Marrakesh is a bustling, energetic, beautiful city, no doubt. I find I appreciate it most by escaping on a regular basis. A mere 3 hours southeast lies a sweet little fishing village by the name of Essaouira. It’s as charming as the guide books say, because in Essaouira you can:
The port at sunset (to take this picture I had to actually turn away from lifeguarding the kids as they frolicked in the waves. They survived my momentary neglect):
The view from our hotel window. Riad Mimouna. At high tide it felt as if the whole place could just float away. The sound of the ocean is purifyingly primordial.
One little sunburned monkey smiling with all his might:
Most of the remaining photos are organized under the theme of, wait for it, arches. I came up with that.
Outside the hotel. The bicycle made this snapshot worth taking, for some reason.
The hotel courtyard…
The cart used to transport luggage through the narrow street. This one is especially festive. I love when attention to detail is put into the simplest things, like this:
The hotel courtyard again..
This next photo is a nod to the cliche photos of the Famous Blue Doors of Essaouira. What you don’t see is the hoard of tourists behind me taking the exact same shot. Pondering these doors got me to thinking of Leonard Coehn’s moody song from the ’70’s Famous Blue Raincoat. The mind wanders.
Thank you to everyone who responded to the previous two posts. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) there are now many donations coming in, in fact it looks like enough money for more than just the three families I mentioned. It’s wonderful to feel like there is a community out there caring for those who have nothing here. I am very excited that certain key elements are manifesting for the long-term vision as well. It’s all wonderful and even a little scary to think about.
Spring is here and I had the chance to go on a three day retreat in the countryside, all alone. Those of you with young children know how precious this is. I marveled at my own ability to do nothing but watch the clouds, mountains, stars, sunlight and full moon for hours.
At the same time, I can’t believe how much I got done, creatively speaking. By 7:30 in the morning I would find that I had already accomplished all the “me things” that I would hope to do in a normal day: reading from that most beautiful of books, the Quran; practicing that most noble of arts, Arabic calligraphy; writing much; reading my favorite author (Barbara Kingsolver) and Steven Covey’s book The 8th Habit.
I feel I have lived a lifetime, or at least a good season’s worth in these three days. By the end of my retreat though, the wind started to howl and shake all the doors and windows, and I felt the same way inside from missing my family.
This last week I was honored by a visit from Christina. We had met in Amman where we were both attending the Danish-Arab women bloggers workshop. Christina and I found that although we were from very different worlds, we both had similar curiosity about the world and each other which inspired many conversations. Luckily, the wonderful Danish organizations that funded our workshop also funded the bloggers to spend a week in another city. So Christina and I were able to continue our conversations, this time in Marrakesh.
Coming from sub-zero temperatures in Denmark, Christina appreciated many things in Marrakesh that I take for granted. Birds singing in the morning, smells of lemon trees and the daily appearance of the sun.
We did a little site seeing too. Made more interesting (in my opinion, and I think hers too) by the fact that we took between 1 and 3 of my kids with us wherever we went. The children have a way of bringing a place to life and interacting with it in new and creative ways.
At Jardins Majorelle for example, the boys set up their playmobils in different places. A few people spotted them and promptly took photos of them (the playmobils, not the boys). It was like a happening.
Group photo of the now famous playmobils:
Group photo of Christina, Amin and Yousef:
Thank you Christina for sharing this fun, chaotic, sunny week with us. You can visit Christina’s blog here, she also blogged about her visit…in Danish.
PS: last day or so to vote for this blog over at www.moroccoblogs.com I also voted for Itto’s Living Faith under Best Culture Blog, and for The World is her Playground under Best Expat Blog. Thank you for all your support.
Edited: Ok I guess the voting is closed. Thanks for trying.
Since these pictures did not find their ways into their own blog post, here they are grouped together.
The Mosque and the Church (Marrakesh, Morocco)
Amin picking out carrots (Marrakesh, Morocco)
Double Rainbow (Taos, NM, USA)
Filling my eyes with sky (Taos, NM, USA)
Yousef filling his cup from the endless source (Imam Jazuli’s tomb, Marrakesh, Morocco)
A perfect moment (Ocamora, NM, USA)
Highlights of the Amman workshop, before they totally fade from memory:
Meeting a group of highly accomplished, strong, loving, happy women.
Presenting my blog to these amazing ladies and feeling very appreciated and affirmed. What a gift. Thank you ladies. Feelin the love.
Sitting on the sunny terrace dreaming up a fictional character with “the fiction group”.
Doing portraits of each other, with Christina (Denmark) and Rita (Egypt). We each came up with 3 questions and took turns answering them. The answers diverged in all directions, giving us a good thin-slice of each others lives. I learned about “bawwab culture” in Egypt (what will the doorman think? ) and being a vegan in Denmark.
Hearing the adhan (call to prayer) from the nearby mosque and feeling it stir up my cells in a way that was both home and foreign.
A crazy whirl-wind tour of Amman with Hala and her friends. Saw the Roman theater, Citadel and old Ottoman railway station. They were all closed but it was the best tour ever. Beat the crowds.
The discussion about whether or not to use English as the language for our collaborative work. Some felt that English was the best tool, despite the fact that it wasn’t anyone’s native language (except me, so I mostly kept quiet on that one). Others felt that it was an inauthentic way of expressing themselves and preferred to blog in Arabic, French or Danish, even if that meant less accessibility. I appreciated the dialogue that place, it felt very real and for lack of a better word, very democratic.
The excitement of working on a collaborative project with my fellow bloggers, to be presented at the next workshop in Copenhagen. Content is being added as we speak to the website www.blog-on.net Ahem, some of us are a little behind with our contributions.
Meeting a Dane who spoke excellent Arabic. That’s some dedication.
Being interviewed for Danish TV about being a woman blogger. Me: I’m a little nervous, reporter: nah, you’re a natural, me: thanks, I’ve been practicing all my life. Jokes aside, it was another good opportunity for me talk about the same stuff I blog about…appreciating beauty in the smallest of things…considering the needy around us…the positive experience I’ve had on my spiritual path…discovering photography…food of course…and basically looking at the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Did someone say food?
This one is hummus, bits of meat, and pine nuts:
Tea or coffee:
Sugar. Good thing my kids weren’t around, my kids + freely available sugar = disaster.
Artsy photo of something old:
The best ceramics workshop on Rainbow street:
This style of ceramics is originally from Jerusalem (an hour away). This little store is reviving the tradition. A few tiles made their way home with me:
Arabic calligraphy that reads la ilaha illah Allah, Muhammad rasulullah. No god but God, Muhammad is a messenger of God.
“These are days for eating, drinking and remembering God”. That is a description of Eid, which we celebrated this past week. And that sums it up pretty well.
Eid comes as the celebration marking the end of each year’s pilgrimage season.
Some of my favorite things about Eid are…
…thinking about those who have made the pilgrimage, their stories, their light filled faces as they return. Thinking about the year that my husband made that journey, as I stayed home 7 months pregnant with Karima. That is a story worth its own blog post.
…Eid prayer, a special communal prayer held outdoors. Normally we go to the one on the road to Ourika, with tens of thousands of people. This year we had the good fortune to be out in the countryside, where a gathering of the entire community means a couple hundred people. As we arrived and settled onto the straw mats, we were greeted by the most peaceful singing “dear Lord, make us among the thankful”.
…the beautiful teachings related to the slaughter of the Eid sheep. As part of the celebration, it’s traditional to slaughter a sheep (or goat, cow or camel), feeding family, friends and giving away a third to charity . It’s a very real experience, that puts you face to face with your own meat-eating. Certainly for me there is a heaviness associated with it. I’d much rather just grab some meat at the store, but as Barbara Kingsolver put it, you can’t run away on harvest day. The Islamic teaching is to accompany the animal through the door of death in the best possible way. That is, to speak softly and soothingly to it, to not show it the knife, to not slaughter it in the same place as another animal so that it won’t smell or see blood, to use a well sharpened knife and to make the slaughter itself as quick as possible, and finally to utter a prayer a the moment of death. One of two things will happen if you witness or participate in this event, either you will become a vegetarian, or you will come away with more gravitas, a much deeper awareness of the responsibility we have as meat eaters. Where does our meat come from? How was the animal raised? How was it killed? The answers to these questions are so directly relevant to our own humanity.
…family time, food time. See pictures below. What I love about this set of pictures is the light, notice the light.
1-On the way to Eid prayer. My son and my father.
2-Planting feathers. An ambitious endeavor.
3-Let the feasting begin. Moroccan tektouka salad, made with roasted red bell peppers and tomato.
4-My plate. Spinach artichoke dip, the famous liver brochettes of the first day (meat needs to wait till day 2 to taste better), guacamole, broccoli (a treat in Morocco, trust me on this), and tektouka. I didn’t actually eat the liver brochettes, sorry, not a fan. But my kids love them, and broccoli too, contrary to the common kid stereotypes.
5-This is my identity expressed via the medium of cookies. One one hand, the all American fave, chocolate chip (chip here is singular). On the other hand, Moroccan “slipper” cookies (shaped like a belgha), which are, incidentally, filled with peanut butter. I had an “I am baker, hear me roar” moment when I baked these and they actually came out looking and tasting as good as store bought. I always thought Moroccan cookies were well beyond my scope.
6-Last food pic I promise. Indian carrot pudding (much, much more heavenly than the name connotes). And Moroccan tea.
7-My daughter is wearing a dress that my sister, and later I, both wore as girls. I think it was used to begin with.
8-Just the light. It almost made me cry, all day, it made the simplest things so beautiful.
9-That night we stayed in one of the few houses in the area still without electricity. Candle light is also so peaceful and lovely.
I’m in a pre-mourning phase for Ramadan. Today is likely to be the last day here in Morocco. This evening we look for the moon, again. If we see it, tomorrow will be Eid, a celebration.
Ramadan has made the transition back to Morocco, after two months in the states, very kind. Most people are being the best they can be. Those who generally “know better”, in Ramadan actually “do better”. When I walk by, I can recognize the young men who might, if they weren’t fasting, make boorish cat-calls to me and any other female. But because it’s Ramadan, they just lower their gaze (and I don’t need to puke, thank you very much). Fasting and prayer are having a calming, pacifying effect on the whole country, and I’m so thankful for that.
One of the Islamic teachings about Ramadan is that “demons are chained up, and the gates of heaven are thrown open”. It does seem that people are freed from their demons, because when you give up food, smoking, sex, drinking and drugs, for 14 hours a day, what demons are left? In addition to these things, people voluntarily give up other vices, such as back-biting, lying and cheating. I mean, who even has the energy for sin, when you are fasting in this heat?
So, substitute all that with prayer, reading of the holy book, increased devotion, increased charity, and really the gates of heaven ARE open. This is God’s mercy, the rahma, and we can get a taste of it even now.
One of the highlights of this Ramadan was going to pray at the Koutoubia mosque. I don’t get much chance to pray in mosques, what with the kids and all, but when I do, I enjoy every minute.
I drove through the empty streets of Marrakesh, and really that was a treat in itself. There is no other time when the driving is that pleasant. The Koutoubia is easy to spot from afar. The French colonials had the good sense to oriente several major avenues towards the Koutoubia, so it is, in a sense, the town center.
The mosque was rebuilt a third time because the original orientation was not quite accurate. Mosques are meant to face the direction of Mecca, or at least in the cardinal direction that is closest to the direction of Mecca. However, many old Moroccan mosques faced due South. This was what the Moroccans of old thought was the direction of Mecca.
The ruins of the old mosque remain, a large esplanade dotted with partially standing columns. I am happy to find that this year, the ruins are actually being used for prayer space. The Koutoubia has a capacity of 25,ooo people within its walls, but in Ramadan, even this is not enough. So two large overflow areas have been designated, each with about 5,000 people. In Ramadan, ALL the mosques are usually overflowing in this way, with sidewalks, even streets being converted to prayer space.
I join the 5,000 or so women in 1,000 year old ruins of the mosque. I feel alive already. I settle in and wait for prayers to begin, looking around at all the faces, young and old, rich and poor, all the colorful jellabas being worn, all the chatter and laughter.
Soon the call to prayer is made, the same call that has unfurled from this minaret, 5 times a day, every day for the last thousand years. We stand, shoulder to shoulder, in long straight lines. As the imam, or prayer leader, begins his recitation of quran a wave of joy comes over me. He has a beautiful voice, which I recognize from quran CDs. We spend the next hour standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting, sometimes listening to the imam’s melodious chanting, sometimes uttering our own silent prayers, always praising God, thanking Him, beseaching Him for His Mercy, Guidance and Forgiveness.
And lastly, thank you all for your loving, thoughtful, supportive comments. I appreciate them more than you can imagine. I am humbled and honored that you take the time to read this.
Peace from Marrakesh, Nora.
Where were we? Oh yes, we were following a joyful musical Berber wedding procession down a dusty dirt road.
Kenzilisa over at http://moorhenna.wordpress.com asked if I had any pictures of henna. As you may know, in Morocco women decorate their hands with henna for special occasions. In this little procession, all the hands were clapping…
There were lots of smiling faces…
Here comes the rosewater…
Now we are in the front yard of the bride’s house. The dancing caftan is already having fun…
The bride appears…she is so striking in her white taksheeta and veil…many blessings to you and your husband…may God bless you with laughter, light, children, and strength, come what may…
And then disappears…
Later that night, after we are snug in our beds with the lights out, I hear it.
The real festivities are beginning…
it’s around midnight, and I half want to sleep…
but the drumming is sinking into my skin and changing my heart rythms…
I slip my contacts back in, throw on a too-plain caftan, and head off down the dark road…
The front yard is now packed with about 100 women sitting on plastic chairs…
oh I’m so self conscious…
luckily another neighbor grabs me and sits me down…
I got to see the bride in one of her many outfits that she wore that night, and the groom in his modern suit and tie…
I won’t post their pictures though, too private, they looked like they had a good connection and didn’t look too nervous…
however, I did get my wish, to see the traditional Ahwash drummers, and they really wanted their pictures taken…
This image captivates me…
Many circles linked together to create one…
I am here in Taos, New Mexico. But I still have a lot to share from back home in Morocco. In fact, yet another benefit of blogging is that I can stay connected to my Moroccan home, and revisit some things that touched me.
A few weeks ago, at my parents’ farm out in Ourika, we heard lots of music and noise. My first thought was “world cup fever”. We grabbed the kids and rushed outside. We didn’t see any football fanatics, thank goodness. What we saw was a beautiful, joyous wedding procession.
Now, I am kind of a city cynic, I tend to be fatigued with all things urban, and all rosy eyed about anything that originates in the countryside. (Please don’t burst my bubble). This wedding procession is a perfect example. What I saw was pure joy, real celebration.
The people who live out in the country are called the Amazigh, they are the original inhabitants of Morocco, long before the Arabs came from the East. Although the Amazigh and the Arabs still maintain very different identities, (language and culture esp.), they do co-exist seamlessly, peaceably. The Amazigh are most commonly referred to as Berbers. Not sure if this term is politically correct. Anyhow, they don’t call themselves that. They refer to themselves by one of three main tribes. In Ourika, they are part of the Tashelheet tribe.
Maybe this is a stereotype, but I do have a special fondness and respect for Tashelheet people. They tend to be honest, direct, open, and have a great sense of humor. Maybe this is true of all people who live close to the natural world. The Amazigh accepted Islam from the Arabs, in large part because Islam contains a lot of symbolism and imagery from the natural world. It resonates perfectly with a people so in tune with the natural cycles. Reflection and meditation on the natural world is something that all Muslims are encouraged to do.
On to the pictures. Because I value my sanity, I will only try to include 3 or so photos in this post (I still can’t stop apologizing for my last post, way more pictures than I planned, and a lot of text that disappeared upon publishing).
In this first picture, note the three percussion instruments that the men are playing: the castanettes, the tambourine, and the tray. In the background you can see a white caftan hoisted on a bamboo stick, topped with a bouquet of flowers. So festive.
And here is a tray of goodies: dates, a bowl of milk, a giant cone of sugar, 2 rosewater shakers, candles, incense, and roses. I love the henna on her hands.
This is the whole procession. They were accompanying the bride to her house, where the wedding would happen later in the evening (much later).
I will try to post more pictures of this blessed event, but later, insha Allah (God willing).