Monday, October 19, 2009

A Weekend of Backseats

I spent the weekend in cars. And buses. But mostly cars. It was an incredible journey. The first leg started on Friday morning. Mike, Lisa, another friend and myself, piled into Mike's Toyota 4WD truck with his surfboards in the back and headed south. We stopped a couple times, but basically book it straight through to Agadir...which took 8+ hours.

Here's a map for all you who like things like that (I include myself in your number). You can trace my trip from Rabat --> Agadir --> Marrakesh --> Ouarzazate --> Marrakesh --> Casablanca --> Rabat. Most of which was through the Atlas mountains, which means swervy, curvy roads and lots of glorious scenery. I'll see if I can't get some pictures up towards the end of the week. I also need to write a blog preparing my family for their upcoming trip!

But first...

So, like I said, Mike took us, and I took about a thousand pictures of the scenery - the Berber villages with everyone riding motorbickles, actual bicycles, or donkeys - lots of donkeys - and the hills (They might call them the "Atlast Mountains, but I know what mountains look like, OK, these were hills) that went on for what that seemed to go on forever. When we got to Agadir, there wasn't much time for anything, and I was dead tired, so we crashed. The next day I went in search of the synagogue. I walked 15 minutes down the main street before I asked for directions -- turns out the synagogue was, and I in no way kid you, NEXT TO our hotel. LITERALLY, the building over. I laughed out loud to myself. Lots of cops, and lots of people! The Agadir Jewish community is 80 people - total. (Rabat's is 200). But the place was packed. With Israelis. Two seperate groups of Israeli tourists, mostly older people, but some kids, too, had flocked to the south of Morocco to rediscover their roots and see places that they left 50 years ago. I sat next to one woman who had left in 1955 - one year before Morocco gained independence from the French (most left in '56). One man from Agdir made an tear-choked speech in Darija (which almost fully understood!) about how much the Israeli's invasion -- I mean visit -- meant to them. A few Israeli men then got up and took turns singing Moroccan Jewish songs. The Chivas, as usual was flowing steadily. As was the snuff. I've noticed it a great deal among older Moroccan Jews, actually.

At the "kiddush" they all invited me back to their hotel rooms for Shabbat lunch, but protested that I had friends waiting for me and I went back to my hotel, walked with my friends to the beach and spent the rest of the day sunning (not "tanning", "sunning", thank you very much). After Shabbat we went back to the hotel, to get changed for the concert we stumbled upon this antiques shop with Menorahs in the windows...I had to go in and talk to the guy for a while in Arabic. The Menorahs are really ancient, and well out of my price range, but some of them were gorgeous, and strangely made with only 6 candle-holders...but I did find a jade magen david necklace which bought...But back to the subject: I think I neglected to mention that the reason that a lot of AmidEasters decided to go to Agadir this weekend is because there was this massive "Concert for Tolerance" on the beach where a lot of big names (including, among others, Haifa Wahby, the scantily-clad Lebanese pop crooner) where 250,000 people were expected -- it ended up being more like 300,000... Anyway, we finally got changed and went to the sketch bus station to buy tickets for a 4am bus to Marrakesh, and then back to the beach for to meet up with friends.

The concert was AWESOME. Except for the sexual harassement. I won't get into that. But I will say that I felt like I was in the middle of a man-caf (you'll recall my term for the men-only cafes that litter the Middle East and N. Africa) only they weren't serving coffee. We got into the 1st tier of VIP (only a bit better than nothing) with little difficulty, but I still couldn't see because I am, as you know, exceptionally short. Sigh. It was alright, I got some guy to take a picture of Haifa for me.

Got on the bus at 4am and slept - alhumdulliah - all the way to Mararkesh with only sudden jolts and the sun waking me up occasionally. I brought my travel blanket with me. Yum. Way to think ahead, Shev. I don't know why, but I had a realization on that bus. In Hebrew, "Mazal" is "luck" or, in older Hebrew you might translate it as "the stars of fate". In Arabic, the words "Ma Zal" mean "still" or "not yet". Thoughts, anyone? Abba? I think they might ahve something to do with each other.

When I got into Marrakesh, I didn't know where I was. I had no orientation, and I had to tell my friend where to pick me up, so I went into the cafe next door and a guy showed me - on his iphone, using google maps - precisely where were were located. Still and all, it too my friend an hour to figure out that I wasn't at the central bus station, but instead at the CTM station. Ahhh! Anyway, it was alright, it gave me time to drink my coffee (so important), wash up, change my clothes, and do my homework!

The road to Oarzazate was even more beautiful (if that's possible) than the road to Agadir. The mountains seemed to change color every other turn. From red to yellow to blue to purple to green -- It was astonishing. And the Berber villages were vibrant -- people walking, riding, selling, wearing tattoos, carrying goats, and just living life.

Hillulah~ Close to Ouarzazate!
So we drove and drove and drove -- the friends of Shimon Bouskilla (the guy who drove me) sang Moroccan Jewish songs, ate Israeli treats (Botnim Amerikayyim!), smoked a little, and spoke in French a lot. I was in the car with them for 4 1/2 hours on the way there, and 8 1/2 on the way back. We became good friends.

When we got there - I had a fever. I didn't tell anyone -- there was nothing they could have done -- but I popped some ibuprofen and sucked it up. I felt better, and I was even able to eat the lamb. The lamb. The lamb. The lamb. I ate the lamb. I didn't think about it. Until I saw - as we were leaving - the herd. I saw the herd of lamb. And I saw the slaughterhouse. Full of lamb. In all forms. Alive and bleating, just slaughtered, half-way skinned, all the way skinned, and hacked into pieces. All lined up next to each other. I ate the lamb.

So the big Hillulah party happened on Shabbat, while I was in Agadir. But they had a special event this year -- a new sefer torah! There was a whole big party during the 2pm feast (of lamb) for the hachnasat sefer torah in addition to the usual auctioning off of candles, chamsas, and huge portraits of the Baba Sali. They sang songs - some of which I knew from Migdal Oz, some of which I knew because they were Ashkenazi (!) and some of which I knew from just general Jewish knowledge. It was all very exciting, and was only aided by the generous flow of Johnnnie Walker Black which itself was, as the party waned, collected for hoarding by the women in empty Sprite bottles and the like. And while the women didn't "participate" as such, they certainly lalalalaed great deal - sometimes even into the microphone...ow.

Most of the attendees were Israeli -- Moroccan-Israelis who came on huge, slow tour buses up through the mountains (some of which were just dirt!). It was such an interesting sociological gathering, not just because this is a group of people (Moroccan-Israelis) with whom I've had only limited exposure but also because of the variety of religious "appearances," if you will. Women in sheitls, men in black hats vs. women in spandex dresses and doilies, and men in shorts, sandals and yankee's hats. After the meal a few women took platters of treats around (see picture) consisting of dried fruits, cookies, and Mechiya (literally, in Hebrew (or Yiddish, for that matter): "The Thing That Causes Life" -- but its really just a bottle of Arak or some other foul alcoholic beverage). The woman usually ends up leaving this platter - or whatever's left of it - inside the tomb itself where people are constantly saying Tehillim (Psalms), getting blessings from Rabbis, and kissing the tombstone of the Tzadik.

So the grave itself (see picture) is located next to the synagogue (see picture -- note the King's portrait in the right hand corner. He's everywhere. Him and the Baba Sali.) which is located next to the furnace where people burn candles. Now when you think "burn candles" usually you think - oh, light the candle at the wick, let it burn down in honor of the dead person, right? Oh no. This was not that kind of "burning". This was BURNING. The procedure consists of literally throwing your candles into the belching flames of the type of fiery furnace you imagine Abraham was thrown into. It was HOT and there was a huge dripping waterfall of wax leaking out down the side of it and onto the floor (see picture). All told, the experience was well worth the drive.

I had to sleep over in Casablanca - there were no trains or buses when we got in at midnight. So I got on the first train (6:30am) to Rabat, and made it to school...but I crashed later that day. My shower felt like the dew of angels. My food from Baria tasted like ambrosia. My bed felt like the wool of all of those lambs slaughtered at the Hillulah. Glorious.

And now I'm back -- and so is the song of the post. Here we have Peter Bjorn & John singing "Young Folks" -- I really like this song, it reminds me of how I like my coffee got a touch of dark but its mostly light and fluffy. No sugar.

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