Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Osama in Fez

In room 11 of the Cascade Hotel the gigabytes of footage I shot today are copying from one hard drive to another. The 0s and 1s are the first I’ve committed to memory card for my new documentary project, tentatively titled “One Day in Africa” which will follow a day in the life of various people throughout the continent.

My subject in Fez, Morocco is Osama, a 25-year old whose textile shop I was led to yesterday while I was letting myself be led places in search of an interesting subject. Osama’s brother started talking to me in the street and somehow led me to his shop. It was only much later that Osama conceded that he and his “brother” were of no biological relation.

Such is the freewheeling world of the Fez markets where for the all the slight of hand and white lying, there is no maliciousness and fairly little hassle. It’s not the constant barrage of touting you find in India but it is a community of sales people pretending not to be sales people. They’re all just good friends who want to learn English and show you a good shop.

I met Osama this morning at his home in the new city, a 15-minute cab ride from the old medina. A giant projection TV presided over a giant living room next to an absurdly large sitting room. It was not the home I expected. His modest bedroom is shared with his brother. As we cruised towards his job in the medina talk turned to dating, which is a complicated thing for a good Muslim. “If you talk to the girl then you want to touch her too and that’s a problem,” he said.

It was a fairly relaxed day for Osama, and I wondered if it was because he didn’t want me to see him in action, since only official guides are allowed to show people around and there has been a crackdown of late. Just as likely it was a slow, cloudy, low season day, spent drinking tea, shooting pool and playing cards.

Osama was quite worried about being seen in public with me and my camera so I trailed him private-eye style from the parking garage through the medina until we reached a café where it was safe to meet again. During the day he wore a wireless mic and I camped out 100 feet away trying to shoot him through the constant foot traffic.

He was an accommodating, friendly subject, which only made the last bit of the day stranger and more interesting. Yesterday he had introduced himself by saying ,“My name is easy to remember. Like Bin Laden.” Today, as he closed up his shop I mentioned that introduction and asked if he saw good guys and bad guys between the U.S. and the other Osama. “Osama is not a bad guy,” he began. “He is reasonable but no one will talk with him.”

He didn’t want to say much more in a language that he speaks haltingly but eventually he went on. Bin Laden is a rich man who tries to help the poor, he’s not a terrorist.

Was 9/11 terrorism?

He didn’t have anything to do with that, it was the U.S. government. On that morning the Jews didn’t go to work

I was in New York that day and I have Jewish friends who were in the towers, so that’s not true.

But many didn’t go to work.

How do you know this?

We have news here too. Al-Jazeera.

There was no malice towards me as an American because I’m not running the government. But there needs to be peace and the U.S. isn’t helping. He locked up the shop and we walked back through the narrow streets with fifty feet between us.


Brendan said...

Hey, I couldn't find an email so I'm just going to throw this here. When I was 18 I spent 9 weeks 'alone' in Europe, now I'm 20 and in the middle of school to be a photographer. This summer I was going to work construction and save up for new camera gear...but your film made me miss traveling so I'm going to forget the camera and go to Asia til I run out of money. Thanks for inspiring me, and damn you for inspiring me. PS, now I'm addicted to your blog, too. Damn you twice!

Brook Silva-Braga said...

spring in asia is never a bad idea but don't blame me when you end up broke. have fun and do check out angkor wat if you can.