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July 8, 2008 Kaskrut Kidnapping ;)

I climbed off the tranzit after my visit to Ait Brahimi (not a name you’ll find on any map, but that’s the tribe who live there). I hadn’t gotten two steps, literally, before I heard, “Kawtar! Adud ad-tsut attay!” That’s the first full sentence of Tamazight I learned; it means “Come here and drink tea!” It was being offered by one of my aunties, so I decided to accept. I told her that I’d set down my things in my (inshallah) apartment, first, and then be right back. When I returned, though, her house was empty. I poked my head into the front door, and then into the two rooms that were right off the entrance hall; when no one appeared in response to my call, I stepped back outside. Her husband, the village moqaddim (like a mayor), walked by and looked puzzled to see me loitering outside their front door. I explained that his wife had invited me for tea, but I didn’t know where she’d gotten to. Apparently, where I was standing – where my auntie had been minutes before – is actually an extension onto the main part of their house (which I’ve never before visited). He went into the main section, told his wife that the tarumit (foreign girl) was hanging around waiting for tea, and she emerged quickly.

I wondered if I’d done something wrong, but my auntie looked happy, so apparently it wasn’t unforgivable. She and I drank tea and ate bread, and were quickly joined by the rest of her family and some neighbors. They wanted to hear about my trip to the big city, and I told them some stories. (They mostly wanted confirmation of how appallingly hot it was; I decided not to mention that inside the shadowy medina, it’s actually very comfortable.) After twenty minutes or so, I was wondering when I should point out that I hadn’t been back to my host family’s house since my trip to Ait Brahimi, and they were expecting me…? Auntie had run out to the main house, possibly to get refills on one of the tea supplies (bread, olive oil, jam, butter, tea, water…), so I figured I’d wait until she returned to make my goodbyes. A neighbor woman who’d been the most eager to hear about the Big Apple was asking me questions I couldn’t quite follow. I’ll call her “Fatima”, since it’s the most common name for a woman in Morocco (in my experience, anyway). “Fatima” seemed satisfied with my answers, even though they may not have quite addressed her questions. Then she said, “Do you want to come drink tea at my house?” I said sure, anytime. (Six weeks without a single tea invite and then two in one day! Woo-hoo!) She stood up and said, “OK, let’s go.” I was startled. “What, now?!” I asked. “Yes. Let’s go.” She was pulling at my wrist. “But…” I gestured towards the tea service in front of us. “Come on!” she said, still tugging at my arm. “Um, OK,” I mumbled. As we headed out, we crossed paths with my auntie. “She’s coming to my house to drink tea,” Fatima announced. Auntie looked as bewildered as I felt. “Thank you very much for the tea,” I said. As Fatima dragged me off, I added, “Blessings on your parents! And I’m sorry!”

Fatima led me through an ordinary-looking door that opened into…Eden. I suddenly had an inkling where some of the 18th-century travelers’ descriptions of “harems” might have originated. (“Harems” don’t really exist, at least not as painted by the 19th-century novels describing gauze-clad, sexually available women lounging around in secluded gardens. Enclosed courtyards where women lived secluded from men outside their families, yes, those were reasonably common.) Scantily-clad nubile women there were none, but there was an unbelievably lush sea of greenery revealed behind the door. There were apple trees, poplar trees, dozens of types of herbs and flowers carpeting the ground… I was transfixed. Not surprisingly, Fatima’s tea included sprigs of fresh mint, n3n3. (Don’t believe everything you hear about “Moroccan mint tea” being ubiquitous. Tea is, yes, but getting mint in it is an all-too-rare pleasure.) There was also more bread, more jam, and miniature cookies.

After twenty minutes there, I began to plan my departure strategy. I went with a straightforward, “My host mother will be worried about me.” That did it, and Fatima packed me out the door with repeated invitations to come visit her as soon as I move into my inshallah apartment.

I headed up the hill towards my host family’s house. I got in, dropped my bag, and was immediately besieged with requests to “Adud ad-tsut attay.” I sighed, accepted the inevitable, and headed into the public room. I got away with half a glass of tea and a corner of a crepe (Ama had made crepes!), explaining the story of my three-tea afternoon. When I mentioned “tamtot yadnin” (another woman) who showed up to drag me away from Auntie’s house, Ama interrupted the story to say, “Was her name, by any chance, Fatima?” I burst out laughing. “You know her! Does she do this a lot??” Ama just laughed and said not to worry about it. She still urged me to take a second cup of tea – cultural obligations of hospitality don’t just disappear – but didn’t seem upset when I refused it, laughing that I was “completely full”.

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