Being neighborly, adaptation to –
The rooster doesn't crow only in the morning. The rooster crows at noon, the rooster crows at midnight. The rooster crows whenever it damn well feels like crowing.
In Morocco, my neighbor Fatima knocked on my apartment door. She had a small pink box in one hand, the other hand was covering her mouth. It took me a minute to realize she didn't have her dentures in. She pushed the box into my hand. “What is it?” I asked. “Open it,” she said. There was a blue bow wrapped around the box. Inside was a necklace, three ropes of incredible jade. “I can't take this,” I said. “Take it,” she said. “But –”
“No take it, take it.” I tried to invite her in, but she wouldn't come.
Knock knock. Who's there? Abdel again. He was holding a platter: a large bowl of cous cous with chicken and vegetables, a plate of pastries, a tiny bowl of dates. “I can't take this,” I said. “No, take, take,” he said, “You're too skinny!”
Knock knock. Who's there? Fatima with her teeth in. “Come to my house tomorrow,” she said, “we'll have tea.”
Knock knock. Who's there? Habiba who lived next door. “Are you okay?” she asked, “Did you do okay in the rains? My windows leaked. Did your windows leak?”
In New York, Dixie, the elderly woman who lived downstairs for thirty-odd years, is no longer here. She had a stroke while I was gone and is hooked up to tubing somewhere upstate now. She used to give me her cheap dimestore jewelry she'd collected over the years, and shiny belts. She used to cuss like a motherfucker. “Maybe I could go see her,” I suggested to my landlady after I'd returned. “Don't waste your time,” my landlady said, “Dix doesn't recognize anybody anymore.”
Dixie's daughter came to pack up Dixie's apartment, and to take Dixie's mean dog away. I miss Brownie's constant barking, because that is just the kind of thing I'd manage to long for. The workmen have been refurbishing Dixie's apartment – drills and banging, loud conversations in Polish, cigarette smoke sifting up through my windows. Now my apartment is blanketed in a fine lace of Dixie dust.
This past week, I heard a young woman's voice coming up from the apartment. She was on her cell phone, screaming, “Mom, it's, like, huge!”
Cultural norms, technological separation and scheduled time evidence of –
“Let's get a drink!” we text. Because in the United States, that's what we do. We text our desires, we schedule our social time. You are a very busy people here. I am a very busy person here.
I am walking down 8th Avenue, texting you. You are on 14th Street, texting me. And far away, on the continent of Africa in the Kingdom of Morocco, my daydreams of seeing you, and talking to you over a pint of beer in a bar where I would not be seen as a bad girl for being in a bar, helped, at times, to get me through my exile. But now that I am in New York, I can't seem to make our appointment, because I can hardly bear that it is appointed. Scheduled time makes my inner light go dim.
We are jammed into the subway train, claiming our one-square-foot space as our own. We are human computers, our ears functioning only as recipients of our iPods' information. Our dim interior lights are longing to be brightened by that Netflix movie we have waiting for us at home, longing to bask in the light of the novel we've been trying to finish reading for over a year. We are machines longing to lie down. But we've scheduled our drinks at six o'clock on Wednesday night because having the plan, the place to go, gives us the illusive sense that we are, in fact, living.
Feminine hygiene, religious differences in – Morocco: Maxipads sold in every convenience store for ultra-heavy flow; tampons sold only at pharmacies when verbally requested of the pharmacist (who tucks your box in a paper bag); tampons viewed as “haram” in a virgin-crazed society.
United States: Eighteen thousand different brands of tampons sold, even some that care about the environment!; Delicate dainty pantyliners made to fit thong underwear.
Morocco, unavoidable clichéd exaltation of –
Egg yolks are yellower in Morocco. There was not a day that went by that I did not hear some kind of live music playing: the long string of oboe weaving its way into my breathing sac of a home on rue Moulay Youssef, the men dressed as Gnawans on the city streets, clanging their castanets as they twirled their tasseled hats. In Morocco, cumin sure does taste like cumin! And the air smells of jasmine, or spices, or burning wood, or –
Orientalism, personal interpretation of –
Last week I went to see a band called Tinariwen play. A New York friend invited me, someone who'd never been to North Africa. “It's gonna be life-affirming!” he texted. While we waited in line in New York's West Village, desperate characters asked us if we had a spare ticket to sell. Almost everyone in the audience looked Western, save two girls I saw in hijab.
The band members are Malian Touaregs, and their music is life-affirming, a gut-leveling lowing of sound. They wore the same clothes as those I'd seen Touaregs in the Moroccan Sahara wear – blue Boubou robes, their faces and heads wrapped as if protecting themselves from sun, wind, and sand. Only, they were on stage here in New York, and they were holding electric guitars.
Still, their trance-drone transported me back, if only for a one-hour set, to a divided highway in Morocco. Suddenly I was in the backseat of a Mercedes Benz again, fighting for shoulder space as the same kind of lowing blared from the car's tape deck, the glass-eyed driver tapping the dashboard. Through the car's grimy windows I could see massive hotels made of mud (think ornate sand castles plopped at the periphery of pink dunes), signposts reading: Fossiles et Minéraux du Désert, Bivouac sous les étoiles. I thought of a basket of dried dates an old man in a tent had offered my friends and I, dates you could've chipped a tooth trying to eat. I thought of the Lost Girl we'd met in the Sahara, how she wanted to sell herself as a bride in order to buy a horse to ride to Egypt, her lone leather satchel, her scarred nose through which she'd driven a nail. I thought of our friend Mohammed, that night we tried to climb to the top of a massive sand dune barefoot, the dune's cold sand, how you could bury your feet to get to the under-layer of heat. How we'd grown tired of climbing, how we couldn't see the top of the dune for the darkness, how we stopped to cling to its steep side, how hard we were breathing, how hard we were smiling. We looked below us. The desert beneath was like an ocean, its dunes like waves on a choppy sea.
I wanted to tell my friend what the music was doing to me, only we were in the middle of a show, and it was loud, and these details do nothing to demonstrate a real lived experience, the weight of its complex heft. How do we fit our old selves into our new/old ones? Instead, I became the annoying girl who could only say, “Well in Morocco, they do it like this,” and “In Morocco, they play it like that.” I hated myself every single time I opened my mouth, but I couldn't help myself either. I was getting bum-rushed by music that was releasing a film of memory I'd placed into neat containers since my return, the images I'd labeled "My time in Morocco" and then stored away. I wanted him to know how different there is from here, what it was like to have to the music as a soundtrack to a lived experience, instead of a show to which you bought tickets. I wanted him to know that what he was seeing was a show. I wanted him to know that the outfits the band was wearing weren't just outfits, they were clothes.
This frustration doubled into itself. Surrounding us were women dressed in tank tops, dancing their slithery hippie dance as other people held up their cell phones and snapped mobile pics. I hated the crowd for how they were objectifying the musicians, how they enjoyed the show without knowing the full truth of it. And then I recognized, as much as I could bear myself to see, that I was my own worst enemy. I had, after all, only made two trips to the Sahara. And yet, there I was, flicking both my hands in the direction of the musicians. “This is how they show people that they think someone is beautiful!” I shouted to my friend who was there for life affirmation. There I was: a white girl dancing as I'd been taught to dance while I was away on foreign land. There I was: dying for just one band member to look out into the crowd and see me, see me as one of his own.
Partings, babble result of –
Someone I cared about had come to visit me in Morocco, and then he left to return to the United States. He left so early in the morning that it was still dark outside. After he left, after I'd waved goodbye from the hotel balcony, I went back to sleep. I woke a few hours later, predictably forgetting that my friend had gone. I woke wanting to tell him, to say in English, how much my shoulder hurt from the way I'd slept on it, and how, while I was just barely exiting from my sleeping state, I'd confused the sound of a ship's horn out on the port with the reverb of a didgeridoo and I'd thought to myself, Wait, there are aborigines in Morocco? And how there was the extension of my sleep-thought: Shit, yet another thing that everyone but me of course knows: that there are, of course, aborigines in Morocco, of course. And then, I thought the word diaspora. When I awoke, I wanted to tell my friend what a pretty word I've always thought "diaspora" to be, only he was gone.