22 May 2007...5:53 pm

A Type That Looks Like Snakes And Dogs

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I checked my email this morning and read that Tamara had tagged a photograph of me on Facebook. I haven’t seen her in a long time, so I thought that was slightly curious, but I also thought it was great, because it gave me an opportunity to look at myself. I’m joking. Kind of. I don’t know–my mom could probably explain.

This was the picture:

That’s so very much not me–not even in Morocco, not even trying desperately not to look like an infidel, not even after I started eating meat. (I think that guy’s real name is probably Vlad). But that’s what I–and, apparently, Tamara–saw all the time in Morocco, as I was trying to go about my nonchalantly agnostic ways, trying to maintain both my feminism and femininity while wearing the same dusty dress everyday, and trying to remain the gracious after I’d gotten my period all over the squat toilet inside a Tiznit teleboutique.

One night, Jordan and I were having dinner with Nadira, her brothers, and her mother, Khelthoum. Perhaps because traveling makes me queasily desperate for affection, Khelthoum and I had adopted a general attitude of mutual adoration. She liked to bring me to hardware stores with my arm tucked under her elbow and say that I was her daughter. I mean, maybe that’s what she said. In conclusion, we couldn’t communicate. That night, Jordan and I–by way of Jordan’s Arabic–had been telling her about an Economist article we’d just read on djinn and the superstition’s harmful affect on women in small towns in East Africa. (Luckily, Jordan and I had been attentive middle school students in the U.S., so we were all set when it came to vaguely Crucible-esque situations).

Khelthoum listened eagerly to random babbling, and then nodded. It was, she agreed, a big problem. Djinn were a big problem. Djinn were a big problem? I told her I didn’t think that was the point. Khelthoum shook her head.

“Emma.” I was about to be taught a lesson. “Is there magic in America?” She said it in Arabic, so I didn’t immediately understand, but once I did I didn’t know how to answer. I told her, with Nadira’s help, what I understood about voodoo and that I had spent my entire life very far away from people who practiced it.

The conversation didn’t go too much further, probably because we started dinner: Nadira wouldn’t eat the artichokes because Ahmed had washed them but left all the sand in, and general mirthful spirits overtook our strange, fleeting family.

But then, this weekend, something happened that made me wonder if I shouldn’t revise my opinion of American magic, after all. Max & went to some hopelessly expensive stores after breakfast on Sunday and I tried on a gold-trimmed strapless black thing that turned out to have two blousy legs instead of a skirt.

“I look like a genie!”

“Emma,” he asked (commence another lesson), “don’t you mean a djinn?”

It turns out that the word “genie” comes, indirectly, from the word “djinn”. According to the obtusely phrased and surely utterly reliable www.islamawareness.net, “jinni” is used when “one is mentioning jinn purely of themselves.” I don’t exactly know what that means. But further research has illuminated the fact that, according to Abu Tha’labah al-Khushani (the man Google would deem the internet’s foremost authority onKoranic evil spirits), there are three kinds of djinn: “a type that has wings, and then fly through the air; a type that looks like snakes and dogs; and a type that stops for a rest and then resumes its journey.”

I know so many of that last kind of djinn! Forget being a genie; I am a djinn, too, for pete’s sake. Djinns sound great. It sounds like they like road trips and rest stops, and that they know their limits. That’s terribly important.

PS. Muslims apparently use an acronym instead of the usual blessing after writing Muhammad’s name: peace be upon him? pbuh. Pbuh to you, too, dear reader.

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