So many smiles

August 23, 2011

This morning I was headed out of town, walking out my door just at the right time to catch the bus if it wasn’t running early. I didn’t have any plans that were too pressing, but transportation has been so off lately that a missed chance can mean sitting at the road for another hour. As I opened the front door I found my old man neighbor standing outside… and apparently he felt like talking. I couldn’t very well pass up the chance to hang out with him, so I found my bus-timing thrown off. All for the better, though, as I’ve learned here in my village.

My dear old neighbor was in a fine mood this morning. Before I knew it he was off telling me all about his trials and tribulations with the id bu pijou, the men who drive pick-up trucks around to buy prickly pears off of people. This time of year most people in my village and in the surrounding countryside take their donkeys out into the fields and hills to gather prickly pears, what they call taknarit, to sell. For a large crate of the fruits they’ll get maybe 30 dirhams, or about $4.00.

As we were standing together one truck drove by and my neighbor just gave the man a wave. He started off talking about where the man was driving to, wondering if he’d fill up down the street or not. Another truck drove by, with another rolling wave, and this one really set old Baba Ahmed off.

Now my old neighbors’ Tashlheit is really hard for me to understand. Both of them go on and on and I’m lucky if I catch half of what they say. This story was no different. I think I understood what I did in the end just because he talked for so long! If I sat with them more I’d learn a lot, though. Anyway, the deal was this bu pijou stopped by one morning to see if Baba Ahmed had some taknarit to sell. I think he had one crate, while my old lady neighbor was out gathering some more. Whatever the case, Baba Ahmed said he’d sell a crate to the man for 700 riyals, or 35 dirhams, or about $4.20. The man replied that that was just a bit much. The discussion turned to the quality of the fruit, to which the man agreed they were indeed pretty nice prickly pears. After a bit Baba Ahmed said, “You know what, I’ll sell them to you right now for 600 riyals,” or 30 dirhams, or about $4.00. Still the man hesitated and said no. To which Baba Ahmed said, “I gathered these nice pears and brought them all the way home. Here I am saying I’d sell them to you for 600, when if I had come to you at the road (a 15-minute walk away) I’d have sold them to you for 800. So go ahead and give me 600, and I’ll sell them to you here and now.” Who knows why, but the man still wouldn’t do it even though the price was about average. Round and round about they went, according to my old man neighbor. Somehow the bu pijou moved on without the crate of pears. I can’t say as I understood everything very well, but after listening to dear Baba Ahmed for about 10 minutes, I think that’s the gist of what happened.

Our conversation, or rather his monologue, went on for probably 15 minutes all told. A few times I started to say, “I… I… I should go…” But I could never get to the full, “I need to go to Wednesday today.” I just didn’t have the heart. It was great to have a chance to hang out with him rather than just pass on by as I normally do when he’s sitting on the front step. And it was without a doubt worth it. When I finally got it out that I was going somewhere, he gave me his usual “God help you” and let me move on. I got to thinking, maybe sometime this week I should just go sit with him. Maybe tomorrow morning, that would be nice.

As I walked out of the edge of town and passed the school, I noticed a man way up ahead of me walking towards the road. The gait was familiar, though he wasn’t wearing his usual beige with an orangish-brown covering. The white and blue threw me off, but I was pretty sure it was him… and I thought I really didn’t feel up to chatting today. I slowed down to change our meeting point to somewhere closer to the road, which was still a solid ten minutes away from where I was. The thing is, the guy is one of the nicest people in town. He likes to talk a lot, though, and I wasn’t feeling up to it. But if I slowed down to stretch out the time between us, I’d surely miss the bus. Finally I told myself to buck up and move along. Here I was semi-dreading the socializing that I’d have to do…

But as I got closer and he turned to look back my way, still far off, I suddenly realized I was smiling. It was the same involuntary smile that I find on my face rather often, when I think I feel exactly the opposite. I’ll be in a funk, not feeling up to talking to people (just like I experience back in America sometimes, but then with socializing in English), not at all excited about coming up to someone, but as soon as the interaction is upon me I’m smiling and sincerely happy to be chatting.

Not only was I, apparently, honestly happy to meet up with the Hajj, but the involuntary smile made me even happier. There’s just something about that sort of subconscious comfort and enjoyment that highlights just how much this place feels like home.

I get the same feeling sometimes when I head over to my host family’s house every once in a while. In my mind I think I don’t wanna see anyone, I just want to go to bed so I can wake up in a new day that might be better, but I go over to visit because it’s been too long since my last visit. The guilt finally pulls me over to their place. The amazing thing, though, is that the moment I hear my host mother’s steps coming toward the door, or I hear little Anwar’s “shoon, shoon?” (because he can’t quite get out the “shkoon?” to ask who’s knocking), I feel myself lighting up in a smile. By the time they finally open the door I’m holding back a big grin and I don’t know where the earlier hesitation has vanished to.

So this morning when I came upon the Hajj we settled in to our usual pleasantries. He’s a good conversationalist, usually talking my ear off about something with a few questions thrown in here and there. He especially enjoys talking about religion (in an open-minded, not-the-least-bit-pressuring sort of way) and learning new English phrases about God. Today I attempted to teach him “We thank God” (nshkrr-rbbi in his language). He got “We God” down pretty well, next time he’ll have it for sure.

As we chatted we walked slowly, rather haltingly, toward the road. He even stopped several times when he wanted to emphasize a point. While I was enjoying listening, I found myself looking in the direction of where the bus would come, thinking how nice it would be to actually catch it. A transit van stopped along the road and sat for a while, apparently waiting for us. Finally the driver honked his horn and waved his hands to ask if we were headed to Tiznit. I told the Hajj that I was going to Wednesday, but I knew he was going to Tiznit as he always does. Even then, he waved the driver on his way. Here I was hoping to catch a ride, while this friendly old man passed up on a chance purely to continue his conversation with me.

When we got to the road he even sat next to me under the bus stop shelter rather than pass over to the other side where he could wave down a ride. He asked if I wanted to go sit over there, but I said I’d rather stay on the side for my direction. The conversation dropped off a bit, but we were still chatting by the time a transit van headed in my direction came along. He kept talking as I stood, then asked if I was going to wave my hand to see about a ride. I said I would and he told me to go along. Again, I felt a little bad leaving a good conversation and a kind old man, but I’d reached the point when I needed to take whatever ride I could get. Thankfully I don’t think he took it too hard, either.

This is an awfully long story, probably not too interesting to a lot of people, but I wrote it more for my own memory. What I mean to say to anyone else about all this is how nice it is to take the time to spend with people rather than always be rushing to make appointments or get to business. I imagine I won’t be able to enjoy this luxury back in the States quite as much as I can here. It’s just a different way of life.

And finally I want to remember about how my day ended just as well as it started. Just now as I was walking back into town I saw several people, some I know, others I don’t know. Even the ones I don’t know said hello, which usually, but doesn’t always, happen. The ones I do know were awfully nice and seemed just as happy to see me as I was to see them. One little girl was sitting with a friend when she saw me walking up. She jumped up and walked over to give me a kiss on the cheek. Her friend didn’t come over, but she still said hello with a smile.

As I passed the mosque I saw my old man neighbor sitting with a couple other old men in their little semi-secluded corner, as they do every evening. I never know whether I should wave and say hello to them or respect their distance, so I just say hello anyway. My neighbor used to always give me a slight greeting while motioning that perhaps I shouldn’t look over the wall quite so much. Tonight he gave me a real wave along with the other men. We’ve come a long way, the two of us! Another old man up there laughs every time he sees me as he gives me a hearty greeting. He was there tonight, laughing and waving his raised cane as a hello. I felt a little bad as I rounded the corner and he was still calling out his laughing how are you’s in my direction, but I figured it’d be better to pass on as usual out of respect for their privacy. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mind.

I saw a few more people on the remaining 60-second walk to my house and enjoyed smiles from them too. What a comforting thing… Home feels so good.

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~ by marjmallow on August 23, 2011.

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