Monday, June 7, 2010

Marga in Mirleft

At the pool in Tiznit

Marga and I left Madrid and came to Morocco with Max Baumgarten, a high school friend of mine from California who is going to spend a few weeks with me in Morocco. Together we arrived in Marrakesh at 7:30am and went directly to the emblematic Jema Al F’naa, the central plaza of Marrakesh, to drink orange juice and await the start of our 8 hour bus ride south to Tiznit. Marga had heard all about Mirleft and about who Hakim and Bachir were from the months of me telling her stories about them and sharing pictures of Mirleft. I could sense a general excitement on her part, and Hakim, Bachir and my other friends in Mirelft were equally excited to meet Marga. I was very curious to see how she, as women, was going to interact with my predominantly male friends, and was a little nervous that there would be moments of awkwardness amongst such a gender disparity.

Waiting for the bus in Marrakesh

Another great dinner at our house dinner at our house

Bachir, Hakim, and another friend Rachid had gone to the pool in Tiznit earlier that day and were waiting for us at the bus station when we arrived. After first introductions we took the 40min shared taxi to Mirleft and collectively went to the small apartment I’ve been renting. Bachir and Hakim had been taking care of Karmous and Mona, the labrador puppy and kitten that live on my rooftop (and I’ll write more on them, and life in general, at a later moment). Yet aside from giving them food and water, they had also cleaned the whole apartment. Bachir and Hakim told me that they had cleaned my place because they also consider it their home, something that I appreciated very much. Later that night we cooked a fish tajine and stayed-up late talking and laughing together.

Grilling sardines on our rooftop terrace

The following day was Sunday, and it was a day of sun and little wind, meaning that all of the Mirleft youth would be at the beach. The weekend scene at Imin Trouga, the closest (fact) and most beautiful (collective opinion) beach in Mirleft, is so awesome. Everybody strolls to the beach, bringing rackets and balls, boogie boards, fins, soccer balls, and most importantly, a good attitude. The best way to describe it is chill. People are ready to take part in whatever activity you propose, whether that be going for a run, doing sit-ups and push-ups, playing a game of soccer or racket ball, and the always consistent act of going for a dip in the ocean and then lying down in a circle on the warm sand.

Together on the sand

Together with Marga, the beach, and Karmous (my puppy)

These afternoons, where time disappears and you lie in the sand with friends and the close company of open conversation, where there is no such thing as dirty or clean, dressed well or even style, where there is only the sand, the water and our words of mixed languages, have been my most memorable moments in Mirleft, Morocco. It is where we share stories of our sexual experiences and talk about our dreams of work, travel and family. It is where we discuss the international political climate and complain about injustices in travel rights; how I can move easily from one country to another and they are stuck in Morocco. It is where we talk about differences in culture and community.

Sunday at Imin Trouga

We may not have talked about all of this with Marga, but our Sunday at the beach was beautiful, and the fact that she was the only female lying on the sand amongst the company of men, didn’t even feel awkward. In fact, having the perspective of a Spanish woman opened our scope of perspective, and in many ways, made conversation more interesting.

After a long breakfast...time to read and relax before going to the beach

Going to Hakim's house for Friday couscous

On Tuesday we went to the pool in Tiznit. It was hard for Hakim or Bachir to believe how well Marga could swim, but it was even harder not to as she was swam right next to them and kicked their ass in the water. This got to Hakim, and I could sense his disapproval as he made excuses saying that he was tired and that was why Marga was faster than him. Bachir was much more honest about it, and because Marga was his trainer for the day, he listened to everything that she said. As Hakim’s trainer, I just told him to swim more.

Marga getting ready to swim in Tiznit...and kick Hakim's ass in the water

The crew after our swim. Rachid, Max, Max, Marga, Hakim. Bachir took the picture

Working on our visa paperwork

On Wednesday we went to the Spanish Consulate in Agadir, a large city 150km north of Mirleft, to drop off our visa paperwork. We awoke at the pleasant hour of 4:45 am to catch the 5:15am bus, arriving in Agadir at 8am. After having breakfast and making copies of each of Hakim and Bachir’s visa portfolio, we anxiously went to the Spanish consulate and dropped off our papers. I’ll write more on the process of preparing our visa papers, but here I’ll praise Marga, because if it weren’t for all of her help, the whole process would have been much more difficult. After we dropped off our papers, we went for a stroll at the beach, and then went to Bachir’s uncle’s home for a grand lunch of chicken tajine, followed by lots of sweet pastries and tea. It was a celebratory moment for all of us.

At the Spanish Consulate in Agadir...Hakim and Bachir were so nervous!

Celebratory lunch at Bachir's uncle's home in Agadir

Friday was a really beautiful day. Hakim invited us to his home for an afternoon of couscous and a faux wedding for Marga. She wanted to get some henna done, and so Hakim asked his neighbor Hadija, who is an amazing henna artist, to paint Marga’s hands and legs. Following a large communal plate of couscous, Hadija, Hakim’s mom, and many of Hakim’s aunts and cousins came to take part in the body-art event. We were in awe by how easily Hadija was able to cover Marga in intricate floral designs, something which inspired Hakim’s mom to get painted on her hands, and Bachir, Hakim, and I to get a small Beber symbol on our arms. When this was all done,the women wanted to dress Marga in typical garments of a Berber wedding, and Marga being very open, decided that it would be fun. So they took her away from the common room, and she returned a half an hour later in an elaborately embroidered dress, wearing red slippers and a set of large silver jewelry that included a horned silver crown. The women sang in high pitched screams as Marga entered the room, and when Hakim put on some traditional wedding music, we all got up and danced. It was awesome.

Marga's hands. Beautiful body art

If you get married in southern Morocco, you get to wear a crazy multi-horned crown

By evening things had calmed down and we went to watch the sunset at the ruins of an old French fort that overlooks Mirleft. On our way down, we regrouped with Bachir who invited us to his house for dinner with his family. At this point, after all of the couscous, tea and pastries, Marga simply laughed at the idea of eating more. Yet me, after spending so much time with the Spanish swimmer Carlos, who eats more than anybody I have ever met, and me also trying to gain weight to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, I’ve personally become a really good eater, and so if not hungry, I was at least excited to eat a large plate of tajine. Marga opened up to the idea as well, so long as she didn’t have to drink any more tea, she said.

Monday market in Mirleft

After dinner with Bachir’s family, Marga said goodbye to Hakim and Bachir- she was going to take a bus to Marrakesh the following morning. She said that she hoped to see them in Madrid in a few weeks, but that they each had to swim and train more. When we went to bed that night, she began to talk of all the things we could do together with Hakim and Bachir while in Spain. A few days after returning to Spain, Marga told me that her mom, being grateful for Marga’s positive experience in Mirleft, was also awaiting our arrival. The possibility of cultural exchange became evident, and as long as we get our visas and continue training, we should all reunite in Madrid.

At the Kasbah. The French ruins overlooking Mirleft

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