‘The Arab’s Ox: Stories of Morocco’ by Tony Ardizzone
Marrakech is the eighth most popular tourist destination in the world, TripAdvisor says. It is known for its warm, friendly people, delicious authentic cuisine and its rich culture, heritage and traditions. Folktales and music have been passed on for generations.
Award-winning author Tony Ardizzone presents a new collection of short interwoven stories of Morocco in “The Arab’s Ox: Stories of Morocco.”
The accounts are of three travellers and their experiences in Morocco. The first story “The Arab’s Ox” is the richest and most dramatic. It describes the reactions of Moroccans when an ox is hit by a shuttle bus from the Casablanca airport.
The driver tells himself that it is “maktub and the road belongs to the strong… the ox failed to understand this.” Ardizzone details the driver’s background, which explains the driver’s thoughts. He used to be a city bus driver, which paid less. Growing up, all he knew was the life of peasantry and he denies it when he says he’s “no fellah from the countryside.” He repeatedly makes the point that, “no matter the situation, the world belongs to the strong.”
A dreamy boy with a wheelbarrow witnesses what happens and prods the ox while an American tourist takes photographs. A Moroccan complains: “This is our life, the reality we live with each day.”
The dreamy boy is glad he was not hit. He is bored with his life and dreams he is a horseman in a festival. The boy hoped the ox would be hit and fears that by desiring the accident, he has caused it.
The story ends that “at first the Arab’s mind will deny what he sees, will tell him the animal is only resting, or asleep, or at worst has slipped, injured its snow-white left foreleg. Then when his eyes will see that the beast in the ditch is dead, he will think that surely this dead, bloated beast is another man’s misfortune. Then he will fall to his knees in mourning and in recognition of God’s will and his fingers will scratch sad furrows into the darkened earth.”
Another story details advice given by a Moroccan to an American to not be “so American.” The American asks what he means so the Moroccan responds, “I mean weak. I mean you asked a man in your hotel for peanuts, and he brought you olives. Then you left him a tip. The weasel’s laughing at you right now, believe me. The story is going from one to another throughout the whole hotel. You’ll be lucky to get clean sheets. You must learn how to handle these Arabs if you expect to stay here and work.”
The Arab way of eating is compared to the Western way of eating in another story. A Moroccan said it was only until he reached university he had his own bowl. “A bowl in my house in Ifrane was simply a bowl, belonging equally to everyone and to no one. Western children are given their own bowls, their own forks and spoons. The family’s food is partitioned, separated. American children sleep in their own beds. In my family, the children had one bed.”
He describes the joy of eating food with his hands from a shared bowl: “I find eating with my hand more sensual and enjoyable than eating with a piece of metal. With my hand, I can feel the food’s warmth and texture and thus I enjoy it with my fingertips as well as my mouth. In contrast, Western meals can be quite cold, I think, particularly when one is forced to forget the food and focus on selecting the proper utensil.”
There are many other parables and traveller experiences in the book such as folktales detailing how “the travellers had to ask everyone if they were human or djinn, because when you were travelling you could never tell and you’d think someone was good and nice and then suddenly he’d turn into a monster.”
However, it is Ardizzone’s artistry in depicting the beauty and flaws of Arab culture that introduces a new lens for Westerners to see Morocco in another way than what they have seen already.