Tahar Ben Jelloun discute l’homosexualité

L’écrivain marocain d’expression française, Tahar Ben Jelloun, écrit dans une tribune libre que « l’homosexualité n’est pas une maladie, encore moins un crime ; c’est un état de fait objectif ». Ce qui suscitera forcément l’inquiétude chez certains de ses concitoyens marocains.

Ben Jelloun a consacré sa vie à mettre en lumière les lacunes de son pays natal en écrivant sur l’inégalité hommes-femmes ainsi que sur d’autres thèmes (tels que l’identité marocaine, la pauvreté et l’inégalité, la corruption, et la violence au cœur du régime dictatorial du roi Hassan II) dans ses romans. Maintenant, il se prononce de nouveau sur une question très controversée dans le royaume chérifien.

Ben Jelloun a constaté que, puisque l’homosexualité « existe depuis l’aube de l’humanité », il faut que nous lui faisions face, au lieu de continuer à prétendre qu’elle n’existe pas, comme font la plupart des Marocains. Comme il avertit: « Ce n’est pas en fermant les yeux qu’on fera disparaître un problème. » Vu l’existence incontournable de l’homosexualité et des homosexuels, il pose la question: « Alors que faire? Les condamner, les exclure, les exterminer comme avait fait Hitler ? Ou bien admettre leur différence et accepter que si nous nous ressemblons en tant qu’êtres humains, nous sommes aussi tous différents les uns des autres. Chaque être est unique et singulier. Il n’existe pas de par le monde deux êtres identiques. C’est ce que j’apprends aux enfants que je visite dans les écoles. Je leur répète combien la richesse humaine est dans la diversité et que le racisme est ce qui nie cette diversité pour en faire des inégalités: la nature a créé des différences, l’homme en a fait des hiérarchies subjectives, des inégalités. Ceci est valable aussi bien pour la couleur de la peau que pour la tendance sexuelle. »

Les Marocains écouteront-ils le message de Ben Jelloun ? Probablement pas. Mais qu’importe ? Ben Jelloun (ainsi que les romanciers marocains Rachid O. et Abdellah Taïa) a entamé une discussion sur un sujet qui concerne beaucoup de monde mais qui est délibérément ignoré par la plupart de Marocains. Les grands changements sociaux n’arrivent pas tout d’un coup, mais après une long débat au cours duquel beaucoup de gens doivent se faire à quelque chose de nouveau dont personne ne parlait il y a à peine une génération. J’ai vu le début de ce débat quand j’étais au Maroc l’été dernier, et je suis très heureux que Ben Jelloun ait décidé de participer à cette conversation. On espère que ce coup de départ provoquera plus de discussions au Maroc, afin que les avancées que le Maroc a connu sous le règne de Mohammed VI puissent continuer à progresser.

Leaving Rabat

This afternoon I decided to venture down to the Rabat medina, something I neglected to do all last week. I took in the colours and the sounds, the people moving in and out in the narrow streets lined with stores, the occasional merchants shouting, listing their goods at the speed of an auctioneer, the sights of Berber rugs and an infinite variety of jellabas. I then went over to the Oudayas, the city’s kasbah, and sat down in the Andalusian Gardens, my favourite location in Rabat to just relax and take in the warmth of the afternoon. Today I sat down at the base of a staircase and cracked open a new Amin Maalouf book I had purchased earlier in the day. As I started to read, I heard a guitar behind me start to play a series of chords that sounded eerily familiar, before the guitarist started to sing

اليوم راني معاك غدوة تاني متمني
يكتب بالمكتوب ونكون حداك…

before coming to to the refrain, at which point I began to softly sing along:

هيه زينة ما درتي فينا
أنا وقلبي حوسنا عليك ما لقينا

I marvelled that I had just happened to have the good fortune to arrive at the precise moment when I was going to get a live performance of one of my favourite songs, Babylone’s “Zina”. As I listened to the guitarist sing about a lost love amidst the capital’s most beautiful greenery, I sat and pondered my time in Rabat and how painful it would be to leave my adopted hometown.

Rabat has become almost a part of me, from the labyrinthine medina to the cafés of Agdal to the wide and elegant streets of Hay Riad. I have had an amazing three months in Morocco, and I feel that not only am I leaving the country with much-improved Arabic (and French, but that’s another story), but that I have grown immensely as a person because of being in Morocco. Adapting to a new culture, especially one so different from that of the central United States, has been a unique learning opportunity not only to see another society up close, but also to overcome some of my greatest defects as a person, namely impatience, a good dose of self-righteousness, and inflexibility. But saying goodbye to loved ones is always painful, and so it will be difficult for me to leave Morocco. This country really is magical in a way that no one can truly describe in words. From the labyrinthine medinas full of buildings that hide exquisitely tiled courtyards to the small hanouts stocked floor-to-ceiling with food and other essential goods, from the green trees that cover the Atlas Mountains near Azrou to the hills rising above Fez and the bareness of the desert south, Morocco is fascinatingly beautiful. It is a country of immense linguistic and cultural diversity, a place that has mixed influences from the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe to create a cultural richness that will never cease to astound me. It may be time for me to go, but Morocco will always be with me.

Reflections on Ramadan in Morocco

Ramadan 2016 was the first Ramadan that I have spent in the Islamic world. It was a fascinating experience to see the whole world around me stop and change for a month to adjust to the very different schedule of the Islamic holy month.
I can say that I greatly enjoyed watching so many people fast for an entire month. The dedication that all the Moroccans I met exhibited to fast during daylight hours during the longest portion of the year was truly inspiring. I also greatly enjoyed being able to join my host family and friends for the breaking of the fast every evening at sundown with some of the most delicious food Morocco has to offer, including steaming hot bowls of harira soup.
That said, I do have several issues with the way Ramadan is done in this country. It made my city, Rabat, which is fairly boring for most of the year, seem like an absolute ghost town. Almost all restaurants and cafés, with only a couple of exceptions, were closed during the daytime. Given that so much of social life revolves around friends getting together at cafés in this city to talk and relax, this made the city feel almost empty at times. Then there was the fact that everyone had their sleep schedules massively thrown off by having to stay up later and wake up earlier to eat. For someone like me who is accustomed to only sleeping once a day and who does not like naps, that was a difficult adjustment.
On the whole, however, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life to spend Ramadan in Morocco and to be able to take in the magic of the holy month and appreciate its positive and negative sides up close.

Darija Class in Rabat

Last week I finished my month-long course of Moroccan Darija at Qalam wa Lawh in Rabat. Unlike the classical Arabic course that I took last month, this course was a one-on-one course that involved intensive (in that there was no one else for me to hide behind and I always had to speak and answer) two-hour classes five days a week. These classes forced me not only to practice my Darija, but also to improve my knowledge of Morocco. Each day I was given a new article to read dealing with some aspect of Moroccan culture, be it  weddings, Ramadan, immigration, or cuisine. In addition, I learned expressions and words to make my conversations deeper and more varied. Over the course of the month I became increasingly confident in my Darija skills, but I also feel that I developed a stronger appreciation for Moroccan culture through readings and conversations with my teacher, who frequently let me take our conversations off on tangents to delve into questions I had on Morocco, Moroccans, and their culture.

The Royal Mausoleum

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Royal Mausoleum in Rabat – an imposing structure located on a hill near the southern bank of Oued Bou Regreg, from which it looks out over the Medina towards the Casbah and, beyond it, the Atlantic Ocean. It is nothing if not elaborate, with intricate stain glass windows, carved marble, exquisite interior woodwork, and an air of elegance and authority only befitting the late king King Hassan II, who ordered its construction and whose remains are presently interred within it.

The Royal Mausoleum was completed in 1971, during the height of the so-called “Years of Lead”, when thousands of dissidents and regime opponents were jailed, disappeared, tortured, or died mysteriously under King Hassan II. Protests against the government were put down violently, with tanks sometimes being deployed onto the streets of Morocco’s cities. The army underwent purges, and even low-level officers who had taken part in coup attempts under orders from senior officers were sent to prisons like Tanzamart, where detainees were tortured and subject to appalling conditions. Less than half of the inmates there were still alive when the prison closed in 1991. (The Tanzamart prison serves as the backdrop for my favourite novel, the Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Cette aveuglante absence de lumière.) Yet people have a funny way of giving themselves amnesia, and photos of the late king are still regularly found displayed publicly around the country. Indeed, the late king remains quite popular in Morocco.

My visit took place in the evening, just before sunset, as a Quran recitation was taking place next to the tomb of the late King Hassan II, who constructed the building during his reign that lasted between 1961 and his death in 1999. The recited chapter began by invoking God, the compassionate and merciful, and while I got lost in the ensuing mellifluous classical Arabic, I got caught on that first line which begins almost every chapter of the Quran:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

As I exited the mosque into the brilliant orange light emanating from the sun setting over the ocean, an official guide approached me and asked me “Avez-vous bien visité?”, which began a conversation about the mausoleum lasting several minutes. I learned that Hassan II had used materials from all over the country to build the mausoleum, including sturdy cedar from the Atlas Mountains which makes up the majority of the interior dome. It was, I supposed, an attempt to show the monarch’s closeness to Morocco and the strong links that his family’s dynasty maintains with the people even in an era when monarchies are dying institutions globally.

Listening to that recitation, I was struck by the beauty and lyricism of the Quranic verses. But I also felt a deep sense of irony while listening to the Quranic reader invoke the name of the Compassionate and the Merciful sitting next to the tomb of a man who displayed little clemency or compassion towards anyone who stood in the way of his rule.

Transport in Morocco

Trains

Morocco has an excellent network of trains that are generally on time, relatively clean, and efficient. With rail lines stretching from the far south of the country to Tangier and Oujda, this is my preferred form of transport between different cities, as it is relatively inexpensive (you can go to Casablanca from Rabat and return for under ten dollars, and Fes for under twenty dollars). Taking the train also spares you the very lively experience of driving on Moroccan highways that, like city streets, tend to be slightly chaotic.

Urban transport in Rabat: Grands Taxis

These dirt-cheap taxis run fixed routes around Rabat. A grand taxi departs and heads to its next station when it is filled (i.e., four people in the nominally three-passenger backseat, and two people in addition to the driver in the front) and cost about fifty cents per person. Grands taxis are easily the cheapest form of transportation available in the capital.

Petits Taxis

The petits taxis do not have fixed routes and will take you to wherever you need to go. They charge by the distance you travel, with the metre starting at 1,40 dirhams with a minimum payment of 5 dirhams (i.e., even if the distance you travel only nominally costs 4 dirhams, you’ll still pay 5). These taxis, unlike the white grand taxis, are blue in Rabat. In Fes and Casablanca, however, they are red. Also, although metre use is very well established in the capital, I have found taxi drivers elsewhere unwilling to use the metre, preferring to ask for fixed prices to a destination (which is rarely favourable for a traveller).

Bus

Rabat’s buses are generally packed with people and can give off the air of being human sardine cans. I generally try to avoid them when possible.

Tramway

While only Rabat and Casablanca currently have tramways, the government is looking to expand urban light rail to Tangier and Marrakech. The tramway in Rabat is efficient and always very clean and at a price of sixty cents per ride no matter the destination, is my favourite form of transport. However, the system has its disadvantages: it does not service outlying neighbourhoods like Hay Riad, and there are only two lines serving the entirety of the Rabat-Salé metropolitan area, meaning that you may still have a considerable amount of walking to do if you rely solely on the tramway, even in the heart of the city.

A note on urban traffic: crossing streets or merging into another lane requires a certain degree of suicidal behaviour. Cars will generally adjust to avoid collisions with pedestrians, but will never let you cross if you simply wait for a clean, clear crossing as a rule-abiding, non-jaywalking American would normally do. Crossing lanes one at a time is not only common but often a good idea, and walking between cars stopped at a traffic light in order to cross a street is also quite normal. On the roadway, you have to use your car as a weapon – never expect cars to simply let you in, because if you do, you’ll be waiting for eons. Rather, aggressive merging – which can seem like daring other drivers to hit your car – done properly by someone familiar with the rhythm of Rabat’s traffic is an effective way of not getting squeezed out.

Moroccan Mint Tea and Henna Designs

Morocco is an Arabic country in Northern Africa. Beautifully ecologically diverse, Morocco is characterized by regions of both mountains and deserts. Today, the Arabic Flagship program at OU held a celebration of Moroccan heritage, complete with traditional Moroccan mint tea and henna designs. Moroccan mint tea is hot green tea flavored with sugar and spearmint leaves and it’s completely delicious. It’s poured from a special teapot, which makes the drink especially foamy and flavorful. Traditionally, it’s served three times, and the amount of time the tea has been steeping gives each glass a different flavor. If you want to make it at home, it’s fairly simple:

  • In a teapot, combine two teaspoons of tea-leaf with half a liter of boiling water, then allow it to steep for at least fifteen minutes.
  • Without stirring, filter the mixture into a different stainless steel pot, so that the tea leaves and coarse powder are removed.
  • Add sugar (about one teaspoon per 100 milliliters).
  • Bring to boil over a medium heat (this helps the sugar dissolve).
  • Fresh mint leaves can be added to the teapot, or directly to the cup.

While we were drinking the delicious tea, we were given henna designs. Henna is  a plant that, when mashed and mixed with water, stains the skin a dark brown color. It’s been used for centuries, and is still used in Morocco today, especially on brides. The paste is applied to skin, given time to dry, sealed with a lemon-oil mixture, then scraped off the skin. The stain deepens over time, but fades within about two weeks. It was such a cool experience and now I have a very unique stain on my left hand! Morocco is a country with so many unique and original traditions, and some day I hope to travel there!

henna is squeezed onto the hand drinking some delicious mint tea while waiting for my henna to dry coated with the lemon-oil mixture the finished product