03 November 2010

I am an Old Woman

13 Oct. 2010

With this last group, I don't feel like I did a great job of going deep or doing it fast enough. Katy said I need stories - intense stories about my/other's experiences in Morocco. Stories I have - especially of poverty, and great hospitality in the face of obstacles we upper middle class Americans would consider unsurmountable. Even sitting here on a day off in Tangier, a fairly well-off, overly-expensive city, I see it.

With a view of Spain, I'm eating a filling afternoon lunch of green salad & fish. The early October sunlight has turned the bay blue and the building seem more white than grey. But two events put a spin on this view that I don't know if normal foreigners who visit Tangier would take the time to see.

First, a lady comes up to the restaurant. She's wearing an orange-brown jellaba under a very dirty traditional red and white striped Rifian wool skirt. Covering her shoulders and her head, she's wearing an itchy-looking green cloth, tied at the neck with a purple string. Her shoes are also purple - plastic sandals that do nothing to support or warm her ancient looking feet. With most of her teeth missing and the sun-damage to her face, she looks 80 or 90 years old, but knowing what I do about how living in Morocco ages a person, I would say she's 55 or 60 at most.

I give her 10 dirham, more than my usual sadaqa (alms) of 2 or 3, because she doesn't ask me for it. She just waiting to see if the kitchen has extra food for her. And she thanks me with God-phrases I haven't even heard before. The restaurant has no food, but when she comes back to check again, I see she has a clear plastic bag with a BIG sandwich. And when the waiter lets her sit down to wait, I realize this is probably the first time she's sat down all day. I'm so thankful I'll never know the feeling of having to walk all day to find one meal. Well, inchallah I won't have to.

What really struck me about this woman was that after she finished eating her sandwich - small bite by small bite - she saw a cute little girl running around, went up to the little girl, and offered to give her a dirham. She may have been destitute, but she still wanted to make this child's day. Fortunately the mother of the child saw what was going on, and instead offered to buy the woman a coffee.

The other event was slightly less poetic. I saw tourists - in a big tour group, obviously - walk past, completely oblivious to a friendly-could-turn-ugly fight between two glue sniffers. In Morocco, poor people who can't afford beer or hash or any other drug buy a 5 dirham tube of glue, pour it into a plastic bag, and breathe in and out of that bag (like someone hyperventilating) to get high. To me, it's so glaringly obvious who the glue sniffers are - I mean, they are carrying around very worn plastic bags - but I watched closely, and these tourists didn't seem to see a single thing.

And the poverty divide continues!

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