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long distance grief

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MB has called a couple of times from his village in Morocco. He's incredibly busy - not only receiving everyone paying their respects, but also taking care of his father's affairs. He told me that many of the documents pertaining to his father's death and the family business require all the (male) children's signatures. He also has to trek into Ouarzazate and possibly Marrakech in order to change the return date on his plane ticket with Air France.

While I'm sad for Mohamed and his family, in a way it is just as well that I am not there. When Mohamed's mother passed away suddenly in October 2004, I was in Mali getting ready to move to Burkina Faso, and Mohamed was doing the same in Morocco. He was to arrive in Ouaga a couple of weeks after me. The secretary at Helen Keller International, where he was working, called me while I was closing my account at the bank in Bamako. Catholic Relief Services has a generous policy covering plane tickets and time off in case of death in the immediate family, so I flew to Morocco a couple of days later. Mohamed picked me up and we drove to his village.

The moment we arrived on the village outskirts, I put my headscarf on. It's just the way it is, as discomfiting as I find it. I don't speak Berber, and few members of Mohamed's family speak French, but somehow we managed. I was expected to stay with the women, in the courtyard, in the kitchen, or in one of the family rooms. Not in the big salon. I didn't mind so much since I spent most of my time reading or sleeping. Until one afternoon when a large contingent of NGO people came. They were people I'd worked with and traveled with when I lived in Morocco. All men. So they went directly to the salon. I didn't know they were there until Mohamed fetched me to meet them. Unfortunately it was at the end of their visit. I only had a few minutes of hurried greetings before they left.

I was upset. I told Mohamed why and he understood. Poor thing, it hadn't occurred to him that I would have liked to have spent more time with the one group of people I actually knew - and could communicate with.

Woman With Colorful Clothing in Berber Village
© David Samuel Robbins/Corbis
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