Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

Crossing Cultures: A New Dialect

October 1, 2013

We arrived on a long air conditioned bus, one that all of us didn’t even fill up, around twelve in the afternoon. As I went to grab my purse, which housed my wallet, sunglasses and expensive new cell phone that I had purchased before leaving to Spain, I felt uneasy. I pulled my hand back -grabbed only what I thought I would need-with my two-liter water bottle in hand I hopped off of the cool bus into the Moroccan sun. The previous day we had purchased school supplies and soccer balls for the kids of the institute, a majority of them poor. The side of the white bus opened up and each of us grabbed a small backpack or two. The sweat was already forming on my forehead; I picked up a bright pink one, fixed the straps and went on my way up the steep hill leading to the school.
We walked up the lavender painted stairs to see an open courtyard with smiling faces of all shapes and sizes, who greeted us and walked us to where the children were. We dropped their gifts off by the shade of two large trees, and I put my water down hoping that it would stay somewhat chilled. Turning around I saw their faces, the colors of their veils all different, but their eyes all the same, buoyant and blissful, hungry for something new. I was amazed with how willing and sociable all of them were, they were the ones who lead us out to the courts to play games. We split into two groups, basketball and soccer. Hania, Natalie, Katie, Mouhsin, Jordan and I went off to play soccer on the upper court. As soon as the worn out ball hit the hot cement we were off, sprinting from left to right all in efforts to get the ball away from our goal. The boys were all yelling in a playful manner, taunting one another with their innocent grins, showing the pink of their gums, and some even sticking their tongues out. All of them were aggressive with one another and in no way did they hold back against any of us girls. Before I knew it the score was 1-1, I was wearing my sandals- I found it difficult to make any clear passes or suave moves like everyone else was, instead, I dribbled.
Another goal and we all high fived, there was a common ground among the team. We all had that feeling of delight, the adrenaline rush, even though it was just a game of soccer. A boy from the other team dribbled, lifted his head and shot, it bounced off of someone’s foot and then Mouhsin knocked it in effortlessly. In no time at all the score changed, 3-3, someone had declared that the next goal would be the winner. At this point all of us were exhausted, not because of the amount of running, but because of the skin seeking sun, it craved our energy. The ball went from person to person and then got stuck in the middle, each and every foot within a meter radius were kicking, trying to gain possession. Jordan passed the ball across the court and I felt it hit the outside of my foot, I dribbled and took a shot. The goal was composed of two large rocks and I watched as the ball left my foot and skid right by the rock. GOAL! We had won. A short boy in red came up to me, as I went in for a high five he stopped me, he grabbed my hand and smiled showing the whites of his teeth. *Right hand, left hand, inside, out, fist bump, fist bump, high five*, our eyes met and I let out a laugh, which in turn caused him to laugh along with me. That handshake accompanied with a smile meant the world to me. He couldn’t understand the words I spoke, and I couldn’t understand his, yet the communication was there. It doesn’t matter where in the world one travels. A smile is an international symbol of happiness that everyone is able to comprehend. I came into his country and picked up one important thing that I will carry along with me wherever I go. The dialect of happiness is one that can be expressed without words.
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The ride that changed it all…

October 1, 2013

It was pouring down rain and we had just left a Moroccan students house where we had lunch with his family. We were standing on the side of the road and with every passing minute the drops of rain were getting bigger and coming down harder. There was no hope for a taxi to stop that didn’t already have its seats filled to the point of discomfort, so we started walking. With every step, there was more laughter. The laughter of three girls hailing down full taxis just to send them away, holding people in the rain to ask them in which direction the Hotel Riff was, looking at each other with mascara running down our faces, smiling from ear to ear. There was an understanding that this was to be remembered, this was a moment of movement. Finally after walking up hill with our soaking wet selves and bags full of tea pots, tapestries and mugs from the Medina, we got ourselves a taxi that by the grace of God was empty. Frantically, we opened the doors and, due to the language barrier, didn’t ask but more or less squealed “Hotel Riff? Hotel Riff?” In which the taxi driver responded with the nod of his head and a large smile. On the way to the hotel, the taxi driver proceeded to mimic us and laugh with us till we were out with both of the doors shut. He had no hesitancy to enjoy his car ride with us by making fun of our frantic voices calling out to him “Hotel Riff? Hotel Riff?” With the rolling of his R’s and the tone of his voice he made history in our minds, because at that point, we are all uncontrollably laughing, with an understanding of one another that was learned in having a light heart and a positive excitement about the rain rather than a spiteful negative towards it. As the taxi ride continues, we have an excitement and joy in our eyes while we are continually laughing at each other because of what just occurred. I will never forget this memory. I will never forget all three of us choosing to make it a good one, one that will last and be remembered in a joyful way than in a way that made us miserable, because it easily could have done so. I will forever crave the taste of the raindrops on my lips and the way that this adventure made me feel. This taxi driver is imbedded in my mind forever. His kindness and ability to break down the walls of diversity with laughter was admirable. Although all we could say to him was thank you, it meant more than I thought it would when it left my mouth. We were saying thank you for so much more than a simple taxi ride. We were saying thank you for his joyous laughter and his ability to make us feel welcome. I always knew that laughter was powerful, something you can feel inside you starting to erupt, until it reaches its peak and you can no longer control it. Laughter speaks to you when your joy cannot form words, but this kind of laughter that the four of us shared, was saying something that I’ve never heard before. Something that cannot be put into words but can be understood with an understanding of the person you are sharing it with. The adrenalin you feel when getting into a small taxi in a foreign place, the simulations that evoke all your senses, it is all part of an experience, an experience that you don’t expect to have a lasting effect on you, but when you look back on it, you realize the importance of the memory. You realize that there is a reason this memory is sticking out. There is a reason that this memory needs to be told, and whether or not I or you have the answers is not the question, for if it were, you would be missing the whole point.

laila

September 29, 2012

Born in the night. This is what her name meant. She was born a fighter; a fighter for her freedom and for her innocence. A fighter to one day see the light that was always kept from her. Laila loved to write about all that she saw and experienced. From the time she was a young girl, Laila always wrote poems and sang songs about her life in Morocco. She would sit by the water in her hometown of Tanger and sing songs to her baby brother Nasir. What Laila longed for the most though was to study at the university. She ached to make friends in her classes and learn.

“But why can’t I go to university like Ahmad?” She would ask her mother.

“Please not now, Laila. You know what your father said.” Her mother would always sigh back.

Every time, this answer crushed her. Laila knew that if it were up to her mother she would be at university with her older brother Ahmad. Laila loved her father, but could never get a word in whenever she brought up university. She wanted so desperately for her father to see how much it killed her to not go. No matter what she said to him, it was always the same answer.

“Your mother needs help at home with the house and Nasir, Laila. You know this.” Her father would say.

If she tried to bring up the matter again, her father would just get angry with her and tell her to help her mother cook dinner.

One day when Laila was walking home from the medina, she saw a flyer for a music event at a cafe nearby. She quickly pocketed the paper and hurried home. Later that week, Laila showed up at the cafe, nervous. She had never been to a cafe without her friends or brothers. But what she saw that night would change her life in more ways than she could imagine. There were men and women performing poems, songs, and raps about their lives in Morocco and the Arab Spring. Laila had never witnessed women in her community speak with such freedom and power. Over the next couple months Laila went back to this cafe every week and watched women perform.

One night, she worked up enough courage to perform a song she had written. The crowd received her offering better than she could have ever imagined. Laila began to realize that she had found another outlet for her. She knew that there were so many women who did not have voices in her community. Not only did Laila want to perform for the women of her nation, but for every Muslim who was misjudged, or perceived as a terrorist. Laila wanted to empower her people and show the world that she had so much to offer as a Muslim woman. And the rest is history.

The Hammam

September 24, 2012

I once watched a film called The Wedding Song about a Jewish girl and Muslim girl who were best friends living in Tunisia during World War II. In one scene the girls are at a bath house for women, and at the time I saw the movie I thought the idea of a bath house was weird and uncomfortable and was glad we didn’t have that in the west. Of course, the first week of the trip our professor announces that we will be visiting a Hammam, which is a traditional bath house in Muslim cultures still readily used today.

One author that was introduced to us through the class is Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist writer who argues that Western women are trapped in time. The philosophy of German philosopher Immanuel Kant is one of segregated gender roles -men being reason and women emotion, and that women are supposed to be passive and beautiful (as opposed to the arabic word Wasat which means the balance between reason and emotion), thus beginning a an image of the ideal women as lacking intelligence and strength. This image of a youthful woman is what Mernissi means by being trapped in time. There is great anxiety about the way women look at themselves, because for women it is a constant struggle to always appear perfect and young, and the idea that beauty is outward and limited to a specific time and age is detrimental to self esteem.

There are Hammams in every neighborhood and district, and many go once or twice a week to this bathhouse. You enter one room to get your bucket and stow away your things, and in the next room is the washing area. It is like a sauna and there are faucets all around the room to fill the bucket up with water. Ladies sit around with scrubbers to scrub others down (I’ve never felt so clean in my life after that… they literally scrubbed the dirt off me). There was a new kind of freedom for me in the Hammam. Everybody was stripped of whatever was making up their outward beauty: makeup, clothing, hairstyle, etc. And even though we were all naked (yes, thats right), I wasn’t comparing myself or feeling the anxiety of my body and what I look like. I felt the chains of the oppression of Western beauty ideals melt away.

Journal Entry from September 11, 2012

September 24, 2012

After our Arabic lesson today, we met up with Moroccan students to talk with them for an hour about anything and everything. Kim, Caitlin, Chelsea, and I talked to two girls: Meryam (18 years old) and Meryeme (16 years old).  I was shocked by how different these two girls were and how they tied into our topic about the West’s misconceptions about the oppressed female in the Muslim world. Meryam, the older one, dressed in heals and fashionable leggings and a sweater that looked like something that any girl in the States would wear. Meryeme, the 16 year old, on the other hand, wore a head scarf and, though her other clothes looked somewhat Western, would have stood out in the crowd in the West. After hearing them talk, it was clear to see that opportunity for women in Morocco was the same as it is in the United States. The younger one was 16 years old and already starting her studies at the university whereas the older one was still in high school and seemed to care less that she failed two years. She was more interested in partying and hanging with her friends. These two personalities show two very different types of women, neither of which seems to fit the stereotype of the woman in an Islamic nation. A final thought was a connection with Mernissi’s idea of the Western Harem. She claims in the end of Scheherazade Goes West that Western women are trapped in a harem of beauty and they will never be truly free until they care more about their intelligence and talents rather than worrying about their physical beauty. The younger one, though she wore a scarf on her head, seemed to be more free from this “harem” because she cared more about her future than her appearance. The older one, who obviously spent a lot of time focusing on her appearance, both physically and socially, is trapped in this harem. The only way she could truly be free is to not care what others think of her.