there are no normal days for me. The only consistent thing is that there is a pen in my pocket which i use to write on scraps I find while standing in the doorway of my kitchen or the train or in the taxi. which gives me away with my English script as a foreigner even if I was passing a minute before.
I wake up at 3 and than I wake up at 4 and then I wake up at 5 in the morning listening to the sound of someone singing in my room. I open my eyes and look around expecting to always see a form to the things I hear flooded in but it’s just the shadows from the moon coming through the bars of my windows and into the deep cup that is my house. When I sit up finally the cat sits up with me since he doesn’t like to sleep alone and will try to track my sleeping patterns or lack of them when there is too much to stay awake for.
I walk across an open sky to reach the stairs down on the other end that will take me to the courtyard, kitchen and hammam. I’ll turn on music and wander around for the next hour because I know that the water is cold. The cat follows me. He eats as I stand in the entrance of the kitchen. Its cold and if I don’t boil any water I will finally get up the nerve to wash myself with ice. but I wander also because it is the only time I am not yet suppose to be awake. And the first steps everyday towards the door are the hardest. Some days it’s harder than others not because I don’t want to and not because I don’t love it, but its not easy. But nothing worth keeping is easy. You have to believe it will get easier. Or you will get wiser.
It’s hard to explain, embarassing even to explain how something as simple as walking down the street has difficult subtleties that can go unnoticed to men and especially foreign men even if they live in the same city. Or even in your house. They don’t have the same experience. They don’t have to look away. They can look straight ahead, straight at people. They can see fully from head to toe in real time everything that this man is saying and doing or that donkey coming from a long way off or whether she’s happy or he’s angry. Everything that is going on around them is offered up to them so easily to see that they don’t even notice anymore.
When I see these same things I see it through angles and through feet from corners. hardly ever straight on, yet I know Fes better than most of them and I know when she’s happy or when he’s angry.
everyone will tell you, maybe even as they laugh and pat your head that ‘you don’t need’ to look at the ground. most women from here don’t. But try telling me when as soon as I bring my eyes up they Give me away. and it’s hard to give what you don’t have.
even with blue eyes I can pass in certain places and at certain times but when you take everything in tandem and the fact that i am alone—the likelihood is slim that I am not from Spain or France. and it doesn’t hurt them any to try and find out.
There is so much giving and taking with sight alone. There are days when i’ve looked too directly at people that without realizing it, I’ve taken people with me. and i feel tired in the same way that when i am looked at it can feel as if something has been taken from me.
There is so much give and take but the balance is somewhat tipped towards who is believed to have more to give. When they see Amanda and her eyes they say ‘hello’ in Japanese and when they see mine the men smile sideways in Spanish/French. it is believed most days that there is something that she or I can give them. and it’s okay to take from us because there is More to give, they think, and so they chase after. But if they only knew just how poor I am in real life and that most days I don’t even have enough in me to give up my eyes.
A boy near Rcif spotted my red sweater and white skirt and yelled HOLA HOLA up the market, down the market, and around my corner. Smiling smiling smiling. Clever. But I just came back from the internet café with news that made my eyes red. I was tired. So I stopped. Turned. Found his and said, “Andee rajel, hoyah. Safi! (I have a husband my brother. Enough!)” His smile disappeared. his eyes opened up wide. He chuckled a little bit and looked around at a couple of boys laughing at him. Maybe I hurt his feelings. Maybe I caught him by surprise. Maybe both. I walked home. Picked up the cat. Found the floor and finished what I had been doing prior to being interrupted.
The next week I found a back road through the medina and was so happy to find it empty of the usual men. a boy walked out of a hair salon looking very familiar. Since my eyes were on the floor how he looked familiar was because I knew his walk and his voice. He asked me if I remembered him. “Mashi inseat. (‘Not forget.’)” He asked if he could walk with me but since he was already doing that… He apologized for the other week. I followed that up with, “I’m married. (Ana moojewjah.)” He said he was sorry. He just works over there on the corner as a hair stylist and saw me walking down Rcif and wanted to holler because… Because? His dad was a police officer. He wanted me to know he was good. And from a good family and that his dad died last year. Mine did too. What do you want from me? Eschnoo bghretee? I stopped walking because I’m about to turn the corner and all I need is the neighborhood and corner boys watching as if they could do the same. So I say, I’m sorry your dad died. Mine did too. Not really knowing what else to say because if I knew how to say the rest I would. Like, “I know you look at me because you think I can give you something. I see that but I am more lost than you. and my blue eyes. There’s nothing I can give you with them. Maybe to take as a souviner like the tourists do here. But they aren’t any good to you. This is why I look down. I’m no good for you. I’m tired and at the end of the day if I’ve looked too much, I’m tired. Especially because I’m ‘different’ in these here parts and you find it especially fun to chase me since if I don’t talk to you, you don’t have to say “my sister” you can just say “whore”. And if you didn’t mean anything to me brother it wouldn’t hurt so much. but it does because you do mean something to me. So I’m going to go home now. But if I see you again. I’ll try to see you. I won’t forget you.”
The only thing that makes me leave the house is work which takes me as far away as down the block to across the country. To film festivals in Marrakech and Tangar or filming in small villages near Taza and around Rabat or interviews in between. It is the only thing that saves me, this getting on the train, the bus, and in the taxi for days and days looking out the window writing with my camera. And when I’m not filming from the back of scooters or finding the lesbian underbelly or running away from disgusting directors who want to feature me in their hotel rooms, I’m just trying to stay above water in my own head. Doing the hard work of living through my ‘self’ although this is often walking in the same direction as my work.
When your work is people’s face and people’s hands and people’s actions and people’s stories its hard not to see your own as well. And when your subjects become your friends and your friends become your subjects…your life and your work are the same. And they always have been to me. So when I am asked how my work is coming all I can say is that it’s coming. Can’t critique it because the stories are still being written.
The hardest work is the living because it’s slow and its painful and it unfolds bit by bit without ever knowing where its taking you. The work both saves me from myself and forces me back in. And the hours and hours of company followed by the hours more spent in solitude between locations and between persons, filters down to paper…and I lose track of time. Yesterday could have been today and last week yesterday and a month ago two weeks ago. it gets mixed up.
The sacred and the profane, ordinary and ‘important’, self and other are inversed constantly. But simple and ordinary and by that I mean brillent, is the hardest. It’s walking down the street and looking into your eyes and knowing nothing and being unable to give you anything that is the hardest thing to do in the world for me. But walking into a high security building or an invitation only red carpet festival, using fake documents, being part of an press conference with Martin Scorsese and on the news…that surprisely, is the easy shit. Even as an invited guest to the country, if no one answers the phone what do you expect me to do other than walk through security like I actually work here? This time though I used my walking through security to be officially invited as a filmmaker because although Barbara Van Lombeek is a lovely woman I’m sure, I’d rather keep my own name.