Hide your kids, the Boujloud are coming!

What’s that holiday called where kids dress up in scary costumes, knock on your door and ask for treats, threatening mischief should you refuse them?

Holloween?

Nope.

Gotcha, you were thinking locally weren’t you.  Think globally.. . and let your thoughts take you to a tiny Amazigh village in Morocco.  A few days ago, each family has slaughtered a sheep or a goat….now you have a whole load of smelly skins and nothing fun to do with them.  Unless…

boujloud, goat boy, Marrakesh Morocco blog

The boujloud are coming!  If you are a kid, you hear the drums beating and run out to meet them.  Or alternately you find a place to hide.  After all, you have spent the last day in terrified anticipation of them, exchanging horror stories with other kids about what might happen to you if you don’t give the Boujloud some money. They take all your food and break  your furniture…they pick up little kids by their feet and hit them…if the boujloud man goes to a graveyard at night, the goat skins will stick to his body!

I remember this from my own childhood, mapping out hiding spots with my friends.  In my mind the Boujloud were a fierce and fearsome band of boogeymen.  This Eid, I saw the same delighted fear on my children’s faces.  And I could see now that the Boujloud are just a bunch of local youth, out having fun.

You can’t buy costumes like this in any store.  I love the creative re-using of these getups.  The Goat Boy is the star of the bunch.  It is actually quite an impressive (read scary) experience to see him up close.

boujloud, berber dressup, Marrakesh Morocco blog

No children were harmed in the making of this blog post:

boujloud, berber Eid tradition, Marrakesh Morocco blog.

It was all (fairly) harmless fun and exaggerated posturing.

boujloud, berber tradition, Eid, Marrakesh Morocco blog

Interesting note: the money raised by the Boujloud is donated to the local mosque.  Not your typical fundraiser, but it works.

Eva Longoria and the Billboard Bandits

Eva Longoria is no stranger to attention, no shrinking violet.  I do not even know who she is, and yet I know who she is.  Maybe because her perfect bronzed effigy looms over me at the supermarket, singing a siren song of miracle dream creams, secret potion lotions from the Oracle of L’Oreal?

(Thank you, but I think that  for me to look anything like the image on that poster, scientists would have to splice actual L’Oreal genes straight into my DNA.  After that, I’d have to morph into a body that is 10 feet tall and 6 inches wide.  I’ll pass.)

So when Eva showed up on the side of the road outside of  Marrakesh, well it’s no surprise that her presence caused a bit of a stir.

Imagine you are driving through peaceful Berber country, passing mud villages, olive orchards, and farmers harvesting their year’s supply of wheat.   Men and women’s voices rise through the sleepy sunlit air, singing traditional harvest songs, sheep roam in search of shreds of pasturage, an old man in a jellaba rides by on a donkey.  Nothing could mar this bucolic serenity.

Then, all of a sudden, why it’s Giant Eva Longoria.  Weird.

Wait, there she is again.

Oh, it’s just some kind of real estate thing.  Bah!  Gentrification!  I turn my nose up at you.

No,  you’re kidding me, I’ve been driving for 20 minutes, and I see ten billboards of Eva?  Because I missed the first nine.  But the tenth one really drove it home.  Why if this condo development is good enough for Eva, then what are we all waiting for?  Hurry up good people, and sign on the dotted line, because there are only 1,000 apartments and 400 villas left, and they’re going fast.  (I googled it, those numbers are factual.  So if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a beehive, give it a whirl).

Am I the only one who finds these adds in poor taste?  Folks, it’s plain old cultural insensitivity.  Berber culture is very traditional.  Cleavage, as shown in the photo, is considered a private part of the body.  Ok, I realize that for most of my western readers, and even my Moroccan urban dwelling readers, this photo is very tame, it’s ho-hum in our flesh-image saturated world.  Female bodies remain the go-to advertising commodity, with less and less left to the imagination.  (In fact, these same adds, along with the rest of the ladies from Desperate Housewives, are plastered all over Casablanca, and they don’t seem to have caused any ripples.)

But try to look at it from an Other perspective.  Imagine your eyes have not yet filled with such imagery.  Imagine that someone put up a giant billboard in your neighborhood, showing body parts that you consider private.  How would you react?

Eva Longoria billboard graffiti

Would you, say, sneak out in the middle of the night with a can of black paint and go on a crazy daredevil mission demonstrating your community’s protest against said billboard?  Because that’s what someone did to Eva.  All ten of her.

And if you are the advertising mastermind behind the Eva adds, would you get the point, and go with something a little more culturally appropriate?  Or would you photoshop 2 inches more tank top onto Eva’s cleavage, and pay for another 10 slightly more covered Evas to be re-plastered onto said billboards?  Because that’s what someone did.  Improbable, but true.

Eva Longoria billboard Marrakesh

(You can see the next billboard not too far off).

So everyone is happy, right?  The advertisers still get to associate their condos with glamorous, glorious Eva, and the locals can stop making such a fuss now that her shirt is hiked a few millimeters in the front.  End of story?

Wrong, this was just the first battle in the war that was waged between these two parties, whom I’ll call Ad Machine and Billboard Bandits.

The Billboard Bandits strike again.  No paint this time, but the billboards are in tatters when they are done.

Next move by Add Machine: a new add featuring a somewhat bizarre looking couple, meant to be Moroccan, each looking in the opposite direction.  (subtext: these condos are for couples that are drifting apart?)

Billboard Bandits, it’s your move.  Sure enough, the adds are again shredded.  Methinks this is no longer about cleavage.

Last attempt by Add Machine, this time they go with the most benign and forgettable add possible.  So forgettable that I can’t even remember it, see?  I think it’s a photo of a balcony, with of course, the snow-capped Atlas rising majestic in the background.

Soon I will take that drive once more and see if this last billboard has survived.  I can’t stand the suspense, can you?

But first, lets take a moment to analyze these events.  Because it would be wrong to think that this issue is just about showing the human body in ways that the local population finds degrading to women.  Certainly that is a mistake on the part of the advertisers, who should not use the same concept on a dusty country road as in the heart of a worldly metropolis.  However, I believe that the thorn runs deeper than that.  It’s the juxtaposition of two completely different realities that is so unsettling.  On the one hand, we have this world of image and fantasy, of unimaginable riches and luxuries, of ersatz culture that attempts to package and commodify the Moroccan experience with no soul whatsoever.  All of it a vacuous Orientalist version of a Morocco pandering to the every whim of the upper crust.  A vision of Morocco that would not hesitate, for example, to introduce alcohol to a valley that has been dry forever, with no thought given to how it might destroy the lives of the locals.

On the other hand, we have the traditional lives of the Moroccan Berbers.  Berber families that are still connected to the natural cycles in the most primordial of ways.  Whose actions and intentions stem from a deep faith in God, enjoying the contentment that ensues.  Whose meals are bread from their own land, olive oil from their own trees, served in clay dishes from the Ourika river, sitting on rag rugs they’ve made with their own hands from scraps of old clothes.  There is nothing more real, beautiful, spiritual, sustainable.  They, and all the traditional peoples of the world, are the original “organic, local and slow” ways that we crave and long to return to.

So Eva Longoria et al, you are more than welcome in this old and beautiful world, but on its terms, not yours.  If your goal is to use and plunder, then you will be met with resistance.  Bring with you the best of what your culture has to offer the world.  Then take the time to learn about Morocco, its beautiful people, its old ways that are still alive under the strain of globalization.  Peace and grace are yours for the finding.

Waldorf school in the high Atlas

Are there people in your life that are amazing?  I’m thinking a lot these days about my friend Itto.  She is a German woman married to a Berber man, living a simple and beautiful life tucked away in a village in the Atlas mountains.  Her valley is a 5 hour drive from Marrakesh.  Let me tell you some of the reasons why she’s an amazing woman:

  • She lives 5 hours from “civilization” and has a deep contentment with her lifestyle.
  • She homeschools/unschools her 3 children.
  • She is always making something beautiful, she is after all, an interior designer by training.
  • She gave birth to her baby girl virtually unassisted at home, which, in case I didn’t mention it before, is 5 hours from the nearest big city and hospital!
  • Although German is her first language, she blogs in English and I forget that she isn’t a native speaker.
  • She has chosen Islam as her spiritual path and is able, via her writing, to convey the peace and serenity that she experiences in her path.
  • And now she has opened Morocco’s first Waldorf inspired school, yes, in her village in the Atlas mountains.

Her blog is called Itto’s Living Faith.  It always inspires and relaxes me.  I pray that God continues to bless her and her family with love, mercy and protection always.

A Moroccan Tashelheet Wedding

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).