Every year the village of Tamegroute
, near the border of the Saharan Desert boasts a festival (Musum
) in honor of the sick and handicapped. Thousands of Moroccans stream into the sandy, palmed-crusted outpost. I, needing to conduct a few more interviews with Tamegroute Potters for my shipping service project, headed down to the Musum
. The place was a sea of black.. women wrapped in their sahawian long sheaths of cloth, swarming the tents of tasty treats and wares.
I visited a new volunteer there, and greeted her dear host family (whom I'd met months earlier, when developing the site). They pressed us to stay for dinner before returning to Zagora. We acceded and returned. The house had three doors..each door leading to a whole maze of mud-walled salons, kitchens, and rooms where they kept the sheep. After wandering through several doors and mazes, we found Ptisam, her host mother, who ushered us into a salons furnished with Berber carpets and a little round table. Two volunteers brought in drbukas that they had just purchased, and a drum fest began. Apparently, if you're born in Tamegroute, you are born beating some surface to a frenzied rhythm. Daughters and Aunts and random young men filtered into the room and picked up leather-stretched instruments or turned an empty coke bottle on it's side, grabbed two knives and entered the jive. After a couple hours, I looked around and realized there was not a square inch of the small room not covered by a body. We clapped and hummed along to ancient chants. I smiled and stared, the beats pounding into my head. They begged me to stand up and dance or grab a drum or sing. I felt uncomfortable with all three, refused and enthusiastically clapped to make up for my lack of participation.
Ptisam, the host mother, after making us all tea and welcoming every new stranger that wandered in, picked up a drbuka and proved to us all that she knew it's melodies better than anyone. Her beautiful face was weathered, but glowed. Her warmth spread through slapping hands, smiles and constant attention to our needs. It was nearing on nine pm and we thought we should leave. She urged us to stay, telling us how she would prepare a room for all. After a while, there was no possible way to refuse, we assented and fell back into the chants.
There was a young girl who kept peeking around the door. She was deaf and mute. Apparently, she was one of many guests that stayed with Ptisam's family during the Musum. Her brother had left to wander the streets, and this dear excited, mute girl laughed, squealed and clapped along with us. "How many guests have stayed here?" I queried Ptisam. "Eighty the first night, eighty the second night, and two nights ago, we had 120 men and 45 women." I just stared at her. She repeated the numbers several times while they sunk in. "Oh, well they all pay, right?" "No, no one pays, they are friends. They are people who are handicapped and come to the celebration. We love visitors and feed them all." She glowed. I stared. "Where do they sleep?" "They just line up on the floor in every room."
I was hungry, and she brought me olives and bread while dinner was being prepared. After a couple hours, a steaming clay plate of Couscous was set before us and we dove into it. Then came fruit. Then I excused myself to the restroom, and when I returned, the room had been transformed into a bedroom just for me. I crawled under the one blanket on my ponge, when she scurried back in, saying "No, no, no.. you are going to have a good bed with many blankets." She layered sheets and blankets, turned off the light and bid me goodnight.
In the morning, I woke early to find the industrious lady sweeping and cleaning. She immediately attended to my needs and told me to go back to sleep, as it was still early, to wait for my friends to wake. I woke again to find everyone drinking coffee and bread. Then came Moroccan spaghetti. Finally we bid them goodbye and took our leave. With many kisses and hugs. Ptisam will always be, to me, a beautiful host among hosts.