Jul 21, 2005

The Ideal Moroccan

The ideal Moroccan man is tall and slender. His face is full of success and steadfastness. He has perfect teeth, perfectly white. At a lover’s distance, you might notice the scent of tobacco and perhaps frankincense from his breast pocket. He's a man you can believe. He takes great care in his appearance. His instinct is to be dapper but he confines himself to understatement. He insists that one of his daughters always prepare his travel kit, with his razor, foam and aftershave, his tooth brush and hair brush, his favorite clippers and file. And from time to time this same daughter, the one who has never deserted him, will pluck out the gray hair in his eyebrows and the stray hair between his eyes. She might also give him a facial message so that he always looks calm and untroubled, no matter if just a few hours ago there has been a disaster, if for example, he has accidentally hit someone driving home. Of course, he stopped and tried to help the person, but it was too late, and by the time the ambulance arrived, an old man on a bicycle had died.

This is one of those terrible ironies because the ideal Moroccan might be a prosecutor. And well respected. When you see his picture, you'd think he was the king, then when you see the way people greet him, the way they bow and scrape. They will kiss his hand if they can get it. He would prefer they didn't, and often hides his hand, because he is a humble man, from an enormous family further to the south. His father had 17 wives, and those were just the ones that bore children. But what makes him the ideal is that he is both traditional and modern. He knows the latest intracasies of the law, and while he doesn't use the internet himself, he makes sure the court house is well wired. At the same time, if he found out his daughters weren't virgins, he would kill them. Or, he would send them to military school, the college in Rabat for wayward girls, where one day they could become secretaries or staff in some barracks or far flung government agency. But not to worry, they obey him to the hilt. Of course, there have been problems along the way, discrepancies, things he cannot talk about. But that was before. Everyone had to survive then.

His house is immaculate. Each object has its place and he insists that everything and everyone in his house have their place, their role and arc. His wife is very beautiful. Maybe not the beauty she was once, but still distinguished in her own way. Once a week she goes to a medium who assures her that next week will bring something new and exciting and that her husband is faithful to her, no matter what she suspects. If she has not always been a kind mother, if she does not call her daughters on their birthday, it is because she has had a hard life. Her mother in turn was a monster, cold as Atlas Mountain winter, and also, let's not forget, she was married before, and beaten. The ideal Moroccan man saved her, even though she is illiterate. Because of her beauty he took her for his wife and had three children and still now, at 55, she is striking, interesting, always beautifully dressed. You would want to sit down and talk to her, through an interpreter, because she does not even speak French.

The ideal Moroccan man has a perfect sense of humor. He also knows just how to make fun of people; he can capture the essence of people in an instant. In middle age, he is proud and prosperous. He likes to hunt wild boar. Perhaps, he is a prosecutor or a government official. He is an expert when it comes to crime. He knows criminals better than they know themselves.

His children are loyal and praised by their teachers. His friends revere him. They honor him constantly. He enjoys the respect, and he is used to it. He expects respect, but in a good-natured way. “No one is kinder that this man,” you will hear people say about him. "No one is better in his profession."

"Isn't he calm?" people remark. "Have you ever seen anyone more calm that this man?" Yet, lately, he has been having horrific dreams. He can barely stand going to bed. As difficult as his days, with the problem of the prostitutes in the hotels and the corruption in the nightclubs, his nights are filled with crimes and horror. He wakes up like a man who has just been to work for 24 straight hours.

Isn't he calm and yet underneath he is on fire. Did you know he has premonitions? When his mother died he knew beforehand. Once he called one of his friends to say that he'd dreamt a pay increase was coming and sure enough it was. Another time, his wife had a car accident, not major, but he called her moments afterward wanting to know if she was okay? She is never okay anymore, but he cannot change that. And then there was the time his favorite daughter was contemplating running away to France. He dreamed that she was trying to escape the country and as soon as he woke up he told her of his dream and she was so stunned that she told him everything. Not everything but enough so that he knew how right he had been.

And if he has his secrets, his other lives, no matter. If he has learned to accept the unacceptable, it couldn’t be helped. If you understood anything about this country you would let it go. Yes, because here is the great truth: in Morocco you learn from an early age to look for people’s weaknesses. And by extension to show none of your own. How else can you survive? You must never forget, an eye for an eye. Memory as instinct. Moroccans can be very cruel to each other. No more cruel than say Americans, but it is the rifle to the handgun. Here, the injury is inflicted from a distance. You may not even know who fired the shot. It may take years before the bullet reaches you. And you may wonder, what did I do to deserve this?

Look into those dark eyes and they may say to you, I can hurt you. But why would you want to do that? You say. For fun, they might reply, laughing. And it is nothing. Just a joke. A test. Of course, you can't be sure. You have to trust in a place where there is no trust. Still, don’t pass judgment, no more than you would in an old volcano.

No comments: