The Berber wedding has indeed knocked me for six. I think what really pushed me over the edge was witnessing the two young women being kept in this little room, wrapped from head to toe, sitting on a mattress, while their wedding took place outside with more than 300 people. It somehow gave a pupa-like feel to them – maybe this is what it is about, symbolically; a change from the girl/young woman to a married wife. Something dies and gets reborn in another shape. They are two sisters and at 19 and 21 years they are still quite young and somehow this upsets me, thinking back on how I was at that age, or how my children were, and I presume that a double wedding is held not because both of them have fallen in love at the same time but for economic reasons. It’s totally understandable – even done once, a wedding of this magnitude will challenge any family’s finances.
More upsetting is the feeling I get from the uncle who takes us to the brides. The proprietorial pride that emanates from him creeps me out. It somehow shifts the focus onto the subject of the girls’ virginity, and how this gets guarded by the family and then passed to the husband, as if it’s a property. I find it a very uncomfortable objectification of the woman.
The next day, fittingly, I’m ill in bed with cystitis. This gives me the space I need to reflect on my feelings, and I feel blessed to be in such a sweet campsite to heal myself and regain my centre. Frank goes off to the second and the third evening of the wedding, while I stay in bed, listening to the sound of the drums and reflecting on the preciousness of woman in our society, how it often gets owned by men, used and also abused. I feel the pain of all the women whose light gets dimmed or broken.
It takes me a few days to be ready to watch the video footage that Frank brings back from the wedding, but when I do, I also see how deeply uncomfortable the grooms are in their role, in this particular case they seem even more uncomfortable than the brides. I think of what it must mean for them, the full load of responsibility crashing down on their shoulders, and who knows, maybe they didn’t even personally know the woman they are now responsible for feeding. There is so much uncertainty in this country, so little paid work. Five years on from now they may not only have their wife to look after but also a bunch of children. Read back on our last few chapters and see how it can turn one way or another, there can be a happy family like in the case of Brahim or it can be a real struggle like in the case of Hakim.
The camping we are at has a special feel to it with its recycling facilities (the first time we’ve seen this here in Morocco) its garden and its animals. We stay for almost a week, becoming good friends with the cat. As Frank already mentioned, she moves into our van, nosily rooting about the place, climbing into all sorts of corners and we frequently have to tell her ‘safi!‘ (‘that’s enough’, or ‘stop’). One morning, Frank says if this cat were mine, I would call her Safi. It turns out that is actually her name!
I’m really quite weak and Frank is not at his best either, and since this is our third illness in the space of 4 weeks, we think it best to go to a hospital to eliminate our suspicion of having Bilharzia. (After our visit to a hot spring about a month ago, I did have a funny leech-type of animal attached to my upper thigh which kind of dissolved when we tried to take it out, leaving behind its head, which Frank removed – it had to be painfully ripped out! – with some tweezers.)
At the hospital in Ouazarzate, we learn that to test for Bilharzia, it’s not just a matter of simply taking a blood sample, it involves a whole range of tests, including a gut biopsy, and it takes time to get the results.
We don’t want to be confined to the same place for weeks on end, so we decide to forego the tests, especially as the doctor assures us that if we had Bilharzia, we’d be in a lot more gut pain, with distended bellies. When we walk out of the hospital, we already feel better. The power of imagination!
That afternoon, we say good-bye to the lovely people of Camping la Palmeraie and we drive off into the sunset. We are heading for Ait Ben Haddu, about 30 minutes from Ouazarzate, and we stop at the top of the hill, which overlooks this amazing historic site, in the last of the fading light. This place is windy and exposed but we light a fire in Meme, our lovely little stove, and tuck ourselves in. By 8pm we are fast asleep.
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