A handful of pebbles

Re-reading my last post, a few things dawned on me: one is that, although I never regret taking a picture, you may not feel the same way.  Blurry and boring, could have been the title of the post.  I vow to redeem myself…

But while you’re waiting (for me to redeem myself), let’s do something useful together.  Let’s have an (extremely short, I promise) lesson in Darija.  And what is Darija you might be wondering?  Well it’s simply the Moroccan dialect of Arabic.  It’s Arabic, minus any vowels, mangled beyond recognition, un-writable, fun, changing, current, loving, formulaic and spiritual (I say all that in the most affectionate way possible).  After all, it’s my second native language, along with English.

Our word for today is one that is appropriate to say  in any of the following situations:

your friend just

a) had a shower or went to the hammam

b) finished off a great couscous

c) bought some new clothes

d)put a down payment a new house

You get the idea

And what you should say, when in Morocco, is besseha (alternately, in text message darija “bss7a”, yes, 7 looks like the Arabic letter “ha”, a deep guttural “h”, but sorry, I can’t help you more than that with pronunciation via this blog, I just don’t see how that would be possible).  This simple word conveys a multitude of meanings.  A literal translation gives us “with health”, something like “to your good health”, or “wear it in good health”.  It means “I’m happy for you” , “congratulations”, “good for  you” and “you deserve it”.

It also has a deeper level of meaning.  In Morocco, where people just don’t have a lot, well, envy can certainly arise.  When you see someone (say your best friend) with something newly acquired, whether a new haircut or a newly re-decorated living room, what is your FIRST inward reaction?


Is it pure happiness for that person?

Or do you feel a slight pinch?

Do you immediately wonder how you can get the same?

Or does envy bubble and boil, like salt eating up a snail?

Does your inward reaction match your outward reaction?

Do you want your friend to have a life as good as yours?  Or even better?

Well, maybe it’s a little of everything.  But for me, a true and pure happiness for others is a goal, perhaps a lifelong goal.  When I find people with this quality, I inhale really deeply, maybe I can soak up some of their kindness and sincerity.

From what I’ve observed in Morocco, and in my own self, is that saying a word like “besseha” can put out the fire in my heart very quickly.  Maybe pure happiness for others’ blessings is not your/my first instinct, but maybe we can train our hearts to do this.  Saying besseha, to me, is like saying “I purify my heart from envy for your blessing”.  It’s like stomping on the fires even as they are lighting.  I say it as much for my own benefit as for my friend’s.

Words are so inadequate, and yet they’re what we have, and they are a miracle.  They are like small stones that we give and receive from each other…some are common pebbles, some are semi-precious, and others are rare gemstones.  “Besseha” is somewhere in there, in the mix, a discreet little gem, not the most magnificent, but a good token to exchange often and freely.

And the response to it is: Allah ya’teek sahha, which means: “may God give you health”.  An equally expansive and magnanimous expression, one which does not focus on oneself, or even the blessing, but rather on the Source of the blessing.

Much love from Marrakesh, and “besseha” on your latest blessing, whatever it may be!


5 thoughts on “A handful of pebbles

  1. Catherine says:

    Thanks for this blog, Nora, which really gave me a joyous and heartfelt feeling… If only I had had you as my guide to Morocco and all things Moroccan, I think we (me and Morocco, I mean!) might now have had a happier relationship… Also your post underscores for me the commonality of all religions; Buddhism also talks about “sympathetic joy”, happiness at the happiness of others, which is exactly what you are describing. And what a great practice, to train oneself in radiating good feelings to others rather than bitter, envious, self-directed ones! X

  2. Sara Morgan says:

    Oh, I remember so dearly when you first shared this with me, as we came out of the Souk, and the seller of the small rug i purchased said this word. It touched me deeply then, and now does again. Besseha! (Only we need you to be audible too, for these teachings of Darija.)
    In Buddhism there is a phrase encouraged in these states of (potential) envy, (well known to this person – the state, more perhaps that the’ antidote’ phrase). It comes directly from Gautama Buddha, and is (English translated from Pali): “May your good fortune increase and never decrease.”
    By the way, I loved both your photos and the terrific tips about taking pics. Plan to apply them.

  3. Catherine, yes, alas, if only 🙂
    I love that both of you, my dearest Catherine and Sara, drew the parallels with Buddhism. And happy that this post had a heart-opening effect. Maybe I am finding my (blogging) focus after all.
    (My problem is I try to be an expert on too many things, just ask Hamza).
    Aah, may our hearts overflow with happiness for others.

  4. ahmed zouheir says:

    You should maybe inquire around you among older marrakshi ladies for another expression that is either an alternative response to it or surprisingly (at least to me) an invitation to the interlocutor to pronounce the bessa77a wish.
    Your friend is coming out from the 7ammam. Two situations may occur.
    1) You wish her good health; she may respond either a) Allah y3teyk sse77a or b) Bouss byeddik : kiss with your hand.
    2) Your friend is the first to intervene by saying “ Bouss Byeddik “ expecting you to respond with the “goog health” wish.
    The reasoning behind the “kissing by hand” expression is beyond me but I have noticed it used in Fes in the fist situation and in Marrakesh in the second one.

    • Ahmed, thanks for clarifying this. I’ve always heard “bous byeddik” but was never sure of how the exchange goes exactly. And I feel like I’m too old to ask now. But your explanation clears things up for me at long last.
      I always had the theory that people say “bous byeddik” because they don’t want to mention God’s name in the hammam. What do you think of the theory?

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