By Mourad Anouar
By Mourad Anouar
Morocco World News
Oklahoma City, June 20, 2012
Even the everyday things she used to do had never upset me. She was the type of person you could not hold a grudge against. Everyone would forgive her for the practical jokes she used to play on them, including me. Usually I am an easily angered person–quick to get irritated–even when it is about something petty. Both my parents had scolded me a number of times for having an explosive temper. Even today I don’t understand why I let her dupe me over and over again. Being one of her easy and gullible victims, I admit even letting her play games with me. There were a couple of times we both laughed about it when we thought the jokes were witty and creative, which most of them were. During this eventful period I had to sit aside sometimes and ask myself the same question: Why don’t I get mad at her?
I never was able to find an answer though.
Since she was such a jokester, she had few friends. I was lucky enough to be one of this elite entourage that hung out with her most of the time. I think the reason I was lucky to spend much time with her was because she was fun to be around. She could make you laugh right after she played a joke on you. I guess the most interesting thing about her was not her different sense of humor, but her astonishing ability to make her stories compelling even if they were dull. Her sophisticated manner of narrating stories made her a perfect storyteller and perhaps that explained why she enjoyed spending so much time in Jemaa El-Fnaa. She was a faithful fan of this magical place. Whenever we lost sight of her, we would look at each other and say: “She must be in Jemaa El-Fnaa.”
Her name was Gertrude and she was German. Gertrude, what a name? What about kleinishkeiten for a word? As a matter of fact, kleinishkeiten was her word or justification whenever she was faced with others’ disapproval of her behavior. She explained it to me one day as “trivial stuff.” Some people were offended by her lowbrow humor and deemed it inappropriate and childish. She never liked how the Germans responded to her jokes. She mentioned two incidents where she was almost physically assaulted by some people who did not appreciate her particular brand of humor.
“They can’t take a joke,” she protested one day.
“We Moroccans take jokes,” I replied.
Gertrude came to Morocco as an exchange student from the University of Mainz to study Arabic and Islamic studies in Marrakech. She revealed to me once that the East–specifically the Arab world–always fascinated her greatly. She said that discovering Arabic calligraphy by chance had ignited in her a raging interest to learn more about this area of the world. I asked her once if she was going to turn out to be just like Muir, Nodlke, Spencer and Margoliouth
“Who are those people?” she asked.
“You don’t want to know now,” I replied.
I wondered more than once if her study of Islam would lead her to a balanced and unprejudiced understanding of its tenets, or if she would think otherwise.
“Are you just going to join the same hateful bastion which had been stuffing the so-called ‘encyclopedia of Islam’ with all sort of flagrant and absurd falsehoods and lies about our religion and its prophet?” I asked her all at once.
“What lies in this encyclopedia?” she questioned.
“You better look at it after you study Islam from its authentic sources,” I replied.
“You made me curious to find out more about it” she said.
“Ok, you want to believe, for example, Ernest Renan who claimed that Mohammed did not receive any revelation but he suffered from epilepsy?” I questioned.
Gertrude stared at me for a minute.
“You may be right about studying Islam from its authentic sources, she said.
It was one of Marrakech’s typically hot nights, enjoyably hot though. Any visitor of this exquisite city knows that Marrakesh is the place to run away from cold weather. Gertrude, smiling and ecstatic, was only inches away from me. This mid-June starry night was great until I found myself lowering my head into a position where I was able to maneuver through sudden waves of a scorching hot air. As I squinted trying to make way through the crowd, I wished I could stop somewhere and shut my eyes. Reaching the end of the street, I turned back to check on Gertrude, but I found her nowhere. She disappeared.
I searched for her there for about two hours in vain. I walked the streets around the area, back and forth, asking random people multiple times if they had spotted her. No answers.
A sense of confusion washed over me leaving me immersed in a moment of deafening silence and doubt. My vision was so blurred that I had to dodge passing people that I could only sense around me. I felt like they were trying to run into my disoriented body intentionally, punishing me for losing her in a blink of an eye. In my mind I deserved being elbowed in the gridlock of people that surrounded me that night.
Whatever had to be the case, she was determined to leave nothing behind but little sweet memories, which some of us still cherish. I cherish those memories. One of my favorite memories is when she and I each quickly drank down a glass of orange juice in Jemaa El-Fnaa.
“You know, what you are drinking now is half water half juice” I told her
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Have you ever heard of the turkey baster?” I questioned.
“Of course I have,” she replied. “But what does that has to do with orange juice?”
“Well, it is quite similar in some way,” I said. “Americans inject their turkeys with marinade, but these Moroccan vendors absorb oranges with water to squeeze more juice out of them.”
“Hmmm that is slick but the juice still yummy.” she said.
At that point, I noticed that the orange juice vendor had eyed me up and down. I figured he knew what our conversation was about. I got scared especially when I saw two other people standing next to him. As I handed him back the empty glass, I pursed my lips to show him that I enjoyed his orange juice.
“It is the best juice ever,” I said, complimenting him.
He nodded with quick yet menacing smile. I turned back to find Gertrude sipping the last drops of her cup. She handed him the cup too and thanked him in a broken Moroccan dialect.
I grabbed her arm and we lumbered across a group of French tourists standing in a circle. In the center of the tourists stood an old man in a white and well-ironed djallaba reciting in a singsong and an intoned manner the halcyon years when Morocco was prosperous and powerful. As I accidentally shouldered the seemingly excited guide I made sure not to turn around. I did not want to look scared, but it was clear from my face that I was.
The night she disappeared I met her heading toward Jemaa El-Fnaa. Originally, I was going to visit a friend of mine whom I had not seen for quite some time. When she asked me where I was going, I told her Jemaa El-Fnaa. She was excited as usual. She seemed to be embarking on some kind of unplanned journey or adventure. Gertrude would stop in the middle of the road and spin around with her head up facing the sky, laughing loudly. That embarrassed me a bit because I had to deal with the intimidating looks that were coming from all directions. I felt people pinned the blame on me for what she did. I pretended that everything was fine though I was upset with the looks that were directed my way. Gertrude’s hysterical laughs added to the beauty and vibration of the place around us. However, the people around us who did not appreciate her loud behavior were a bit annoyed.
Three months after her disappearance, two friends of Gertrude and I gathered in Jemaa El-Fnaa in the same corner where we used to hang out. We sat there, without her, reminiscing about every moment we enjoyed together. Amine, one of her close friends, reminded us of her fascination with the German history. Ahmed, her third friend, was never on good terms with Gertrude after he undervalued the German literature one day. Being a rabid fan of Schiller’s poems, she declared that his poem “The Tauscher” represented the very best of poetry. She too believed that the world owes a lot to the German genius.
“We invented the car, the type machine and beer,” she once boasted.
“And wurst,” I added.
“Food is a French thing,” she said. “I can’t think of a German dish that I can boast about.”
Well, despite the food, I was personally amazed by the so many successes by the Germans over their history. Our search for her never paid off. Now she is gone, and maybe she will never come back. My poor friend Amine tried numerous times to convince me that we will find her one day somewhere in Jemaa El-Fnaa.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s keep going there.”
Edited by Laura Cooper
© 2012 Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved