By Youssef El Kaidi
By Youssef El Kaidi
Morocco World News
Fez, December 31, 2012
Taounate is where I once released my first cry that mixed with the piercing long ululations of Jebli village women. I can imagine the tiny details about my birth; my Mum pulling the rope which is tied to a wooden bar on the ceiling and pushing me hard while biting the scarf in her mouth and moaning God’s name, the women pulling me out, then picking me up and cutting my umbilical cord with a blunt knife, our neighbors’ children swarming outside and peering through the window and murmuring in each other’s ears “I saw her..I saw her.” I can imagine all the details.
My father doesn’t give a damn because he is used to it since I was the last child of nine. This is exactly the image of a woman in her delivery as I saw it several times as a child; the images and the sounds are still vivid in my memory up to the moment as if they were a video stream stored somewhere in my mind. As a child, I thought that my village is the world and nothing exists behind the surrounding mountains. I used to panic when I think of going far lest I fall from the edges of the earth! So innocent! As I gradually grew up, I started to feel curious about what lies behind the mountains of my village. I always harbored the dream of getting beyond them and discovering the world.
Time elapsed quickly and folded many events, ups and downs, ebbs and flows, tears and smiles, and soon I found myself on an airplane to Boston, Massachusetts where I will participate in a teacher training program. Who has ever believed that I will someday go that far and cross the Atlantic? As a child I used to lift up my head and follow the planes crossing the blue sky with awe and amazement. I used to think, as everyone in my poor and remote village, that those aboard the plane are not ordinary people; we are cursed and they are blessed! Aboard the plane, I went back to all those remote moments and many faces, events, and stories flashed before my eyes. “Are there down people and children all along the lands we flew across who do the same and think the same? Am I blessed also?” I thought.
During the seven hours flight from Paris to Boston I didn’t sleep a wink. I wished to but my successive thoughts and expectations didn’t allow me. Finally I will discover Boston and the United States of America. All I knew before about the USA was the official history we read in history books, the foreign policy we get from media, and Hollywood films. I didn’t know anything about people apart from what I had read in books such as Leila Abou Zaid’s The Other Face of America, Youssef Amine Elalamy’s A Moroccan Man in New York and Abdellatif Akbib’s Tangier’s Eyes on America. The image that I made after reading these books is that the Americans are so materialistic and morally decadent. “Is it true? I will make sure myself.”
In Boston airport the plane landed at five o’clock p.m Eastern Standard Time. Unexpectedly, I came across two Moroccans, a young man and a young woman, working as security agents at the airport and I felt very happy when they welcomed me to Boston with Moroccan darija; “Marhba bik fi Boston” they said “and welcome next Friday for a Moroccan dish of couscous.” I had always heard in Morocco that the Moroccan diaspora is everywhere in the world and it seemed true. Somehow, it’s so easy for me to recognize a Moroccan just by the features on his physiognomy and I told my colleagues the guy is Moroccan even before we spoke to him. At the airport, Eva Anderson, Chris Krause and and Ian Costello were waiting for our arrival with placards reading our names. I was so surprised to know that they were the stuff of the University of the Middle East and the ones who used to send us e-mails and make the necessary provisions for our trip. They are very young, not even in their thirties. I had in mind that these people who kept sending us solemn and official e-mails are old, may be because such positions are almost always held by large-belied arrogant old men in my country. Eva, Chris and Ian received us with smiling faces and welcoming spirits and modestly helped with the luggage.
In my stay in Boston, I used to stray alone and store the fleeting images of people in my mind when the battery of my camera runs down. What aroused my attention during those long walks is the polite way people speak to and behave with each other. I never saw a violent reaction or heard an abusive word. One day I stopped amazed before a very humane scene of a herd of wild ducks crossing the road very slowly and how all the drivers from both directions kindly stopped to let them go! I thought of the repeated scenes of crushed dogs, cats, goats etc in our roads. All animals are equal here! My mind used to, automatically, make comparisons with the ethical mess our streets and public places witness every instant. Another thing that stirred my curiosity is the big number of memorials and statues celebrating the three centuries history of the United States, its heroes and events. I thought of our cities and our glorious history which goes back twelve centuries ago and wondered why is it absent not only in our city design but also in our media and film industry. We are amnesiac.
In Boston, I saw and learnt a lot of things and I made a lot of revisions of many beliefs and stereotypes. Sometimes, to understand your society you have to get out of it and contemplate it from a distance. In the Muslim society of Morocco, sexual harassment is a repulsive phenomenon. You can’t let your wife, daughter or sister travel alone –not because you are regressive and patriarchal but because you are sure she will hear a torrent of harassing words and actions in the bus, in the street, besides cafes, in the small taxi from the driver himself, in offices and public administration….In Boston, I saw girls half naked and topless, and others wearing all sorts of clothes but the space is fully theirs; no worries about harassment because it doesn’t exist.
I flew back to Morocco after an experience that imprinted my mind and my personality hoping to contribute to change. Change that I believe should take place inside every one of us first, and then it will be so much easy to implement in our social reality. There might be decadence, immorality and materialism in Boston, but somewhere where my feet didn’t tread! Back in Taounate, I met all those haggard faces strained by hardships, poverty and the rugged nature. Whenever the chance permits, they ask me to tell them about “Merican” and because it’s a long story I smile and tell them: “It’s just like Morocco!!”