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!