Amid the slough of holidays over the past month I also attended my first funeral in Morocco. Unfortunately the roads in Morocco can be a very dangerous place. This is do to a variety of reasons, but whatever the case may have been, it took the lives of three people two weeks ago. Two of these people were in their early twenties. One of them, a young man (Mimid), was a member of an association (Tofola Chabia) that I have been working closely with. They were part of an accident on their way home from the city of Meknes in a taxi. Seven people were in the taxi, three of them died while the other four were rushed to the hospital.
I happened to be working at the Dar Chabab with a few members of Tofola Chabia when we got the news of Mimid’s death. Immediately we started to make our way to his family’s house, which is custom in Morocco. Although it had only been about two hours since the accident took place there was already a large crowd around the home. It was difficult to be part of this scene, especially because the family had just lost their father about a month before due to a long term illness. Nevertheless I was there for most of the evening, greeting others as they arrived.
The next day the funeral began. In the morning everyone began to gather along the sides of the main road. It was there that we would all say goodbye to Mimid. His body would be carried by us in a parade made up of his male family members and close friends and taken to the community cemetery. We then quietly waited for them to return. Once everyone was gathered back into a crowd we all walked together to his family’s house. There the small alleyway had been set up for a feast. All of the neighbors had contributed their kitchen tables, chairs, rugs, and plates. The sides of the houses along the street were all covered by colorfully patterned sheets and music was playing. We all sat down together to share a meal of couscous (it was a Friday after all) in honor of Mimid.
The following day we gathered again for a second lunch. However, this time the alleyway took a different form. It was now an outdoor mosque. I was asked to attend completely covered including my hair, which (for me) has not happened too many times in my service. This time, sitting around the tables was not just about eating together but about prayer. Women and men were separated and even had different Imams (prayer readers). Because I am not Muslim I am not permitted to enter a mosque so this was a very different experience for me. I can only imagine what it would be like if I was in a church surrounded by people reciting the Lord’s Prayer having never heard it before, this was exactly how I felt. For the actual lunch portion of the event I stood in as a server with a few other girls my age. We brought out tea to each of the tables, a large plate of chicken, followed by seffa medfouna (buttery noodles with raisins, powdered sugar, and cinnamon), and a large plate of fruit. I was happy to be asked to serve food rather than sit at the prayer tables. It let me spend more time with people my age and also gave me a pass to become more of an observer. I wanted to contribute and be a part of the funeral but sitting in a mosque-like setting was a bit overwhelming. After lunch was over we all mingled together for a few hours. Everyone was extremely welcoming of me as I was passed from one person to the next.
This experience made me really impressed with how fast a community can come together. Nearly instantly people were gathered to show their support for the family. Over the course of a night a dirty little side street was transformed into a banquet hall by neighbors contributing items from their homes. Then the next day a new shape was created with hanging lights and hand/feet washing stations. From somewhat of an outsider looking in, it was a very powerful experience. I was later told by a few friends that non-Muslims are generally not allowed at funerals because they have a very strong religious focus, but that they wanted me there. I guess it is a little selfish but I was happy to know how accepted I was by the people I live with. It took a funeral to show me that I really am viewed as a member of the community and not just a visitor. Although under tragic circumstances, I was very fortunate to be able to share this experience with my community members.