Thursday, October 13, 2016

the inner workings of my surroundings

No time for a big post at the moment, so here's just a pointer to a fascinating book that I was told about by a friend:

My Life Story by Emily Shareefa of Wazan  (1912)

Emily, a well-born English girl, married the Grand Shareef of Wazan (Ouezzane, Wazzan) at Tangier in 1873, with her family's very reluctant consent. This book about her subsequent life in Morocco was written in 1911.

R.B Cunninghame Graham remarks in the Preface: "Even Doughty's great epic of Arabia has to yield in some respects to this plain narrative of daily life written so simply and in such good faith..." Indeed, it does. Doughty romantically celebrates, through half-closed eyes, the eternal Otherness of the Arab world; the Shareefa patiently, and often comically, learns to live it.

During the first few weeks of my marriage almost daily excursions were made. The Shareef had a large orange garden near the town of Tangier, and thither we proceeded, lunch being sent on after us. I admired the gardener's baby son, and the mother made me understand that it belonged to the Shareef.  I was so taken aback that I hastily returned the child to its parent, and went and sat under an orange tree and wept. At first I did not reply to the Shareef's inquiries for the reason of my tears; on second thoughts, I put on rather an injured air and told him what I had discovered. He was much amused, and told me I had much to learn regarding the little episode. Forthwith he explained to me how barren women, or those wishing for a son, came to the Zowia or Sanctuary for his prayers and intercession with God to grant the wishes of the supplicant. Faith, he said, was a powerful force in the Mohammedan religion, and that for that reason the Shorfa (plural for Shareef) were approached on divers requests, the sanctity of their lineage making them Saints. The gardener's wife had five daughters, and, by wearing an amulet the Shareef had directed to be given to her, she had, for her sixth child, borne a son; consequently he belonged to the Zowia or Sanctuary. I don't think I was convinced just then. My complete ignorance of the inner workings of my surroundings started me thinking, and gave me an impulse to learn Arabic; for I fully recognized that unless I could master that language, the manners and customs would be a closed book to me for ever.  ...

Now read on!



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