21.03.2012 - 25.03.2012
Abdel's house was quite charming. Though obviously still a work in progress, it has an inner courtyard, colorful furniture, and original sculpture and pictures by, you guessed it, our fearless leader. It has been in the family for many years, and his mother still lives in the house for part of the time, when she is not staying with other family members.
And it was quiet, except for the occasional rooster, kept by Abdel's uncle next door. In the morning Abdel brought us breakfast with homemade pastry, made by his 76 year old mother. Later some of his relatives from France and Belgium called to say they were coming over for lunch and Abdel asked if we wanted to join them. I could not say no to what was sure to be a feast, and then went out shopping with him in the labyrinthine streets of Taroudant. I watched as his mother and a woman next door prepared the meal, all cooked on a charcoal fire which they started inside and then brought up to the roof in charcoal braziers, and then placed large pottery tagine bowls on top, more or less like a hibachi. I'm sure they got a kick out of seeing me help shuck peas in the kitchen while they chatted away in Moroccan Arabic. They first sauteed the lamb in oil and spices inside, before putting it in a marinade, adding veggies, and then taking the mixture upstairs to the simmering tajine pots. When they do it like this, altogether, it is called Mifune, or Jewish Tajine. I guess its in our blood, because I tend to throw everything together when I cook, unlike the Chinese who are very particular about what goes with what.
It feels as though we have quickly become part of the family, thanks to Abdel's hospitality.
In a few hours we sat down to eat the meal with Abdel's two brothers, along with one of his nieces, very sweet, who is a pharmacy students in Paris. She had brought a friend, a young woman who is a Paris bus driver. They would love to visit the US, although they had each been one time as children. We sat together, except for Abdel's mother, who ate separately in the kitchen with the woman who helped prepare the food. It was by far the best tagine I had in Morocco and I ate a lot, as did Katya. Nanette and Bjorn, still queasy from their stomach ills, had very little.
In the afternoon, we went to visit a children's foundation which helps street kids and women in bad situations. Abdel is quite involved with this place, as are his brothers, particularly the one from France. Both of his brothers are also named Abdel, but all have a second name as well. Our guide Abdel, is actually Abdelatifa, which means servant of God. This is a loose segway into the ubiquitous phrase Inshallah, which follows practically any conversation here. For example, someone might say, I will meet you tomorrow, Inshallah, or God Willing. It reminds me of what the shop owner near Dharamsala India said to me while sewing plastic bags for our hike in the mountains. "You never know what will happen," he said. "Things are out of your control, and only God knows what will happen." They seem to know this instinctively in places like Morocco and India, but not in the developed Western world.
I have found it to be a very useful concept, both for myself and my patients. Surrender to what will be, and realize so many things are out of our control. Easy to say, but hard to do.
The following day Bjorn and Katya left to return to Germany. It took several days for Bjorn to recover, though Abdel and his family took wonderful care of him, and Nanette as well. After they left, we went out for tea, which is always very sweet mint tea, with his brother from Belgium, and a neighbor of his, Ibrahim. More political discussions followed, about how the US reacts to Muslim countries, about why our country always supports Israel, etc. We made it clear that we do not always agree with the policies of our government. We also discussed how euthanasia is legal in Belgium which this brother is quite opposed to because all life is precious. However, because he is a nurse, he is often the one who has to give someone a lethal injection. This creates a very difficult predicament for him, and yet he feels he has no choice because he needs the job and the money, which he couldn't make if he stayed in Morocco. He is obviously resentful about this.
His friend, Ibrahim, who acted as a translater for Abdel's brother, is a tourist guide, primarily for Brits, and so his English is quite good. He was convinced that there was a law in the United States that you had to be a Christian in order to be elected president. We disabused him of this notion, but it is easy to see why he might think this way. So far we have not mentioned our Jewish background, but I plan to do so with Abdel. It is curious that although his brothers live in Europe, he has never left Morocco. He later told me that he has been refused a visa to travel to the states and Europe many times. He is clearly the most open and liberal member of his family, perhaps because of his history of using drugs and living on the streets before he got his life together. Now he is in his 40's, never married and has no children, but he identifies and listens to the music of the 60's. In his own way, he is a most spiritual person who doesn't want to take on the encumbrances of his brothers, who felt forced to leave their country to support their families. He wants to continue guiding and trekking in the mountains where he feels most at home.
We returned to the house, where is I sat in the garden. Today is Friday, the Muslim holy day. The call to prayer is loud and insistant, AAAALAAAH, AAAALAAAH, AAAKBAAAR, God is Great. I can hear the roosters crowing, perhaps they agree that God is Great, but then again, maybe they don't. After the loudspeaker ends, softer, and more melodious chanting can be heard. It is more peaceful, a little like the Buddhist chants in Ladakh and Laos. Yesterday was very hot, but today is cooler as the sun is blocked by clouds at times, and there is a nice breeze with the sweet smell of orange blossoms. There is also the constant chirping of the birds.