Wrapping up the Semester





Apologies for this absurd delay—the last few weeks in Fes have been utterly consuming. First, see the few pictures of last week’s exploration of a tannery, dinner with Mama Hakima’s sister in law, and our hike up to Borj Nord. Now, a few recent happenings:

1.      Jesse’s show! Jesse is an incredible pianist and got the opportunity (thank you Omar Chennafi) to put on a show with a Moroccan drummer man and Moroccan female oud player.  The show took place in an open-air riad in the heart of the medina. Absolutely gorgeous and spacious and traditionally designed; looking up gives you the moon and stars, looking left and right gives you grandiose columns and stained glass windows; looking ahead…well, you see your breath because it’s SO cold. The entire show was fantastic and Jesse, as expected, blew everyone away. After the show, we grabbed macouda and headed to the British students’ nearby, equally freezing, riad and warmed up with good laughs and easy company. 

2.      Hammam! Myriem, Mama Hakima and Amina took me to the hammam. The experience was similar to my first, but this time around was more crowded, mandarin peels littered the floor next to hairballs and spit, and I saw the a baby’s first hammam outing—marked by the mother carrying a candle through the whole sauna. We wrapped up in countless layers and cuddled on the couch afterwards, drinking tea and munching on homemade biscottis.

3.      Fasting. Last Tuesday was the Day of Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar. I insisted upon fasting all day with my family. Not just for solidarity, but as a challenge for myself, a lesson in restriction and empowerment. Having stuffed myself with pasta and vegetable stir fry from cooking with Remi the night before, I was prepared to ban liquid (including water), gum, and food from my lips. Asleep at 11pm, I awoke an hour later to relentless knocking on my door: Amina entered with a tray of homemade yogurt and three pieces of chocolate coffee cake, insisting I finish every crumb. Considering how hungry and thirsty I was come 5pm in class, maybe eating the coffee cake was a good idea. By 3pm all my thoughts related to food. When I returned home around 6pm, Amina had the traditional break-the-fast feast set out for me (they had all broken the fast at 5:30): dates, harira soup, croissants, mini cheese/beef sandwiches and thick sugary pineapple juice. I ate so quickly that I was full in two minutes flat. Nonetheless, I was proud of myself. 

4.      Speaking of Amina… she is NOT a maid. Mama Hakima’s niece was mistaken. Simo and I had another enlightening chat after a dinner of Moroccan pizza for a few hours on the subject of relationships, religion, and family history—finally I learned the truth about Amina. But let me start from the beginning, because this discussion was fascinating. Simo talked about his “girlfriend” who intends on marrying him (he isn’t quite as enthusiastic about her) and passed up the opportunity to work in England or in Rabat to instead stay in Fes with Simo. Simo, who just completed his masters in information technology engineering, is hoping to find work in Canada, where it’s easiest to obtain a visa and then citizenship. His girlfriend will surely follow him there, and they will get married. Simo and I eventually got talking about religion…he found it hard to believe I didn’t associate with any religion and was brought up in a fairly nonreligious family. He went on to persuade me that Islam is the only choice; Islam preaches peace and the world would be a better place if every person was Muslim. The Quran is the foundation, the truth, of Judaism and Christianity—these religions have simply interpreted it falsely. I asked him: if Islam allegedly generates such sensible, peaceful civilizations in which one life is worth the lives of everyone in the universe, why are predominately Islamic countries some of the most underdeveloped countries in the world in terms of education, health care, and gender equality? Simo responded: the West stole everything from us. Soon, as the Quran “predicts,” the Islamic world will dominate.

This conversation was dispersed with versus from the Quran and examples of discrepancies between Judaism and Islam, always noting the supremacy of Islam. Simo then told me a bit of family history…Mama Hakima used to be “very beautiful.” Hajj (my host father) was 30 when he fell in love with her, only 16 at the time. Mama Hakima’s parents arranged the marriage; now he’s 70 and she’s 55 and Simo calls their relationship “cold love,” interpret that as you will. Mama Hakima used to own a sewing company before she was diagnosed with diabetes and her eyesight and energy level deteriorated. Amina, on the other hand, is in fact the daughter of Mama Hakima’s uncle. Her parents died when she was 7 and she moved in with Mama Hakima’s parents. When Mama Hakima married at age 16, she chose to have Amina live with her and help raise the children while she worked. Hannan (Mama Hakima’s daughter and the mother of Salma) simply exchanged glances with her now husband on the streets twenty years ago and their parents arranged the marriage. I wish I knew all of this information three months ago. I’m still trying to process the roles Amina has played in my head: from Mama Hakima’s sister, to a compensated maid, to a kind cousin with a tragic childhood.

5.      This weekend, we headed to Salma’s house in the Villa Nouvelle for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. “Lunch” meaning from 10am-5pm. Both days were filled with never-ending mugs of mint tea, flipping through magazines with Myriem, playing monopoly in Arabic with Salma, and helping to make couscous.

 6.      During lunch on Sunday, Salma’s mom placed a bowl of sugar next to Salma’s plate of couscous. Salma proceeded to dump tablespoon after tablespoon of sugar atop her couscous until I could see no couscous. Thirty minutes later, she was hit with an awful headache; her mom gave her medicine and put her to bed for a bit. I wanted to scream, “it’s because of the sugar!” Ah, the conceptions of health in Morocco never fail to baffle me. My last hours with Salma were spent in her lap as she did my hair and whispered in my ear how much she’s going to miss me.

7.      Wrapping up the semester is bittersweet. I am so looking forward to heat, cooking, independence, and familiarity. But constantly I’m reminded of the hospitality and kindness here in Fes; a Moroccan in the Photography club I went to Ifrane with sat down with me at Café Clock and taught me how to better use this camera of mine, and offered to take me on street photography excursions with him; buying gifts in the medina the other afternoon, I ended up spending thirty minutes with a Moroccan family drinking tea and eating clementines. And Amina, even while Mama Hakima is traveling, never fails to serve me a special fresh plate of vegetables every night for dinner. Finals are rapidly approaching, but the thought of next weekend’s trip to the mountain town of Chefchouen before I fly home is keeping my spirits up!