Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tomboktou - and Beyond...part 2

We had quite the conversation while waiting for Maloud to gain us entrance to Hotel Tomboctou.  I secretly hoped no one would answer and we might be able to upgrade to a better place.  Alas, the gate swung open and we were welcomed into the Kasbah.  A Kasbah is a sort of fortress, or enclave outside of a city where a local tribal lord might reside in a defendable dwelling.  Our adobe fortress was stunning inside the ugly outer walls.  I later learned it had been built in 1944 by Sheikh Bassou Ou Ali.  The rooms were high ceilinged and decorated with a fascinating array of African art.  My heart beat a little quicker as I explored the nooks and crannies of the place.  After settling in we all climbed to the rooftop to gaze out over the Tinghir oasis and to watch the rising moon.  I was a happy traveler, chagrined at my lack of faith.                                        

Dinner was served in a traditional tent and I had the chicken pastilla, a wonderful savory, slightly sweetened pastry with almonds, saffron and cinnamon and other assorted ingredients.  I LOVE this dish.  Oh, and the Tomboktu served wine.  Always a plus in this part of the world. My companions ordered tagines.

After a good night's sleep we had an early breakfast (negotiated from 7 AM to 8 AM) and we were off on a tour of the oasis
which is a co-op of agricultural crops that are intentionally planted in a manner that is mutually advantageous and supports the soil and the community.  The land was lush and the irrigation system completely organic.  After our tour we headed to the old city where Berbers and Jews once co-habited peacefully.This village was labyrinthian and very old.  There were dusty rivulets of dried blood in the passageways, left from the previous day's sacrifice which is an Islamic/Arabic tradition and not originally a Berber concept, though one can argue it is a Jewish one.
The Berbers are a complex indigenous people whose history is somewhat shrouded in a conglomeration of mystery and mythology.   I find their ways of life and their stubborn matrilineal configuration encouraging in this day and age.  The doors of many of their shops and alleyways were adorned with the symbol for the "Free People"which they are not in reality any longer... perhaps in their hearts and minds, but politically not....but one can hope.  It is complicated.   We were headed to another cooperative, this time a woman's rug making operation.  We were greeted by a traditionally clad man ( I am certain this is for benefit of tourists, and not the way he dresses most of the time, though I might be wrong).  Our host, the husband of the rug maker answered questions about the continuation of Berber traditions and nomadic movement to the Sahara in the winter. He told us with a sad look and the shake of a head, that the young people have all fled to the cities and small are the numbers of tribal people who continue the lifestyle in it's purest form.

Of course we had to look at rugs, and of course, I bought two after the requisite haggling, which the husband does.  One of the rugs brought up some emotion when I saw it, dyed a vibrant blue embellished with symbols for family and fertility, which was exactly what I was looking for ... a gift for my son and his new bride.  The emotion came from thinking of the grandchildren that would issue from their love.  The other.... oh my... made of cactus silk, thin but sturdy with oranges and reds and browns and would look wonderful in my living room.  I later sold it to my friend, but only because I want a reason to go back and visit with this couple again, and to buy another one of their rugs.  Or two.

I must note here that I find many similarities in these people and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.  If you study patterns in the weaves, (and I noted this in Turkey as well) you will find similar, if not identical symbolism.  One could argue that this comes from living so closely to the processes of nature and being intimately familiar with that spirit.  Indeed, pre-Arab Berbers were animists and the flavor of that religion remains in much of their culture in spite of the pervasive insistence that they convert to Islam.  Their were a number of Christian Berbers who lived peacefully with their semitic neighbors for many years, but they were summarily annihilated by the Islamic missionaries.  My readers know that I am a committed Christian, and I do not by any means advocate a mingling hodgepodge of all world religions.  I do however often ponder if there is not some truth in other ways of life that we might learn from. I would like to see more Christians for instance, develop a renewed respect and care for creation and become more aware of it's interconnectedness and our need to be care full with it.  And I would like for Muslims to develop also an understanding that animals and the land are to be cared for and treated with the respect and the kindness the Creator intended.

 I am certain this will be the case when eternity is at last recognized.

We we were off next to explore some interesting geological and historical anomalies in the area...  Monkey Fingers and the magnificent Todra Gorge awaited.... as well as Morocco's own version of Jurassic Park.  Places that definitely reflect both time and timelessness.  Stick around.

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