Morocco, Week Six

Week six, week six. As everyone gears up for the start of the school year, it’s become increasingly difficult to find that ideal balance between life and work. I spent long hours at school whipping the library into shape, then worked on the aforementioned secret edtech project from home most nights. This was complicated by the fact that Ramadan was followed immediately by Eid, a two-day holiday, on Wednesday and Thursday, so most of the work at school had to be put on hold until Friday.

Still, I managed to get away from my books and my PHP code every once in a while, if only out of a sense of responsibility to my readers.1 If I didn’t do interesting things each week, there would be nothing to write about. And definitely no photos.

I broke the fast on Monday evening, the second-to-last day of Ramadan, with Mustapha’s family. Same delicious food, even better conversations and jokes. I brought my notebook this time and asked to be taught some common Berber phrases and words.2 For dessert we had pastries and bread with really, really delicious honey. I don’t even like honey, and I loved this honey. Seriously. Come to Morocco and eat honey. We watched a Moroccan TV show in which the characters had many conversations in stairwells.

Next I was shown some videos of traditional Berber music and was astonished to see a banjo being played in all of them! Though not a strictly traditional Moroccan instrument, the banjo has been embraced here, and fits in surprisingly well with the musical traditions.3 I even learned a few dance steps.

As soon as this was over, Mustapha’s sisters asked me if they could put Moroccan makeup on me, and–blissfully full of harira, honey, and music–I accepted. After half an hour of eye-poking and lip smacking, I emerged with smoky eyes4 and more lipstick than I’ve worn since I was five years old and trying on my mother’s makeup.5 Photographic evidence below.6 (I have no idea what one normally does when coated in makeup, so I took goofy photos.)

The following night I ended up in my favorite rooftop café, sipping mint tea with two Russians and a Moroccan friend. We wandered up to the Kasbah and sat outside another café where a group of local musicians were performing traditional Andalusian music.7 My friends left, and I moved inside the café, which was small with padded benches lining the walls and carpets hanging everywhere. The musicians were spread out across most of the room. None of them seemed to care about their audience; they had the air of a group of old friends, having fun together and creating something wonderful. They would even give each other goofy looks when one of them missed a beat, or smile appreciatively after another completed an especially difficult solo. I grinned like an idiot and tapped my foot to the music. I couldn’t tell whether it was just one song or a string of them, but it lasted for about an hour. Figuring they needed a break, I clapped awkwardly at the end (I was their only audience at that point, as the group of Spanish tourists outside had departed about half an hour earlier) then put my hand on my heart and smiled (what I hope is a universal gesture) and said thank you in Arabic. Next time I’m going to ask one of them to show me how to play or sing.

I spent Eid lunch the next day with Mustapha’s family, and the girls had a surprise for me: my very own haik! A haik is, essentially, a long piece of fabric that Berber women (in the south, especially) wrap around the body and head, which sounds much less glamorous than it looks. After lunch (scrumptious chicken tagine) I broke out my mandolin. It was exciting for everyone, but especially the neighbor’s baby, who sat next to me, wide-eyed and full of amazement, as I sang to him and plucked the strings. Soon we broke out makeshift drums, in the form of a bucket and silver serving tray, and played with great enthusiasm for about half an hour, until the baby began to give us all very stern looks.

In the afternoon we visited a cousin of the family’s, who, it turns out, loves to garden but can’t get any help from her family. (They prefer only to eat the literal fruits of her labor.) Her garden, in a courtyard surrounding the house, is lovely. She has one of every kind of fruit tree, countless flowers, happy air plants, and much more. I offered my assistance, and it looks like I might have a new gardening buddy!8

On the weekend I cooked some food, worked extra hours, chatted with friends, and walked through a park in time to catch sunset over the cliffs. Walked home in the dark, accompanied by a friendly cat and a cool breeze.

  1. If you really exist. []
  2. When I look at my notebook now, I squint down at my notes and make what I hope are the appropriate vowel sounds, suspecting that if the Boussta family were here now they’d be in stitches over my pronunciation. []
  3. I think I liked the banjo more in two Berber performances than in all of the bluegrass songs I’ve heard, put together. []
  4. The dark eyeliner is called kohl. ( Fun fact: it’s been banned by the FDA due to risk of lead poisoning. So glad I read that a week later and not at the time. []
  5. She had a bright crimson shade that she never wore, for obvious reasons, and shimmering blue eyeshadow that I applied all the way up to my eyebrows. []
  6. Seriously, guys, this is more makeup than I wore for my Charlie Chaplin costume. []
  7. I think they’re there every night. []
  8. I miss my makeshift greenhouse in DC,  and find myself wishing I’d brought more seeds with me to Morocco. []

5 Responses

  • Wonderful post, wonderful photos. What’s it like going to the cafe as a woman? I don’t want to assume anything about it, but would rather hear your viewpoint, if you’d be willing to share it.

  • I haven’t had any problems at this particular café, but I’ve always been accompanied by at least one Moroccan friend. The first time I went, the guys who worked there stared a bit, but now nobody seems to notice me. This may be a special situation because it’s not a sidewalk café. Since I always sit at a table on the roof, there are no passers-by.

    Maybe I’ll try going alone sometime (when my Arabic is better) and see how I fare.

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