"Western Africa 2012" story # 36

Sale, Morocco           December 9, 2012

My big trip of 2012 was almost over. In mid-December, I'd be going home.
     On the afternoon of "The Day I Tried to Get a Kiss" in November, something had happened that gave me some final stress.
     My landlord had come to talk to me. Landlords, like bosses, often made me feel uncomfortable. I disliked the feeling of others trying to profit off me.
     The inhumane act of charging rent ("a sin" - as described by Jack Kerouac) got its origin, I believed, from property taxes imposed by governments. "Having freedom taken away (by taxation, government rule, etc.) makes people selfish. Democracy and monetary trade cause selfishness." - J.Breen philosophy (2006)
     If people needed no money to live, harvest food, make clothes, etc. they'd be more relaxed about their state of well-being. They'd be more generous.
     In Morocco, my landlord was a retired military man named Ishem. He was little with thick glasses and likeable. Some of the most likeable people in the world were Moroccans selling you things.
     When I'd agreed to take a room on his second floor, he invited me into his family's residence on the ground floor. His smaller kitchen, TV room, and bedrooms opened up to the main dining room. This large central opening extended upwards past the second floor to the roof, where it was covered by a tarp. Sunlight flooded in, illuminating the white tiles and maroon curtains with blue Islamic designs.
     We ate thin strips of mutton, cooked in a ceramic cone called "tagine". Ishem told me in French and English about his past travels to India, Thailand, and Scandinavia. The women of his family - his friendly and helpful wife; silent, smiling seventeen-year-old, and awkward nine-year-old - didn't join us.
     After that, I saw the family only in passing. I often wrote and ate at a table on the terrace. The family members came to hang up clothes and carpets.
     On the last Saturday in November, Ishem found me on the terrace. I was looking down to the ocean waves and surfers, listening to the chirps of birds who also loved Moroccan rooftops.
     Ishem wanted money. I said I'd pay him at the end of the month, and only for half of December. He said rudely, "C'est pas un hotel." (This isn't a hotel.) I'd have to move out in six days.
     The next time I came to the terrace, I found Ishem rearranging the table and chairs in a possessive move. He was upset, as he spoke to me with the firmness of a father who didn't listen. "Il faut respecter. C'est une famille islamique. T'est tujours a terrace. Il faut respecter." (You must have respect. This is an Islamic family. You're always on the terrace. You must have respect.)
     I understood that his family was expecting guests, and they wanted to eat on the terrace alone. But, I must've understood wrongly, because no one came to the terrace that day - not even me, who'd been sent to my room.
     The following day, I asserted my right to sit on the terrace I'd paid for. No small, old man was going to push me around! Ishem agreed, after saying for the second time: "Il faut respecter la famille islamique. Ma famille voudrait venir a la terrace." (You must respect the Islamic family. My family would like to come to the terrace.)
     This story wasn't about me and Ishem, however. It was about the cause of our conflict. (Besides Ishem realizing he wasn't going to get any more money out of me.)
     Maybe the family members, as Muslim women, were prohibited from being near men who weren't their family? I'd thought Ishem was more modern than that. He explained to the German girl who lived above me that his wife and daughter didn't come to the terrace when I was there. That wasn't exactly true; they did come to hang up clothes.
     I was told by the German that, even before I'd moved in, Ishem's family only used the terrace for drying laundry. Observing other terraces, I noticed women only emerged to dry laundry.
     Ishem told the German, the neighbors could see his family members on the terrace with me. Geez, were our lives ruled by the neighbors' opinions?
     Essentially, I was told my presence was a problem in the house I rented in. Geez, if I couldn't nude sun-bathe on the terrace of my own home, where could I nude sun-bathe?
     Just kidding. Perhaps I should've had a greater respect for the rules of the culture I was living in? I mentioned this conflict to the students at my private school; they confirmed that a Muslim woman shouldn't be seen with a foreign man.
     But, I couldn't respect this rule. It was stupid.
     My neighbor Ben (who didn't care who was on his neighbors' rooftops) reminded me that the inhabitants of Rabat's medina were poor. He said poor people only had their religion, which was free; they protected it, and could go so far as to kill sinning family members. Moroccan Ben said once people became rich, they protected their riches.
     I was no expert on Islam. But in reading the Koran, I found no passages that justified treating women with such possessiveness. Some Moroccans said the justifications were "hidden" in the Koran. Or, maybe I'd find them if I read the Sunnah?
     In Guinea-Bissau, Muslim women had boyfriends and children out of wedlock, and they were accepted. Were they bad Muslims? Or, was the Arabs' possessiveness a cultural thing?
     It seemed difficult to be free in Morocco. It had been my observation during my first visit that the people were repressed, unable to express themselves in the way they wanted, bound by obligation. For example:
     Women didn't feel free/safe to enjoy city beaches, which were playgrounds for men.
     Women avoided making eye contact with men in public places.
     Married women could be locked up in their houses, and forced to wear veils in front of even their brothers-in-law, by the strictest husbands.
     Other obligations included: asking a long list of questions about health and family, when greeting friends; making references to Allah in conversation; being forced to hear the mosques' loud calls to prayer; and praying five times a day.
     And Moroccans rarely questioned Islam. This reminded me of a Paul Avery quote: "That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false."
     A female student of mine defended Moroccans' right to be Muslims, saying I should let them be Muslim if they chose to be so. I agreed with her. They should be free.
     Another student, a girl with her hair covered, tried convincing me to convert to Islam. This indicated she had a strong personality, and confidence in her faith.

I'd once been told that Islam was about peace, friendliness, having a good heart.
     My Moroccan neighbor Ben invited me to live with him in December.
     He had a house as beautiful as Ishem's; an open and intelligent mind; and roommates who invited me to parties. I was thus saved from spending my final days in a stale and friendless hotel. And I continued to teach in a private high school.
     On a Thursday, I taught three ninth-grade classes. These were my youngest students yet. They were excited and full of energy.
     After one class, students came up to me and asked for my email address and signature. This included a Brazilian-skinned girl with black scrappy hair, who'd been active and eager during class. To my surprise, she asked:
     "Can I give you a kiss?"
     I said, yes. She kissed my cheek.
     This made me happy. This simple act - by an innocent fourteen-year-old - had done a lot to give me a positive impression of the country.
     After all, I'd be leaving it soon.
     I'd be on my way home.

the Modern Oddyseus

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