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2/27/10 Mbruk l'3id Milud!

Today, Muslims around the world are celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. In Arabic, the name of the holiday is 3id Milud. It translates approximately as Feast of the Birth, and is one of only 3 major religions holidays Muslims celebrate annually. (Morocco has lots of holidays, but most of the rest are secular, and usually nationalistic - ascension of the king to the throne, king's birthday, the day Morocco staked its claim over Western Sahara by marching hundreds of thousands of people in to occupy it/live there...holidays like that.) Most of those holidays are marked on the Western (Gregorian, solar) calendar, so they fall on the same day each year. Islamic holidays, though, are marked on the Islamic (lunar) calendar, so they shift about a week and a half each (solar) year. So last year's 3id Milud was March 5th and 6th (? as I recall), and the year before was I think March 21st(?).

In addition, Islamic holidays are determined by the observed phase of the moon, which builds in some uncertainty. How full the moon looks to astronomers in key places in each country, determines whether or not they celebrate the holiday the following day. So folks don't know until the week of, and sometimes not even till the day of, if it's a holiday. There's probably a point to be made about the impact that has had on the role of uncertainty in the local culture, but I'll let it go.

Enough background.

Today we celebrated!

This is the first 3id Milud I've actually gotten to celebrate as such. The one two years ago was during CBT/stage, and though I was with my (first) host family, there was no real celebration. Nobody ran around calling "Mbruk l'3id! Mbruk l'washer!" (Happy Feast! Happy Holiday!) Nobody spent the morning going door-to-door for tea and cookies. Midafternoon, my host mom set everybody in the family down and gave us each a piece of chocolate...and that was it. Safi. Rather anticlimactic. Our LCF (Peace Corps-hired tutor-person) found the whole thing depressing, since she's from a part of the country that makes a much bigger deal of it.

My second 3id Milud in-country, last March, I spent with a group of friends in Essaouira. Since we'd been given 2 vacation days for the holiday, we took a 4-day weekend for fun in the sun. :) Good times, yes, but not exactly a traditional celebration.

Today, I went early to my (2nd and final) host family's house. I would have gone even earlier, but torrential winds rattled my doors and windows, making me unwilling to walk across town. (I'm not a crazy wimp - pebbles were being flung at my windows so hard that when I woke up, I thought it was hailing. Life without paved roads means that there are lots of bits of dirt and pebbles around.) The wind died down mid-morning, so I headed over.

Before that, though, I gathered up the gifts that I've been accumulating for a while, for my host family. Crayons and stickers and books I found in Marjane and cookies from SouqTown and suchlike. Bubbles, complete with wand-in-the-bottle-cap. A handmade wooden rattle for the baby. Etc. I also dressed in a relaxed version of Moroccan-wear: headscarf, turtleneck, slacks under a skirt. I left off the jellaba that I've worn the past few 3ids, because almost no one in town wears them. (They're more common in my CBT region, where I bought two of them.)

Ama was delighted to see me, of course, and promptly served me bread and cake and cookies and tea. She assured me that today is not a feast of meat like 3id al-Adha, to which I responded with a hearty, "Al-humdulillah." A few friends and neighbors came over and shared in the deliciousness, and then Ama and I headed over to one of my aunts' homes. More chatter, more tea, more cake, more hugs... :)

Then back to Ama's house for lunch and some quality hanging-out time (including the distribution of presents). I explained that in America, gifts are traditional at birthday parties (both regular ones and Christmas, which is the closest analog for 3id Milud). I didn't explain that I feel awkward giving just-'cause-I-was-thinking-of-you gifts, and so had been waiting for an opportunity - an excuse? - to give them the presents I've been accumulating.

I've brought gifts for my little brothers and sisters, and occasionally for Ama and Baba, every holiday I've spent with them. They've never given me a present as such, but it never occurred to me to find this odd. They feed me a few times a week, house me whenever I want, and have been a source of love and refuge in a thousand different ways. I respond with cookies and presents (and lots of love!). It seemed perfectly equitable to me, the few times I even thought about it.

But apparently, unbeknownst to me, Baba had been thinking about it, too. Today, while I was watching my little brothers and sister parcel out their stickers (they're sticklers for equity between the siblings, so they tore apart the long coiled strip of stickers to make sure that each one had exactly as many stickers as the others) , Baba (apparently) told Ama that she should give me something. She told me a couple weeks ago that she'd been hoping to weave me a rug or aHandir before I left, but between chasing a newborn and then convalescing from surgery, she didn't think she'd be able to. I'd assured her that it was fine, but that I did want an aHandir from her tribe, both to remember her by and because they're gorgeous, and she'd promised to help me buy one.

(Her help would be key because, though my haggling skills have gotten steadily better over the past two years, I'm still going to be starting from the tarumit - foreigner - price, where Ama will be starting from the tamaghrebit - Moroccan - price. As she explained, and as I already knew, most weavers would simply expect that I'd pay at least 100dh more than they'd think to charge a fellow Moroccan. So she was planning to do the negotiations for me, if I'd just provide the cash. I found this an excellent idea, and felt very grateful that Ama would overcome her severe dislike of the souq to help me.)

But then, this afternoon, as I sat in the living room, playing with my siblings, she walked in carrying something. (She, and everyone, routinely come and go from the kitchen, the bathroom, the other room, so I hadn't even noticed her slipping out a few minutes earlier.) Wrapped in shiny paper was a folded, carefully stored, aHandir. Of her tribe.

I blinked. Gasped. Felt my jaw drop.

"Snnit?!" (Really?!)

She explained that Baba had urged her to give me something, but that she'd felt bad because she had nothing to give. Then she remembered that I want an Ait Brahim aHandir, and she realized that, well, she's got two of them.

So she gave me one.

I unfolded it slowly - reverently. I love both the ancient and modern styles of her tribe's cape; the only difference is the brightness of the colors. The "classic" design features organic dyes, as have been used for centuries or millenia. The more modern look uses synthetic dyes, and therefore really "pops". Both look beautiful. This - my! - aHandir featured the organic dyes.

Some women still use them today, though most have switched to the brighter colors, in the ongoing evolution of their very-much-alive-and-dynamic culture.

"Did you make this?" I asked, softly.

"Yes," she answered. "Well, me and Xalti." I immediately imagined the two women sitting at a loom, weaving together, chatting together, spending hours upon hours creating this... But wait, Xalti hasn't lived with us over a year. And Ama's loom hasn't been set up since well before that.

"When?" I asked next. This isn't the kind of project you can work on in secret; the loom fills a good chunk of the family room, and a project of this scale takes weeks or months, depending how many hours per day you spend working.

"We wove it for my wedding to Baba," she said with a smile. "I was twenty."

And then I realized that not only was she giving me a handcrafted work of art, she was giving me her wedding dress. (The cultural equivalent thereof, anyway.) Tears rose to my eyes, and I hugged her again.

I spent the next hour or so fingering the wool - I can still feel the lanolin, thirteen years after it was woven! These things are extraordinary - and then, eventually, it was time to go. I asked Ama to take a picture of me, wrapped up in her - my? our? - aHandir, feeling delightfully Moroccan. Yes, my clothes were actually all western, but I'd chosen ones that don't look out of place here. And most of them were covered by the cape, anyway. All you could see was my scarf-wrapped head, my Imazighn tafuyt earrings, and this glorious cape from my mother's - and therefore my - tribe.

Kauthar tin Ait Brahim.


  1. How special a gift that is, both from Ama and Baba!

  2. This made me cry. I'm so happy that you were blessed with such a giving and loving Moroccan family. What a precious gift and a treasure. I hope that they know what they mean to you. It seems like it's mutual.


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