by Benny Raymond
I Was in Fes, Morocco, having language-training for the 'Peace Corps'. One bright morning in March twenty-seven years ago, having overslept myself on, you guessed it, hasheesh, I leaped out of the fart-sack in l'Hotel Olympique, in and out of the shower and into my denim trousers. Hauling away at the pull on the zipper, I popped the fool thing loose and hence couldn't close my fly. All of the rest of my duds was in the laundry (a lot of cheerful Berber ladies on the hotel roof, washing our clothes in cold water–and, lots [!] of bleach), so I flung on a wool shirt and went out into the world in my shirt-tails.
After the morning's language-lesson I made my way to lunch by way of the tailor-shop conveniently on a corner midway between hotel and classroom building. As I busted in I realized that a lot of polite 'salami boloney's' wasn't going to make it–and, at the same time it would deplete utterly my small fund of new Arabic. Plus there was a flock of hangers-on, all men fortunately enough, buddies of the proprietor, who was feeding cardamon-seeds to an African-Grey parrot.
He greeted me friendly-like:
'Wa-'alaykum salaam,' I replied.
' 'schnu-hadu?' the tailor asked, looking disapprovingly at my blue jeans and ratty lumberjack-shirt.
'Er, 'smitee Emmett wa…andee bezzef d'mashkeel' I began a lunatic session in Minnesota-style 'Arabic'…. I pantomimed and jabbered and made motions of hauling up and down my zipper.
'Wa'smitee Hamid–wesh andek naHnu? wa 'alesh?'
'Zipper God damn it!' I exclaimed. 'Jesus Christ…mashee m'zeean…No good!'
The tailor looked on impassively, and his mates said helpful things rapid-fire to him, and one another, in a mixture of Arabic, French and tamizight Middle Atlas Berber.
'God damn it,' I thought to myself vengefully. 'I bet this guy is not understanding me deliberately!'
In the inspiration of annoyed desperation I grabbed up a pencil-stub from Hamid's low work-table and snapped it in two, pointing at my open fly:
THIS Action produced results, a loud amount of delighted laughter and soon-repaired pants. It was soon apparent that no amount of d'real, money, was required or even acceptable. Somehow, I had the feeling, I had made these fellas' day, and as I climbed back into my pants I promised I would come back soon.
I left the Hanoot to a chorus shouted of ma-salaama si-zib's! and got back to the hotel just in time to miss lunch.
Walking back to class, I fell in with my favorite teacher, MuHammad Nejmi. He was a devout muslim and looked in his traditional gown not unlike the Little King in the 1950's comics, minus the crown. Also, at least when he wasn't frowsting it as a language-teacher, he wrote in French and English scholarly articles about Beckett and Camus and Waiting For Godot and Harold Pinter. And, to top it all, having saved up his money the first time around for hajj he blew it all on a trip to the States and, then, went to Mekka later.
In America he hitch-hiked on foot in his sandels and jellabah in Bedford-Stuyvessant AND Oklahoma, and 'never met an American I didn't like!' I think the reason Nejmi never got mugged or lynched is he was the most obviously sincere and friendly, happy, person I ever met.
Later when he told me about all of the different ways of thinking and knowing available in islam–I became muslim.
Now, however, I wanted to know about the 'Mr Zib' business–I told my nipand-tuck tale, Nejmi grinned all over his face and said he would explain me all about it. Provided I first of all taught him how to say you God damn BRAIN genius! and Jesus Christ, how DUMB can you BE? and fine-haired sonsofbitches and some other things, all in good southern Minnesotan. Nejmi already spoke pretty good educated American, but he told me he'd always liked accents and slang (it WAS funny, listening to him talking Arabic in a horrible West End British posh accent!) and, anyway, saying my southern Minnesotanisms wasn't swearing for a muslim, not really, since none of the words was in Arabic anyway. So, I agreed to help him out.
'YOU See, si' Smit', er, Smeeth, it's all just that you said something very funny there in the tailor-shop–and those men all thought you were like Noah's poor jamel [camel] after the Flood. Er, you know about that don't you?'
'Well sure,' I said, 'Christ, it's in the Bible!'
'I'm glad you know it,' he said. 'Do you know it is amazing how many young 'merikaneen don't know these things–I'm afraid that you people are losing your religion. And our nebi MuHammand (pbuh) said always: "better a wrong religion than none"….' MuHammad Nejmi smiled at me to let me know that he didn't take it literally.
'Nah, Hell!' I said. 'You know my chalee, my mother's brother, Uncle Emmett, ain't been in a church for years–but even he always says religion ain't ALL bad, because…"Jesus Christ, it keeps the dumb bastards from DOING every damn fool thing that blows into their God damn EMPTY heads!"
Now we had to take a break while I coached Nejmi in getting the Eagle Lake-Madison Lake 'lakese' dialect-stresses just right. Then, when I figured that he might fool a Blue Earth County farmer at least on a dark night, and as long as it was windy out of the Northwest, Nejmi told me why the camel's zib (penis) is so small–and points backwards! Waving to the other students to sit around him beside the school's courtyard well (this was in the French-built Fes Nouvelle quarter, and the 'well' was a Moorish fake done in stucco), he began at the beginning as related in the Old Testament:
'AS The Noah-family were loading the beasts into the boat lella Noah turned to her husband and said she thought there was going to be problem:
'"Whatever will happen if all of these creatures begin copulating and, having copulated, have families? Your angel of Allah has not been exactly forthcoming about how long all of this is going to go on, and as it is written the woman is the good fortune of a well-ordered home, well, I think we could maybe get into trouble about enough food…."
'Noah, being a famous nebi, a prophet, of course hadn't thought of this, but being a good husband he kept his temper:
'"Well now, Mother, I believe that you have got us on that one. What do you think?"
'Mrs Noah was waiting for this as a well-brought-up semitic lady who didn't give advice to her rajul unless asked, and this was her chance:
'"I suspect that the only thing to do is to remove the penes of you, er, the male animals as they come aboard. We can stick these into the cupboard, and if anyone gets excited just explain that it is a temporary measure like checking one's hat or coat at le Moulin Rouge, and that they'll all get their things back after the voyage."
'Noah, who sometimes was embarrassed as a prophet because he WAS kept so much on a need-to-know basis by the angels, and because he thought well of his wife's common sense, lost no time in handing it to the animals. After a certain amount of fussing–after all, the Flood wasn't their fault!–the male animals all stood and delivered….
'ALL Good things come to an end, and when Noah finally got word from a pigeon that the Flood was really over, and that the boat really was on Mt Ararat and not just hung up on another snag, he took his place with Mrs Noah at the head of the gangplank. He instructed the creatures all to file off in precisely the reverse order to that in which they had boarded. This was of some importance, as there had been no time at boarding to write out proper name-tags and check-stubs, and anyway Mrs Noah had worried they might all run out of toilet-paper.
'The last but one was the Camel-family. Coming behind was the Donkeys. Camels move slowly except in races in the desert, and the Donkeys took annoyance and thrust ahead at the last minute. They were so quick about it that the Noahs did not realize the fumble until it was too late. There the Noahs stood on the empty boat, confronted by an irate and bellowing, highly annoyed, Mrs Camel–and, her old husband. There was nothing for it but to offer to him the bit that was left.
'"Rag-tag and bobtail!" sneered si jamel and started away down the gangplank, followed by a weeping Mrs Camel.
'Mr Noah stared at Mrs Noah in horror. This was dreadful. Now one of God's creatures was within an ace of going extinct–Noah would lose his job and his name doubtless would not be written! It was Mrs Noah as came to her senses first. Darting after Mr Camel and quickly basting the donkey-snippet with a needle and length of thread she kept always at hand in a seam of her gown, she stuck it on, although she was in a hurry and got the thing backwards….
'This was in the days of the prophets, you see, and Mrs Noah too could stop the Sun at least for a moment or two, although because our islam is a patriarchal religion she wasn't allowed to halt time for a day or anything like that. So, you see, si Camel got something out of the deal, although not much and backwards. Whereas that is why today the Donkey possesses something truly preposterous….'
'ALL The same, si Smit', er, Smeeth,' said MuHammad Nejmi, leaning forward confidentially as my fellow students laughed at the funny story:
'…that was a good piece of–tailoring!'
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 8 March 2006]