Monday, January 25, 2010
Along for the ride
It’s nobody’s job to shut the doors on the train speeding from Marakech to Fez in Morocco.
Cars do-si-do, in a rhythmic two-step, doors wide open to the rush.
It’s someone’s job to punch the tickets, and another’s job sell the snacks, while four people claim jobs teachers, they are really touts, stepping quickly between moving platforms that never quite meet, so casually offering to become illegal guides. Each has a fictional cousin in the States and probably non-fiction realities they are trying to feed.
It’s someone’s job to pick the olives, make the morning crepes, kill the chickens for dinner and another’s to daily roll a cart full of tangerines into the crowded, climbing medieval streets of the medina to be sold one or two at a time.
It’s our real guide’s job to explain the complex designs of the tiles on the wall of the mosque and show us streets “too narrow for a fat American woman.” He carries in him a poet’s heart and he makes it his job to drop lines of poetry into every story. Write this poet’s name down, write this history down. It is his job to pass out wisdom like the butchers throw trimmings to the wild cats, hoping to bring some peace and harmony to the marketplace.
It’s Suad’s job to give the cooking lessons to the tourists, make the harira soup, thick with peeled tomatoes, toss the couscous in olive oil and roast the eggplant right on the burner, to mix the salads and the macaroons with her bare hands all the time expressing distain for machines.
Though not an official part of her job description, she tells stories of her heart seasoned with generous laughter.
Would you believe that it’s someone’s job to collect pigeon poop to cure the goat and cow hides for Moroccan bags, coats and briefcases? Another’s job to jump into the tubs of lye barefoot. Another’s to hang the skins to dry. Someone picks the saffron for the dyes, someone bends over a low table cutting pieces by hand, and another sits on a low stool stitching with black fingers. The man who sells the products does not have dirty hands.
It is someone’s job to guard the villas of the wealthy and someone’s job to put corrugated steel roofs on the slum shacks that flip by the train windows in dizzying succession. No one chases down the black and white dog dragging its broken rope through the brown field beside the tracks.
Cooking the tagines before lunch is someone’s job and collecting the uneaten bread for resale is another’s. For some children it is their job to go to school in white lab coats, for others to try and sell tissue packs for pennies to tourists. Like the blind old man calling as he walks in the medina and the ancient women creased with decades of worry who crouch quietly with their hands out, some people would switch jobs if they had the choice.
It’s someone’s job to sell the spices, to stitch the shoes, and another’s job to make the bread and take it to a community oven where another does the baking, a chainlinked support system old as the seventh century medina walls.
Haunting voices sing the call to prayer at two-hour, predicable intervals. Darting motorcycles call prayers to the lips of the shoppers in the medina without warning. Someone slaughters the animals, shears the wool, sells the hoofs, pickles the meat and tans the hide so that no part goes wasted.
The train makes short stops beside open markets, standing groups of unemployed young men whose job it is to look and shepherds who watch over sheep grazing close enough to the tracks.
It’s one Indian doctor’s job to explain to the Americans that America is not what it once was, no longer a leader in industry and technology, speaking like the past president of the chess club talking about the former star quarterback who has developed bad knees and a pot belly. Morocco is a land where sewing machines hum, baskets get woven, laden donkey carts are lead by men gripping their harnesses, lumbering under local products, weighing out the benefits of change as they used to weigh wives.
Everyone drinks mint tea prepared by someone at cafes beside the shops where men urge passers not to buy, just look. It’s free. The hierarchy of jobs in a carpet shop appears rigid as any bank’s, the shops’ wealth locked up by ancient knowledge, the derivative worth impossible to be valuated by the untrained.
Simultaneously speeding through 2010 and 1431, skating across a land of mountains, deserts and dusty villages, elegant palaces, ragged children, princes, donkey carts and Mercedes, the train gapes, sunshine or rain, and it’s nobody’s job to close the door.