I live in the famous red city. Its buildings are made of beaten clay, with arches, domes, minarets and mosques with both Spanish and French influences.
One of the main features of our homes is a fountain right in the middle of the house, it is mostly covered in tiles in a mosaic.
I used to often wonder looking at it, that stood empty and dry. Water was scarce and the rainwater was often collected there and was treasured as ‘heavenly bliss’ with added medicinal value.
Once my granny told me something while we stood by its side, ‘when it rains, the empty, hollow, dark and ugly pits get filled up while the top of stiff cliffs remains dry.’
She then looked at me with a serious look and continued, ‘take the pride and ego out of you, use this emptiness as a treasure box’.
‘How do I find the treasure’? I asked an innocent question.
‘Find the treasure map’, she chuckled.
This memory of my childhood was strange. One that gave me a mysterious feeling, a feeling of the unfulfilled void itself if I may call it.
I used to sit with my mother who put hina tattoos on hands, while I drew for children. Pictures of garden, trees, stars, forests and fountains. Kids often liked them and payed a few dirhams to my mother.
It was a thriving market place. The ambience of food, the smoke from restaurants created a magic aroma. After sunset, the square lit up in lights, with musicians playing tunes, snake charmers playing the flutes, acrobats performing with slapstick comedians.
All around me there was a sea of people sipping mint tea and eating figs while haggling for hand-woven carpets.
There stood a man playing with a fire fall right in front of where I normally drew pictures. Every night I saw him baton twirling, fire breathing and performing art by manipulating fire as a mean of a visual object.
Every time I witnessed this I felt that heat, that desire that burning passion deep inside me, to be an artist, to draw to play with colours. Perhaps, I wanted to be a showman with my paintings, by giving my pictures the magic to fly, shine, sink in hearts and amuse.
There used to be a strange man watching that show every now and then. He used to wear a long robe with tattered cloths all sewn in pattern as if to signify that all differences are mere connections as one complete unit. He had charms around his neck as a humble glory and a wooden bowl as a symbol of lost vanity. He intrigued me in a mysterious way as a person who was brave, who did not pay attention to the judgement of others and one with an ability to speak fair and square just like the solid, confident pit in my yard.
One day out of curiosity I followed him, it was not long when all of a sudden he stopped and looked back at me. ‘I am afraid I have nothing to give you unless you want to ask something’? He inquired in a measured voice.
‘I want to be a painter’..I somehow mumbled. ’I need your advice’.
He laughed a terrible laugh keeping in mind I was a feeble young girl. He then watched me with keen, inspecting eyes and continued,
‘Whatever you do, do out of love, not out of fear. If necessary fight like a wild animal for freedom from the slavery of your own needs…to be acknowledged, rich and famous… When lost, study the constellations in the sky to find direction. Identify if you must, the trees in the forest, but just keep moving. Refuse to please others and paint from your heart.’
I looked at him in vague anticipation when I heard his booming voice.
‘Knowledge is like a dirty, stale, still water unless it’s running, let it flow… let it be a fountain of what your heart yearns, a centre of your passion and productivity’.
For the first time, I realised I had found a treasure map. A map to fill my emptiness; my lack of mastered skill and once immersed in it’s glory, be generous to spread it around, not for an approval but for my heart’s content.
I realised I had the greatest showman within me all this time, who did not need to hide or fear anymore, rather live life fully and be true to myself.