Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The King of the Franks part 9

          I expected some remote forest retreat: a cave hidden by a screen of trees, an overgrown logging shed, long abandoned.  But we briskly entered a busy, bustling Muslim village.  A smith was pounding nails on an anvil.  A butcher held a knife aloft and was poised to drive it into a cows neck, a teacher taught students the Arabic alphabet on some chipped slate, sitting under the spreading boughs of a tree.  The marabout lead me inexorably to an unassuming structure with maghrebi touches: rough, white stucco, exterior; a slender, modest minaret topped with a copper crescent moon, tinged with green. 

            We quickly entered and the marabout gestured that I should remove my shoes.  As I did, a cluster of men sitting against the wall turned to look at us.  Two other men, reading on the floor, rose to meet us.  One was the qadi, and he starting to speak to the marabout rapidly, with alarm.   
             The marabout replied softly; but whatever he said enraged the qadi, who now began to scream, the entire time taking great care not to look fully at me.  The marabout said nothing during the harangue.  He bowed his head somewhat, not in subjugation, for in this part of the Islamic world the marabout is held in higher esteem than the qadi, but from what I imagined it was a sense of shame.  The qadi did not share the marabout’s definition of hospitality, and it grieved him.

            The marabout then began to quote the Qu’ran, interspersing it with the native language.  The qadi’s block head, stripped with a gray border of hair, and set with innumerable wrinkles, began to undulate. 
            The marabout continued to speak softly, and with undue haste.  But it was obvious: this was a lesson to be learned.  God enjoins us to protect the stranger, even at the risk of our lives.  A Muslim must give a stranger a place in his home and since the marabout was itinerant, the stranger must stay in God’s house.   
            So I found myself in a small, windowless room on a straw pallet, a bucket for my functions, and when evening came, a boy who would not look me in the eye brought me a bowl of cous-cous flavored with curdy goat’s milk.   
            As night fell, I could hear a screech.  At first I thought it was gunfire, but it was only monkey’s roosting in the eves of the mosque, serenading the quickly falling tropical night.

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