By Larbi Arbaoui
Morocco World News
Taroudant, Morocco, April 9, 2012
MWN has conducted an interview [read part 2] with Mr. Ben Pennington who is an American athlete, musician and poet. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in N’kob, Zagora, Morocco for two years [from 2009-2011].
Since the interview is long enough to be published in one piece, we decided to publish it in a series. The following is part 3 of a 4 part series.
L.A: You once told me that you had lessons in cooking and it helped you develop a good taste. How did you like Moroccan cuisine?
B.P: loved a lot of things that Moroccans have. Couscous is very good, yes, but even better is the tajine. It’s the same basic ingredients everywhere, and they eat them once a day, but each person does it a little bit differently, so it’s a pleasure to go to a different region or a different restaurant and try them all, and after some time you find the one you like the best. The other things that I like very much are the omelettes cooked in the tagine pot, and the fresh olive oil with home-made bread and mint tea for breakfast, and snacks throughout the day. The pastries are especially delicious.
L.A: Can you tell me what is so special in Moroccan dishes?
B.P: One big advantage is that the food is basically homegrown and organic. So it’s all very fresh, no matter where you go. I grew to have an addiction for olives, and I’d buy 1 kilo each week and eat them all, on spaghetti or in sandwiches with “la Vache qui rit” cheese. Also, I like that the food is spicy without being necessarily hot. The best part, though, is the tradition of sharing the food together. In the States we eat together but each person puts a portion on their own plate. Having a giant plate of shariya pasta with vegetables on top is thrilling when you have five or six people around it on the floor enjoying it together. It’s ecstasy.
L.A: Being my guest the other day, and, as a vegetarian, I had nothing to serve you but bread and olive oil. You told me then that when you would go back home you would like to keep the habit of eating olive oil with bread. Are you doing that now at home?
B.P: Yes, that’s still my breakfast every day, though now I have a “nus-nus” coffee with it instead of tea. But I drink tea regularly, too. The best vegetarian dish I had in Africa—in my life—was in nearby Mali, with the Tuaregs. There’s a great kindred spirit between the Amazigh and the Tuareg, but they are not able to visit and share their stories with each other in the way they used to, which is too bad. Some families are split between Zagora and Tombouctou, and the path is blocked for some political reason. Sometimes I’d eat vegetarian food in Morocco only to find later that they had used some animal products to make it, but I still ate it and enjoyed it.
L.A: “A Poem for Nkob” is one of your best poems written in Morocco. What is the poem about? Who or what has inspired you to write such an amazing poem?
B.P: This was written during sunset. In my town Id go sit at the same place each day to watch the sunset, and this one was especially good. Just a few minutes earlier I’d visited the Gendarmes. To have a good understanding of how much you are integrating, a good measure is to see how the Gendarmes react to you. I saw them, and while I still felt like an outsider, I was glad to have been there to interact with them and to understand them more fully than I once did. Also, I had an amazing experience in that all the people I met in that period of time all seemed to appear in Nkob the last weeks before I left. So I felt like there was some magnetic force in me that brought them back to me for one last chat.
Two years is nothing; a student says to me.
How wholeheartedly I agree!
Apparently the spirits are conspiring to make me smile,
the moment I most earnestly start to crumble
Crepuscular rays paint the far end of the sky,
competing for splendor and glory with
their children in the East, (the mountains I’ve tried to climb)
large golden clouds bursting with long-withheld rain.
Slowly they wink out,
And so the ebullient clouds conquer the sky,
continuing to loom, evermore daunting,
filled now with the blood of a consumptive night.
If you never swim the same river,
we’re doomed to never return here
No matter the many times you might come back.
The less the rain, the harder the earth,
The faster the flood carries us away.
That’s alright; I’m ready to go.
The gendarmes take caskrout,
The usual tea and the usual smoke.
They make such a handsome picture!
No photography’s allowed – but I am given a peek.
Transfigured and dying (for such is what travel
Most truly means’ to have the heroism
To choose one of the many paths’,
Ignorant but invigorated as to what´s ahead)
I’m a magnet that pulls all the haggard, shining spirits
out to the streets for one last–no, one more —
verbal fête, one final Moroccan tête-a-tête
L.A: I know you have read hundreds of books. How many books have you read in your two years stay in Morocco?
B.P: In Morocco I read 200 books in two years and three months. It was all very tough, hard literature, but this was good for me because I was already extremely reflective from the amount of culture shock that I had each day. So I was able to grow intellectually with big leaps and bounds in a short period of time, both from the books and from my interactions with Moroccans. I read my favorite book then, Infinite Jest, two times in 6 months. It’s 1100 pages long, but it was nice to have the time to soak it up slowly and fully
To Be Continued…
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