The Wake

We are greeted on the street by a man and a woman lingering near the open door. Upon entering the home, men immediately head up the stairs on the right. The first floor is for the women and younger children. Shoes are piled high at the edge of the carpet. Firm, patterned sofas border the room, and women of all ages fill every seat. They bring out trays of hot, sweet tea and fill the glass of each and every lady present. The crowd has spilled into the neighboring bedroom, where women sit beneath heavy blankets crowded around a weathered table. In the center of the table is a jar of water and a shared mug. There are two women in aprons who never seem to sit down. They are steadily circulating throughout the first floor, never out of earshot, and ready to meet the needs of the guests. One woman sitting amidst a cluster of others is dressed in all white, and occasionally her eyes well with tears. She is pleasant and kind, but her face is somber. There is a steady flow of people in and out of the home, and she is specifically sought out by each new arrival. Conversation rises and falls. The women talk of money, husbands, recipes, and children. At times they don’t talk at all, but few choose to leave. The hour grows late, and the older women start to fade. Some move to the bed to sleep next to some of the youngest children who are already there, and others drift off right where they sit. Some will stir occasionally and rejoin the conversation, while others awake only when plates of steaming couscous emerge from the depths of the home after 10:30pm. The giant platters are placed on tables in front of each cluster of women and the children quickly gather around, squeezing between their elders or being pulled onto the laps of strangers. Just as the dishes are cleared, plates carrying whole chickens replace them and round two of the feast begins. Energy is reignited in the room, and the steady stream of conversation is broken only occasionally by the sound of the men singing upstairs.

__________

As soon as I entered the house, I was quickly ushered upstairs by Abdlali and others. When I found myself on the upstairs landing, I saw that I was alone. Different men greeted me with proper Moroccan etiquette. Moments later Abdlali appeared and guided me into a salon where men wearing jilabas were sitting around a table. I entered the room and greeted everyone. Abdlali invited me to sit on the sofa. Conversation was sparse, and there appeared to be men working in addition to those attending. I realized that I had made my way to the carpet without removing my shoes. As Abdlali left the salon, I called his name while simultaneously pointing to my feet, showing an uncertain expression. With a sweeping motion he removed me from the space, inviting me back out. We went into the neighboring salon protected only by a partial wall, waist-high, separating us from the men around the table. We sat down, alone, on the sofa at the far end. More men continued to enter the first salon, greeting everyone, and taking their place around the table. I couldn’t yet make out exactly what the occasion or event was. Abdlali spoke a bit to me before telling me that I could go to sleep, one of the few Darija words that I could make out. Much of my attention was on the steady flow of men entering the upstairs space and the continual hustle of staff, now both men and women, working in preparation for something. Shortly after, they began. Abdlali and I, isolated in our separate space, began to witness their prayer, a repetitive homophonic chant. This continued at great length before one of the men began to speak. As the steady flow of men continued to trickle in gradually, the empty salon where we sat began to fill. Greetings were exchanged and seats were claimed while the uninterrupted prayers and lectures continued, only broken by the sound of women laughing or children playing downstairs. By 10:30pm, there was an overflow of attendees and the wait staff kept glasses filled with tea. As the final prayer tapered off with a series of “Amen,” a wash tray was brought around and tables were set up to serve a meal. As 11 o’clock drew near, large tajines filled with couscous, vegetables and meat were served. Everyone ate from the plate in traditional communal form, and every man made sure that the one next to him had plenty to eat. Bread was broken and passed around and the next tajine arrived, carrying two whole chickens decorated with olives. As quickly as they came, food and tables disappeared, hands were washed and individuals began to leave. As the room emptied, Abdlali and I made our way back downstairs where the women were finishing up their evening as well. We did not meet them until we were all outside amidst departing friends to make the trip back home.

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