El Jadida - Looking out of the window of the coach carrying passengers to Safi, Abdessalam stared wonderingly at the flourishing green vegetation oblivious of the dark dismal future of his sickness. Would he be cured and would he regain his health? Would he return to his duwar and his farm land to help the family in cultivation? He was alienated and confused. They told him that he should trust modern doctors because modern medicine was effective. He should travel to Safi to see a Nazarene expert in the profession. He could not believe his ears: how could those who raped the land, robbed the harvest and dispossessed the farmer help him in his cure? He fought against himself. Yet his sick tired voice controverted his native subaltern strong voice; then he succumbed to the temptation to go to Safi to visit the doctor.
El Jadida – Looking out of the window of the coach carrying passengers to Safi, Abdessalam stared wonderingly at the flourishing green vegetation oblivious of the dark dismal future of his sickness. Would he be cured and would he regain his health? Would he return to his duwar and his farm land to help the family in cultivation? He was alienated and confused. They told him that he should trust modern doctors because modern medicine was effective. He should travel to Safi to see a Nazarene expert in the profession. He could not believe his ears: how could those who raped the land, robbed the harvest and dispossessed the farmer help him in his cure? He fought against himself. Yet his sick tired voice controverted his native subaltern strong voice; then he succumbed to the temptation to go to Safi to visit the doctor.
On August 10, 1966 he went to Safi. Roaming the town, he said he recognized all the streets and alleys but he could not recognize the direction of sunrise. He kept asking pedestrians about the Nazarene doctor’s office till he was guided by a good-hearted person to his destination. The doctor’s name was Delamou, an ethno-physician who used Moroccan vernacular to communicate with his patients so that they could positively respond to the cure. He shared their cultural worldview. After examining Abdessalam, the Arabic speaking doctor told him:
“Do you know your sickness?”
“If I knew it I would not have come to you, would I? This is why I am here!”
“Nice reply!” the doctor rejoined smiling unmoved by the words of the imam who was on the alert to invite nemesis, “Look my friend… you suffer from cold between skin and bone (berd bin jeld u-l-‘dam) and you have cold in the stomach (berd f-l-ma’da).” The imam stood silent for a while, then answered: “I suspected it was cold…I had it once and it tormented me!” His response was brief but warm and comforting to the doctor who sought to convince him to take medicine. After that short exchange, the imam went out with relaxed facial complexions but not as convinced as he was with the baraka of his ancestors. Was the diagnosis exact? He did not know but trusted the doctor’s focus on the cold being the cause of the sickness. “Let us wait and see if the treatment works! If it does, then the doctor was right in every word he said,” he spoke soundlessly.
The doctor prescribed him seven injections to be delivered into his back following a strict time order. Every time the doctor delivered the injection, the imam went out to sit on a stool outside the room and touched his back only to discover the injected liquid dripping out of his flesh. He could not understand what was happening to him. Was it normal? Should he ask the doctor about it? It was an unconscious sign the imam’s mind could not grasp at that stage; the jinni who possessed him refused western medication. Our folk tradition insists on the fact that junn do not like western medication and prefer traditional ritual cure. The more you go to the doctor the more violent they become!
The imam spent a lot of money in Safi. He paid MAD 15 for the consultation. He also paid the doctor for each injection the price of MAD 2.50. He was not allowed to be delivered the injection by a nurse outside at a public health office, which could have been cheaper no more than MAD 0.50. It was a complex injection, he was told. On the last day when he was waiting for his last injection, sitting on that stool outside the consulting room, a tall man came in and asked him if the doctor was in his office. The man wanted to bring his wife to the doctor. He asked the imam:
“Is the doctor here?”
“Yes, we are waiting for him.”
“I want to bring my wife to see him, as for you is everything all right?”
“Well, he told me that I suffer from cold between skin and bone (berd bin jeld u-l-dam)!” the imam said sadly.
“Do you reason or not?” The man immediately flared up. The imam was startled and glared at the man who went on explaining:
“If the cold is between your skin and bone, it won’t ache you. It aches when it reaches the bones. What you have is simply wind spirits (l-ryah). You should not have come to the doctor. You should visit saints (kay khasek t-mshi t-zur).”
The imam remained silent and shut his eyes to remove himself from the doctor’s landscape. He wandered disoriented and pondered on the speaker and his words. Yes, I recognized him! Once he told me this, I recognized who he was! He was a messenger sent from the ancestors! It was on the same day that the imam went to Sidi Ahmed Ben ‘Abdjlil in Shiyadma near Sebt Talmast. His wife and other women in the family accompanied him. He had to pay quite a lot for his travel again. In Shiyadma, he had to hire a guide and mules to reach his destination.
When he arrived, he rented a room at the saint and spent his first night there in peace. After three days, he felt somewhat better. So, he sent the rest of his women relatives back home, and spent again three other days with his wife at the shrine. Every day he went to the shurfa to obtain their ritual baraka. He still remembered that they used a piece of shoe (farda) to lash his body with (a ritual practice labelled sri’). They smoothly trod upon his body parts (afsu-h) on three consecutive days. Then the shurfa told him that he must visit the hawsh (one of the places in the sacred vicinity specialized for this intent) the day before his departure.
When he visited the place, he felt a lot of pain in his back. He could not stay. So, he returned to Sidi Ben ‘Abdjlil, read some Qur’an by the side of the coffin and returned to his room late at night. When he got inside, three cards on which the number three was written (trusa) fell down but one card kept hanging on a pin in the wall. When his wife heard the noise, she awoke up frightened. The place was silent again. No one had been seen playing cards in the room. The imam assured her that nothing happened save for the story of the cards that fell down. He had his own explanation. He told his wife who knew nothing about cards that the two first cards on which number three figured stood for the six days they had spent at the shrine, and the card that remained dangling in the air stood for three other days they must spend in the sanctuary. Following the prophecy, he spent the three remaining days there, and during the last day, a shrif told him that he should offer the shurfa a rooster “to be released” (bash y- tsayfet). The imam did as he was told and purchased a rooster for the shurfa who accepted the offer, cooked it for dinner and invited the imam for the meal.
Later, the imam spent the night inside the qubba of a nearby saint called Sidi Ahmed Mul l-bit because the qubba of Ben ‘Abdjlil was full of women. In the middle of the night, he saw a Moslem doctor coming to him wearing a white dress. The imam asked him: “what do you want? Why are you coming to me?” The doctor told him that he came to examine him. The imam’s sick voice burst out: “I have seen the best doctor in Casablanca and he did not discover my sickness, let alone you!” The doctor went away, and a man dressed in a djellaba came in. The imam saw a vein in his leg swelling. The man saw it too and told him that he should visit Sidi Barek where they struck the vein and “scratched children” (yeffergu l-drari). The imam did not know where the saint was. The man offered to show him the way. They journeyed to the shrine, entered the qubba and found Sidi Barek sitting in a stretched-legs posture. The man addressed the imam: “Herer is Sidi Barek who strikes the vein and break up children’s spells.” Sidi Barek moved his body forward, glanced at the imam’s vein and returned to his initial position. He never talked to any one of them. When the imam and his companion were about to go out, a woman appeared to the imam from behind the corner of the green covered tomb and talked to him. “If you strike that vein, you’ll bleed to death!’ She told him. The imam replied: “look! Dead or alive, I’ll strike the vein!” Then he and his companion moved out. On their way to the door, a man was walking inside. Instead of getting in before them or waiting for them to go out, he smacked into them straight. The imam found himself sandwiched between the two at the door threshold. At that point he awoke from his dream.
It was nearly dawn when he went to a nearby river and did his ablutions. Then he went to the mosque for prayers. Later, he came across a man who lived in the nearby village and asked him about the way to Sidi Barek. The man told him that there was no saint in the vicinity with that name. Then to his room he went back upset but unrelenting, and asked the landlord about the saint. The man answered: “The local saint is sending you there. Isn’t he? He usually does it. Sidi Barek is exactly at Berrakt Lamin. Pack up and leave!” The imam packed up and left.
On his way along the riverside, he met a boy riding on a donkey. The boy realized that the sick man was dead on his feet and offered to help him. So, he asked him: “are you a fqih?” the imam replied, “yes!” Then, the boy resumed with another question: “have you learnt the Qur’an by heart?” The imam replied in humbleness: “a little bit!” The boy excited by the coincidence of meeting a master in a situation of need, now he was in a position of power to help the master, dismounted the donkey and offered the teacher a ride. The imam elegantly requested his wife to get on the animal’s back first but she declined knowing that her husband was too weak to travel on foot. She told him that he was sick and badly needed to be on a donkey back.
They resumed their travel till they reached a small village where they drew to a halt and the boy shackled the donkey by a tree. There their roads diverged. The imam warmly thanked the boy while shaking his hand and remembered that the occupation of a Koranic teacher was not totally unrequited. The boy headed for the souk to do some shopping while the imam collected his belongings and walked away with his wife. A few yards ahead, he saw a man standing in the middle of the road waving a white piece of cloth in his direction. The imam hustled to him and when he came close, he heard him saying:
“Are you the man who wants to go to Sidi Barek!”
“Yes!” the imam said in utter astonishment. How did he know? Who was he? The man spoke again:
“Hurry up! Fifteen minutes are left for the bus to show!” He took him to a bus stop and told him to wait there. The imam left his wife in the surroundings and went to buy some bread, sugar and tea as provisions for the travel and also in case they might not find shops in Sid Barek’s area. A few minutes later, he returned and the bus came. They boarded the vehicle and travelled to Sidi Barek. There they stayed for a week during which the imam felt better. Excited by the feeling of health recovery in the sacred vicinity of Sidi Barek, the imam decided to go back to Casablanca to work again. Back inside the belly of the whale, he was drifting on the hard waves of labour in a merciless ocean of stress that unluckily awakened the dormant symptoms of his illness again.
This is a short ethnographic serialized story published by installment with each episode coming forth approximately every Saturday.