Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Moroccan Stars

It rained torrentially in Morocco, much to the delight of the people who did not experience much rain for the past 3 years. However, we were unable to travel to the Sahara due to time and weather constraint. I spent a lot of time with the Moroccans in their tiny clay and brick houses in the dusty villages where central heating was unheard of. Most of the time was spent chatting, sleeping (I didn’t have much sleep in Paris due to my heavy workload) and eating (during breaking fast). Ramadan was spent in the serenity of the villages where the silent of the night was broken by prayer calls from the mosque. After travelling in all sorts of transportation available (yes, including the horse cart), it was good to huddle together eating couscous and tangine from a single round plate. The jokes and bantering in Moroccan and Arabic (yes, I did practise all those verbs and conjugaison that I couldn’t seem to master) and the dances were just great. Rachid’s cousins love to dance and we could just dance to the tune of the drums.

Life was simple. Every family we visited insisted we drank mint tea and ate those big round breads that I had grown to love. Before leaving, they would give us little gifts, thanking us for visiting their humble domain. A small porcelain plate, an Arabic exercise book, a vase or an elaborate Moroccan dress. Initially I thought they were gifts for Eid but it seemed that my non-Muslim friends received those gifts too. Ahh….the Moroccan hospitality. They were very poor themselves but they had such big hearts. They eyes lit up when I told them how much the Moroccan tiles reminded me of Gedung Kuning (my great-grandfather’s house where I was born) and how the Moroccan cakes made me miss home less. The dresses they gave me made me feel so ashamed of my own selfish self. Obviously, the Moroccans did not even hesitate to give their best dresses while I, someone from a developed country who had more French francs and Singapore dollars in my wallet than they could have in 1 year; would think twice about parting with my Aspen winter jacket. I felt so ashamed for thinking more than 5 times whether I should donate my winter jacket to the homeless in Morocco whose torn and tattered capuches couldn’t protect them from the cruel winter winds.

My hands were henna-dyed Moroccan style and I wore the capuche (the traditional Moroccan robe with the pointed cap) as I walked through the old Roman city of Volubilis and the souk (market) of Meknes. Marrakech with its touristy Club Med. did not thrill me. I enjoyed drinking mint tea in the warmth ambience of the small houses where frequent blackouts were normal. Although it was difficult trying to balance squatting in the hole-in-the-mud toilet in pitch darkness, I found the whole experience simply humbling. I remember how I walked and walked in the cold just to find a phone to wish my mum "Selamat Hari Raya". Autoroaming did not work in Morocco. But this just showed that electronic devices are mechanical tools that will not last. What will last are the memories of how sincere people can be. Rachid told me the Moroccans may be poor but they believe whatever they have in surplus should be shared with others. The things on earth are but transient objects. At that moment, my thoughts on my next Economics presentation "Le droit est-il un politique publique?" disappeared with the night. How small my problems were compared to these people who did not have much to eat.

I shed much tears as I bid au revoir. Insya Allah (if God allows) I will return to the Sahara and to the tiny village of Sebaa Ayoune. Before I left, Rachid’s fragile grandmother, whose tattoos on her face were itself historic descriptions of an ancient lifestyle, told me something in Moroccan, "If I am still alive when you come back in the future, Insya Allah, we will meet again. If I am dead by then, we will meet again later (in the After-life)". Even Rachid’s eyes were watery when he translated for me. Ahh…. those poor and simple villagers were as beautiful as the stars that lit up the Moroccan sky.

[December 2000]

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