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2 posts from September 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, 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.


    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.