by Benny Raymond
[The following contains “a bunch of” what the Moslem Haddad’s old Great-Aunt Huldy Olsen, out of Eagle Lk., Minn., fifty-two years or so ago called “a bunch of off-color wild talk!” You have been warned, ‘inshAllah — ed]
28 Muharram 1432 (AH)//3 January 2011 (Old Style)
(written by him in reply to a letter from a friend — BR)
Hang on, Michael…by God, did you know it, I had custody once, briefly, of such a bird?
‘Twas in Midelt in the Middle Atlas, oh, more than thirty years since whilst I was sojourning among the ‘ait-‘Abdi Berbers there, down from their 11000 foot plateau for the Winter. My purpose, as well as the bagnios, was to learn something of their tamizirt language. During the festive days of ‘Eid, which came at Winter’s end that year, my first teacher of ‘ilm al-islam and the most elementary of the dervish lore of the Sofees was called away down to the sickbed of an uncle by the sea, down the long bare hills to dirty old Dar Baida, or Casablanca Town. As he threw together his things, Mahound Nadgemee asked if I wouldn’t be so good as to mind his marvelous old talking parrot for a fortnight. It was a venerable old bird, partly permanently bare of feathers, and who had (she said to me, only later) known…Dr Dolittle!
As the barest apprentice in both Islam and my Sofee studies, I could not refuse and was pleased to note that Nezhmi was prepared to leave with me a thirty kilo sack of millet and rolled oats and raisins for the bird.
All that our Peace Corps Medical Officer, Judy Baker, RN, had to say against any of it was that I had better be prepared for any nightly outings with plenty of les capeaux anglaises and paper cylinders of louse powder, and that I’d as well be careful, too, of…the parrot fever. Then Judy Baker took off for Rabat and an emergency meeting about contingency plans for evacuating the run-of-the-mill Peace Corps in case of any possible fundamentalist emergencies.
(This was in 1979 but, as I had already made shahada ad-din the year before in the chatty, intimate and gossipy Moroccan atmosphere, I was not hissed and booed by students in the Centre du Mont Fleury, where I taught outside of Fez, unlike some of the other volunteers; in the postmodern gadding-about of to-day it is altogether better not to go about in the World in any too overtly North Atlantean a fashion…you will just piss off everybody!)
Finally, the ‘ait-‘Abdi all pulled up stakes and down their tents and made off for the royal palace, the one down in Rabat I believe. There they pounded stakes in the courtyards and threw up their tents, and went out on orders from the seraglio to chase and beat up rioting students. Poor students of Morocco! Their educations were subsidized by the king, they had no propects after graduation except illimitable years on minimum stipends in the civil service, to pay back their student loans. Meanwhile, they were thoroughly saturated in imported francophone deconstruction by their Lacanian and completely browned-off instructors.
At night in the one-and-only police-supervised coffee bar in Fez they would reprove me for the Islamic turns if phrase in my Arabic, denounced American imperialism in Viet Nam and announced socialism. By day, the ones working in the Post Office at the corner of Mohammed Cinq and Hassan Deux politely charged us bribes with the shared connivance of supervisors and, I was told, the very postmaster…to release to us our postale restante [General Delivery, ie] mail.
There is an awfully funny story about me, the crooked mail clerk and Mohammed Nejmi which must await another telling; and, in the meantime, within the year, very many of these same students deeply would feel themselves to have found something solid and real in religious fundamentalism: not least because of the the resounding Islamic critique of bad and worldly, or ‘ignorant’, government. However, this is now all out of the saga; and, so, I will revert here to my parrot-minding days, in the middle ranges of the Maghreb:
When first I was alone with the parrot of Najim Mohamet and that heretofore had only croaked in my presence “alhamdullah’, I said that I was going to try to teach it some more.
‘Hold on’, said the old bird, who then told me all about Dr Dolittle and the Battle of Waterloo and Trevithick’s first steam locomotives, ‘I can talk already’. I was just knocked down by this development, and after she sang to me her version of ‘Three Old Whores From Winnipeg’ * , I positively could not wait to show off about it all to someone! Anyone? The Berbers, Peace Corps and all were gone, hair and all, and so I made off to a nearby teahouse by the businesswomen’s quarter where some Americans I knew of were holding forth.
They were helicopter pilots and so forth, prospecting the mountains for uranium and other rare miltiary minerals, Vietnam vets working for Union carbide. They smoked a great deal of hasheesh, drank the 100%-duty tourist armagnac by the glass, beat up any provincial gendarmerie who tried to collect bribes for these privileges, and were great friends of the warlike bravos of the ‘ait-‘Abdi, who in turn supplied the Moroccan sooltanes with some of their most loyal and violent para units. These were not men to worry about les capeaux anglaises and louse powder…but I thought that a talking parrot — one that really talked and plus sang smut, too! — would just fetch the whole boiling.
“God damn it, boys!” I blared in my best American as I stepped under the ramada like on Thursday night in Culla’s Bar in Riverside Av, in Old Minneapolis, “Just listen up to THIS sonofabitch talk that I got here!”
And so, of course (you guessed it) the bird clammed up and wouldn’t say a word. The fellas bet me ten-to-one that the parrot couldn’t say “fuck-all,” and so of course naturally it would not. I lost hundreds of D’s [the Moroccan coin of account, then worth approximately $.25 American, at the artificially pegged then-exchange rate — ed] right smack dab on the spot. In the street, I cussed the old bird in her cage under her silk shawl, ‘Just look at the effing load of loot I lost on this cock-up! Effing fool of a’ effing talking parrot — TALK, my bleeding arse! Effing Christ in Bangcock!’
‘Hold on’, said the parrot. ‘I’ll put it in terms that even some DUMB bastard like YOU can understand, Yank:
‘”You’re the one who’s a God-damn FOOL! Jesus Christ boiling and roasting in Hell, when we go back in to that pisshouse to-morrow, er, tomorrow, why Hell, YOU, you brain-sonofabitch, will clean up — 100 TO ONE”‘
* — This venerable old melody exists in many lyrical versions; needless to say, the parrot’s was different, both in mood and content, from the one I first learnt in boyhood fifty-some years ago, of an American maternal uncle, in the rural environs of Indian-draped Old Mankato, in southern Minnesota:
[all rights reserved
[ 28 Muharram 1432//3 January 2010]