Morocco Journal Part Two
In Expanse of Truth / Moonlight on our faces
Ahmed, Kbira and I drove across the street to the market to pick out vegetables and meat for the meal that the weavers would make because of my visit. Kbira commands the hanut and chooses so many beets and tomatoes, I’m lead to believe that we are meeting at least twenty weavers. The butcher’s stall is not for the weary. I will be confronted with an uncharacteristically squeamish version of myself in a few days time in Zaida, but today it is a rapid transaction of a swift chop and money changing hands.
The road to N’kob is through dusty golden crevices, a place where mountains are nameless. Ahmed is playing something similar to gnawa on the radio and I’m wishing that we could just drive all day. Over the past two days, I’ve fallen in love with these kilometers, something you would think I would have picked up a while ago, after long roads to Karabagh and Jaisalmer and the Midwest. We used to drive through the night away from Saint Louis in my fathers blue Mercedes. Even as a child, I loved that car and would stare out the window at the moon, not wanting to actually arrive.
The weavers greet us with tea and we lie around drinking, eating fruit and looking at rugs. Hanging out with the men gets old and I sneak into the kitchen to see if I can help, which I’d love more than anything. I’m quickly redirected to the room that holds Isma’s loom. I see this and realize I can never come up with another excuse for not creating something I dream and talk about it. I rifle through my dictionaries and realize my French is useless. It is not about the language, this is where the bridge is constructed. This is cultural. Speech turns to hands and drawings and somehow I think we find a path to reach each other. Doris, my sample maker in New York would have loved this moment and I wished that she were here to be a part of it. Before I left, she was reassuring my apprehension about the trip, telling me, creative people can communicate in other ways, that is what is special about us. She has no idea what her support has meant to me and how unexpectedly it has anchored me. I have to remember to tell her this when I go back during one of our fashion industry turned politics talks.
We are sitting around the tagine, eating and laughing and I probably jump the gun thinking we’ve gotten somewhere today. My lacking French turns to slowly practicing the Berber that Kbira taught me last night and we manage to exchange more than pleasantries. I hope to all the gods that this will create the basis of the relationship that could be fruitful.
Water is poured to clean our hands and we lounge around for a bit longer. I realize the pace and mood has changed. They are waiting for transactions but I didn’t come for that. One of the weaver’s husbands is terribly pushy and when he realizes that I am not the ATM he thought I was, he pouts. I can’t help but feel disappointed. They have shown me beautiful work today and an abundance of it, but it is not right for my project and there is not enough of a sense of flexibility to convince me that we could forge ahead together.
Hamid was waiting for me on the crossroads to Taznakht and N’kob. I felt sad to say goodbye to Kbira. I had grown to have an affection for her over the last day. After this afternoon, I don’t know if I will see her again but I will remember her.
Twenty kilometers down the road to Anzal we park in front of the Association Tifawin. There were at least twenty men sitting on the steps of the entrance. I had to take a deep breath to exit, I was exhausted. It had been a never-ending day leaving me filled with an overwhelming sense of doubt about my entire purpose in this country. I stalled, adjusting my sunglasses and opened the door. All there was to say was As-salamu Alaykum and all together they sung it back to me in a chorus. It still plays back in my head over and over. The ladies inside seemed surprised and pleased to have a visitor. They unlocked the doors and fire up the water. Fatima is comforting and sweet, so much so, I wish I could confide in her about my experience today. I was relieved to find the Chedwi textile here, the same rug I was struggling to locate and replicate this morning. Maybe there is reason to drive down these roads a second time.
At the only inn in Anzal, the bed was filthy but I simply don’t the energy to make a fuss so I lay out on the Moroccan couch. (Very different than Western couch.) The bathroom was soiled with cigarettes butts and dust so I lit incense to make it just slightly more appealing. I hadn’t slept in such a shabby hotel probably since India. I would say our unforgivable night in Bikaner. I remember Marin and I waited for hours for our dinner in the empty pastel hued dining room. (Mind you, the food was delicious). Then we chatted for a long while with the owner’s father. He was bundled up in a puffer coat, scarf and hat, mismatched, in the endearing way that Indians wear Western clothing. He was kind and asked us about our travels and impressions. We got into bed with our coats on and wished the night through, so thankful for having each other to laugh the time away.
Hamid and I shared hariria and dates for dinner, the meal mirrors that of the morning. Considering the filth of the place, the food was quite satisfying and breakfast would be swarming with flies, but the eggs, fresh and tasty. I lie down and read some Paul Bowles stories, which were of the most terrifying nature and left me more than unsettled. To pass some time, I perch in the window and smoke a cigarette, slightly hiding myself and secretly hoping Hamid wasn’t standing next to his window out of the fear that he would think me a charlatan. I woke up in the middle of the night by the sound of barking dogs and then later by the light of the moon on my face. It was waxing to a full circle. I realized I had forgotten to ask around for the Peace Corp volunteer that lives in this road stop town. The dogs kept barking and I was freezing.
We drove all day and then we drove some more. We drove East through the Atlas and through Ouarzazate. Past Errachidia, we literally edge off the end of the earth. Hamid and I struggle to find the Maison d’hotes Sahara but the golden sand reveals a swaying oasis in front of me and ease appears again. We arrive and the hotel is empty, filled with only with rugs and afternoon light, an incredible sanctuary of tranquillo. There is tea being prepared. The maker is always surprised that I take it sweet. I decide to sit with Fatima and start weaving along side her. Susan hadn’t told me that the ladies were a family of weavers, a striking Berber mother and her three daughters. Later, Khira tells me about the language and religion of the loom. I secretly hope that I hadn’t broken any of the rules yesterday and offended Fatima. I am honored that she let me sit down with her and tie a few pieces on; I’m no weaver of any caliber to speak of. Fatima works tirelessly on the weaving and she incorporates what she sees in the carpets, there are small rugs with animals, palms and skies, it is a vision of the palmeraie. Her henna dyed fingers progress along steadily through the evening and I’m shocked to see how much she has accomplished since I have arrived.
The tagine Khadija makes is the best meal I’ve had all week, the prunes are melting and perfect. Khira, Fatima, Hamid, Khadija, Aicha and I stay up late talking about wool, Berbers and language. Weaving is changing in Morocco because like the maps of the land, it is a direct reflection of the people. There is talk of the sheep and the women that take care of them and how this age-old task of animal husbandry is too labor intense. Ready-made wool is now available in the souks, which usually come to town once a week. In a way, making weaving more accessible, but the technical knowledge is key and what happens when some of those ideals are not passed and continued. Susan told me a few years ago that the women weave with spirit, in addition to technical expertise, but is that at risk too?
When I tell people I travel to Morocco, some of them look at me and assume it is because of a man. I’ve been informed countless times that I’m fated to marry a Moroccan. Maybe I should have considered the prior invitations, but I hadn’t and didn’t seem to host any regrets. Even my own mother tried passing me off during our trip last year. I remember looking at her incredulously, a shepherd, really, Jude? I think she was more enamored with the idea of the attractive goat pets rather than my potential suitors dental hygiene. She reminded me of my namesake opera; where the peasant, Anush falls in love with Saro the shepherd. (It incorporates heavy family involvement, male chauvinism and unnecessary drama, all traits straight from the Motherland and the Diaspora). I counter that the heroines story ends in despair and I hope more for my fate, in the name of my grandmother, Haykanoush.
When the ladies in Aofous float the idea of inviting me to stay, I think seriously for a moment that it might be worth considering. I’ve received such a glimpse into this life and I think spending time here could lead to truth and work. Pour la prochain, Inshallah. I think the ladies and I can make a plan, but I need to return.
I wake up facing the palmeraie and I feel rested and filled with purpose and confidence again. I linger half the morning, talking, visiting the place where the women make the large rugs. Time doesn’t stop and I must meet Houssain this evening in Azrou so North we go after prolonged goodbyes, promises and inshallahs. Khadija makes me laugh out loud when she dramatically gestures off her tahrouit and makes for the taxi. She’s more than welcome I tell her, there have been a lonely few days and her presence would be more than appreciated.
T bird had given me The Alchemist the forth night before I left and as Hamid and I were driving through the mountains, I read with a fervor that I haven’t felt in months. The book shed a light, like it always does and I could feel the convergence of what I was doing, where I was and could see its lifeline from past years and the people that had inspired, influenced and given to me in ways I could never express with proper gratitude. It became so clear in such an instant. I didn’t want to alarm Hamid, so behind dark glasses, I cried, not for nostalgia or sadness, but for the vastness of this moment of clarity and the vision of all the people, whether they were with me in spirit or proximity, that connected me to this very moment.
I thought often of Lucette on these afternoon rides and last night, when I set out her photos in front of the window facing the oasis. I laid on one of the plush rugs the women had made and sent all my thoughts of peace to the oasis and beyond. I wished she could have been with me but I knew that she somehow was, helping me render my thoughts in French. She had taught me well, by story and example, that I could feel it, if I allowed myself. This was the very reason that May had been a challenge. I wasn’t allowing it to take shape for myself, for some reason I was resisting. Feeling had felt void, as I was holding back and denying myself from resting into the rhythm. If full tilt was what I was after, I had to embrace it and I was always versed at full tilt when I traveled, it was the best version of me.
In a few days, when we were sitting in the back of the broke down car in Sefrou, David will tell me it is in the in-between moments where you feel in the deepest and rawest sense. He was talking about Lucette but it always encompasses more. It was in those glimmers of time as I passed mountains and scenes of daily Moroccan life. It goes the way it is meant to. Maktub. It is written.
AM /// June 2014