Kholqui “Rocky” Skouri on Tuareg People + Education + Islam

Under brisk air and a black night sky, I pulled my suitcase behind me and carried my backpack snuggly between my shoulders. All the ATM machines at the airport had rejected my bank card when I landed in Marrakesh, Morocco that Saturday night. After scrambling to fix the problem with no success, I was left with no money and one option; I took out my yoga mat, placed it on the airport floor, laid down my winter coat, and covered myself with extra sweaters and a quick-dry towel. The night’s sleep amounted to one and half hours of dazed rest as children episodically shouted from the halls and sounds of shuffling footsteps never ceased.

At 5 am, I dismantled my makeshift bed, tried the ATM one more time (to no success), called my bank (the international office was closed), and stepped out of the airport’s front doors towards Marrakesh’s city center. Maybe I could find a bank or a tourism office. All would be okay– if I made it through this walk.Not five minutes had passed when I saw a grey van exiting the airport parking lot; it passed my peripheral vision and pulled over to the sidewalk. The taillights emitted a bright red and yellow light as the van reversed backwards to meet my eyes. With the windows rolled down, a tan face met me at eye-level, “Miss! What are you doing?!”

“Walking to city center. Problem with my card. The ATMs don’t work. No money for a taxi…” My thoughts came out without order as the lack of sleep weighed on my brain.

“Get in, please, Miss.”

“I can’t pay you.”

“It ok. This come from me. No money is okay. Free.”

I nodded in agreement and reached for the door. In a flash, he was in front of me, holding my suitcase and placing it in the van. His pace startled me, but maybe this was because of my sleep-deprivation. As I climbed in the backseat, I realized I did not even know his name.

“Sir, what do you do? What is your name?”

“Ah, Miss, it’s Rocky! I make tours for people around Marrakesh. I was just dropping off clients at the airport, that is why I here. Look!” He handed me a handwritten letter, the writing still fresh as bits of graphite smudge the print. Next, he placed a photo album on the center console, it was blue with an accordion binding and filled from front to back. As I flipped through the photos, I noticed an older man with his arm around Rocky. There was another photo of the same man, only younger, holding the FIFA World Cup trophy above his head with an Italian flag waving in the background, his jersey faintly sweaty and hair amuck; the name Paolo Rossi was scribbled in the margins. “Yes, I have had many clients, some big names! Movies are filmed here, in Marrakesh, you know. I work for these people, too.” I felt a weight leave my body for the first time since I landed in Morocco.

a book and a handwritten letter and a photo
A letter from Rocky’s book

Rocky took me to the city center, and after I confessed to having no place to stay for the new day, Rocky searched for a place for me. When we finally found one, open and with availability, Rocky took 280 dirhams out of his wallet, “I pay now, you pay me later. This includes breakfast. You must eat.”

a photo of a Tuareg man with an italien football player
Italian soccer player, Paolo Rossi, holding the FIFA World Cup Trophy, on the right,

Curious about this man, we had agreed to meet for a tour around Marrakech during the car ride—so I would see him again in the afternoon and pay him back then. Rocky then departed as I was escorted up the marble steps, down a long, red-and-brown painted hallway, and towards my room. The front door was a similar, mud color with ornate green-and-gold stenciling that covered the doors and hugged its arcs and edges. In the dim, yellow lighting, it looked extravagant; at second glance, the paint peeled in the corners. I was given a heavy key, and after several turns, I found myself in a dark room with simple, antique furniture—red-and-brown once more. I discovered that the plumbing and mattress matched the old-style furniture in age and appearance. I had a room, however, and a bed, and I was asleep in a few minutes, all the same.

A hotel lobby in Marrakesh, close to the Tuareg people
The hotel lobby in Marrakesh

A few hours later, I had my head pressed against an ATM machine, eyes closed and heart pounding as I waited for my card to be accepted or rejected. And after the slowest transaction of my life, I walked away with dírham in hand towards the same grey van. I sat front seat this time, with two British and two Dutch tourists in the back, as Rocky drove us all through Marrakesh, exploring the city walls, souks, and herb stores as Rocky skillfully managed Marrakesh’s famous, disarrayed traffic and spoke about the history, significant, and culture of Marrakesh. A few times, Rocky donated to beggars on the streets. More often, he yelled and waved at passing cars. “Old friends,” he explained with a grin. Once, he pulled over to the side of the road, parked, and ran away with 100 dirhams. He came back empty-handed and smiling from ear to eat.

Around 3 P.M., I asked Rocky where I should eat. “Miss, we eat together, one hour!” And true to his promise, I was sipping harira, a soup traditionally is eaten during Ramadan, with Rocky across from me. It was here on the restaurant terrace, in the late desert sunshine and between Rocky’s episodic greetings with street-side friends, that I asked permission to interview this character. 

A man wearing a blue turban, typical for the Tuareg people
Rocky wearing his blue turban

The Tuareg Philosophy

“I am originally from desert, born from the desert, and raised drinking mama camel milk,” he began. Rocky, whose real name is Kholqui Skouri, has been giving tours for 36 years in Marrakesh. His people, the Tuareg, are a native people from the Moroccan desert who are affectionately known as the blue people because their traditional garments are a deep blue. The Tuareg, Rocky included, are Muslim, as well as 85% of the Moroccan population. “And there is some Christians, there is some Jewish; all the religions, they live in Morocco—with the peace, with peace. As we said, ‘Heart has no nationality’.

“In the desert, it is very limit. It is very traditional. You can’t grow, you get limit in your ideas and everything. What you do in desert is common man— organizing tour or caravan, simple life. [Now], there are fewer and fewer native people who want to stay. Those born in the desert leave and look for a different way of life. They go to cities and become drivers or waiters; they want to meet other people and know different ways of life; they want to rise.”

Rocky’s exit out of the desert happened without intention—he joined his uncle in Marrakesh at age 21 to help his uncle drive buses after spending 5 years in the Moroccan Air Force. He worked for many years with his uncle until he began giving tours of the desert for an Italian travel agency. Rocky now works semi-independently, and he receives almost all his clientele through works referrals and word-of-mouth.

A desert view with people on camels
A sunset in the desert

Under the Stars

Success has followed Rocky through his evolution, and through it all, the simple way of the Tuareg people never left Rocky. “People in the desert, as we spend lot of time under stars, [this is why] we become tender, [because] the stars, they is catching you… you feel safe, in peace, with animals and people. In the world, you feel in peace. That is why, people from the desert, we work from heart. It doesn’t matter what you want or what is your religion. What matters is what you get in your heart, like a baby, this is how it work. Tuareg people, we get this feeling because we spend most of time under the stars. “

a man next to a photo of his younger self in a turban
A photo of Rocky in his youth

Who We Are

“We say that man must have contact with Milky Way because it is our Grandmom. When we watch the Milky way, we are watching our Grandmom. Why? Because she looks like a Grandmom with the children around. We try to be a child around of her. We see ourselves like child.” Everyone in this world is a child of the Milky Way, according to the Tuareg. When you raised in city, modern life, you get one kind of mind. When you raised in quiet, under stars, you get different mind; even if you go to noisy place, you feel the same everywhere you go. People of the desert, we do not change because we accept what we are. This is the thing. “

a man next to a donkey
Rocky in the Atlas Mountains

Look Down

“And some people don’t accept what he is. Why? Because he looks up. You don’t have to look up. Look down. The more you look down, the more you see that you are in good condition. When you see, for example, rich people, you get sick in the heart, ‘Why don’t I have Ferrari, why don’t I have big house, why don’t I have this?’ But when you see poor people, you are, in here [pointing to his heart] in peace. ‘Thanks God, you make me better than others’, [you will say]. You don’t watch the highest; this make troubles to your mind.

That’s why, all these people in the desert, they always have small head, I would say. Even if you know lot of thing, always be for others as if you are small. Why? To know again. Because if you show that you know everything, you will never learn. But if you get [pointing to the ground], you will learn again because people will try to show you, will give you [more knowledge].”

A Giving Nature

Rocky finished this line as my second course was arriving and, noticing this, he took a paper napkin from the dispenser on the table and folded it neatly in front of me.

“The power of what you get is coming from what you give. The more you give, the more you get. Never say, ‘Oh, I will be empty one day.’ No, no, don’t worry. Because why? Because here, the more you talk, more you speak, more you explain [what is in your heart], [the] more you get. Because why? Because the more you make free the place in your mind— the mind is catching again! Like a cow, the more she gives milk, the more milk comes.”

I asked Rocky how he developed this philosophy, and as he is a deeply spiritual man, he responded, “All the words I say is from Quran, I just do translation.” He spent 5 years studying Quran, from 5 to 9 years old, like all Moroccan children. He sees the Quran as a sort of dictionary for the mind. “When you get your dictionary [in the mind], you can talk about any subject you like. You just have the do translation.”

Education

“There is one thing that you have to know. Each Muslim learn the Quran in his conditions. If you learn Quran in good conditions, in peace, you will use it in a good condition. If I put a gun here [to your head], you will learn it, but you will use it for bad. Why? Because, you will say, ‘If it was a safe thing, this man would not make gun to my head to learn Quran.’ Some people get hard life from the beginning. How he learns, the education, is the most important thing. When you get hard, you grow in hard condition. If you get Quran in good condition, you get tender. It doesn’t matter what your religion, your beauty— it is not dependent on this. If you born in nuclear power plant, you grow hard and in bad condition. But if you are born under the stars, with animals and this, you will grow like this, you will get everywhere tender in you. You can be strong, but everything inside is tender.”

He tries to raise his three daughters this same way, “I always speak with them correctly, never touch them [raised a hand to them], always try to show them what is right and what is wrong. The more you are tender, the more the child will learn. You need peace for learn!”

In the Moroccan Army

While Rocky was raised in this tender way, his time in the army was not tender, “It was a different time, you know. It was Africa. I began the army in 1977, at 16, and I ended in 1983— after [these] 5 years, I just beginning understanding how I must be. Because why? The army, it is another world. It is not how we live outside. It is completely different, 100% different. Because why? [In army] you don’t do what you like, you do what he is telling you to do. Because why? Because this is army, [and your body is not yours here]. Yours is body of the army. After this, when you are free, you have been waiting to do good thing, to meet good people, to do what you like, to love who you like.”

Second Mom

He was not bitter about his five years of service, however. “The army was my second mom. Because why? Because, first, you spend 80% of your time in army. And you try to be correct, to follow this mom. You have no choice because if you don’t do what your mom asking for, you will get sick, sick here or here [touching his head and heart].

“Why? Because when you have your own things, your own memories, everything is for you. But when someone is asking you to do what he needs, it is not yours, you are doing everything for him. You should follow what your mom is telling you to. Sometimes, it is hard to follow what your mom is asking. It is not tender to be in army; it is not a gift. [The arm says,] ‘We are here for making hard people, and strong people. Not tender people, I do not like tender people. I need for war’. But after this, when you get your freedom, you just want to do simple thing, to be me, not 80%, not 90%… 100%!”

A hat on the window sille of a car
The desert

Freedom As A Gift

Rocky’s time in the army was formative for him, and he believes it is vital for young people to do some sort of service to their country. Freedom, Rocky believes, is a gift that young people do not know how to exercise. This is why they use it for bad, like taking drugs and partying, acting violently and destroying property. Education, in all forms, must be given and enforced for a person to properly develop—or else we neglect the gifts of life and cause harm to ourselves and others.

One Religion

“God give us everything, and he give us one limit. This limit is what? Do not kill another human. [This is why I say] there is only one religion in the world: do not do bad to people. That is it.” Rocky brushed his palms against the other, one, two, three times, and a loud clap resounded from the motion, “Our religion, [Islam], is not hard religion. It is soft religion. We explain how our religion is to others; we do not get angry at people who are different; we have respect for others, for differences. And who are the people who have this respect, these tender thoughts? [These are] people with a good education, a tender education from the heart.

“If you have a good heart, that is it. You have everything.

“If you have religion but a bad heart, you have nothing.”

The Details

During the past few hours together, I felt that Rocky lived the philosophy that he spoke, and I asked Rocky why he gave such attention and consideration to others; specially in his attention to the little details, like the napkin he folded for me earlier or the smiles he gave to others in passing. Life, he told me, is in the details. It is in the small things that we find joy, and it is in little ways that we make someone else’s day better and bring a smile to someone else’s face.

“You can’t live alone; if you live alone, [let’s say] you have everything and you need no one… til when? One century? And after this? You will need someone! Someone to take your hand, [to help you] when you can do nothing. You cannot live alone—and we are not meant to live alone. We are made to live with others. Why? Because the power is together, it is not alone, even if you have everything.

This is why Rocky pays attention to the details, to bring joy to the people around him who he needs and wants in his life—likewise, it brings him happiness to care for those around him.

Like Wolves

“Happiness is a part of person; some people have very few part of happiness in him. Because why? Because he don’t help himself to get more. He make limit for his self, don’t smile for others, tries to be private and alone. It is not a good idea. Happiness is [both] born with the person and grown with the person. There is a positive person and there is some negative person. Negative person are like wolf. Wolf, always alone. He leaves his family and try to live alone. Why? He try to have all the food for himself. The life, for him, is the food. But for human, it different. We go more far than food. The more we have, more we need. This is why if you have nothing, you are sick, and if you have everything, you are sick.

“You have to share, [especially] your happiness. And you have to share it with the people who need it because maybe it could be you [one day]. Share the good, not the bad. You should always think as if this person is you. Do like it is you.” 

Hospitality + Islam

This belief is found within Islam, as well, and I asked Rocky if this is why Muslims are traditionally such hospitable and giving people?

“The hospitality is in the religion. God says to make with human as you make with yourself or your family. Because why? You never know… maybe this person will be at your help one day when you are in bad position or in need. And maybe this person can be angel—it is God who send to you and to see how you will do with this person. A lot of people do not open the eyes.” 

While most Muslim people are incredible hosts with kind hearts and open minds, Islam has been given a bad name because of the actions of a few people. Rocky explained to me why acts of terrorism and hate crimes in the name of Allah are not, in fact, in line with the religion. Rocky would not even consider these people Muslim.

Five Pillars of Islam

“In any religion, there is right and there is bad people. No exception. And in all the world, the right Muslim people, they believe in God, in his prophets, [and they follow the] five coins of Islam:

  • Believe in Allah and his prophet
  • Practice Ramadan 
  • Give Charity
  • Go to Mecca, if possible
  • Prayer five times a day

The two pillars, or coins as Rocky calls them, of Ramadan and prayer require further explanation. Ramadan is, Rocky explained, an “opportunity to feel how the poor people feel all the year. Without eating, without drinking all day, you feel what the poor people feel, all of the time.” In this way, Ramadan is for God and it teaches you to ‘look down’. 

Praying, on the other hand, is a way to clear one’s road—another Rocky phrase. Five times a day, one must pray to the east, the direction of Mecca, to meet God. “You are asking God to forgive you. Because why? Because human, he is fragile, lot of mistake. He can’t stop doing mistake, because he is human, he is not perfect. So please god, forgive me. And, when you go out, you do not think to do mistake, because why? Because you are meeting God later. How do you do mistake and come back to meet God? It’s a shame. This is how it works.

Elaborating on this point, Rocky explained, “[In Islam], you can kill in two circumstances, first, if someone come in and do bad to your family, hurt your family, you may do it because it is your family. Second, if someone come into your country and try to take your land and take your country, you should defend your country. [These are] only two things in Quran where human is allowed to kill. You don’t have to kill for gold. You don’t have to kill for petrol. You don’t have to kill for land. No. That’s it.

“There are Muslim people only with the name, but in reality, in deep of him, he is not Muslim. He have no religion. Because all religion, they asking the same thing. Don’t do bad to human. That’s it, this is the thing. Finished. Don’t do bad to human.”

Politics + Religion

Still, I nudged Rocky about the politics of the Middle East. “So Miss, I tell you one thing, the most of political things, they use the religion to be covering from the others. If you are looking after petrol or gold, why you use religion? Why? Don’t use religion! But why they do? Because other people will think they are correct man. Because, when man is with God, he is correct, normally! It should be like this. So, we trust in you. This is the thing. Ah, but the most of political things, they cover it, her head, with religion to make profit.”

Charity

Rock’s love for his religion, and his distain of those who abuse and soil the Islamic name, was felt in his words. His strong adherence to Islam’s five pillars gave him a tender heart, yet I wondered, does all this giving, attention, and charity exhaust him?

“You don’t have a bottle of water and get scared that one day there is no water in it. As I told you, it is like a cow. The more she give milk, the more the milk come in. The richest thing is how you believe in God. [Do] you believe from your heart, or [do] you just believe for the others. If you are white and clean and show people that you are nice, but you do bad things, God knows how you are. 

God asking us one thing, to be nice with people. Why? Because God would like to see, between human, everything ok. Why? Because he give us everything: food, drink, water, sun. We have everything. Why do we do bad between each other?

Prayers For Health

“We are always asking God to give us heath [in Islam]. Because why? Because with the health, you can do everything. We never ask, ‘Please god, give me money.’ You meet people with lots of money, but no health. They would give all the money for just one percent of health. And when you see people, of any age, in good condition, you should know one thing: that this person has the power of God. How you are is what make you different in this life, not what you get, [think about] if you make people happy, if you take care of people [because] everything you do for others, God will do it to you.”

If you are interested in arranging a tour with Rocky, contact him via WhatsApp: +212-623-179663.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Salima says:

    Im so haappy and proud to read those words ♥️ Proud daughter

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