Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fook Figuig!

Saturday, 20 September

Literally this translates as “above Figuig” but it’s a saying here with a much greater meaning. To say fook Figuig is to express “hey, I’m great, I’m in utopia, there is nothing above an oasis like Figuig!” And people all over the country might say it, even if they’ve never actually been there or even like it, again, it’s just a saying. But last week was truly fook Figuig. Literally, I was there, and compared to the way life in site has been for me, it was quite the utopia.

I was invited by the volunteers there to come do a training. As I said in my last post, they were able to purchase a beautiful used Schact Baby Wolf loom through a grant for the women’s weaving cooperative they work with. The volunteers there are unbelievably generous and kind, having me at their house for a few days, feeding me, etc. Because it is Ramadan I only taught for three or so hours each morning, but it was just fine. The women I worked with were amazing-not one had over an 8th grade education yet all spoke Tamazight (a different dialect than the Tam I speak), Darija, a good amount of French and even a few words of English. Most could read French as well. And they all exhibited such enthusiasm and interest in learning. The curiosity and creativity that came from what seemed at first to be shy and timid women was so refreshing, as was their kindness. Not that people in my site are mean, per se, but I’ve never exactly felt the wonderful warmth and welcoming here as I have most everywhere else I’ve visited. So anyhow, it was wonderful; to work, to feel like I was actually doing something, and to actually see the change. I taught them how to set up the loom, follow a pattern and even draft their own (with much help from A Handweavers Pattern Book of course!). The volunteers there have worked super hard and have an incredible website well representing the city of Figuig and all its artisans. Figuig Artisanat

Not to be a downer, but leaving Figuig was a downer. Working was so great. On the ten hour bus ride home, which by the way is a lot shorter than the ride normally is (one big plus during Ramadan is that there are no lunch breaks) I read Omnivores Dilemma, barely 100 pages in but hooked. The nice thing is that I’m not on the American diet currently. Despite all my complaining about not having some of my favorite foods and the convenience, I am very grateful for the food available to me here. Fresh produce at every souq, and only what is naturally in season, everything is flavored with sugar, not corn syrup, any meat I do eat is all grass fed and while it’s no picnic for them they do live their lives outside in the natural world, and for what it’s worth, are all slaughtered with a prayer. So if I do get sick, it’s from a funny bug from not washing my food correctly or eating something a little later than its time as I have no fridge, I’m not ingesting much of any processed food chemicals whose names I can’t even pronounce that may or may not cause cancer later in life. I really never want to return to American food.

At hour six of my bus ride, a little exhausted by the loaded information in the book, I paused and glanced outside as we pulled into a bus station. There sat a man with a young Barbary ape in a tiny shirt and undies, held around the neck by a sharp tight chain. It was one of those moments where I truly felt a great let down from the human race. Monkeys always make me sad because I almost always see them in a poor state and of course they are so like us that it just hits a little too close to home to handle. The man chatted with a friend while the monkey chewed on some trash, then got excited and tried to jump on his shoulder a couple times at which point he was beat down and held without any slack between the man’s legs. I know it can sound lame, but in that moment, especially after reading the book and the day before listening to the American financial crisis goings on on the BBC (the volunteers I stayed with had internet at home), I just felt unable to handle the weight of my own species and all that we have done to our home. The moment came and went but the weight is always there.

This brings me back around yet again to the tiring but ever present question of what I want to do with my life. I want a plain woven life. I know that I am over influenced by my life here and how different it is from where I came, but all I keep coming back to is simplicity. I remember well the first time I wove. Our professor showed us the bare minimum-how to measure a warp, how to tie it on the loom, how to pass the shuttle back and forth, safi. Then we were given a weekend or so to weave, just weave, which gave us no direction whatsoever; all we knew was we had to interlock some threads. When we hung up our finished work she read each of us like a book; knew who made what without asking and pulled our character out of our work before we’d even been properly introduced to her. It was a poignant moment and one of the most important beginnings of my life. And we all matured in our work in very separate ways.

Even from her second weaving I could see my best friend Ashley’s whole being reflected in her work. She chose the most complicated pattern she could do with the limits of her loom and worked with such determination for precision and used the finest materials she could find. This theme continued throughout her work in the weaving room and elsewhere. Growing ever finer, ever more complicated and ever more beautiful. Sorry Ash, for using you in my reflections, but our differences so often help. I grew more towards the weight of a piece, rather than beauty and grace, the way two or more awkward fibers could work together in ways they could never work on their own, and I wanted them to be loved by a body. After a year or so of fighting it I accepted my love of plainweave and focused only on the fibers that interlocked. I wanted what made it up to be the beauty and then the purpose. To be plainly honest, I don’t consider myself a very intelligent person; in that I’m not studious, I’m a terrible and frustrated writer, a horrible communicator and I can’t remember a damn fact to save my life. I can’t live without seeing the product of my efforts close to hand. It’s like cash versus cards. I know cards are sophisticated and modern, but I just can’t wrap my little head around it and cash just seems to make fine sense. These are the ramblings of someone born in the wrong era I guess.

What hurts is that I do feel the whole world. For better or worse, my mom raised me to be aware of the world; of all that’s fucked up and all that’s beautiful. She took us for family trash pick-up walks in the city and when we lived with a place with a yard to know the difference between growing your own food and buying it. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People teaches about our circle of concern; that it is made of an inner circle of influence and outer circle of general concern. It’s what I used to call getting worked up about my own petty life, and getting worked up about the “real” and big problems of the world, and finding a balance. But what I know and someday hope to accept is that living within our realm of influence is the only way to create the strength to push that circle wider.

I suppose what I mean to say among all this word sputtering is that I love simplicity but fear I can’t live simply and still provide a real hand in the world. Like leading a simple life isn’t leading a big enough life. What it really is is a lack of confidence, that the things I want are not enough, while I believe at the same time that every person living well is the greatest contributor to the greater health of the world. I used to escape to my imaginary utopia, not exactly Figuig but it did have palm trees. My little dream now is to have a small bit of land, to grow just enough food to eat, to raise alpacas and weave pleasantly. Is that a life? I have no desire whatsoever to be back in the maze of school where I only ever felt behind and uneasy. I also don’t think I am strong enough to begin after this experience yet another job in the rat race or I’ll never find peace and I’ll never get out. I can work hard when I’m told what to do. I don’t work when given the space to do something, as seen by my service up to this point…

At the end of a day of anxiety on the bus and feeling a little blue about every aspect of everything, nature rang with a call of beauty. I went to break the fast with my site mate at my host family’s house the night I came back. When we left out in the great expanse of sky above the rolling hills toward Azrou was the most magnificent electrical storm I’d ever seen. The show continued well into the night and I felt some peace after a long week and a distressing day.

1 comment:

Barb said...

A beautiful writing, Briana, on the weaving of inner and outer reflections. How broad an expanse you have traversed, and how simple the understandings that are happening within. You've touched on, and been touched by, the universal questions of how we choose to be in our world.

You might really resonate with a book called The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka. She is also the author of The Not So Big House series, which chooses to approach the design of home through quality, rather than the quest for more and more quantity - how we relate to space. In the Not So Big Life, she speaks to applying the same concepts to how one chooses the content of their lives.

There is also a very active community forum that continues and expands the discussions at We'd love to have you join us - your world view that expands the boundaries of the discussions would be a wonderful addition.

I look forward to reading more of your entries.

Susanka Studios