I make rules for myself with the best of intentions and then I usually have to break them. One example of this is about to be demonstrated. At some point, I decided that blogging about my emotional life with others was something that I didn’t want to do, I’ve broken this rule before, and usually come back to it, and now I am about to break it again.
Life has suddenly become very beautiful…and complicated. I am in Africa, in Morocco, an Islamic nation, in a small fertile community that was once known as the garden of Morocco, living in a house with a shepherd, his wife, his son, and his three daughters…and it’s quite possible that I am living with the woman of my dreams.
She is beautiful, tiny, graceful, intelligent, pure, devout,filed with a deep imagination that displays itself in fictional stories she makes up and tells me on the spot, and she is quite convinced that she is in love with me. I am also quite convinced that I am in love with her, but I am old enough to know that in the spring when the first blooms appear upon the apricot tree, such as the one in front of me, and a man and woman find one another, that there are chemicals that blossom as well in the brain and heart. In the past, I have learned that the first flush of springtime love is sometimes followed by a brutally hot summer, a barren harvest, and a winter of blistering cold. And I’ve learned about myself that in the bloom of love all traits are found endearing while later on those same traits may evoke feelings which are quite different.
So yes, things are complicated in this brain and heart of mine. There are complications which go beyond my brain second guessing my heart though. For one thing, she is a devout Muslim and in the Koran, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. I am not a Muslim though I find that many of the teachings of Islam resonate well with my beliefs. She tells me that my heart is Muslim and I think she is right, I find profound wisdom in the teachings of the Prophet, but there are also things that I find hard to accept too.
Those of you who know me or have read my words for any length of time know that I have a deep and profound belief in a divine power that is aware of all that takes place in this existence. In fact, I often throw myself to the winds when I feel a suggestion of direction from this power. I attribute my present reality to this very Muslim notion of mine, that is submitting myself to the will of God, and this, for those of you who do not know is what the word Muslim means, “one who submits themselves to the will of God”.
I have often been asked why I studied Arabic and just as often I’ve struggled to come up with an answer. It will be valuable, I love the music, I love the culture…all of these are true, but in fact, the real answer has always been that I don’t know exactly why, I simply have known that it was what I was supposed to do. The same is true when I was once asked why I loved to play the guitar in a way that sounded Arabic, the truth was that the chord structure, the tones, resonated with me.
It’s why I have spent considerable time studying Islam. My girlfriend is often surprised at the knowledge that I have about her faith. I’ve said it now, she is my girlfriend. This has happened quickly and now you know, so I will say more. I am in Morocco and I live with my girlfriend and her family. It’s quite possible that I want to spend the rest of my life with her, but we need time to figure out that these are not just the chemicals of love making us crazy.
To spend the rest of my life with her, I will have to marry her. I love and respect her father, her mother, and all of her family and this is the only way that this can be done. While I would love to run away with her and simply have a life together, this would bring shame to these people, and I will not do this.
In order for a non-Muslim to marry a Muslim woman, the non-Muslim must become Muslim. I have several problems with this. I like dogs a lot. Islam forbids the kind of best friend relationship with dogs that I enjoy. I also like to eat bacon sometimes and probably will despite the strict prohibition on it. These are very minor sounding things, but roughly equivalent to a Hindu eating beef or a Catholic denying the holy trinity. the problem is that I am not a hypocrite, but if I convert, certainly there will be such occasions. Never mind all this, though, these things I will figure out and perhaps my girlfriend will figure all of this out for me when she reads this. I’ve told her that I am going to write about some of my confusions and about our relationship and she has encouraged me to do so. She is an incredibly wise woman and says that sometimes we need the counsel of others who understand us.
Her family is of course wise to our relationship. A Muslim woman must not be deflowered before her marriage and since my girlfriend is and always has been a devout Muslim, this is the case and I respect this. It is not a problem. I have been sleeping in the same bed with her and her sister (this is quite innocent I assure you) and while this is still somewhat scandalous, everyone turns a blind eye to it. If anything the presence of Zahara is a welcome restraint which helps us to keep our passions in check. The fact that we sleep together is an expression of the trust we have for one another and the trust her father has put in me. I confess that each time someone comes in the room, I expect to be beheaded though…okay, not beheaded but at least berated.
The secret language of our eyes is not a secret to those we live with. Before we had said any words to one another, we sat reading a play together. I told her that I was scared of what I was feeling and she told me that I should not be scared of my heart but instead I should listen to it. It was then, shaking like a young boy, that I kissed her. Our first kiss was magical and just as our lips touched, the call to prayer was heard. She told me that when such things happen it is because Allah is smiling on whatever is being done in those moments.
Perhaps you are thinking, as I must confess I considered, that a Moroccan family has captured a foreign man and is slowly reeling him in. Maybe you think that I am being deceived and led to a predetermined conclusion. I don’t blame you for thinking this, I have also considered this. I don’t think this is the case however. I think that these people love me, just as I love them. They are teaching me about their culture and I am teaching them about mine. Last night, several of the women watched a video of my family at the New Year singing karaoke at my brother’s house in Utah. Shortly afterward, a similar scene happened as we danced to Berber music in the living room and laughed and sang together here in Morocco.
And yet, these doubts I have continue to arise. A trip to the Medina to buy me shoes led to looking at wedding rings and I found myself in a near panic. Hanane understood this and has said that we will wipe the words marriage and engagement from our vocabularies. Wedding rings are too much at this point, though each moment I am with her, I consider what a life with her will be like and I find myself liking each imagining.
Perhaps my biggest concern is my own financial status. I left Hawaii without very much and now I have less. My income comes to about $300 per month and soon I will have to start paying back my student loans which will probably be more than the $300. Hanane is not concerned and tells me that we can live in her father’s house, that her income is enough for us (about $100 a month) and that Allah will provide for us. I know that she is right.
She is not a gold digger. I know this. I don’t think her family loves me because they see a rich western man, certainly I am not this, though I think they may think I have more than just enough to last several months here. My laptop and the fact that I travel don’t say that I am a poor man from an expensive place.
Where I sit now on a brightly colored rug spread over a straw mat with gold embroidered pillows on all sides of me, on a throne prepared by my love on her rooftop. I look around me and I see the snow covered Atlas mountains, rugged hillsides covered with olive and almond trees, a small teepee in the dirt lot in front of me where two men who are working on the road are temporarily staying. At the moment they are spreading a blanket so that they can pray together. The town of Sifrou with it’s minarets and ancient Medina lies ahead of me, and to my right, young men play football (soccer) in another field. The house of Selim sits outside of the crowded town in a large field. Palms and pines grow together in all directions and my beautiful woman brings me coffee and water and oranges and pomegranates and tells me that I should write everything that is in my heart and that I should not be worried about my fears. She tells me that those who are not afraid are not taking life seriously, she tells me that those who are afraid are considering the wisdom of their actions.
I think she has told her family to stop talking about marriage and engagement. This is a good thing, though I think the talk will continue.
I am afraid as we walk through the town and she holds my hand or as we kiss on the rooftop, that someone will see and draw the wrong conclusions. I fear for her safety because of her relationship with me. I fear for her reputation. She says that we shouldn’t care about what others think, but I know enough about Islamic culture to know that there are those who would kill her for being a Muslim woman and wearing her hijab while walking hand in hand with a western man. Morocco is certainly different, it is not Saudi Arabia, it is not Afghanistan or Iraq. And yet, there is extremism everywhere. I know this. I offered to buy her a ring that she can wear so that there will be less to gossip about, I made it very clear that this would not be an engagement ring or a wedding ring, but a sweetheart ring, a ring to wear as a form of camouflage and protection. Being a complete romantic, she refused. I understand, but I cannot offer more right now.
We have started the process of getting her a passport. It is difficult for Moroccans to travel to other places, even with a passport, but it is a first step. In the meantime, we will continue to learn about each other, we will make some small trips in Morocco, and only time will tell.
And now, my soul is bared.