Friday, July 13, 2012

The Marrakesh Express

July 6, 2012

Train travel in Morocco was quite inexpensive and efficient with beautiful stations. We decided to upgrade in advance for a few extra dollars to a First Class compartment for the long trip between Rabat and Marrakesh (not quite as romantic as "The Marrakesh Express" of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but just as eye opening).

In our six seated compartment were four to five women; a family of four consisting of a grandmother and her daughter,traditionally garbed, not veiled, another older daughter in western dress with her attractive eighteen year old daughter in tight, metal-studded jeans and sleeveless top. A fifth older unrelated woman in traditional dress entered the cabin at the next station. The eighteen year old and her aunt spoke English, the others French, but they could also pick up on some English words. There we sat with the two older women reading their Koran's, later one on her Kindle, and the two younger ones on their smart phones. This was going to be a long trip, or so I thought.

Talking to people about their smart phones was always a good way to start a conversation, especially about how much they pay. So it began.

When I mentioned that I had fasted during entire Ramadan and worked with Muslim exchange program,YES, the conversation suddenly came to life with all involved, speaking in tongues of French, English, Arabic, Berber, and who knows what else, veritable Babel.

What became clear to Mary and me was their desire to make clear to us the differences between good and bad Muslims, as well as, between good and bad translations and interpretations of the Koran. These all were intelligent, well-educated women trying to understand us as we were trying to understand them.

After exchanging email addresses and all getting off at Marrakesh, Mary and I tried to grasp what we had just experienced. How easy for us to mistake what we perceive to be overly-covered, outwardly withdrawn and suppressed women while they probably took us as being immodest and garrulous. How difficult it was to understand a different culture. How easy it was to jump to generalizations.

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