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Feminist Rage Against the Machine

June 22, 2014

My favorite time of day is that early morning moment when a campsite comes to life. That is the case in every campsite I’ve every been in – the Himalayas, the Andes, or a Waukeela group by the Saco River. This morning was a bit different, as we were all worried about the Italians, but once we got word they were ok, I was able to settle into my coffee and ready myself for Fezx.

Ali and I set out to early and in relative silence. I felt bad, like I’d treated him badly, but I don’t actually think I had.

Eventually we found a rhythm and began to chat about the scenery, stopping a few time for photos and tea. Along a narrow stretch of road a driver in front of us was frustrating Ali and he said “is a woman driver.” How do you know I asked, and he pointed out the bad driving as a fact of the matter. We never saw if it was a woman or not, but I asked if Ali thought women were bad drivers because they were women or because they were not offered enough opportunities. THat lead to a bigger conversation about sexism, one I’d been trying to keep myself from having, but I couldn’t help it.

“Women are special in this life,” Ali said. “They do not work, they take care of the babies. Men cannot do that. Everyone knows that. Even you know that.” “Well no,” I said. “Some men are great at taking care of babies. What about two men who have babies, but there are no moms. Gay men.” “No no no. That is not right.” And we were quite for a bit longer.

We stopped at a park where monkeys congregate waiting for tourists to throw them some bread. One monkey jumped towards us, with an infant clinging to her stomach. “See,” Ali pointed. “Mothers are mothers.”

We drove on and I told Ali about the woman owned and run restaurant in Marrakech and Ali said that he’d never heard of such a thing and couldn’t believe it. No – it was wonderful, I assured him, but he was convinced I was making its existence up.

We passed through a small town as the call to prayer rang out. “We will stop and pray now.” Ali stated. I realized he didn’t mean I was to pray as he left me in the car and joined a group of men. I’m certain he was praying for patience with me.

As we drove into Fez we talked about why women would want to work when they don’t have to. In Ali’s mind greed was the only motivation. They want more and more money. I suggested they wanted to use their minds and he offered up TV as something they could do at home. “If all women worked and you could stay at home, would you.” “Nooooo,” he said, “but men need more.” And that was that. I didn’t tell him that though his wife may be ok, his daughters would likely want to work.

At the Riad, I typed Ali enough to alleviate my guilt at his having to listen to my politics, settled in and headed for the medina. To call it overwhelming would of course, but a massive understatement. I choose a path and waked straight for a while then turned back to may starting point and chose another path. I was able to keep my self from getting lost this way.  I picked a restaurant at random and ordered a fish tajine while chatting with a couple from New Orleans and a Turkish man living in Paris. The Turk and I then went to the square to listen to music before exchanging personal details and turning in for the night.

Abdul, my Berber driver, met me in the morning to take me to the blue city of Chefcaouen. I’d had a bad night’s sleep – the fish tajine not sitting well, but I liked him immediately. He hugged me in greeting, aggressively touching my breast, although by this time nearly every man I’ve had an interaction with has “accidentally” touched one, so I ignored it. His son, who spoke good English joined us and they named me Fatima Berber or flower. I’m sure because they couldn’t remember Kathleen, but it was endearing. I napped, my stomach still not well, as we drove on. We stopped several times for tea and coffee, despite my not wanting any.

Along the side of a small, lavender lined stream a market had popped up. It’s a souk. Do you want to stop? I said I did, but I did not want to buy anything. You might, he said. I won’t, I replied. We walked through the crowded loud stalls filled with sneakers, cigarettes, and chickens for $50 a pop. There were delicious melons and dates that Abdul would hand to me to taste despite my saying no. We wandered towards the stalls of strong-smelling grills with kabob and fish. There were chickens in every state from wandering clucking to fully picked and hanging with their necks broker. It was the boiling water in which they were dunked to loosen their feathers that did me in and I was barely able to get to a remote spot before my once famously iron stomach turned over and I was sick. The howls of laughter from the Arab men behind me as my sound track.

Some water and a listerine strip (or four) and I was better. “You have a baby” Abdul said, touching my stomach. No no, I said, but he insisted he knew when a woman was pregnant and my napping and being sick were sure signs. I’ve had a pretend husband this whole trip, as a way of making things easier, I may as well have a pretend baby as well. And on we drove.

That’s when we hit the donkey. I was dozing in the front seat when we stopped with a jerk. Without opening my eyes I knew we’d been in an accident, but I couldn’t imaging what I’d see when I did open them. The poor beast was bloody on the ground in front of us as Abdul and it’s owner yelled at each other. Several men came to move it from the road and Abdul got in and drove on. Is it ok, I asked, knowing the answer. Stupid man. Stupid animal was all Abdul would say.

Chechaouen is beautiful. It’s narrow blue streets are magical and we wandered up and down them for a long time before stopping for lunch around 4pm. After lunch and a bit more walking I said, I’d like to go back to Fez now. Ok – you are the king, Abdul replied. We headed I though back to the car, but on reaching a stall filled with gold plates and lamps Abdul took a seat and pulled out a cigarette. He spoke fora while with the proprietor and then introduced me – This is Fatima Berber of Manhattan. Come into my shop. Oh no, said I. I do not want to buy anything. Not for buying, just for looking. So I went in. After looking for a while and getting an unwanted demonstration of gold plate making, I joined Abdul, now on his second cigarette. “Fatima Berber of Manhattan no buy anything” the proprietor told him. “I’d like to go back to Fez now,” I said again and we walked on. “You are the king” Abdul told me.

As we passed a cafe, we stopped again and Abdul ordered a coffee, a bit later he stopped to buy some music. At that point I saw a man about 60 in khaki shorts and a University of Kentucky “Go Blue or Go Home” t-shirt (which it later occurred to me was both a perfect shirt for the town and an embarrassing one). “Excuse me, ” I said to him. “I’m here alone and I don’t think that my driver is paying attention to my requests, I’m sorry to ask this, but could you ask him to take me back to Fez?” He looked at me for a ling time. “why’s a girl like you here alone? If you were my daughter, I wouldn’t let you travel by yourself.”  A beautiful blond about 20 wearing short shorts and a UK tank top rolled her eyes at him.

That’s when my feminist annoyance turned to feminist rage. I am closing in on 50 years old, I have two degrees, have supported myself solely for more than 25 years, have been a home owner and a business owner and not one man, from either culture, would take me seriously. “JUST TELL HIM” I hissed at my enlightened countryman.

The drive back, when we finally set off, was lovely actually. About 70 degrees and breezy and with gorgeous scenery.

Today, I conquer the medina and then back to Casablanca and New York, and the sexism that I’m accustomed to.





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