Welcome back for another post from the Monday Inspirations series. Today’s post is by Elissaveta Marinova. You can check out previous posts here.
Sometimes, memories are like a mirage in the desert. They resemble a lush oasis where water flows freely and birds are chirping in the grass when in fact, there is nothing but sun and scorched earth.
My memory of Morocco is pure. It is that of a child growing into a young adult. It is that of a sunny country welcoming me with open arms and letting me go without a word. My memory is an erroneous, romanticised version of the real Morocco – the one in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s books.
When I first read This Blinding Absence of Light, I was in shock. I must have been around 14 years old and it wasn’t possible – what he wrote couldn’t have happened in this picture-perfect country I called “home away from home”.
After the failed 1971 coup against the king Hassan II, many unwitting participants who did not fire a single shot are dispatched to Kenitra, a prison infamous for its harsh conditions. Two years later, 58 of them are sent to Tazmamart – underground cells, 10ft long and 5ft wide. Ceilings too low for one to stand. Scorpions and cockroaches that can only be heard. No light. The promise to see the outside world for a fleeting moment, only to bury a friend.
This Blinding Absence of Light is a grim tale of torture and a silver lining highlighting the triumph of the human spirit. A beautiful, poignant story based on the testimony of a former inmate.
With his words, Ben Jelloun lifted the curtain off of my blinded eyes. Morocco was not flawless, it was wounded.
As the years passed, I kept turning to him. He wrote about “The Western Kingdom” with such honesty, drawing inspiration from a bottomless well. His words were the mirror of his country. They were beautiful and they were crude. They were candid and they were painful. They were the unvarnished truth.
When I left Casablanca, Ben Jelloun’s books continued to fascinate me but it became more than a reading experience. I was now on a journey, revisiting the rich culture I had left behind, walking the streets of Fez or Casablanca, crawling inside the minds of Ben Jelloun’s powerful characters. When I say powerful, I don’t refer to strength or authority. I rather mean lasting. Because Ben Jelloun’s characters live beyond the last page. They escape into the outside world where the distinction between fiction and reality is only speculation.
Today, I read Ben Jelloun’s words for fear of forgetting. I read his books because I want the truth. The older I get, the more embellished my memories become. And I know that one day, when I return, I will be faced with a painful realisation. Morocco lived on after I left. It evolved, for better or for worse, and the innocent memories floating inside my head are no longer entirely true. They are neither mirage, nor desert. They are somewhere in between.