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IN THE MARRAKESH SOUKS WOMEN SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF THE HEART

THROWING PAINT

WOMEN CAN COMMUNICATE WITHOUT WORDS

The Language of the Heart:  Women Can Communicate Without Words

Summer moves at a leisurely pace, and I spend almost all of it with my daughters and my five grandchildren—three girls and two boys.  While I love my son-in-law and the two boys every bit as much as I love the girls and the other women in my family, I understand the girls best.  In fact, we often know what the other is thinking before she says it.  I know at a glance whether one of them has had a bad day or is worried or sad.  There is a strong intuitive bond that seems to transcend conventional language.  We speak the language of the heart.  

I don’t, however, believe that this deep connection is limited to family and best friends.  I think that most women can communicate on a deep and intuitive level.

Perhaps because I am living in a house dominated by women,  I have been thinking a lot lately about the world of women.  Over the years, I have met women in all of my travels, and I have been amazed at how much we have in common, and in the ways that we speak a common language--even when we can’t understand a word the other says.  One of my most memorable connections with women occurred when I was traveling alone in Morocco—something that I had been warned not to do.  I wrote this for a travel magazine, but it is an absolutely true story.

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I pride myself on never being afraid, but I am scared. I feel stoned by the smells, sights, sounds, and feelings. It is psychedelic—unreal—I dodge blind men and men with clubfeet.  Milky eyed, charismatic beggars, tattooed women, walking mummies, and grabbing salesmen accost me.  I am hopelessly lost in the souks of Marrakesh. The alleys are a labyrinth, a spider web, with no seeming end. Mopeds hurtle past me at high speed and compete for space with mule carts and wagons.  I am beginning to panic.  I turn down one lane only to be confronted by an unfamiliar alley, which leads to another and another.  I have no idea how to get back to the central square, and it is getting dark.

I should have taken the advice I was given at my hotel—to memorize the colors of the doors and follow them when I was ready to go home.  Clearly I failed to heed this advice; the doors no longer seem to have any pattern. Finally, I duck into in a small café for strong mint tea and a bit of courage.  I ask the man at the next table for directions.  He tells me to keep the sun over my right shoulder.  This is not helpful. 

At first, the souks were fun. I wandered through leather shops, and looked at carpets, metalwork, and pottery.  I bought what is touted as valuable jewelry for a few dirham from the men hawking it on the streets.  After bartering for a necklace with silver coins, and a Berber silver studded bracelet, I tried on jeweled sandals, looked at leather pouffes, and considered brightly colored kaftans.  I looked at olives, lemons, chilies, capers, pickles, dates, and figs and lust after them.

In Marrakesh, everyone has a hand out for money.  No transaction comes free.  If you want a picture of the snake charmer, you will pay for it.  Henna ladies chase you through the media trying to decorate your hands and, successful or not, they expect to be paid.  Fortune-tellers—hands out--tell you the future whether you are interested or not.  So, I am not surprised when two small boys hold their hands out when I ask them for directions back to the main square.

As I dig in my purse for coins to hand to the boys, their mothers come along.  I do not speak Arabic, and it is clear that neither mother speaks English or French.  Had these mothers spoken French, I might have been able to communicate to some degree, but they do not.  Language, however, is not a barrier.  I am fairly certain that these mothers say to their sons, in no uncertain terms, that they are not little beggar boys, and that they do not ask for money to give directions.  Each mother takes one of my arms, and together they walk me to the square. We hug in the square, and the women head home with their sons, and I make my way back to my hotel.

In subsequent days in Marrakesh, I drink sweet peppermint tea and brave the mayhem and charm of the market square where I eat boiled snails on toothpicks, pigeon bstilla, and tender goat heads.  I have my hands henned; I have my fortune told.  There are young boys with chained Barbary apes, water sellers with leather water bags and traditional brass cups.  I watch Chleuh dancing-boys, listen to story-tellers—even when I cannot understand a word they say as they tell their tales in Berber or Arabic--watch magicians, and look at the wares of peddlers selling a variety of traditional—and not so traditional—medicines.  I walk miles on the ramparts that surround the medina of the city and visit the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries.  I tour a synagogue, which is inside a former leper colony, visit the Museum of Isalmic Art located in the Menara Gardens, and wander the gardens and rooms of the Badi Palace.

Each morning I wake at 5:15 to the sound of the call to prayer and each evening I go to sleep to the same sound as it floats over the hubbub of the night market.  In the Koutoubia Mosque a muezzin climbs the minaret five times a day to make the call to prayer, or “adhan,” which summons Muslims to follow the mandatory five prayer times of each day.  Starting with four repetitions of “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is the greatest”), listeners are summoned to hurry to worship, and at dawn, they are reminded that “prayer is better than sleep.”  The calls to prayer wake me, lull me to sleep, and punctuate my day.

Prayer comes in many forms, but perhaps the strongest is the unspoken bond between people--kindness, compassion, understanding and caring.  While Marrakesh is the most exotic and unique place that I have traveled—a place where I was challenged and enchanted by the sights, smells, tastes, and experiences--none of those experiences rival the lesson I learned from the mothers in the souks.  We had absolutely no way to communicate with each other in words, but we spoke a much deeper and richer language—the language of women and mothers.  As we walked to the square and smiled and nodded at each other, we had a bond that transcended race, nationality, religion, or language.  Despite all our differences, we spoke the same language—the language of the heart.  We are women, mothers, and sisters, travelers on our own journeys whether they take us across the world or a few blocks from our home to the square. Our mutual humanity is stronger than any cultural differences we encounter no matter where we travel.

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I would love to hear from you on this topic, so please add your voices and experiences—positive or negative.  This topic could engender a lively debate.