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Authors: Joseph M Labaki

A Riffians Tune

BOOK: A Riffians Tune
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Table of Contents

Also by Joseph M Labaki

Title Page





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

About the Author

Also by Joseph M Labaki

Inconscient Et Sexualite

A Riffian's Tune
An autobiographical novel

Published by Clunett Press, UK, 2013

First published in Great Britain in 2013

Copyright © Joseph M Labaki 2013

Joseph M Labaki asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

Source ISBN: 978-0-9926484-0-4

Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9926484-2-8

All names of the individuals in this book are fictitious but the story is based on reality

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.


am indebted to many friends whose encouragement and support have helped me through this journey. Particular thanks to Selma Johnson and Jean Cavanagh for being the caring critics that every writer needs. Thank you.

I wish also to thank Philippa Donovan at Smart Quill for her guidance, Belinda Cunnison for her persistence and artist Stuart Polson, for capturing my imagination and making it real. To everyone at Palimpsest Book Production Ltd, you gave ‘A Riffian's Tune' its wings. Thank you.

Many thanks to my daughters, Maryam and Ruth, for their creative input, their never-ending enthusiasm and their love. I am blessed.

Special thanks to my wife, Sherry, my editor, typist and above all, my love, for her endless patience and support throughout the years it took to write this book, for those late nights and for bringing form to the deepest memories of my past – without her this book would never be. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

For My Mother

Bab Ftouh:
Huge city gate to Fez, built in eleventh century by Prince Al Foutouh
Bab Guissa:
City gate to Fez; built in twelfth century
babouche shoes:
traditional Moroccan leather slippers with very pointed toes
oral dialect spoken in Morocco; mixture of French, Spanish and Berber languages
built in a square around a courtyard, it shelters pack animals and horses and hosts merchants and travellers
one who knows the Koran by rote
thick Moroccan soup made of chickpeas, onion and barley
a long, loose garment with a hood and long sleeves
a Moroccan robe with no hood and short sleeves
a ‘killer' snake; very poisonous
mad; mentally disturbed
a Spanish exclave on the northern coast of Morocco
a native of the Sahara
a title given to one who knows the Koran by rote
a title meaning ‘My lord'
a section of the Koran
Moroccan stew
unwritten language of the Rif region of Morocco
keep going or don't stop

was born around 1950 in the Rif Mountains, northern Morocco, into the Kebdana tribe. For this reason, I have always been called ‘Kebdani' and never my proper name, ‘Jusef'. I grew up in a huge Berber family in this rugged and rural setting. Together with my parents and eleven sisters, we all shared a room in my grandfather Hashi's overcrowded house. The house was within a spotting distance of Europe, yet with all the flavour and constraints of Africa.

It was majestically situated on a thoroughfare on a high hill like a camel's back and was surrounded by fig, olive, apricot and peach trees, as well as pomegranate and prickly pear trees. Built from brown and grey stone, the house was rectangularly shaped with a courtyard full of huge boulders on which the wives and their children perched to gossip and plot in the afternoons when the sun started its descent. At the front of the house was a large pond, which in winter brimmed like a glinting mirror with an orchestra of frogs, but in summer was reclaimed by the deep cracks of the hot, dry earth. A few hundred metres away, a hundred hives for cultivating bees provided a steady background hum to the days' activities.

Looking north, the sky and the Mediterranean Sea magically met. Looking south, the hill was dwarfed by two looming mountains: Makran and Tassamat. Makran overlooked the hill, but Tassamat towered above them both. In the spring, the mountains wore a patchwork of greens and were blanketed with the rich aromas of wildflowers, but like everything else in the region, were brown and dry throughout the summer. From Tassamat, I could almost watch what was happening across the sea in Malaga with its many cars and shoppers.

The two mountains were split by a huge, fertile valley, famous for its wild animals: rabbits, porcupines, foxes, hyenas, snakes, wild cats and dogs. Farmers had been known to fight and occasionally kill each other over tiny pieces of this land.

Life in Hashi's house was hell. Cruel and hated by his wives, he had three of different ages and from different tribes and regions. The animosity among them, their children and grandchildren was rife.

His three wives, seventeen sons and nine daughters, their wives and husbands, along with a passel of grandchildren all lived in a single dwelling, both love and terror filling each room. As all the grandchildren looked alike in size and colour, miscalling us was a common mistake. Within the house, with loyalty to our grandmothers or mothers, we formed three competing and warring tribes.

My sisters, my parents and I all lived in one single room divided in two: a sleeping area and a utility space. The wall was dotted with wooden hooks on which hung rawhide sacks made from animal hide, either goat or sheep. A tall jug of water was permanently behind the door, and beside it a smaller jug that everyone shared. After use, everyone had to remember to replace the lid, made of prickly pear, as if it were left off many cats would swarm to dunk their heads into the jug.

Water was an ever-present problem. It was always a struggle to keep thirst's dry fingers at bay, especially among these desiccated lands it claimed as its own. To fetch just one or two jugs of water, my sisters Salwa or Sanaa, or both, had to travel at least four kilometres to the well. The carriers were women or donkeys, never men. A donkey could carry two clay jugs; a woman, one jug on her back. Often a woman, bowed with the weight, would carry a jug on her back and a child on one arm, with a few more children following. Donkeys and women were the engines of this community life. Women gave birth and fed children; donkeys carried water, ground the grain and ploughed the land.

At dark, with practically no exception, all the foxes on the mountain and owls in the area started their nightly chorus, edging ever closer to the house. Their unpleasant shrieks were very distressing and deeply disturbed all my sisters. The thick, impenetrable darkness and the cries of all the animals brought fear and anxiety to our hearts. Sunset had only one meaning: it was time to return home. With the feral moans heavy in the air, no one was brave enough to stay out later. I was fascinated by the owls' eyes and hoots, but frightened to step out into the darkness and investigate.

My mother warned, ‘You will be picked up by the
Iwaj Ben Inak
(the Mutated Twisted Giant), one hundred metres tall, with long arms, skinny fingers, and always starving. He stalks at night and gobbles every human he can catch, be it child or adult. Because of his height, he cannot get into houses, so stay inside! The
Iwaj Ben Inak
can carry dozens of men on his back while chewing others!' Though petrified, I wished I could see him through the window.

There was rarely anything to eat before bed; if there was anything, it was cooked barley, but never enough to fill so many hungry tummies. The nightly ritual began like a religious ceremony: like a school of sardines stuffed into a tiny tin, we would lie down, and my mother would throw a heavy hand-made rug on us. We neither wore pyjamas nor cleaned our teeth, but slept just as we were. As the family grew, the rug got shorter and shorter, and no one liked to be at the end of the line, as it could be cold, especially in the winter. There was always a tug of war. As the night dug in, however, silence took over, just what my weary mother needed.

I spent a lot of time tagging along behind one or another of my sisters, sometimes wanted, often not. Unwanted whenever my sisters were invited to a social event or wedding, I was forced to detach myself and create my own little world. I populated it with miniature people carved from pieces of wood and dressed with tiny scraps of cloth. As if in a play, I used different voices to have conversations and moved them through events from my dreams.

Small and thin with no brothers, I was ambushed on a daily basis by my older cousins, Mohamed and his brother Ahmed, who lived across the courtyard and waited for me to go out to play. The fighting was sometimes spontaneous, but frequently engineered by other cousins, mainly Abdullah, who was older than all of us. Whenever I faced one of them, the other attacked me from behind and tried to strangle me.

Crying, I asked my mother for help. She told me that I would have a brother to help, but this promise was never realised. She promised an angel would help me, and I watched for an angel to drop from the sky, but that didn't happen either. Only once was I saved – by a swarm of locusts that came in a thick cloud, covered the sky, stormed us and broke up the fight I was losing. My face constantly carried scratches. As children the only way we knew was fighting, not surprising as we had so often heard my mother and the other women describing the fights between Hashi and Marosh, a barbarous neighbouring tribal head. Praise was measured only in terms of vengeance, bloodshed and cruelty. Like other boys, I aspired to be a cruel hero.

A few miles away from my grandfather's house lived Mrs Robbi. She was short, broad, buxom and had a large mouth with a booming voice to match, always looking to make a joke of someone. She particularly hated girls. She worked as a midwife and had been trained by the local butcher. She prided herself on never losing a mother and never hesitated to use her scissors to sacrifice a baby for the mother. I disliked her because she always teased me.

‘Your ears are growing like a donkey's,' she would say with a laugh, implying I was getting more and more stupid.

BOOK: A Riffians Tune
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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