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1/5 Worlds Collide...

Setting: the tranzit into SouqTown yesterday.

The driver (butranzit) doesn't have an assistant today, which means he needs to collect the fares himself. He pulls the tranzit over a mile shy of SouqTown. He climbs down out of the driver's seat and comes around to the back. The side door doesn't work, so everyone boards and exits the tranzit through the back door. He works his way through the aisle, collecting cash from each of us. The guy behind me hands him a 200Dh note for his 20Dh ride. Butranzit makes a face, and tells him he'll need to wait a bit to get his change. I give him a 100Dh note for my 25Dh ride (I live further out), and apologize for not having the correct change. "Makkain mushkil," he reassures me. No problem. He immediately hands my 100Dh to the guy behind me.

While waiting for my own change, I keep watching him. I've never been cheated by a driver, but others have, and I don't mind being attentive for a few minutes. I notice the woman kittykorner back from me. She's holding out a handful of coins which she jingles at butranzit, but he ignores her and moves further forward in the tranzit. The woman is wearing the traditional garb of our region - a white, loose-fitting garment gathered at the shoulders, reminiscent of ancient Rome, overtopped with an aHandir, a black cloak woven with tribe-specific patterns. From the clothes and her wide eyes, I deduce that she leaves her bled village rarely if ever. Many Berber women are moving confidently into the 21st century, but some, like this old Mahallu (granny), are firmly rooted in the last millenium - or maybe one of the ones before that. She lives an agrarian life, growing the food her family eats and cooking it over an open wood fire. Her brown, wrinkled face reminds me of a dried-apple doll I once made for a school project.

After butranzit has collected fares from everyone else, and given all of us our change, he returns his attention to this Mahallu. He looks down at the hand still proffering change. There are coins worth 5Dh and even 10Dh, so I'd initially thought that she was holding some of them. The frustration on his face suggests that the palmful of coins are all worth 1Dh or less. He grumbles a phrase I missed, but whose tone said, "Are you kidding me?" Mahallu waves her other hand down at the plastic bags by her feet. In a staunch voice she announces, "I have vegetables in the bag. Do you want to take some of them?"

And suddenly this tiny vignette is a metaphor for the entire Berberville-SouqTown region. Mahallu, with her shriveled-apple face and bag of vegetables, represents the traditional, agrarian economy, based on agriculture and barter. Butranzit, with his fistful of dirhams, represents the modern, service-oriented, cash-based economy. And there they stood, facing off squarely, separated by millenia while less than a foot apart.

He finally shrugged, mumbled something, and climbed out through the back door. He didn't take the woman's few coins or her vegetables, but instead reminded himself that acts of charity are one of the pillars of Islam, and will weigh against sins on the day of judgment.

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