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8 posts categorized "Nabila Taj"

05/12/2011

That's family, eh?

The moment you realize your family is not perfect is a powerful moment of clarity. Jovial, happy memories of birthdays, trips to the park, and holidays reveal a parallel storyline. This is a pivotal moment when you realize the smile on your mother’s face was just masking her pain. You may realize that the laughter that echoes in your mind from a family barbecue really came after your uncles settled a huge argument.  The truth, as some may call it, helped me to embrace and love my family even more. We are all vulnerable to succumbing to our vices, but the beauty of a family is that it remains a solid entity despite these setbacks.

I learned this not only from my own family, but also from my family here in Temara. Three generations inhabit this household, and on Sunday nights, when the rest of the extended family loyally gathers in the salon, you can count up to at least four different generations. I’ve witnessed this Sunday night tradition since I arrived eight months ago, and I have always tried my best to attend.

The family had welcomed me with open arms on my first day, and gently guided me to the kitchen. This is very telling in of itself. I wasn’t fed until later in the evening, but that was only because it was Ramadan. The ladies of the house urged me to eat using quintessential phrasekuli kuli that resounds throughout all the homes in Morocco. They did not allow me to help clean up. In fact, my room was cleaned for me on a daily basis, and laundry was done just as often. I was treated not as a guest, but as a royal guest of honor.

That all changed, as I assimilated into daily grind. I learned which television shows they prefer, how they like their millwi (Moroccan bread), and their favorite songs. Eventually, I was allowed to help clear up the table, wash the dishes, and even fold my own laundry! On occasion, I served other guests their tea and cake, welcoming them as if it were my own home.

I have grown really close to everybody, and through pictures, home videos, and stories grown to understand their rich history. One afternoon, Sadiya and I were scouring my bedroom for a prescription that had disappeared when we came across a box of old photos. For an hour and a half, we sat on my bed going through them. She was reminiscing of the good and tough times, while I was appreciating listening to her. I saw how this family had evolved from adolescents who teased each other incessantly, to adults singing and dancing together, rearing their own families. Maybe the answer is a new generation. I think of the baby in our family, and how her mood affects our moods. If she falls ill, the entire household is in a somber mood. But her giggles, bring out our own desire to be carefree.

I thought of the arguments that had erupted, or the stories about divorces that had been shared with me. I would assume that these events would lead a lasting scar, but I realize now that everyone will protect each other. The scar will be a reminder, but the family will still gather together to eat, laugh, sing, and dance together.

Resting on a shelf in the back of my closet at home in Queens, is a Rummikube set untouched since the turn of the century. My aunt had given it to me when I was twelve after a two-week visit. I could not bear to look at the board game without thinking about all the good times I had spent with them.  I was going to see them again in two months, but it was painful nonetheless. I was eleven years old, and that is when I decided I must be emotionally stunted.

I’m sure I have grown up since then, but at the same time it will be very hard to leave this family in Temara.  I’ll be overcome with nostalgia every time I play Spoons, or when I see olives at the grocery store, or even when I hear snippets of Arabic on the streets.  But I know my family will always be there to overwhelm me with love.

 

01/31/2011

“Speak like the people speak, so that you can become close to us, and so you do not differ from us in anything except in what is demanded by your status, which you only hold for our sake.”

These words are allegedly written by the infamous Saddam Hussein in his novella, Zabiba and the King. It’s an allegorical love story about the relationship between Saddam, the Iraqi people, and the United States. It hasn’t been proven that Saddam actually wrote the book, but he did have a great influence in its production, and it offers a considerable insight into his life and convictions. 

In the story, Zabiba, a commoner, offers this advice to her beloved King right before he learns of an impending rebellion. It’s interesting that regardless of the illicit Qur’an composed of his blood, Saddam Hussein might have shared valuable wisdom. At this time, when leaders such as the spineless Ben Ali of Tunisia, or the callous Mubarak of Egypt are being protested against, Hussein’s words do not ring any truer. These nations need leaders who will empathize with the burdens of the people, and provide basic human rights for them. 

Here in Morocco, I’ve talked to a number of people about the region’s recent events, and the responses are varied. There is the theory that Israel and the US incited the Tunisian revolution in order to get rid of Ben Ali to replace him with someone a bit more complacent to thier desires. Since Ben Ali lacked a strong network, and since there was an absence of legitimate political parties, it was easy to let these events play out. The protestors were just a gift for the media. 

There are others who are extremely proud of thier fellow Maghrebis, and Arabs, and look forward to further progress in the rest of the region. It seems that everyone here already has the answer to the  question of whether these protests will spill into Morocco or not. Not gonna’ to happen.

Morocco has already experienced its era of revolt and protests during the Green March and the Lead Years. Also, King Mohammed VI is appreciated around here despite what he has or has not accomplished. His extreme populairty is relative to the extreme dislike that his father, the previous king, recieved from his subjects. In fact, many young Moroccans have taken to posting photos of Mohammed VI on thier Facebook pages to show their support of his regime. 

I truly believe that Morocco will not experience a Jasmine Revolution of thier own anytime soon, but I am extremely proud of the citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan (Lebanon as well), for standing up for their rights. Even Saddam Hussein would agree that thier leaders were not very good at thier jobs. Well, that might be a stretch.

11/09/2010

when stars were still just the holes to heaven

Caitríona likes to mention, at least once a day that "There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand in the world." Lying in the Sahara, and tracing the various constellations, I realized she might have been telling the truth all along.

After our trip to Marrakech, and Essouria, a few of my friends and I trekked over to Merzouga, where we were to meet Omar, our sage of the Sahara. By trek, I mean cramp into a grand taxi, which is legally allowed to transport seven people, including the driver. More often than not, it can only humanely fit five people. Seeing as we opted to take grand taxis for the duration trip in southern Morocco, our relationships have ascended to new levels.

Once in Merzouga, we rode our camels out into the desert just in time to scramble up the dunes to watch the sun set. Breathtaking.

 

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As a side note, camel riding for over an hour is not the most comfortable activity. Kudos to the boys who survived. After enjoying a delicious tajine and some Berber whiskey, my friends and I gathered around the fire for a jam session. Somebody brought out a dhol-like instrument so I couldn’t help but introduce everyone to “bari barsi khat se gaya si... and of course, “dholi taro, dhol baje, dhol baje, …” In return, the Berbers taught us a few sick Gnawa tunes; “Sudani Allah Allah, Sudani…” and “ya baba, muslami ya baba”

All of a sudden, the singing and laughing ceased. We were told to direct our gazes towards the East to watch the moon rise above the snow-white sand dunes. It was as if an invisible hand was grabbing the moon out of the sand. I’ve never witnessed such a marvel before.

We spent the rest of the night, which grew increasingly colder, bundled up beneath the stars. Besides Orion’s Belt, Leo, and Venus, I think our favorite find was the tajine in the sky. That is always a good omen.

A few hours later, Youssef woke the group up with a loud “Americans!” around 5 AM in time to watch the sun rise. That morning camel ride was like being on shrooms. To my left, the moon was still visible resting in the intense hues of blues and purples. To my right, the sun was just breaking dawn, enough to blind me. I was trying my best to recall a saying by Hafiz, and it only came to me later, l'espirit d'escalier.

Even after all this time 
the sun never says to the earth, 
'You owe Me.' 

Look what happens with 
a love like that, 
it lights the whole Sky.

After scarfing down breakfast, we took a sketchy bus, with a goat in the backseat, to the next town where we hailed another grand taxi, crammed onto its musty leather seats and drove a hefty five hours to the Todra Gorge. I enjoy horizontal hikes more than vertical ones, so the Todra, which is on the east side of the High Atlas Mountains, was fantastic. At one point we were able to see the Sahara in the far distance (or so we assumed). Cat and I attempted to give the adhan and hear it echo through the gorges, which was followed by our version of “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. However, a lone Berber woman’s chants overpowered our horrific covers.

That night we opted to stay on the rooftop terrace of a hotel right next to the gorge. The moon provided just the right spotlight for the gorges so we could still watch the infinite stars in the sky. To keep with the theme of the day, we even found baby Simba within the contours of older Simba! It was a perfect night, up until 4 AM when it had to have hit below zero. My body had been in survivor mode for the past week, so I endured the pain.

My favorite part of the entire escapade, however, was coming home to find out that my friend Hyder was looking at Orion’s Belt from his window all the way in Boston that same night.

 

10/20/2010

if it don't make dirhams, it don't make sense

Have you ever experienced that moment of utter excitement, and anticipation? It is usually right after making a spontaneous plan and right before everything that can go wrong, goes wrong.

My experiences this weekend don’t fall short of such sentiments. On Friday, I was waiting to go to the family’s farm for couscous, when my friend and I decided trek over to the city of Meknès instead. I had an ample two hours to catch a bus to Temara from school, gather my things, and take a bus back to the train station. There is only one antique, rackety 54B bus that takes me directly to my house from the city. I waited an hour for it to arrive.

At that point, I still had time to get back to Rabat under the two-hour mark. However, I fell asleep on the bus, and missed my stop. No worries, though. I had safely arrived in the Middle of Nowhere. A mule was leading the one vehicle that did pass by, and all seats were occupied. Eventually, I caught a petit taxi back to my house where my first order of business was to scarf down some couscous. That was not a great idea because I vomited it all out a solid ten minutes later. Lastly, the key to my room was tucked away in Sadiya’s apron back at the farm. This series of events definitely indicated that I should stay home, but obviously that was not going to stop me. Mashi mushkil.

Although the train station in Rabat is brand-spanking new, our luck provided us with a train that was probably produced when Morocco gained independence about 54 years ago. After standing in the train for a good three hours, Enchilada and I arrived in Meknès and over a span of two and a half days, we explored numerous towns near the imperial city.

Volubilis (وليلي )

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The Roman Ruins were breathtaking. There is an area called the vomitorium, which usually refers to a passage through which crowds in an auditorium can disgorge. Apparently, this vomitorium was where the ancient Romans retreated to vomit after inhaling copious amounts of food. I could have used one just a day earlier.

Fatassa

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After spending almost three hours exploring the ruins, we were walking over to the town of Moulay Idriss, when a man waved us over from his roadside fossil shop. He tried to sell us some rocks, but we were definitely not interested, so he offered us some mint tea. While we were enjoying that, he tried to sell us some of the best caramel (an even better code word) in Morocco. Again, we were not interested. Then he asked me to marry him. I almost accepted that one. The last thing he offered was a personal tour of the tiny village in which he resides. Finally, something kosher. On our journey through this village, we met Mohammad’s cousin who had just returned with a backpack packed with hashish from a treacherous journey through the Rif Mountains from Chefchaouen. The most remarkable aspect of this village was the incredibly fresh spring water that was available for wudu or to bring home with a mule’s assistance.

Moulay Idriss (مولاي إدريس)

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Afterwards, we hopped onto a hippie bus to travel a few kilometers to the next village over, Moulay Idriss, which is named after the founder of Morocco’s first real dynasty, and a great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). His tomb rests at the heart of the town, and many believe that five pilgrimages to this site is equal to one pilgrimage to Mecca. That is blasphemy in my opinion, but I took full advantage of being a full-time Muslim and was allowed to pass the barrier into the mausoleum.     

El Hajeb (لحاجب) 

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We met the family in the photograph above in a grand taxi on our way to Ifrane. I suppose they were intrigued with me because although I exude the faint scent of an American, I have an Arabic name was able to communicate with them in darija. Fatiha (in blue) insisted that we come to her home in El Hajeb for lunch, and so we made a pitstop. Fatiha, who is originally of  Tamazight Berber descent, was on her way to visit her brother’s newborn son. She first brought us to her sister’s home where banana smoothies were served to hold us over till we went to her brother’s home for the real feast. I have an incredible amount of respect for the trust and hospitality that Fatiha and her family showed us. 

Ifrane (إفران)

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Ifrane is mind-boggling. Its well-maintained cottages with steep roofs, and wide roads are akin to that of a Swiss town. It is probably the coldest place in Morocco, since it was developed as a French protectorate for families to escape to in the humid summer months. The kids in my family love Ifrane because it seasonally endows the nearby mountains with snow, a rarity in Morocco. I still think I walked through a parallel universe. (Kinza, you were right all along). 

And with that, back to the grind.

 

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

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While enjoying a glass of mint tea in Café Bab, which overlooks Barbara Hutton’s former villa, I glanced at Paul Bowles’ quote on the wall. “Tangiers is a place where the past and the present exist simultaneously.”

With all due respect to the legendary novelist, I beg to differ.

Actually, he may be right because he was referring to 60’s version of the town, when the Beat Generation, and Jimi Hendrix sought refuge from the infernal ways of the West. However, the Tangier that I experienced this past weekend is a place where the past and rather, the future that carry more magnitude.

I say this because the town clings to its glamorous past when hippies flooded the city. Every bar, café, and hotel advertises some connection to William Burroughs, or Truman Capote, or Keith Richards. I feel like this is rooted in ignorant pride. How many of these tour guides actually know who these people are? They are clever in that they realized the impression these figures have left on the Western world, and have taken full advantage of it.

Because Spain is separated from Tangiers by only the 20 miles of the Strait of Gibraltar, it is visible to the naked eye. My friend and I were basking in the view from the roof of an old castle, when we met Yasin who lives and breathes for Spain. At first, we struggle to communicate. Every time I said anything in Arabic, or in English, he would interject. “Hablas espanol?”

Finally I gave in and we conversed in Spanish. Yasin shared with us, in his surprisingly fluent Spanish, his several failed attempts to illegally swim over to Spain. The police caught him every time, but he says that he is not worried. One day, he will definitely succeed.

I did admire his determination, but I was nonetheless saddened by his endeavors. You see, Yasin, who was rocking a David Villa jersey and a Spanish mullet, is only eight years old. I did not have the heart to say it to him, but I wish he could understand that life in Spain would not be at all what he imagines it to be. As an illegal immigrant, he would not at all have the same experience he hears about from the Spanish tourists he encounters on a daily basis.

I believe Spain’s eminent presence has become the same green light that blinded Gatsby. It would be crude of me to mention how Gatsby met his end (not that I am not above that).

On a lighter note, on the bus back, we witnessed a woman get up from her seat, scream at the top of her lungs in Arabic, thrash around like a maniac, and try to run off the bus while her husband tried to calm her down. She did this about six times through the span of a four-hour bus ride. It turns out that she just discovered that her husband has another wife and son in Tangiers. She was pregnant with his baby and was trying to get off the bus to get an abortion. I don’t know why Moroccans watch so much television; they have all this drama at their fingertips!

 

10/19/2010

Upon my arrival in Chefchaouen, the one and only thing on my mind was a bar of dark chocolate speckled with almonds and toffee bits. I could not focus, and it was of grave importance that  I obtained some immediately. After settling into our beautiful riad, I set out on a mission to make that happen.

In New York, when I ask for a bar of dark chocolate, the cashier gives me a dirty look, and points me towards Aisle 3. In Chefchaouen, when I ask for some chocolate, the storekeeper winks at me and tells me that he has best quality. That’s true customer service.

Of course, it takes me a while to realize that I was actually in the process of purchasing some hashish. How can that not get confusing?!

Chefchaouen lies at the foothills of the Rif Mountains, and it is well known as a hub of hashish production. We were informed that the danger lies beneath the knolls of the Rif because of this. So of course, it would be a perfect location to watch the sunrise.

You should know that I cannot bring myself to stay longer than ten minutes in a gym, so the trek up the mountain at 4 AM called for a bit of effort. It would have been much easier had I been able to see where I was going. Nonetheless, I cannot describe in words how incredible it was to hear the echoes of the adhanreverberate through the mountains. Soon after, we watched, in awe, dawn break through the night sky to let the sunlight spill over the horizon.

And I definitely did not need any Chaouen chocolate for that high. 

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09/28/2010

Mazal Tov!


  • As I am known to do very often, I strolled into a self-made trap during lunch today. A few Moroccan women, as well as my American friends and I were devouring some djaj at the post-wedding lunch, when one of the ladies asked if I was Moroccan. Now this is one of the more common conversations I manage to have with people in this country. I’ll reiterate it in English here.

    “Are you Moroccan?”

    “No, I am American.”

    “Oh, you look very Moroccan.”

    “Oh thank you. I am Indian.”

    “Ohh, you dance Indian? Shah Rukh Khan!”

    “Yes…exactly.”

    Yes, my darija is currently at the level of a toddler.

    Well this time, she progressed to ask me if I wanted to marry a Moroccan. Using this as an opportunity to implement my skills, I said I preferred a tall, dark, and handsome Moroccan man. Eventually, everyone in the family was informed of my preferences, and took it upon themselves to find me a man. In fact, my friend Jordan told the ladies that I go to the hammam solely to interact with the ladies whose sons are eligible bachelors. Mumkin! The only condition is that I must have my wedding in Morocco.

    That is not a problem, because the wedding this weekend was a ridiculous experience, and it wasn’t even the real thing. Because the bride’s parents are going to Mecca forhajj, they wanted their daughter to be married so that her groom can visit her without too many rumors being spread. Therefore, in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of the Moroccan law, Afaf and Salah were officially married yesterday.

    I woke up on Saturday morning to wafts of couscous and chicken, and lamb creeping into my room from the kitchen. Outside in the courtyard, the men in the family unloaded chairs, tables, and all sorts of bronze decoration pieces. The entire house was being overhauled and transformed into a grandiose party room.

    Guests began to creep in around 5 PM, and the bride arrived first to the vivacious shrills of all the women in the house. An hour later, everybody went outside to welcome the groom and his family who were walking up the block bearing gifts and playing intense rhythms and beats on musical instruments.  To be honest, it was an Indian wedding in a different tongue.

    It was interesting to note that the music fluctuated from religious songs that praised Allah and the Prophet (PBUH) to traditional Moroccan rhythms. That didn’t’ stop anybody from dancing, though. Actually, the beginning half of the night, imams in Fez hats belted out some fantastic songs. After dinner, the house band played somechaabi, which are Moroccan folk tunes based on rhythms with everybody clapping and dancing along. It’s an exhausting affair, but luckily, my friends and I were able to sneak an hour long power nap (That’s the advantage in having a wedding in your own home). This was one of the smartest decisions we’ve made because the party went on all night.

    I cannot forget the food. We were first served milk with candied dates after the contracts were signed. About three hours later, our table was served a huge dish of couscous with tender lamb topped with caramelized onions and toasted peanuts.  My friends and I scarfed down the food thinking it was the main meal. It turns out it was only the appetizer and bread and four whole chickens followed. Soon after, were presented with a huge platter of fruits. After a bit of dancing, we were offered tea and  halwa  to finish off the night.

    The party lasted throughout the night, and I do not even remember going to bed but I woke up in a bed with two of my friends from the program still in my clothes and makeup. Mind you, there was no open bar at this wedding, nor was anyone hungover. To my American friends, this was a miracle.

    The post-wedding celebrations are even more fun than the wedding itself. One of the cousins just took the guitar out to the living room, so I’m going to join everybody in ripping some killer beats.

    Ma Salaama.


    09/23/2010

    Rhythms of Rabat

    As we drive past the Atlantic to the coastal town of Temara, where I will be residing for the next few months, I hear the adhan inviting everybody to Zuhr prayers. The ocean waves are violently beating against the rocks, and it all feels so surreal. One of the main reasons I chose to study in Morocco is to have the opportunity to immerse myself into the various musical styles and sounds of the country, and it’s been a pleasant surprise so far. My first meal was in a French restaurant near our hotel, and it seemed that Mariah Carey had followed me to Rabat. I was slightly disappointed, but optimistic.

    I am actually quite lucky in that I arrived in Rabat on the 27th night of Ramadan, Laylat al-Qadr. It is believed that this is the day that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet, and hence it is a very sacred, and celebratory day. During the day, the city is lifeless. Right after Maghrib, I was amazed to watch hundreds of families trickle out into the streets in clothing bedizened in sequins and patterns. Children were dancing to the beat of the drummers. Young girls dressed as brides were having their photos taken in small chariots. Others were avidly campaigning for money to go on the rides. Near the beach, boys were daringly jumping into the murky water despite signs warning against it.  It was a sight to hear. Around 2 AM, everyone began to return to their homes, and things quieted down, but I could still hear one man reciting the Qur’an till Fajr the next morning.

    On the second day, Madiha, our program leader, took us to her family’s home in Tamara for iftar. Our program director, Zaki, introduced his niece, Nabyla, as a professional singer. I took this as his way of giving her his utmost appreciation. It turns out that she is actually very well-known throughout Morocco, and her songs are played on the international radio quite often. Most of her work falls under the category of Rai, folk music that originated in Algeria. My counterpart. A Nabila who can sing. Over some mint tea, Nabyla serenaded us with her sweet rendition of La Vie en Rose. I was in awe, to say the least.

    After it was affirmative that the Americans were well fed, Nabyla and Rime, the director’s daughter, took us to a cafe to listen to a fusion band.  Again, I was expecting some new beats, only to be surprised to hear the lead guitarist belt out Eric Clapton’s Layla and even more surprised to see everyone in the cafe singing along. Apparently, Hotel California is an extremely popular song in Morocco as well. The crowd was ecstatic when the band jammed to Pink Floyd’s We Don’t need No Education. Go figure. That’s not to say I did not have a great time! 

    My favorite moment yet, however, is when all the kids gathered outside the house in Tamara with various pots, and pans, and plastic stools to drum out some fantastic beats. They sang traditional songs that they must have been listening to since their days as infants, and danced vivaciously. As someone who yearns for any sort of musical inclination, I have great respect for these guys.  

    Of course, I must mention my appreciation for the random Bollywood songs I hear almost everywhere I go whether it be Jiya Jale at the boardwalk, or Mehboob Mere in a small shop in Asila. This country really is quite cosmopolitan.