Friday, 18 January 2013

The Slap

Every country has a set of social guidelines and etiquette. Some countries are very similar to each other and some are vastly different. For instance, in general Australians are quite informal when greeting each other, even if that person is a stranger. Hi, hello, G'day, how are ya?... the list goes on. In Morocco however 9 times out of 10 when making a formal greeting you will say 'Salaam alaykum' (peace be upon you) to which the other person will respond "Alaykum Salaam" (and onto you peace). That part is pretty easy and within a few days you've no excuse for getting it wrong.

Some things though aren't that straight forward, they require you to stop and think before acting or speaking, some may even require you to break habits that are usually perfectly normal actions when back on home turf. Over time though you eventually get used to following these new and slightly obscure rituals, of course every now and then you may make a mistake, and when you do, most of the time anyway, your new hosts, friends and aquaintances are more than understanding. Most of the time.

After spending a night in the mountain town of Imilchil we loaded the car ready for a drive through the dramatic valleys and gorges of the Atlas Mountains. As we came towards the outskirts of town there was a local man dressed in a vivid blue gown and white turbin trying to hitch a ride by the road. We stopped and loaded him in. "Salaam alaykum" he greeted me with, "Alaykum Salaam" I confidently replied, a big glowing smile quickly appearing on his face. That was the end of the conversation for me but it didn't matter. My new aquaintance had a kind twinkle in his eye, I could already sense that this little journey down the road was going to be interesting.

Our new passenger's named Moha is the man who recites the prayer over the microphone that can be heard blasting from the speakers of the local mosque regularly throughout the day and night, a truly familiar sound for any traveller who has ever visited an Islamic country before. For Sophia the rythmic chorus of the daily prayer is a memory she holds dear with her childhood in Morocco and within minutes they were both reciting it together at the top of their lungs, it was like an arabic duet being performed for a low budget episode of Moroccan Idol. Verse one complete and our plans had immediately changed. We would now stop at the nearby markets with Moha to buy some dates and fruits before continuing on to his home in the next town to meet his wife Eto and his 4 daughters who would prepare lunch for us.

Moha lives in a very humble traditional mud brick home, no running water, no electricity and no furniture except a small table in the centre of the room. The house iswell maintained and still has a homely feel even in its simplicity although I dread to think what it must be like sleeping there on the floor through the depths of winter. Moha's wife and children seemed genuinely pleased to meet us and the girls quickly rushed us off to see the animals out back before showing us how they make their bread and their lban (sour fermented milk) and butter. I snapped a few pics but I could sense that they weren't yet comfortable with me capturing images of their faces, my camera made its way back to my pocket.

Lunch was served, lamb, tomato, potato and carrot tagine. Soph refused the lban, she's never been big on dairy but as the small jug, rimmed with flies, made it round to me I couldn't wait to try, it looked so fresh and pure unlike any of the pasturised milk served to us in plastic bottle back home. Whoooooo! Damn that's sour, that was going to take some getting used to! The tagine looked delicious. I could already see Moha and his family pushing the small available amounts of meat in the dish over to our sides of the plate, no matter how little they have Moroccans are always extremely generous. I stood up and snapped a pic of our beautiful meal before sitting down, grabbing some bread and getting stuck in.

WHACK! Holy shit, I just got slapped on my hand by the 13-year old sitting next to me! There she was shaking her head and waiving her left hand in the air, I immediately knew what I had done wrong. In a country where modern bathrooms equipped with flushing water and toilet paper are few and far between, one hand is used for "cleaning" and the other is used for "everything else". Obviously I hadn't put the "everything else" hand into the food...... Morocco sure wasn't going to be a forgiving country for a left-handed man. Probably not the sort of place to find a set of left-handed scissors.
A quick stop at the local markets.

The elben making machine.
Keep your left hand in your pocket!

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