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Before 19, Volume 3, 2014

My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things By Gillian Goodman

It was the fourth day of the trip, and already we were slipping bits of mangled Arabic into our vernacular. That night at dinner I called out to Julia Yo Jules I’m so joa'anah, can you pass me some khobz? and all the others in the restaurant stared. My blushing matched my sunburn as I quietly took the bread from her. Later in our rented rooms I fell asleep to the newly familiar lullaby of groans and flushing toilets. We had greedily feasted on street food our first night in Morocco, and we were still paying the consequences. We soon moved on from Marrakesh, the big city where the ten of us took our first steps on foreign soil. It was filled with dirty motorbikes and vendors hawking cheap plastic necklaces, and we all took a deep breath when we learned we were spending the next few days up in the mountains. The plan, Kempie the Guide explained, was to help rural school kids our age plant some trees and paint some murals, you know, community service stuff. We all nodded and licked our lips, thinking about college essays and personal growth. The van ride was long and dusty and we all sang “My Favorite Things” to pass the time. It was hot when we got to the mountains, and I fumbled with my sheet of Tachelhit. The harsh mountain dialect was even more alien than Arabic, and I

 

looked up at the dusty girls around me in mute panic. They stared back, dark eyes blinking slowly, impenetrable. I tried the most manageable word, tafukt (sun), and pointed up at the sky. They all nodded and smiled, like teachers praising a messy first grade finger-painting. With every thump of my shovel, I watched them watch me dig. The wind whipped arid dirt into my eyes and I wiped them quickly. I readjusted my grip, held the splintery wood harder, and THWACK, brought my shovel down hard onto a rock. The dusty girls looked down at their sandals, or at the tree, or squinted into the tafukt. I let the dark boy with sinewy arms take the shovel from me. The tree was planted in a matter of minutes. Kempie the Guide gave me the thumbs up and smiled enthusiastically from across the garden. I had a Polaroid camera with me to document the digging. I huddled close to the two girls nearest to me and gestured to the camera. Their eyes widened as the whirring machine produced a blank white square, which gradually faded to reveal our faces. I’m smiling brightly and broadly. They grin shyly, revealing crooked teeth. I took a second picture, and gave the first one to the girls. Others came closer, slowly, cautiously. I held the camera high to try and get us all in the picture. When it printed, I gave it to the schoolmaster, who decided to photocopy it and distribute it to all the students. I looked over my shoulder to see the first two girls holding the picture I gave them like it was a Kleenex used by a movie star. After the trees and herbs had been planted in neat and numerous rows, the ten of us went up into the dorms to rest for a while, until our sweat dried tight on our skin and we decided we had to shower. The dark girls and boys were finishing up outside, placing stones to mark the different plants. The five girls in our little pale gang headed to one gray bathroom, and peeled off our grimy clothes until we stood in just our underwear. I agonized over where to put my favorite linen pants; every surface was dingy and grimy. I stood naked and paralyzed for a few moments, before begrudgingly setting them down near the sink. We screeched from the cold water and stood side by side in the large open showers, laughing as our white shampoo whirled round the grubby drains. We dressed quickly and rested again. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard the thump thwack of some last minute digging. I noticed that my linen pants had a small gray stain in one corner and tried to wipe it away. I licked my finger and rubbed the stain in time to the sound of the boys outside digging.


Before 19, Volume 3, 2014 After our nap, they served us dinner, course after course, and we ate until we were stuffed. Cracked white plates came laden with chicken with raisins and rice, tagines of kefta and eggs, warm pastillas filled with potatoes and peas. Our group sat at one table, and the girls filled up three other tables, which were pressed against a wall. No one spoke much, except to exclaim over the excellence of the food, or to remark how wonderful it was that we had gotten so much done in one day. I could not understand a word from their side of the room, no matter how hard I strained. The girls brought our plates into the kitchen when we were done, despite our protestations. Full and sleepy from the meal, I wandered slowly back to my dorm. I opened the door to our plain white room to find MJ huddled on the floor, cradling a giant frozen water bottle and looking around anxiously. She threw me a desperate look, like a helpless mouse caught in the talons of an eagle. She started to speak, swayed back and forth, and promptly threw up into a plastic bag. I smiled and shook my head and stared out the window while I rubbed her back. Once the mess was cleaned up and all five girls (plus Kempie the Guide) had assembled in our room, we began getting ready for bed. I was halfway into my pajama shirt when there was a small knock on the door. The girls sleeping in the room across from ours filed in, and one after another they lined up to kiss us on our cheeks. Our group snuck small glances at each other, but we quickly accepted their kisses. Some girls gave one kiss on each side, some two on one, three on another, and I accidentally kissed one girl full on the mouth. I reddened and turned quickly to the next one. Their faces were warm and rough, and most looked at the floor as they approached us. They were wearing nightgowns far more stained than my linen pants. They kissed each of us, and mumbled foreign words of bedtime pleasantries. When the door closed behind them, I exhaled softly and held one hand to my cheek. I stood there, staring at the door as the rest of our group quietly crawled into their cots. I was still staring at the door when the lights turned off, and Julia’s fan clicked on. I was still holding my cheek as MJ began snoring quietly, her noise mingling with the soft sounds of the dusty girls across the hall.

 

My Favorite Things


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