Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mina; From Marrakech to Marina

There's something very special about a conversation with a stranger. The initial anonymity that flows effortlessly between two people who know nothing of the other's past. 
Initially, there is no past. Only the here and now.
All of each other's dark secrets, poor choices, past trials and tribulations and yesterday's experiences can remain neatly wrapped; perfectly hidden and unopened. It's a clean slate.
Each person has control over what they divulge and how they divulge it.  
I like that part. For a while, it's safe. 
But, I also like the other part; the part that  grows, evolves, opens up like a tight bud anticipating the transformation to a sweet, fragrant blossom. Sometimes, you can control the pace, the process, the self-exposure, the unfolding.  But other times, it's as if that stranger unexpectedly taps into a piece of you that is so raw, so spontaneous, so heart-driven, that you don't even realize you're divulging personal information. Suddenly, before you know it, the stranger chips away at everything that you thought you could hide, and all that is left standing there are two friends laughing together...

Marrakech is undoubtedly not for everyone. This is a city with edge. It is contradictory and not easily fathomed, but for most people who visit, that is all part of its elusive charm. From the exotic market stalls of the medina to the westernised glamour of the Ville Nouvelle, Marrakech is a riot of contradictions and extremes – at once African and Arab, eastern and western, frontier town and modern city, religious and secular, elegant and rough-around-the-edges. At times daunting, occasionally maddening, always exhilarating, Marrakech is all about getting lost, letting go and opening up to whatever experience or encounter comes your way. 

Markets of Marrakech

After reading about Mina's homeland of Morocco, I can't help but think of the famous line spoken by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."  And she's not. In fact, she a long way from Marrakech, Morocco, along way from familiarity, along way from her family and yet, her disposition is friendly, hopeful and positive. There's a trustful ease about her as she speaks with me. She's forthcoming, though   we've only known each other a short while.

I see Mina as a yummy, delightful stew; a hearty mixture of strength and innocence, with a hefty serving of joy, wisdom and fortitude mixed in.  I do not know everything about her, nor do I profess to walk in her shoes. However, if I can pay tribute to this hard-working dreamer, who was once a stranger and now a friend, so be it.


There are two things that stand out about Mina, and if you were to ever meet her, I'm sure you would agree.  One is her infectious laugh that flows out freely, and often, like a sweet-tempered melody that you want to play over and over again.  And the second are her eyes; set deep into her smooth, olive-toned face, they are the shape of perfect almonds and the color of darkly roasted coffee beans. They're intense. When she looks into your eyes, you instantly know you are looking into the eyes of a soul much older than her 32 years. 

I was drawn to Mina instantly and our friendship is a testament to the fact that differences in culture, lifestyle, backgrounds and language are never barriers.

tpg: Do you know that many Americans have no clue where Morocco is?

Mina: (laughing) Yes, I know. This is true. Yes, many say, "Is that in Latin America? Africa?" I say,  No. No. Not Africa and they are very surprised!

tpg: After you tell them of your homeland, Morocco, are there other reactions?

Mina: Many think we all live in tents in the desert with no vehicles, no electricity, no water. I tell them, "No! No! We have all these things!"

tpg:  So then, do you see Americans as ignorant?

Mina: No, the people who know Morocco, mostly know Casablanca.  It's very famous and very expensive. I have only visited Casablanca one time. It's a very, very old city. 



tpg: Were there other reactions or responses when you first arrived? 
What has it been, five years ago?

Mina:  Yes. Five years. People had strange faces when I told them I was from Morocco. They kind of stand back and seem a little uncomfortable. Like, maybe they think "terrorist" or something. (laughing).

tpg: Did that anger you? It would me.

Mina: No. I just explain to them who I am and my family and they are nice after that.

tpg:  How about your family? You are married and have four boys? WoW! 
How do you do it?

Mina: I don't know! It's a lot of work.  My boys are all so different. One is very calm, quiet and does anything I ask of him like clean the table and help me. My middle son is very different. He wants to play basketball and doesn't want to study.  I want him to study. My baby takes a lot of our attention. My husband and I want our children to study and make the best in their education.  I worry about them if they don't do good in school.

tpg: Tell me about your husband. How did the two of you meet?

Mina: (smiling and coy) Hassan is a very good man and a good father. I met him at a friend's house. I liked him because he was the only man who doesn't look at my body when he first met me. He just looked at my eyes while we talked.

tpg: Is that unusual in Morocco?

Mina: Yes. It is always that way. A woman walks down the street and all the men look at her from her feet to her head and back down to her feet again. Some women like it. They feel ugly if men don't do that, but not me.  It is why I liked Hassan. He wasn't like that.

tpg: Has that happened to you here? Men checking you out?

Mina: No. I feel safe here. I can walk or take the bus by myself and no one bothers me. 
It's very different. 

tpg: Are you happy here?  Do you miss Morocco?

Mina: I am happy here because we want a better life for our children. But it is hard because my English isn't good, so it's hard to find jobs that pay well. I work cleaning houses in the day time and Hassan works at night at a place that cares for older persons. 
I miss my family, especially my mother. I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters still in Morocco.

tpg: NINE CHILDREN in your family? Your poor mom!

Mina: (laughing)  I know but it's not unusual there to have a big family.

tpg: Are you and Hassan planning on having more children?

Mina: No! We are not as traditional. This is why we leave. We have different ideas than our families.  We are, how do you say, the ones that are different in both of our families.

tpg: Some people say you are the "black sheep" of your families. I don't really like that term but if you and I were to have one thing in common, it would certainly be that!

...And so our conversation continued for more than 40 minutes in much of the same way:
Strangers morphing to acquaintances to ultimately friends.  Black sheep laughing at the world, pausing to appreciate the world, pausing to appreciate one another. 

She told me about the difficult economic times currently in her country. Europeans are coming in and buying up all the old mosques, historical buildings and opening high-class hotels, spas, restaurants. The result? Everything sky-rockets and the Moroccans can no longer afford to buy property in their own country. They work for the Europeans for close to nothing, struggling to feed their families. She speaks of her dreams: to see her sons go to college, to be able to buy a house, to visit her mother again...
We sip tea together. The quiet between us is comfortable as time slips away. 

In ways, this interview was simplistic; an immigrant, wife, mother. Simple dreams, the same as you and I. But in a way, the complexity of Mina's past, present and what lies ahead, can only be partially understood in one sitting. And she didn't share it. I knew she was withholding parts of past experiences and struggles; perfectly hidden, neatly wrapped. 

I'd like to attempt a closer understanding. I have such an interest in people and their lives. 

Mina: You know what is my favorite song? Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.

tpg: I love that song too!

Mina: It makes me feel happy. It gives me so much hope.



  1. I can just see you two at this interview...it was interesting and honest. You have this way of putting people at ease...a natural gift. Will you interview her again, perhaps? I would enjoy knowing more about her culture. Keep us posted!!

  2. You have such a lovely way of connecting with people, for finding commonalities, and unveiling the richness of life we all possess. I really enjoyed reading this.