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Saturday, October 16, 2010



This is a short entry concerning an experience I had today on souq day.

I woke up late to a cold bedroom and dragged myself reluctantly out of bed. I pulled on my clothes and walked into the kitchen, put on some music, and made coffee. As is my custom, I went up onto the roof to drink it. There was the new stovepipe with its fresh collar of cement that my host father/landlord applied only yesterday to prevent any future flooding of my study. I added some water to the cement to keep it from cracking as it dried. Looking out from the house I could see that it was a sunny day with high clouds scudding across the sky. The sunlight held very little heat however and the breeze was cold on my face.

I walked aimlessly into souq and wandered among the tents for awhile. I spoke briefly to merchants that I knew and had tea in a small shop with a man about my age from a nearby village. I just didn’t feel much like talking with people today, I wasn’t really in a bad mood or feeling particularly stressed, just somewhat anti-social. I didn’t buy anything and was on my way home when I ran into Fatima.

Fatima is one of my favorite old Berber ladies in my village. The female culture is very difficult to learn about as a male in this society for many reasons. But Fatima is my main window into the other half of life here and she invites me over for tea occasionally, which is what she proceeded to do as we stood off to the side of the road talking. I promised to come by at four, expecting a pleasant and very formal tea in her little sitting room. This was the case last time I went over for tea; I sat on a hand woven carpet on the floor of the salon and looked around the room at the nice sideboard with its silver teapots and at the rich carpets and plump cushions lining the walls. Salons are often the fanciest room in a Moroccan home, and they are also the only room a guest usually sees. The kitchen is off limits; I am normally entertained and impressed in the salon while being fed lots of tea and various food items such as this year’s almonds or maybe some bread and fresh olive oil.

The bread here, called aġrum in Tam, is a white bread shaped into flat round loaves. Many people here get their bread from the shops on the main street. Where it is stocked fresh every morning, I have often wondered where it comes from. It is one of my favorite things here in Morocco, fresh bread every morning. I am not entirely sure how I’ll go back to eating sandwich bread back in the states. Maybe I won’t, we’ll see. The bread is always perfectly baked and there always seems to be enough to go around, but never so much to leave “day-olds” the next morning.


Four o’clock rolls around and I step out of my house onto the deserted street. All of the commotion from Souq is gone and the people have returned to their respective villages with their purchases. Ducking into a small alley, I walk up to Fatima’s small, mud house. The door is ajar but I knock anyway and wait for an answer. I voice inside the house yells something in Arabic and I announce myself. The voice does not belong to Fatima, but I soon hear her sweet, lisping Tam explaining who I was. A young girl, about my age, comes down the stairs and beckons me to follow. She is lovely, and I am mesmerized; I have never seen her before. She leads me upward and I start to turn into the salon as before. She shakes her head and points farther upstairs. I continue climbing and find myself in a large kitchen with a high ceiling. Fatima is there, next to a large flat table covered with about ten rounds of unbaked bread dough. Another woman I didn’t know sits next to her and looks up at me quizzically, but not startled, and Fatima explains that I was invited for tea. I am given a small plastic stool to sit on and tea was put on a small butane burner in to corner. The girl takes her place next to Fatima and explains that she is her daughter, now living in the south near Agadir, she is up here for a visit.

The girl, whose name is Naima, sits across from Fatima on the floor; each has earthenware dish before her into which she throws premeasured lumps of risen dough, deftly using the dish to pat them out into rounds. This is done with incredible speed and practiced grace; there is a sort of beauty to the whole affair and I find myself caught up in watching them work. We speak in short simple sentences, but most of the time is spent in comfortable silence and I feel as though I am part of something I have not yet experienced. I imagine Fatima teaching Naima how to do bake bread, as her mother had taught her, on the floor of this same kitchen and now here they sit facing eachother, their hands moving in mirrored rhythm, the girl grown up and married to a man on the other side of the country.

I watch as layer upon layer of unbaked rounds is piled upon the table, with clean cloths between them to stop them from sticking together. I am still confused though, why so much bread? I ask and Fatima explains quietly in her soft Tam, that this is the bread for the entire town. I am still confused for a moment, and then it hits me; this is the bread that I buy every morning in the shops on the street. This is the bread that I see the boys running back and forth to the cafés and hotels in the afternoons. I have been eating Fatima’s bread for 5 months and never thought to ask where it came from. When do we ever ask where our food comes from in the states? Usually we don’t really want to know. But here I am able to complete the cycle in my mind. There are no unknowns left the equation. This bread comes from the golden fields of wheat I see caressed by the morning breezes in late summer. This is the wheat that is cut by hand and stacked in sheaves along the road; the same wheat that is then sold in massive sacks at the Souq every week. Then being ground into flour either by hand or by the machine that people wait in line to use down near the square. The flour that Fatima then uses to make her bread that I buy every day. It is so simple and elegant and for the first time I feel a sense of loss, wondering at the
degree of separation between us and our food back in the states.

The water boils for tea and they add peppermint, a rare treat; peppermint tea is my favorite of all of the varieties I have been served here. The room fills with the smell and we continue to talk, the conversation speeding up as I adjust to hearing women speaking Tam instead of the men that I normally talk with. The tea is ready and Naima pours and serves it to us as we all sit around a small round table on our plastic stools. Tiny shortbread cookies are brought in and a plate of zmita, the baked flour I was served a lot during Ramadan, is here as well. But of course, there is fresh bread, and sweet olive oil to dip it in.

When tea is finished, Fatima begins bake the bread in her butane oven, which has two shelves. It is a quick process and most of it is done with a flat wooden spatula and by hand. The smell of fresh bread mixes with the earthy smell of the house and the sharp scent of peppermint tea that still lingers. It creates a magical, indescribable fragrance that I feel is uniquely Moroccan; it is one of many things I will miss when I go. I can sense a bond slowly forming between myself and this place, it is like the bonds I have felt in the past with the parks I have worked at or really any place that I have stood still long enough to know. These bonds are forged over many months, but they are permanent. I firmly believe that I leave a piece of my soul behind in the places that I love and that that piece is what calls me back as the years go by, like a child forgotten on a road trip.

I sit for awhile longer and talk to the women in the kitchen, watching agrum slide in and out of the oven and watching the golden leaves on the poplars outside the window quake and shimmer in the afternoon sun. It has been a wonderful tea, and I hope to come back soon. I thank Fatima and Naima and walk back toward my house, blinking in the sunlight and reflecting on what I had just seen.


Later that night, I find myself sitting drinking tea alone in a café, my friends are inside cheering for a football match that I am uninterested in. I watch people on the street for awhile and then get up to go. On my way home, I stop to buy a sandwich at one of the shops. My friend Hamid makes it for me, wraps it up, and hands it to me. As I hold it in my hands, I realize that the bread is still warm from the oven, and finally I am able to understand why.

Another day draws to a close and I feel that I am the better for it…

Thanks for reading,