A.T.B. is an award-winning Moroccan-born blogger who writes one of the net’s most insightful English blogs on Morocco: A Morroccan About the World Around Him. He is also a poet of extraordinary insight and sensitivity. A.T.B. diligently disseminates relevant information to the English-speaking world regarding the struggles of a region where human rights are upheld in theory but where exercises of these rights are sometimes violently repressed.
A.T.B. often praises the bloggers of Morocco for their perseverance in spite of official silencing, a determination still urgent today (see note at end of this article). Recently A.T.B. spoke with Wanda Waterman St. Louis about his Moroccan childhood, his foreign travels, and his commitment to human rights and freedoms.
I was born into a family that was, at the time, atypically small. My parents had to work, so I was put in a Christian nursery run by nuns for a couple of years and then a Koranic school. Both the nuns and the faqihs traumatized me. My parents made my childhood memorable, though. they’re not rich, but we travelled often; I also spent countless summers camping.
My parents had always stressed dependability, accountability, and independence. They fostered an environment of respect, acceptance, and understanding of the other.
One summer when I was nine or 10 my parents took the family on a trip to Spain. In Seville my father, who neither drank alcohol nor smoked, walked me into a bar, perched me on a stool, and ordered a coffee and a soda and chips for me. I sat there befuddled by the colourful bottles of liqueurs and wine ornamenting the bar, at the patrons with scores of empty beer bottles before them like battlefield badges; most were chain smoking and boisterously laughing.
My father turned to me and, with his trademark deadpan verve, said, ?A man has to experience everything in life.?
A few years later, I was hanging out with neighbourhood friends when one of them pulled out a cigarette. We were all in our early teens and none of us really knew how to smoke. We lit it and pulled on it, passing it around as we choked and coughed.
All of a sudden my friends scampered off and I turned around in time for my face to catch my father’s slapping hand. He grabbed me by the collar and, almost lifting me off the ground, dragged me to the house. My mother had spread out some piri piri peppers (known in Morocco as Sudaniya) to dry.
He snatched a handful of peppers and rubbed them against my lips and forced them into my mouth saying, ?You wanna put fire to your mouth? Here is fire for that nasty mouth of yours!?
Needless to say I was burning; the Sudaniya were so potent my lips swelled. I cried for hours. I’ve never smoked since.
There was an abundance of books and music in my parents? home. Their choice was eclectic; they instilled in me a passion for reading and listening to music. My father was always giving me French and English books to read and my mother always had one or two classical Arabic books for me. I grew up listening to the vinyl records of Um Kaltoum, Fareed Al-Atrach, Abdelhalim Hafez, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Julio Iglesias, and many others.
Adventures in the Big World
When I was old enough to hitchhike I donned a backpack and started hiking across Morocco and Europe. I must have been 15 when I started working during the summers. My first job was in a sardine factory in Safi; I spent two months stacking boxes of canned sardines on wooden pallets.
I see myself as a Moroccan-American. I am Moroccan by virtue of my culture and not because of any religious or political affiliation; I draw a bold line between culture, religion, and politics. For me, being Moroccan does not necessarily mean being Moslem or supportive of the policies of the Moroccan government. Birthplace and documentation aside, to be an American, to me, is to respect and act in accordance with the spirit that drives this nation.
Maghreb Voices celebrates the art, culture, and struggles of the peoples of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, in northern Africa.
Notes from the front:
On March 7, 2010, Said Benjebli, President of the Association of Moroccan Bloggers, announced that after a long delay the Association has been denied status as a legal organization. Without legal status the Association cannot even appeal this decision. No explanation was given as to why legal status had been denied, and while inquiring about the Association’s file Mr. Benjebli was physically attacked by a government employee. The Association continues to defend the rights of bloggers in Morocco and in particular to call for the release of blogger Boubken Alyadib and Internet café manager Abdullah Boukfou.