Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A day at the fair.

Earlier this week, a few of us Taroudant-area volunteers stopped in at the moussem for Sidi M’bark. A moussem is a local festival for a favored saint. That's pretty much all I know about the event.

In certain ways, it felt as if I were back home in central Nebraska, whooping it up at the county fair. Tent after tent of steaming barbecued meat; purveyors rolling carts of popcorn or ice cream, crowds of people out mostly to watch each other, children running the maze amid the legs of the crowd, the afternoon heat verging on oppressive.

The two main features of the moussem were the fantasia, in which horsemen charge across a field firing their rifles, and an open-air slaughterhouse for the camels whose meat served as the featured delicacy. That was especially hard to witness. Camels awaiting their turn stood or sat near the killing site, looking blissfully placid as camels do – until we realized their legs were tethered so they wouldn’t get away.

I never have been a county fair kinda gal.

The world of Islam.

Once in awhile, a friend or relative will email me, after reading about the latest atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan, concerned about the dangers of living in “the world of Islam.” Case in point: Last week’s daring protest in Kabul by Afghan women outraged over new laws that, for one thing, sanction marital rape. They faced beatings, stones, spitting from men in the streets, and possibly worse upon their return home.

The assumption is that life here mimics the violently oppressive culture of a handful of Muslim countries – think Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and to a less violent but still tyrannical extent Saudi Arabia, where, for example, it is illegal for a woman to drive, to appear in public without a veil, or to leave the house unescorted by a male relative.

The “world of Islam,” incidentally, encompasses more than half the globe. Not only all of the Middle East (most of which countries are not in fact mired in war or violence), but all of North Africa, perhaps half of sub-Saharan Africa, most of Eastern Europe, huge numbers in India and Indochine countries … not to mention ever-growing numbers in Europe and North America. To lump all of Islam into a few wartorn, politicized crises is short-sighted at best. (Then there’s the fact that Peace Corps operates only in politically secure countries, at the invitation of those countries; we would never be positioned in areas the U.S. government deems even slightly unstable, much less dangerous.)

The implication in my friends’ fears is that Islam is a faith intrinsically based on violence and hatred. Nothing could be further from the truth, despite what much western media would have us believe. It has, in certain desperate regions, simply been co-opted by hate-filled individuals looking using religion in the name of furthering their cause, in countries where conditions make the residents amenable to angry political messages.

The reasons for the crises in certain regions of the Mideast have everything to do with constant war, drought, famine and desperate need. Powerful factions who crave control use the people's desperation for their own political gain. Western invasions of those countries only push more people to the cause of local warlords, who promise not only freedom from occupation but the basic human needs of food and shelter.

Morocco has its problems, to be sure, but desperation over daily life is not among them, not on the whole at least. Those conditions that allow warlords to gain power are not in evidence here. To the contrary, most people seem optimistic that development will continue to improve their lives.

As for the treatment of women: Certainly there are differences in culturally appropriate behavior, for men and women, compared with the U.S., but this is not Afghanistan. Women are allowed to move about freely, and while most do cover their heads, it is by choice and custom rather than by force or law. New legal changes give women far more equality in marriage and divorce. Women can work and drive and travel and get the educations that will help them improve their futures.

While there are certainly aspects of the Koran regarding equality of women, for example, with which I might disagree, they do not involve literal physical oppression. And, in fact, I am given allowances for my behavior because it is known that I am not Muslim; aside from the occasional half-joking attempt to convert me, I am never, ever castigated for not being of the faith.

And, much as with the Bible, there are plenty of passages in the Koran that contradict each other, especially regarding the status of women. (In fact, many westerners don’t seem to realize that much of the Koran tells the same stories as in the Old Testament or the Torah: Abraham and Isaac are major players, and Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet, if not the prophet.)
Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are indeed dangerous places, and especially so for women who dare to claim equality. But it has to do with politics and control, not with Islam – even though they claim to be doing their evil work in the name of religion, much as Christianity has been so used over the millenia.

Those Afghan women who dared to protest in the face of violence and repercussions are brave indeed; here in my Moroccan village, I am far from the only woman cheering them on.


The highlight of my week has been finding someone to build and install a shelf over my kitchen counter. For the low, low price of 120 dirhams, my kuzina is phenomenally better organized … and you know how satisfying organization is to me. I was even inspired to go out and buy some plastic shelves to organize the mess under the counter as well. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll even be inspired enough to cook.

Cleaning up Casa … and the country.

Here’s an interesting article on the nation’s efforts to clean up slum areas of Morocco and help residents into better low-income housing. I don’t know anything at all about this issue; the costs to the residents seems prohibitive to me.

Quotes of the day.

“… for you are never so smart again in a language learned in middle age nor so romantic or brave or kind.” – Garrison Keillor, “Lake Wobegon Days”

“Once you are outside a place you can never go back. Not really.” – from “Sweetness in the Belly” by Camilla Gibb

1 comment:

LGW said...

Holy crap. You have an oven, buta stove AND fridge? And twice the storage I do.
600 dirhams doesn't go as far where I live!