Friday, August 21, 2009

BIR CHIFA //احسن يوم EVER

I canceled on Hamid for the interview three times before I decided to stop being a jerk and make my way to the cafe at 2:30, the time we both agreed would be most appropriate for me to meet him there, "because I can just keep working until 3:00 and you can just sit and have coffee and then neither of us will be waiting for each other like I waited for you before for a really long time all those other times," he said. It was also the mid-day slump when the taxi shifts were changing so anyone who knows what's good for them stays home in the midday heat. The shifts at the cafe also change, so everyone is there all at once like a big family, first the night shift in regular clothes, then the day shift in regular clothes. Most of them wear fisherman vests, except Hamid, who wears muscle tanks.

The taxis to Bir Chifa are lined up on a very upright street next to the shop where I buy djellabas for my father and brother every time I go home to visit and they never wear them. I felt the need to make awkward small talk with Hamid along the way, since we were smushed together in the front seat of the communal taxi, and soon realized it was, if not inappropriate, unnecessary to speak. We passed through parts of Tangier that I had never seen before, until we stopped at a small grey intersection where the buildings were also grey, and angular where the second floor juts out over the first floor.

Bir Chifa is one of the highest points of the city. We could see everything. Every patch of white and yellow and red and that shade of pink mostly only old people like to wear. Hamid spread his arms out nervously and said, "Bir Chifa," presenting it to me officially, and I realized he was nervous that I wouldn't like it and he wouldn't look directly at me. I hated realizing this, because it meant I would unnaturally emphasize my appreciation, even though it was sincere. I responded something like, "I love it bzzzzzeff." He nodded and kept avoiding eye contact and we kept walking. He mentioned to me in the taxi that his brother is still a tailor, and has a shop that we could go to so I could take pictures. I declined at the time but it appeared we were going there anyway. Hamid was also a tailor when he was young and when I first met him I innocently exclaimed that I had been searching the city for a sewing teacher. In retrospect and perhaps even at the time I could sense this was mildly inappropriate and probably a contributing factor to one of our many falling outs.

We stopped at a long green wall with a moped parked in front. I assumed it wasn't Hamid's because he sold his the last time I was in Tangier so he could buy a newer, faster one, and this one was more beat up than his last one. He shouted up to the second floor of the building and a few heads poked out, then ducked back in and a few minutes later his brother opened the door for us. The walls were like bubblegum and the floor was wonderfully covered in scraps from tailored women's clothing. Hamid demonstrated some of his skills on the makina while I loaded my camera- it seemed like the only way to convince him that I did really like it, and I wasn't mocking him when I said I wanted to live here. I had to be careful in crafting my sentences to be clear that I would be living either alone or with many women, also being careful not to use the phrase "house of women."

"Maybe we'll be neighbors some day!"
He smiled and nodded slowly, letting me know he was humoring me.
This was all, of course before I learned that the houses in Bir Chifa are actually more expensive than in other parts of town, closer to the city. Needless to say, this finding-a-house-in-Tangier-because-I-can't-find-a-husband thing still requires a lot more research and consideration on my part.

As we were leaving the shop, a plump woman in a blue headscarf peeked her head out in search for Hamid. A minute later we were sitting in his home, on his couch, watching TV with the woman, his step-mother. One of the first things Hamid had told me when I met him was that his mother had passed away, and that I looked just like her.
I luckily did not look like his step-mother. She looked slightly alarmed as though ready to pounce, but managed to smile as she stared at me sideways. We chatted about the Saudi Sheikh giving a lecture on TV. Hamid's brothers passed through the living room several times and were very polite. We sat this way for a couple of minutes until we got to the point where everyone in the room was looking around nervously like jittery birds, we said our salaams and headed for the qahwa.

Hamid not-so-innocently hyped up the qahwa by casually mentioning that Mohammed went there everyday after his morning shift, or before his night shift. "He pulls up a chair from the qahwa over there and brings it here to this spot, and sits here and drinks tea all night. Just like we're doing right now!" He pulled two plastic chairs over to the large expanse of dirt overlooking the city, and we made a table for ourselves in the middle of nowhere. To the left of us were four rows of parallel streets, a mini-howma, which I immediately identified as my howma. The first building in each row was simple grey concrete but I could tell there were some gems further in. I told Hamid my plan over and over, pointing to houses I thought would compliment my personality. He told me I probably couldn't afford a house in Bir Chifa. I had explained to him earlier how much debt I was in from college and now I regretted this. I really do want to be one of those rolly polly women sitting on the side of the road in a row. I wanted him to believe me.

We spent the afternoon at Mohammed's spot. Hamid told me stories about getting hit on by the European and American men that frequent the cafe and tips on how to avoid the especially creepy ones. I told him I was a lesbian, thinking this might safeguard against any misunderstandings on his part. He didn't believe me, but did help me pick out potential girlfriends on the walk back to the taxi. Every couple of sentences he would throw in an endearing comment or funny story about Mohammed, and to my astonishment and delight, confirmed Absalom's previous claim that there were no hard feelings. He shrugged. "He married a Rifia."

He asked me what I thought of his neighborhood, over and over, and I insisted, every time, I heart Bir Chifa I heart Bir Chifa, but I know he didn't really believe me. So he'll just have to wait until I can prove it with a T-Shirt. Forthcoming.

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