Friday, June 4, 2010

Morocco, Chefchaouen--Palestine, Gaza /1

I'm finally able to connect to the net. I have been in(ternet)communicado for the past few days, since I arrived to Morocco to attend the international forum on the terroirs in Chefchaouen. I have kept a sort of journal and I will post here, with a few days of decalage.

May 30

Rabat airport is really nice and simple: not only it is a tiny terminal, but it only has one gate. In and out is really quick, less than 20 minutes, in spite of the queues at passport control. I was sitting next to an Algerian Engineer on the plane, and as usual, everybody speaks to me in English or French and I answer in Arabic and they say: "wow you speak really good Arabic" and then I say "it is because I am an Arab". This one didn’t register the fact that I answered in Arabic and so I borrowed his pen and filled the landing card in Arabic so he said: wow, you write Arabic really well. And I said…

The woman at the passport control made me fill it again in French. I said sorry for filling it in Arabic, you gave the option on the card. She said: you have to do it in French too.

6 hours in a mini bus, from Rabat to Chefchaouen. We stopped a few kilometers outside Rabat, to have coffee and use the toilets and get some food. I ordered coffee in Arabic. The waiter asked me: Are you Syrian or Palestinian? I said I am Lebanese. He said, welcome to you Lebanese, and may Hizbollah always be victorious. We talked about the resistance and HA and he told me that he was at a celebration of the liberation of South Lebanon a few days ago in Rabat. He then introduced me to the staff of the café.

First there is an endless alluvial plain, which goes on for a couple of hours. All irrigated, deep, dark soils, looks like drained swamps. Right before the first hill, we start seeing citrus plantations, and then a large river. We cross a railway bridge, and then we start going into the hills: the vegetation is very similar to that of the mashreq, olives, figs, pomegranate, grapevines, cereals, and oaks and pine trees. More than two hours later, the road starts climbing steeply: we enter the mountains of the Rif. The first chene liege appear (the oak trees from which they make cork), about an hour later, we cross what looks like a border town, but there are no borders. This is where we enter the former Spanish Morocco. Spanish starts slowly to replace French on the shop’s names. An hour more of shaking in the bus, and we are in Chefchaouen.

I got ejected at the Parador hotel, not far from the Bab al Qasaba place, one of the centers of the old city. I went out quickly to get something to eat and walk into town: it is buzzing with life. All sorts of people, kids, families, singles, mostly Moroccan, fill the streets. I walk a bit and then hear some really nice music coming out of a shop. I walk in there and he has all the Arabic music one could think of, from Moroccan to Sheikh Imam and Haifa Wehbeh. We talk a bit in Arabic (after the: "you speak really good Arabic" bit…) and then a man comes in and greets me and we start talking about Arabic music and literature and he shows me his book: the Rose of Chefchaouen. His name is Mohammad Belhaj Benkhanou and the book is a translation into Arabic from the Spanish. It was originally written by Mohammad Seebary. I buy a copy and ask him to sign it. He tells me about Chefchaouen, the city of literature and poetry, founded 500 years ago when the Andalousians crossed the sea after they were driven away by the reconquista. We are Andalusians he tells me, and we only speak Arabic. We have a local dialect, more an accent but it is not another language. We are proud to welcome you in your country Morocco. I tell him it is my country, I belong to it. بلاد العرب أوطاني

Arabic is my language, my nation and my identity.

These are some photos: first the plain on the road from Rabat, then the foothills, and then Chefchaouen, the plaza, the hotel Parador (really lousy), and one side of the Qasaba

May 31

I woke up and hour too early for my first meeting. I decide to take a wall in the old city: it is 6:45 AM and people are slowly waking up. The souvenir shops owners have thrown a plastic cover on their stuff and gone to sleep. At the Bab el Qasaba place, the voice of an Arabic news program reaches me from a small café. I walk in and there is a handful of early customers sitting at a rickety chair, all eyes fixed on Al Jazira. I order coffee and watch with the: Israel has attacked the Gaza Humanitarian flotilla, there are deads, wounded and prisoners. No one says anything, everybody is watching with intense interest. Next to me a man rolls a kif cigarette and smokes in silence, eyes on the screen. My stomach curls into a knot not even passive smoking can ease. I leave the café.

Everywhere I go on that day, Al Jazira is on and bringing news of the latest Israeli massacre. It is all very predictable. Arab regimes are lame, Arab people are in the street in the Arab world and in other capitals, the Turks are infuriated, and for a cause: many of the dead are from Turkey. Nawwaf Salam, the Lebanese deleguate to the UN who happens to be chairing the security council is convening and urgent meeting, the US is apologectic of Israel, the EU is trying to hide, and the dead are gone. This is the history of Israeli aggression in our region.

People I talk to are all whole heartedly with the Palestinian cause and against Zionism. This includes Moroccans from all walks of life, writers, researchers, intellectuals, farmers and rural people. There are 3 Moroccans whose fate is unknown among the people on the boat.

Chefchaouen is breathtaking, and the landscapes are fabulous. I go through the motions of the day without really thinking about it. I will come back when Palestine is liberated and Zionism is gone and enjoy it.

1 comment:

Bashir said...

It is always great to read you Rami.