01 January 2007

Sketches from MOROCCO

Seen in a small roadside cafe in Morocco
but sadly the situation is typical:

In the single cooling cabinet you are greeted
by 7 different soft drinks (which I never drink
anyway, I consider them unfit for humans).
However, closer inspection reveals that every
single one of them is a product of
The Coca-Cola Company.
So, in truth, the apparent choice of 7 represents
no choice. This is neither free market forces nor
healthy competition - it is a cancer and we all
know that cancer is a dreadful disease.
This is American "soft (drinks!) power"
at its worst and the solution is simple:
Stop buying and drinking it.

Incidentally, if you would like your toilet bowl to
be extra clean and bright, pour your Coca-Cola
into it and leave overnight.
It really does work and I can think of no more
appropriate use for this crap!


In Tetouan, in the colonial days the Spanish
headquarters, I wander around in the medina
(old town) which is now a designated
Unesco World Heritage Site.
As medinas go, it is quite small and it is easy
to find your way round. Along narrow streets,
under arches, through little markets, vendors
everywhere, past simple tiny restaurants,
I come onto a small square with another market,
this one mainly with stalls selling hardware,
most of it used, well used.
I stop here and there to look, not really to buy
anything, when suddenly, cutting through the
surrounding sounds, I hear a voice, a simple
unaccompanied chanting which makes me stop
and listen. I have a feeling that I know what it
must be but am not sure.

I had bought an english translation of the Quran,
and a Bible, in Gibraltar where I had spent the
previous winter with my sailing yacht and in the
Spring sailed across for my first visit to Morocco.
When I went to Morocco, I had read the Quran
a couple of times without really being able to
connect with it in any meaningful way.

Now, looking to find the source of this
strangely moving sound, my eyes fall on an old
radio-cassette player, the door to the cassette
compartment is missing, I can see the tape
turning slowly and as I watch this pathetic
battered machine struggling to push out the
sounds, I realise that it is verses from the
Quran and although not understanding more
than the occasional word here and there,
I just stand and listen.
When the tape stops, the young man who is
running the stall and who has been watching
me, restarts it. For me. I smile and put my right
hand to my heart in that lovely Arabic gesture of
thanks. And listen to the tape again.
This time with tears in my eyes...
Decrepit player, poor quality recording, average
performer, foreign language -
all in all, not much chance of anything coming
out of this, one would think.
But this moves me almost beyond description,
it is so beautiful and pure, so sincere and serene,
so dignified and direct, the exact opposite of the
obscenities of Madonna, Michael Jackson,
MTV and all.

When the tape stops the young man wants to
sell it to me but I politely thank him and walk
on a couple of alleys, sit down with a mint tea,
still not sure why that voice touched me so
but feeling strangely grateful that it did.....


It is mid-morning. I am in a backpacker hotel in
Fes-el-Bali (old Fes), just inside the magnificent
gate Bab Bou Jeloud, which looks old but isn't,
and I am getting ready to go out to find some
breakfast and then - there is that sound again,
the beautiful chanting, pouring through my
open window with the African sun.
I look and this time the sound is not coming from
a worn-out machine but instead from a worn-out
man, a beggar in the street just outside.

When I get onto the street and approach him,
I can see that, like so many Quran singers,
he is blind. I listen to him for a while.
Of course I give him something.
I would have given him something anyway
but he did more for me than I did for him.....

Some time later I bought a Quran cassette and
I listen to it from time to time and it still has that
wonderful effect on me - I do not know which
surahs (chapters) I have on the tape but one day,
inshallah, I will find out and be able to
understand the Arabic instead of, as now,
reading the Quran in English.


The White Camel is a carpet and crafts store
high up in the kasbah quarter in Tanger.
I sometimes call in to sit and talk with the owner
over a mint tea or two. Today there is already
another Western visitor when I arrive, a young
American of Scottish descent and with Viking
looks but in Muslim clothes.
I recognise him for we met briefly in an internet
shop a day or two ago.
He has bought a carpet and is having it sent back
to America. I soon learn that he is not just trying
to look like a Muslim, he is a Muslim, has been for
some years and has already been to Makkah for
the Hajj (pilgrimage).
Sometime during our conversation I ask him
whether it is not difficult for an American to
get a visa for Saudi Arabia (this is before
September 11) and the moment he answers,
in his American-English, I know how silly
my question is:
"No, they just love white American Muslims!".


(to be continued, Inshallah...)

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