Visiting Brahim’s family in Tifoultoute

My friend and Swarthmore colleague Brahim el Guabli is in many ways the person who launched me into this Fulbright project, and he had urged me to visit his family during one of my visits to Ouarzazate.  (I’m probably going to mis-spell everyone’s name: apologies!) On the way down to Ouarzazate, I got a message from him with a phone number for his sister Jmia and the news that I could communicate with her in Darija. (Implication: the rest of his family will be speaking Tamazight.  Eeek.)

Now, I studied fusHa (or modern standard Arabic) for a semester with Brahim, but I was not the world’s best student and Brahim has a generous over-estimation of my Arabic skills.  My family drove down to meet me in Ouarzazate after the workshop; Ahmed and Hassan led us in convoy out to the small town Tifiltoute where Brahim’s family lives.  I had asked Sihem (one of the workshop participants) to call and let Jmia know that we were on our way.  Sihem was relieved to discover that Jmia did speak Darija so that the two of them could communicate.  (After we arrived at the family home, we discovered that Brahim had said we would be visiting but not when; also, he told them we would be staying for two weeks, and they repeatedly urged us wistfully to please stay more than a night.)

They also worked hard to find family members who could speak with us.  My brain was burnt out from teaching all day long in 30-year-old French, so my Darija was even more limp than usual.  Brahim’s niece Fadwa had third-grade French, so she tried to entertain us while Jmia and her mother cooked some (yummy!) supper.  Fadwa was a little shy, though, so conversation was halting.  I finally got her to teach us a few children’s songs.  Jeremy still sings “Bismillah, bismillah” (in the name of God) periodically.

Part way through the evening, Habiba, another of Brahim’s sisters, arrived with her two-year old.  Habiba (in the pink hajib) had very good French and did hard labor translating for everyone.  Her son loves loves loves his aunt Jmia (and, I’m told, his uncle Brahim).

Eventually, once the visitors were well well fed, Brahim’s mother sat down with the rest of her family; Fadwa’s mother (in the black and red) had arrived, as had Brahim’s cousin Mohamed, who speaks English! 

Impressive: to pull together multiple language speakers and different branches of the family on the spur of the moment!

After a good night’s sleep, and a breakfast of the very best milhui (rghaif, msemmen) I’ve had in Morocco, Mohamed and Jmia took us to visit the qasbah of Tifiltoute.

I was delighted to see a couple of storks’ nests up close: they made me appreciate Tahir Shah’s account (in The Caliph’s House) of his guardiens’ attempting to encourage storks to nest on the house by accumulating a pile of garbage:
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James has a thing for ruined qasbahs, but even I appreciate the way the nesting pigeons look like jewels set in the side of this crumbling wall:

We wandered around the back of the qasbah, to visit the place where the family’s house had once stood.  Jmia knew right where it was and could remember living there with Brahim.

The structure of the walls was easy to see here, and the views out from the site were amazing.
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We had seen Habiba on the way and stopped at her house after the qasbah for more mint tea and cookies.  In fact, everyone was so wonderful to us and we liked everyone so well that it felt almost too difficult to leave.  We compromised by deciding to visit the Atlas movie studio, bringing Mohamed with us.

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