When a group of people speak many languages with varying degrees of fluency, words must take on a broader meaning. It is necessary to incorporate context, vocal inflection and gesture into an attempt to both communicate and to listen, as verb tense, possessive pronouns and other specifics are sacrificed to lack of skill and practice in a language not your own. "Mon ami" (my friend) can mean "your friend", "you are my friend", "where is your friend?", "are you talking about your friend?", "have you met her friend?" . . . it all depends on the context.
Here in Marrakech, the word family has taken on a broader meaning. Previously meaning "those that are related to me", and, in the metaphorical context, "those that have been in my life for a very long time", the word family, here, has been further expanded. Rachid, Hamid and Bahija became my family in just a matter of hours, and they are already gone. Different languages, lack of blood relation and brevity of interaction made no difference in this context - they adopted me, took me in, fed me and took care of me. They have been my family.
I was with Hamid and Rachid one night, and the evening ended with "Adam! Sept heure. Mon ami." Which meant, "Adam, we will see you again tomorrow, of course. Meet us here at 7:00. We will have dinner, and we would like you to bring your friend." (Meaning Phillip, the New Yorker whom I met here.) That same evening, I had made a bit of a social faux-pas regarding gender and physicality, which was kindly but forcefully corrected, so I was somewhat concerned. But family forgives.
The next night, Phillip in tow, we began the trek to . . . well, I had no idea . . . and the group became larger as Abrahim, his wife and their children appeared. Hamid tired of either trying to remember or trying to translate Phillip's name, so he turned to him, "Ismuka Youssef." "What did he just say?" asked Phillip. "Ummm he just decided that for tonight, your name is Youssef, like Joseph, because that's easier to deal with." Phillip rolled with it, and he joined the family.
Copious amounts of soup and bread and pastries and dates and who-knows-what else were piled in front of us. We were sitting on tiny stools in an alleyway, where two stunningly beautiful African women ladled out Harira into wooden bowls. We laughed and spoke and gestured like one big multinational family, with Phillip adding Spanish to the linguistic mix. The rest of the food seemed to come from Bahija, though I never saw the food (other than the soup) come out and I never saw money exchange hands. And then we were done.
"Adam! Une heure. Couscous." And goodnight.
1:00 the next day, we met at Cafe Brioche. There was some kerfuffle about how much time Hamid was taking as it was time to go to the Mosque. He arrived, the women disappeared and off we went. I stood outside the Mosque while they prayed, and then into the car and to the home of Abrahim.
THIS is what "Couscous at 1:00" means:
A giant communal platter of food -- and I promise you that you have NEVER eaten Couscous. I do not care what imitation version of true homemade Moroccan Couscous you may have sampled. Unless you were in this living room in this house, you have no idea.
"On va a les poissons qui mangent le pain!" Hamid told me after lunch. That one baffled me. It literally means "We are going to the fish that eat bread." I nodded and smiled. "7:00" means the best soup you will ever have seated on a stool in an alley. "Couscous" means we will meet, pray, go to someone's house and spend five hours there as a family. So at this point, I just nod and follow. We hopped in the car (just the men) and drove past all of the palaces and Les Jardins du Roi, to here:
Where one finds the ENORMOUS fish. The ones that eat full loaves of bread.
They are gone now, my Casa Blancan family, as is my friend Phillip who has continued on his journey. And I miss them.
Full disclosure. Life here has not been all warm and fuzzy family stories. I have also encountered many of the "other" kind of people. Shady people, desperate for money and for whom I am a target. I can't always suss them out right away, and I can never dissuade them. I can only avoid and escape, which has led me to another realization, a tough one.
I, too, suffer from the white-savior complex. I thought I was above or outside of it because mine has nothing to do with race, but the fundamental (and fundamentally wrong) idea is the same, and is based on three horrifying assumptions:
1. I am, on the scale of good to evil (or right to wrong) closer to good/right than the other,
2. My ethical and moral scale applies to your life whether or not you agree to it, and 3. My inherent goodness can, simply via proximity, sway you to the "better" side of the scale.
Those of you that know me have heard me vehemently opine that the rhetoric used to justify our nation's actions abroad is based on these ideas, and that they are false. But it goes beyond policy rhetoric and deep into the core of how we treat one another. In New York, my home, I have created a life that supports my ethical scale. Here, not because it is Marrakech specifically but because it is "other", I have learned that it is vastly ignorant and insanely egotistical to assume that my scale should apply, even if I had the ability to sway another to its adherence. I am powerless - completely and utterly powerless - to "save" anyone. But bigger than that - bigger than my failure to be a savior - is the enormity of the ridiculousness that I would even try.
How dare I?
This is not my world to change, and until I stop trying . . . but still, I think the idea might be bigger than me and my sidewalk interactions in Morocco. Until WE stop trying . . .
But what do I know? I am learning, each day here, that my knowledge, as they say, is but a spec of dust. I barely know the full meaning of even a single word.
- - Adam