Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From Berber Whisky to Camel Blankets

Berber Whiskey is the tea they drink in the South, and it gets stronger as you get closer to the desert. The Saharoui (from the word Sahara, which means just "desert" in Arabic) Berbers are very particular about their strong, black tea and speak Berber, not Darija, among themselves (my one word: "Yukhrim". It means "cold"). In one day in Ouarzazate we drank five seperate cups of tea, and I heard more proper FusHa than I have all year. Perhaps the hospitality has to do with a slower pace of life, the lethargic nomadic movement, the openness of the sky and abundance of the stars. The Quranic Arabic that they speak feels crumbly, like the shrines that pepper the horizon and the mountains of the anti-Atlas.

Walking through the kasbahs, visiting the co-ops with our (unpaid, and hew knew it) guide, we stumbled across the old synagogue of Ouarzazate. There are currently exactly 2 Jewish families living in the old Kasbah we were wandering, and the synagogue, of course, is more of an attraction than anything else, with fake Hebrew/Aramaic texts on display, weird-looking Hamzas on the wall where the ark probably once stood, and a huge Hannukiah who's function was explained to us by the most nervous, timid yet sweet Berber man I had yet met. His name is Hassan and he is the grandson of the last guard of the synagogue and had inherited the care of the building from his father, along with the loom or "Anwal", a word which he claims comes from the Hebrew (?), which he still toils over every day. I came to Ouarazazate - having left my travel blanket in Chefchaouen - with a mind to purchase a blanket that I could take with me for the rest of my travels/life. And I had found it. Hassan's "anwal"-made camel-hair creations were the lightest, most beautiful, multi-purpose coverttures (French!) I had ever laid eyes on. But it was Shabbat, so I told him we'd come back later.

We came back later -- at around 7pm. But Hassan wasn't there. So we asked some of the teenagers loitering outside to help us find him. One of them walked to the house of Hassan, the synagogue key-keeper. Turns out there are two Hassans. And no one knew where the second one - our one - was, so I spent the next night in the desert where it was super-"Yukhrim", wishing I had Hassan's blanket.

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