Thursday , February 22 2018

Short Story by Ahmed Zahiri



It happened by chance that I was born in the mid-atlas mountains where life is natural, humble and eternal. My village is surrounded by huge mountains and there is a firm belief that those giant mountains are mythic meant to protect the natives from evil, hidden power and invaders that have threatened their existence since the old days. Berbers, as a word, refers to the natives by others who wrote down history. “History is a lie,” said my ninety years old uncle who kept talking and insisting, “Strangers came from all over the place, somewhere I know nothing about. They made us adopt the mountains that turned to be a part of our identity. The mountains are always there and have never moved away; they looked after your ancestors and still do the same thing for us and they will do for generations to come, they are eternal. They are indeed a symbol of resistance and existence. The mountains made us resist and exist, my boy”.

Itto is my uncle’s wife; she brought tea, mint, “hayati” glasses, silver pot and sugar in a locally fabricated silver tree decorated with a star similar to the one said to be the Star of David, known in Hebrew as the Shield of David or Magen David. The star in the tea tree looks like a rare to-find-piece, beautifully designed with a shape of a hexagram, the compound of two equilateral triangles. Accordingly, with Berber traditions, my uncle started preparing tea while his wife setting up a fire, going back and forth to the kitchen making sure bread is ready. My uncle loves to sit around the fireplace made of stones, and that is his favorite spot where he feels warm and can enjoy sipping tea with mint and a lot of sugar. The fire was burning down and then he added more cedar and oak wood. “The burned wood has a pleasant odor”, I said.
“Where did you get the tea tree dear uncle?” asked I.
You like it. Right?
Yes I do.
How old are you?
Don’t you know, uncle?
I know but I am asking in case I missed couple of days! He smiled.
I am 22 years old, dear uncle.
Which year we are in now dear son?
it’s 1998.
What is that? I can’t believe it is only 1998.
Yes, it is dear uncle.
The last winter, we did celebrate the year 2950 and never forget that you “Amazigh” or as some named us “Berbers”, I hate this name and it’s up to you to correct it. The Amazigh people celebrated the New Year 2950 and I have no clue about 199…8…9, whatever!! where did you get that?
That what we use at school dear uncle!
School school school! School has taught poor people the wrong history that was written by outsiders… years and years ago, before the birth of “Sidna Aissa”.
Who were they uncle?
I don’t know…people from somewhere else.
“He probably meant the Greek, the Romans may be and many others including the Arabs, the Moorish and the list is longer”. Said my cousin.
Don’t you have something to do Boy! yelled my uncle.
No, I am all-set “Ibba”. Replied my cousin.
Wake up dear! How is your school by the way? My uncle asked me.
Fine and soon, I will graduate from college.
Is that why you left the mountains? We no longer see you that often.
Yes uncle!
Shame on you! Look at that mountain over there, in front of us, how beautiful it is.
Yes it is pretty.
Do you know what they call it?
No…yes yeh, it’s mmmm Akka Mountain!
Do you know who Akka is?
Never mind, you people lost everything! Don’t you know that Akka Mountain never left this place dear nephew?
Yes, I know, it got nowhere to go uncle.
Why should he? Wondered my uncle.
It’s a mountain and no power can change its place uncle.
Yes, true! Very true, none can change its place except God right!
right uncle.

…and that how you people should be, exactly like those mountains, solid, defiant, big and committed to their roots.

God determine where we can be dear uncle. and I strongly believe in God and his prophets. “La ilahe illallah””La ilahe illallah””La ilahe illallah”. My uncle repeated. “

God is the east and west; and wherever you turn, there is God’s countenance. Behold, God is infinite, all-knowing”. I recited and copied God’s words as revealed in the Quran.

The tea was ready and we still waiting for bread and olive oil. Hey woman! Shouted my uncle calling out his wife to get bread and olive oil as soon as possible. “Still need time for bread to be ready!” Iitto, my uncle’s wife, said.

My uncle’s house is located in the outskirt of the village, I might say 20 miles away and no paved roads can get visitors there. “Could you ask your government to get the road fixed, that way we can visit you and Akka mountain, anytime, it’s not that easy to connect to the place… dear uncle”. Said I. “The tribe is happy about it, no need for paved roads and only people that belong to here and love us would make it here and never complain. Easy roads dear son means strangers would invade our virgin paradise and Akka would be upset, and you know…they did before. I don’t need to worry about my property, my land and my people, the area is safe this way, and since you’ve complained, don’t come again as simple as this. Your beloved parents, may God bless their souls…”
“May god bless their souls…Amene”, I repeated after him, then he continued saying:
“….I mean, their souls must be comfortable right now to feel that you happy to be here and not somewhere else”, said my uncle in a very harsh tune. “Very true dear uncle, very true dear uncle, very true dear uncle”…..I woke up murmuring “it’s not my fault” while the door bell kept ringing. “Indeed, it has never been my fault”, said I consciously. “What time is it now? Asked myself, and “who’s ringing the bell at this time… it’s one pm right? But am I expecting somebody today”, asked myself nervously.

Actually, I was not expecting anybody to visit me that day as I know. I opened the door then two nice gentlemen apparently Indians asked me if I could attend a street play that would take place in Boston, Massachusetts on August, 25th 2010 around 7:40 in the afternoon. “What…! and…. what’s that and why me, I am not Indian”, I replied with a smile.

Their invitation to me wasn’t random but they thought that I belong to the Indian community in Boston since my building is ethnically diverse with a decent number of Indians living there. They perhaps noticed my name in the mailbox label and thought that I am Indian based on my last name and even my first name. I do know that my last name does exist in Asian nations including India itself. My first name Ahmed is global, universal and pretty. it is said that Jesus Christ was the first to utter that name referring to a future prophet to come for the whole humanity and save them from evil. “I am not Indian; but why not, I would be there for the play”. To be honest, the idea sounded perfect and for me it was very interesting.” Though I do not speak Hindi, I made up my mind to go and watch the play simply because I admire such a literary genre with which I am too familiar. Morocco is my home country where I grew up enjoying the street plays; they are so popular in Moroccan culture, especially in Medina. Marrakech is known for “El jamaa al fana” square where plays have been performed daily for centuries. Sharing that experience with my fellow Indian community would be definitely a great experience to have.

My experience with the play was interesting and challenging at the same time in the sense that linguistic barrier was a natural obstacle behind my difficulty in understanding the content, but such a language issue made me more interested in the play from the beginning to the end. Just to let you know that we Moroccans are familiar with the Indian movies. Those have been so popular back home and I have always known the Indian culture through the movies that I have watched. The fact that made me quite able to decipher at least the general message conveyed by the play.

What I understood is that the events took place in a medical facility and certain people were trying to get access to health care, but they couldn’t, due to the corrupted health providers in particular. The play was over, and while thinking to leave, a group of people among whom some performers, people in charge and audience came to me and thanked me for attending the play. I felt embarrassed to be thanked for being there with them enjoying their culture, but I felt proud to realize how universal I am though my dear uncle insisted that I am rooted in the mid-atlas mountains where life is natural, beautiful and eternal. I could not utter a single word to them; it was a surprise to me and It was a pleasure as well to have that chance to see and share that human experience which do not relate only to the Indians, but also to the whole humanity. I am convinced to say that Akka Mountain is too far away from Boston.

However, it happened that the Berber and the Indian shared a human experience in the land of the free called Boston- a city that was established by the puritans who came from the Saint Botwulph town, England.

I strongly believe that we human beings share the same circumstances, challenges, feelings and experiences and certainly, if my uncle still alive, I would tell him the story while sitting in front of his simple fireplace sipping the tea together and chatting about life in the Atlas Mountains during his childhood. My uncle is a good man, he is humble, simple, easy going, welcoming, generous, and doesn’t need much to feel happy, he is always thankful to his God as he used to say all the time. My dear uncle is a treasure for me, he is more than that actually, he is a history to rely on, he is an eye witness and he is the truth I am looking for to understand who am I. I cannot go beyond that to get that truth. My uncle knows many things about the family and about the tribe and he can talk about my “ibahnini” and my “innahna” and his grandpa and ma; he got many stories to tell.

Nevertheless, the world is huge, pretty and divers and it must be beyond my tribe left back home. The play for me is universal more than local and my dear uncle and Akka Mountain and Boston among others contribute to the richness and the beauty of human world. The play treats universally human issues like corruption, and human sufferings. It uncovers the daily challenges of the powerless and the dominance of the powerful. It conveys the exact story my uncle told me about the Mid-atlas Mountains when invaded by outsiders. The play and my dream of my dear uncle reminded me of Gandhi, extraordinary man from India who fought for a nonviolent, peaceful existence and set an entire nation free. Ghandi is like Akka Mountain, my uncle admired much and Boston where I watched the play are all stand for resistance, human existence, tolerance, freedom and human dignity. Gandhi is not Indian for me, instead, he is a human being who was born for the whole humanity; the same thing can be said about the play performed by my comrades in Boston Common and the same thing can be said about Akka Mountain located in my dear uncle hometown in the Mid-atlas Mountains.

About the author

Ahmed Zahiri is a human rights activist; He settles down in Boston Metropolitan, MA, USA. He is, as well, one of the active members of Moroccan American community and cultural center. Ahmed’s interests can be various which may include culture, literature, media, linguistics, interpreting and translating field. He writes for Amazigh World News in what concerns the Amazigh issues, identity, history and culture.

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