I want to come back to that part of me that understood Manal’s anger about the bastila. Because I think her frequent indignation comes from somewhere – from a focus on and a yearning, perhaps, for something beyond the quiet and un-private life in this house. I think that both Manal and Alma – both single, in their forties, living at home – yearn for something more, and are frustrated by the limitations set on their lives. Each deals with this differently. I get the sense that Alma has in some ways given up on herself, or that she is on the verge of doing so. She jokes about her wish for a husband, for a room of her own, for some privacy; but she does nothing about it. Her options are limited, of course; without work she has no income, no means to provide herself with any of the above. This cannot be easy for her. She is always her pleasant and smiling self, but I get the sense that there is an existential sadness underneath that outer layer – and that her frequent bouts of headache and general malaise are her way of expressing it, when its force becomes too much to keep inside. I think Alma seeks freedom in other ways – I have realized that she almost never sleeps at home. She is always at Fatima’s apartment, or staying with friends. This may not provide her with any privacy, but perhaps it lends her a small sense of liberty, to be away from home.
Manal is different. I have never seen her go out to socialize;* when she is not at her store she is at home. She does not express any yearnings for a husband, privacy, freedom – but she has those wishes, I think; because she is clearly working hard to pursue their realization. With a job, she is of course much more able to do so than Alma.** She has the means to move beyond her mother’s house, and seems to be doing so. As I have mentioned, Manal has a car, which she loves. That love, the care she provides it, means something, I think: it provides her with the liberty that Alma seeks in her social contacts.
I recently learned that Manal also has a new apartment in Salé. It is still being painted, but furniture has already been moved over, and it is stocked with pantry items – all signs point to an impending move. As she showed the place to me, Khadija, and Zakaria on Monday evening, I asked her, is this all for you alone? Well, she answered, the whole family could come over any time, she would give them a key, but yes, it was hers. Taking into account that in Morocco, privacy will never mean what it means to a Westerner, this says a lot. This says that she is reaching for independence, for a life that is hers, and not her family’s. I am wondering what her getting an apartment suggests about her prospects of marriage (does it make her more desirable for marriage, or does it mean she’s given up on the possibility?), but it is a testament to the sense I had been getting from Manal, that she is yearning to move beyond life at the house in Rabat.
And so I think I understand some of her occasional frustration, her tendency to argue with her mother, her relative unwillingness to go out of her way for someone else.*** She clearly deals with her frustrations in a different – and more overt – way than Alma does, but I can sympathize with it. I come from a different background, of course, but I would imagine that even for a Moroccan, there comes a point when it is time to start your own life, to focus on yourself and your future, and create some distance from your parents. And this can be difficult, when life costs more than most people are able to make, when socio-economic conditions render most people dependent on someone else. And this conflict between dreams and reality, I think, is what the bastila incident was ultimately about.
* She also seems the least familiar and friendly with the family friends that come by.
** I wonder how much of Manal’s income is used to support her mother’s household. No one else works. Would Lahcen receive a pension of sorts? Does Amma’s father contribute? And then there is, of course, my financial contribution, which I was told amounts to an average day’s pay.
*** This is not at all to say that Manal is not hospitable or friendly. She is; she is simply the least likely of anyone in this family to go out of her way to please someone else. She is a little un-Moroccan in that sense; she is perfectly amiable, but expects people to take care of themselves, does not overly consider others’ wishes, and seems least interested in the formalities of pleasing guests.