I have a soft spot in my heart for this young man because one evening after class he approached me and said,

“Teacher, even though you were laughing in class I can see the sadness in your eyes tonight."

He was right and his compassion melted my heart. I had to shoo him away as the tears welled up in my eyes.

Several girls kissed me and one lingered behind to sing me a song. This wasn’t the first time this 17 year-old student sang to me after class but this time, I sang a song for her as well. I hoped it would also be a final lesson for her. I sang of a solider from the Civil War who tricked a love-stick young maiden into giving him many valuable items from her grandfather’s chest of goods. When the maiden beseeched the soldier one more time to marry her, he callously revealed he was already married.

The singer and I exited the classroom and headed for the stairs. At the top of the stairs another of my students rounded the corner and asked if she could speak with me. She put her arm through mine and led me back to Room 4. The door was gently closed and then she turned to me. Before I knew it she threw her arms around me and began sobbing on my shoulder.

“Teacher, I’m going to miss you. Please, don’t go!”

I held her in my arms, just as I had done about a year ago when I saw her walking up my street in the Medina. She looked desolate and responding to my expressions of concern about her, she fell into my arms and cried her heart out. Her beloved grandmother had just passed away. I held her tight and let her cry. While her friends beseeched her to stop, I encouraged her to let her emotions out. I was remembering my own experience at the same age with the death of my mother. I believed I knew what she was feeling.

This time, as I found myself once again holding her and witnessing her sadness, I knew this strong but gentle young lady was remembering that day her grandmother died. I imagine she was thinking here was another loss (though I don’t believe for a second that I am held in the same esteem as her grandmother). But nevertheless, for a young woman the finality of painful losses is a new life experience and I believe painful emotions need to be honored. But it’s my experience that such pain also needs to eventually be held at arms’ length in order to continue to face the world with an open heart. So I softly told her that I would always remember her and that sad partings inevitably play a role in everyone’s life. She kissed the top of my head the back of my hands before I could pull her upright and hold her by her shoulders. Then I spoke to her.

“You know, I will never forget the first time you were my student … “

Then I proceeded to recount a story about her and enumerated some of her qualities. We walked out of the class together and descended the stairs. All the while I told her little stories about her that I have had held in my memory. When we arrived outside the main door and approached the garden, there stood the majority of my students.
We said goodbye one more time and I walked out the gate to find a taxi.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thoughts About Summer

During the month of May temperatures soared into the 100’s where they remained for over a week. The knowledge that this was going to seem cool when August arrived helped me to practice some patience with the unseasonably high temperatures. Because the heat had just begun, I could still hang out on the upper floors of the house, although the ground floor offers some very comfortable, fresh feeling air up until August.

All too soon, I will move to one of the bedrooms on the ground floor and stay there until the fall. The only drawback to this is it reduces the number of rooms to rent to tourists, or drives me up into the heat when I want the revenue for a night or two. But I’ve done it before and I can do it again. And there is always the terrace to sleep on at night and a cold water shower available -- provided I move the washing machine out from under it.

This year will be the first year in a while that I will spend the summer in Morocco. With Ramadan starting around the 20th of July and continuing through most of the dog days of summer, this year promises to be particularly memorable. The challenge of 30 days of fasting, 18 hours a day in temperatures that often hit 120+ degrees Fahrenheit looms around the corner. I, personally, will not be fasting, but everyone around me will be and I will adapt to the rhythm of night turning into the time for activity and day being a time for suspended animation. I will try not to eat during the hours of fasting but I will continue to hydrate myself… but only when no one who is fasting can observe me. In this very small way, I become part of the month-long fast.

Some Moroccans here appreciate my effort to join the collective fast, however imperfect it is. Others dismiss the effort because of the drinking and I understand their position. But for me, I know I am doing my best to show my respect for the holy month of Ramadan while I am living in a Muslim society. And even if I can’t demonstrate 100% solidarity, I do recognize the meaning behind it all and I have great respect for everyone who will be fasting this summer.