Tea with Mohammed
Today was a perfect Sunday. After eating a delicious brunch outside in my backyard, I climbed into a hammock and let the warm spring air course over me. As I closed my eyes, I began to recall other moments of bliss I have experienced in my life. I remembered the feeling of another sun, in another country beating upon my face…
Our day began in the hustle and bustle of Casabarata, the largest market in Tangiers, Morocco. Rows of stalls vibrantly lined our way; it was magical, like a Middle Eastern version of the Yellow Brick Road in Wizard of Oz. Our guide, Mohammed, explained where different fruit and vegetables came from all over Morocco. Spices of every sort fragrantly called our names. Colors of vibrant reds, golden turmeric, and the blackest of peppers tantalized us from their wooden barrels. Chickens hung upside, recently slaughtered, their blood running red on the dirt ground. Hanging kid goat carcasses with their fur so white against the grizzly backdrop of the butcher’s stall. The dazzling array lamps displaying a multitude of blues. One could almost believe in Genies after seeing Moroccan lamps. The intricate patterns of Turkish and Moroccan rugs hypnotized us. The voice of the hawker urging us to come and look at some more rugs, telling us “madam surely you cannot miss out on the deals today!”
The market was a like a Von Gogh painting to my sensory system. Bright and vivid memories were imprinted upon my mind. With every recall, I remember something new, something deep, in my memories of this market.
As we finished our tour of the market, Mohammed invited us to tea. Mint tea is important in Moroccan culture. It is a sign of hospitality and takes on a ceremonial role for guests. The preparation of the tea is complex, involving many boiling and infusion steps. When the tea is finally prepared, it is poured into glasses from high above to swirl loose tea leaves to the bottom of the glass. Mohammed explained that the tea is served three times. The amount of time it has been steeping gives each of the glasses of tea a unique flavor, described in this famous Maghrebi proverb:
The first glass is as gentle as life,
the second is as strong as love,
the third is as bitter as death.
As I marveled at the meaning of the Maghrebi proverb, our host gave us chunks of fresh camel cheese and fresh bread pulled straight from the clay oven. To this day, that is the best meal I have ever had. The mint tea was so fresh and not overly sweet. The camel cheese was tangy, but mild, similar to a creamy goat cheese. The bread, so fresh, light and still warm from the oven was a perfect pairing. During my meal I closed my eyes and embraced a feeling of pure bliss.
To me, these moments are why life is worth living.
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