Casablanca, Morocco is in northwestern Africa along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the people who live there are Islamic by religion. They follow the Koran and believe in the prophet Mohamed. It is a very beautiful country with majestic mountains, abundant palm trees, the most gorgeous sandy beaches and exquisite food.
As an American citizen growing up in Casablanca, I had many experiences quite different from those of American children living in the United States. One experience in particular was when I was four years old and I attended part of a poor Islamic wedding with our maid. She had asked my parents permission to take me along.
It wasn’t very often that I had such a privilege. Usually, I was in the company of my family and living the lifestyle we had as foreigners. But that afternoon was different. At this gathering I might as well have been a Moroccan child with her mother, holding her hand and quietly following wherever she led.
Safia had no car and didn’t know how to drive, so we took public transportation to reach our destination. The bus we boarded was old, dilapidated and full of quiet, sweaty, melancholy people. Since there were no empty seats available to us, we stood in the crowded aisle. She held onto a leather strap above her head and I held onto her. This prepared us for the many jolts we were to encounter on our journey to the other side of the city. It took approximately thirty-five minutes before we stepped down the exit steps. The maid walked quickly and I kept up the pace, while gazing at the fumes left behind, as the bus drove out of sight.
We started out at a house where only women were present. Men were not invited. These ladies sat on cushions scattered about the floor, drank mint tea and socialized. They remained this way for well over an hour when suddenly, one woman kicked off her shoes and stepped up onto a short round table in the middle of the room. She drew the attention of the guests who scurried forward, crowded around the little table and started to clap. When they did this, they cupped the palms of their hands to create the sound of a drum. Some women also made loud, piercing sounds with their mouths. A few others placed terra cotta drums under their armpits, which they drummed to produce the most wonderful rhythmic beat.
I stood and watched as the dancer, with her arms in the air and her bare feet stomping furiously on the table, slowly removed the scarf from her head. She took it, wrapped it around the top of her thighs and knotted it in the front. Her long black shiny hair fell onto her back. She turned in circles, shook her behind vigorously and danced wildly yet traditionally, swaying her head around as the drummers declared the rhythm. It was a wonderful and mesmerizing sight! As I stood and watched, I noticed that in this small room with bare walls and no furniture, everyone was happy. They clapped, cheered, made music and radiated with festive delight!
When the time came to go outdoors and wait for the men, the dancer stepped down from the table, unknotted the scarf, unraveled it and meticulously placed it back on her head, making sure to tuck in every single wisp of hair. She and the rest of the women then covered themselves with long robes called caftans before going into public view. We all went outside and stood by the intricately sculpted wooden front door.
It was midday, the sun was shining brightly above our heads and the beautiful weather befit the special occasion. I had noticed a slight breeze brushing against my anxious face as I stood by Safia, my eyes fixated ahead, in anticipation of what was to come. The paved street was wide and the whitewashed stucco houses stood closely together. There were no plants or flowers adorning the fronts of the residences. There was no lawn. As a matter of fact, there was no sign of plant life anywhere in sight. It was a populated neighborhood with hardly anyone around and it was with great expectation and excitement that these women calmly and patiently awaited the men.
We didn’t remain there long because about fifteen minutes later, the guys showed up with a horse and cart. They came into view suddenly, after taking a sharp turn between buildings. The black and white horses that led the way, kicked up dry dirt with their hooves which created a sort of haze around them. This made it hard to see their outline clearly from a distance. We watched intently as they moved closer and closer toward us. No one in our group said a word. The driver, a balding middle aged man, sat up front and dangled his whip before the horses in aim of encouraging them onward. They responded accordingly.
When the men finally reached us, we went behind the cart and paraded together down the street. We clapped and made music while a young man danced on the back of the moving cart. This fellow, with curly black bangs falling slightly onto his sweaty forehead, was barefoot and his light beige pants were rolled up. Some of the people walking beside me held large cones of sugar for the bride and groom. I had no gift but walked along with everyone else, bound for the wedding, clapping my hands and joining in on the celebration.
Suddenly, to my great surprise, the maid came over and guided me away from this scene and on the path toward home. We walked to the nearest bus stop by a large boulevard and stood there, without saying a word, waiting for our ride. A woman, wearing a gray caftan and a white scarf covering half her face, walked by us with a basket of groceries on her head. She did not seem to have any problem keeping it balanced. I knocked my sandals against the bus pole, as sand had gotten lodged between my toes. Birds on a telephone wire chirped. Mopeds drove by with their loud, broken exhaust pipes. Cars honked their horns. The day went on as usual, although for me something was forever different. I did not realize it yet, but I would spend the rest of my life holding on to a memory. The memory of a day spent in the life of a Moroccan child.
©Jean Ligtvoet 2000