The novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is one that affected me profoundly. In general it concerns changes amidst white colonialism within a fictional village in Nigeria. More than that it is a human drama about how life can suddenly change and become incredibly different in the blink of an eye. It is a story about sudden reversals of fortune that no one can possibly foresee.
At the moment, I am remembering all of the feelings this magnificent novel drew from within me. The reason is because I am feeling many of the same emotions in my own life.
It’s funny how we, as humans, manage to make our own lives more difficult than they need to be. We strive for control and just when we think we have found it, the proverbial rug is pulled from under our feet and suddenly we are left with our wind knocked out lying on the ground as the stars spin over our heads. Things fall apart and often, they fall apart quickly. Other times, it is a snowballing process that, if we pay attention, we can watch from a detached perspective and sort of helplessly experience. Unfortunately, there is often nothing we can do about it.
I wonder if this is what I am experiencing at the moment? Am I watching the evaporation of water I knew was there but that will be gone by the time I reach it? It begs the question of the mirage in the desert and whether one should try to reach it because it might possibly be real or whether one should simply head in another direction and perhaps find something that is not visible but that does actually exist.
Paperwork and bureaucracy are the downfall of humanity. This need for control that arises from the fact that we really don’t have control and we try to convince our fellow human beings that we really are in control. No doubt about it, it is paperwork that led me to anarchism. The futility and needlessness of documentation.
I foolishly spent $35,000 to get a degree. I foolishly didn’t bring my degree with me to the country I decided to create my life in. Now, in a country where paperwork is the real king, I am left with the need to get the paperwork to prove that I am qualified for the job I’ve already started working. It’s not impossible to get it, far from it, but to me, it’s frustrating that a phone call to my university won’t suffice with the high quality electronic copy of my degree I thought would be sufficient for all my needs. In fact, I’m loathe to hand anyone my very important piece of paper so that it can officially be translated, during which time, my important piece of paper will be beyond my control. And this is just one piece of paper.
I need to provide many. Official papers to marry, official papers to work, official papers to live.
And life all together feels like it is ripping me apart from the inside out. It’s this feeling of outrage that more is required than who I am. It’s not a trait that makes one well suited to live in this society, or any but the most tribal. It’s funny, because I’ve worked hard to have all the right credentials and papers, but I resent being asked for them in triplicate.
Meanwhile, the taxi drivers seem to sense my angst and each of them raises the price accordingly, Hanane’s family seems to intuit my sense of being crowded and pushes me further into the smallest corners and crevices. Like a mouse I hide in the invisible spaces nibbling on cheese. The money I sacrificed so much to gain flies from my pockets for one expense after another as the money I don’t spend depreciates in the bank as the dollar plunges to new daily lows. The house that is available suddenly is not, or the price is raised, or something else happens and I begin to feel despair creeping into every corner of my psyche.
I feel a desire to get very drunk and to explode, but I won’t because I am in Morocco and because I am trying to build a life. One can’t get simple answers to simple questions here. How much do I get paid? What papers do I need to fill out? Where is the nearest restroom? Instead, like Arabic itself, things are bulky and archaic. Difficult to master and impossible to completely understand. In a five minute greeting six hundred words are exchanged but no one actually gives any information.
The other night, there was a party at Hanane’s. A Sebhua, or baby naming ceremony. I didn’t see the baby even once. the women started arriving at 8. The men began to arrive at 9. the men were taken to the next door neighbors house where they smoked, drank tea, and stared at one another sullenly for several hours. My friend Yassine came and translated the conversations around us for me. Petty gossip mostly. In fact, much of it was actually about Yassine’s grandfather and his aunt. yassine was not involved in these conversations as the men who were dolling out opinions didn’t know that a relative was next to them translating their opinions into English.
Meanwhile the women sang and danced, played drums, and listened to music. The food was served and the men talked with each other little as they tore apart the roast chickens and stewed sheep with prunes while drinking coke and the favorite tropical drink of Morocco, Hawaii.
When the food was done, Yassine and I went to the giant warehouse next door that Mohammad had spent the day converting from a sort of dark and dingy torture chamber of concrete into a disco. We sat there waiting for the other guests Hanane told us would come, but aside from five other men who simply stared at each other, we were alone. Finally, we left to go see what was going on and found ourselves locked into the concrete compound. We managed to break out like prisoners from Guantanamo only to find all the men and women congregated at the Souidi house. It was past midnight. Only then did people start to go to the makeshift disco where the men sat on one side and the women on the other. The DJ blared the music but no one danced until Hanane forced some of the women to join her. Then it was a dreadful two hours of blaring music with the sullen men on one side and the gayly dressed women on the other and a few brave souls dancing. But never more than 12 at once as everyone else watched.
Then a procession of the female relatives walking with cookies and sweets on trays offering them to the guests. We’ve been eating those cookies ever since. In fact, except for a bowl of soup yesterday, I ate nothing but cookies and some barly bread. Harira and Harsha.
Yesterday Hanane and I came to work at the language center again. Still not sure where to record our time or who to tell that we are working. We had the slowest taxi here and the trip back was maddening. A drunk and unpleasant driver with no meter took us to the secondary grand taxi stand in ‘labamba’ the gas station in the Ibrahim district where there were no cabs but scurvy looking men with private unreliable vehicles offering rides for too much. A strange man we didn’t know stopped and offered us a ride to Sefrou for free but was threatened and chased off by the cab coordinator…maybe that was a good thing, maybe not. Finally a taxi came and we crowded in. The petit taxi to her house didn’t offer me any change though he owed me 3 dirhams and frankly I was too tired to argue with yet another cabbie son of a bitch.
Inside, I felt good to be around her family. I felt comfortable but her visiting cousin who I’ve nicknamed Mr. Bad Vibes threw his bowl of soup down on the table and in general brought the sort of unpleasantness a schizophrenic brings to a high tea. Then, probably because I was tired, hungry, cornered, and crowded, Hanane and I fought viciously. I was vicious in my words, though I will defend and say that I was not entirely unjustified. She who I want to give everything to is often stingy in sharing information with me about who I am next to, what they are saying, or what the real situations are even though despite the cultural differences, I can usually feel the emotions at play in a room. This drives me to a fever pitch of madness as I know that things are being said, expressed, and done that fit with what I sense and my window into the actualities of this life simply tells me ‘Everything is fine’, ‘There’s no problem’, or simply chats in Arabic for ten minutes and when I ask about the situation that obviously concerns me simply brushes me off. I know things are not fine but I’m told they are and I’m not one who deals well with this sort of inconsistency even if it is told because she wants to protect my feelings or impressions.
In general, there are a lot of misconceptions about me and what I am and what I have. I’m not afraid of showing myself to the world exactly as I am and yet, I find that my self portrayal is often distorted and changed and I suspect that my words are too. And this is done intentionally by others.
And so, as I feel these things and watch this life unfold, I feel like a bear that someone has mistaken for a donkey and I wonder if they will be surprised when they hold the carrot out in front of me and instead of questing for the carrot I clamp my jaws around their torso, rip out their innards, and crush their skull with my powerful canines so that I can feast upon their brains.