"Western Africa 2012" story # 38

Rabat, Morocco           December 21, 2012

The poem which I'd written about missing home was written four days before I'd be flying out of Morocco. I'd be going home, and arriving before Christmas. Yay!
     But, on December 11th, I was still in Morocco. How would I spend my last days in Morocco?
     I had just finished the teaching I would do in the capital city, Rabat. On my last day of teaching, one class of students told me about one of the benefits of Islamic prayer. Praying, which required the Muslim to kneel on a mat and bow down, was good aerobic exercise for one's back. (A Muslim university student had already told me there were important things "hidden in the prayer". Praying helped a Muslim organize his day, and brought him closer to God.)
     A second class of students agreed with me that there were no passages in the Koran justifying the suffocating possessiveness with which men oppressed their women. My students explained: people had read the line, "Men are stronger than women," and misinterpreted it.
     Nevertheless, I'd observed that many middle-aged women who covered their hair did so proudly, happily. They seemed to be less visible than women who displayed their hair; they were the property of their husbands more than members of society. And yet, they seemed confident that in covering their hair they were doing the right thing.
     A character in an Oscar Wilde novel once said:
     "I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty, more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts. We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated."
     I would've liked to have asked Moroccan women - those who covered their hair, and those who didn't - what advantages there were to covering their hair, to being prohibited from having friendships with men. Were there some?
     Everyone in Morocco (except the remaining Jewish population) was Muslim. There were few exceptions. It was not like in the U.S.A., where atheists and agnostics were about as numerous as Christians. In Morocco, one rarely heard a local questioning Islam.
     Nevertheless, there were varying degrees to which Moroccans followed the rules of Islam.
     I returned to the bar, Yakuts, on a particularly wild Saturday night. In the brightly lit, maize and black interior, local women wore high heels, short skirts, and blouses revealing their cleavage. They danced with guys. A Moroccan man living in Canada told me, "All of these people are stupid. Even me. I'm stupid, too." Why? "They don't know how to drink." They were drunk.
     I danced with "The Girl I'd Tried to Try to Kiss in November". The short, caramel-skinned girl whose full first name was Fatima Azzahra. "Fatima the Flower". This common first name meant she'd been named after the prophet Mohamed's daughter, whom Mohamed had considered to be one of the world's four perfect women.
     My Fatima Azzahra wore a peach ruffled sweater, a lightweight scarf, and a big smile. Her parabolic bulging cheeks and forehead were worry-free and blissful. Though it made my thighs sore to dance with such a short girl, we did so for an hour. Did I try to kiss her this time?
     Yes, of course. Mouth-to-mouth accuracy? No more than 8%, in three attempts.
     Eight percent was a new record for me in Morocco. All right! Dancing with Fatima Azzahra made me feel lucky.
     But, alas, I would say good-bye to Rabat a few days later. With only four days left in Morocco, on December 11th, I packed my bags and traveled to the country's most touristic city.
     The large center of this city was two to three stories tall and red. Light red, light orange, or light pink, the town walls were agreeable pastelle colors, darkened in spots by dirt or shadow. Pedestrians walked on narrow streets, whose silence was dirtied by guys on motor-scooters. I enjoyed peeking down narrower alleys, through dark burrowing tunnels.
     In the very center of all this was the Djemaa el Fna Square. From here, the High Atlas Mountains could be noticed looming over the city. Though distant, they clogged up the sky in a way that frightened and intimidated. They resembled, with their snowy heads, a gang of giants coming to stomp on the city.
     The square itself was full of street performers. By day, trumpet-players charmed cobras; trained monkeys jumped on tourists' shoulders to have their pictures taken. In the early evening, a female story-teller yelled aggressively, entertaining her Arabic crowd. By night, old men played traditional instruments while women in yellow outfits and purple veils shook and spun. Tourists were often shamelessly overcharged here. It was a magical place - in a sleazy way.
     Two days in this touristy city were enough for me. I wanted to hitchhike south into the Atlas Mountains, to a town called Asni where there was a lake. I was too weak at the end of a long trip to do this, however. And besides, it was probably awfully cold in the mountains.
     So, I returned to Rabat, again, for one final full day. How would I spend it?
     I said "Bislama" (Good-bye) to those people with whom I spoke Moroccan Arabic: the baker who sold muffins and chocolate balls; the flirtatious cleaning lady, Hjiba; and a small, moustachioed man named Hasn who smiled greatly while selling me fruit from his stall. The locals really appreciated my efforts to learn their language.
     I took advantage of Morocco's fantastical shopping possibilities. I bought myself a CD by "Raina Ray", an Algerian rock band with an interesting guitarist. I got myself a knitted skull-cap. I bought two flowing robes, or "jalabas", one for me and my dad to wear. (And I'd already bought a carpet for my mom, from an old man with sad friendly eyes who held his carpets on the sidewalk.)
     And, finally, I had a date with Fatima the Flower. This was the first Moroccan date I had, in which the girl actually showed up!
     She came with a cousin. While I led her to my home, she said I mustn't say aloud that we were going to my home; she didn't want people on the street to hear this.
     I cooked for the three of us. Fatima Azzahra spoke French well and happily. Her black clothes, caramel skin, and bright eye-lashes combined somehow to remind me of shiny gold.
     She said she'd done full-contact kickboxing while in high school. She always lost in competitions, because she was too small.
     She was an only child, currently living with her parents as a twenty-six-year-old. She joked that she and her father were sometimes friends, sometimes mortal enemies. I believed her father loved and respected her very much, and this was why she was so happy and confident. He wouldn't have approved of her visiting me, though.
     I got along well with this energetic, relaxed girl. I guessed that, if I would've been staying in Rabat, we could've had a relationship that would've been more conservative than those in other cultures. I guessed that most Moroccan women would've hoped for marriage to result from such a relationship. The idea of having a relationship like this with Fatima Azzahra seemed sweet.
     But ... marriage? Oh, no!
     I walked with Fatima and her female cousin to help them find a taxi. Maybe I'd be returning to Morocco in a few months? Fatima was from Asni, and I would've loved to visit this town in the Atlas Mountains. I kissed her bulging cheeks good-bye.
     For now, I'd be going to Michigan. I was ready for a break from traveling. I was ready to get my photos developed and share them with friends and family, and tell them of all the fun and adventure.

until the next trip,
Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to Ben, Marjorie, & Marion; and Gerardo for giving me places to stay!

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