Monday, November 27, 2006

A post NOT about capitalism, democracy, or war...

...but about the Islamic faith, and, all things considered, probably still pertinent. I have sincerely found great pleasure and moments of deep thoughtfulness in reading your posts about various aspects of (and faults in) Uncle Sam's great land, but I must confess, dear friends, that I feel I have grown more removed and out of touch with our home every day. Forgive any burgeoning ignorances or naivete. Here's something from the other side of the planet, another side of the coin, the Other side of our world...

I was resting one day in my hotel room in Agadir, in the company of the flies and cockroaches that happily shared my living space and probably enjoyed the viciously scorching midday heat as little as I did, when Mohammed Farai, a manager of that particular establishment, knocked on my open door and announced that I had a visitor. I had not been expecting any one and indeed knew not a soul in the city, so you can imagine the surprise that slowly emerged in my dozing mind like the head of a turtle sedately protruding from the confines of its shell to investigate its surroundings. I followed 'M' (as I took to calling Mr. Farai, whose behavior on more than one occasion had me convinced that he was a Moroccan mob boss with the hotel gig serving as a convenient cover) down the stairs to the dingy hotel lobby. Seated at one of the tables was a plump smiling Arab man wearing a white robe and a red fez, and as I approached he stood and greeted me in English (to my relief, as my French is pitiful and my Arabic even worse). He introduced himself as Aomar Saadaoui, a devout Muslim and a man who knew something about birds, and we talked for some time about various aspects of my project and of people and places I should visit while in the area. Possibly because the important month of Ramadan had recently begun, but possibly because he was simply a devout Muslim, Aomar also frequently slipped off onto tangents about the Islamic faith, especially the importance of Ramadan as allowing people to remind themselves of the Outer World, a realm of the spirit that has no regard or business with the physical, material sphere of which food and human hunger is an integral part and a powerful symbol. In relation to the habit of seabirds like terns to fold their wings back and plunge-dive from great heights into the ocean in the hunt for fish, Aomar related to me a Berber fable that I found particularly pertinent and interesting. His translation conducted on the spot certainly left the parable only partially complete, but in my mind its power still stands. According to Berber tradition, in the impossibly brief fraction of a moment directly after a seabird like a tern sees a fish and decides to dive, but before it folds its wings and lets itself fall like a stone from the familiar world of air and light to the foreign dark wet world of the ocean, an affirmation passes through its head with absolute certainty: 'Life is limited and must come to pass, and the living of this moment is intimately connected with that life in its whole form'. With the realization that life is limited and that God controls all, the bird relinquishes all humility, accepts no humiliation, and dives into the waves, knowing, accepting, and believing with complete totality that the only fears worthy of being faced and overcome are a fear of death and a fear of hunger.

For someone like me, traveling on a tight budget, devoting myself to simplistic living and a near-ascetic diet, often living in or passing through places that have gained a reputation (sometimes misconstrued) of being dangerous, the concept of overcoming fear and plunging into the unknown with such grace and courage naturally holds a great deal of attraction [in case you are wondering why I decided to do the bungy jump off the Bloukrans bridge, the highest jump in the world, the answer may lay in the desire to approach a real understanding of a seabird's dive]. Interestingly, I have always been awestruck when I have watched seabirds plummet into the sea in search of food, but my envy and fascination has generally been of a scientific nature (speed of the dive, depth of the plunge, etc), without ever drifting into the realm of considering any spiritual potentialities of the birds' bold lifestyles. Unbelievable, no, to think that a discussion of Ramadan could allow a different understanding of seabirds' predation strategies?

1 comment:

Gael Gazpacho said...

Excellent post my friend. i am thoroughly jelous of your adventure. I can't wait to sit down with you when it is all over to see how it has changed you. in the mean time props for leaving your comfort zone and truly analyzing the merits of an alien belief system.

the successful application of philisophical and religious thinking to our modern world is full of pitfalls. for example; my buddhist roommate frequents meetings of various spheres of eastern spiritualism, eats a diet of nothing less than the most globally responsible tasteless products, and chants daily for personal blessings and the good of all mankind. these are all fine and wonderful, but she fails rather ungracefully when it comes to household communication, tolerance of others and respect for financial agreements. In short, I have been thrown to the calle so she (my now ex-roommate) could accomodate her good-for-nothing UFO chasing best friend. have no fear, I have found a bigger and better place to live with chill people.

the point is that far to often in this world lite versions of a religion and philisophy is sold to someone to help them cover up thier glaring inadequacies. you seem to have found one of those rare individuals who is unafraid to self criticise and explore his world in a profound manner. these encounters are priceless, cherish them.