When I landed in Marrakesh, Morocco I had no money and no plan. I spent Saturday night on airport floor, and at 5 am, I stepped out of the airport’s front doors with a plan to walk to Marrakesh’s city center.
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. Red and yellow lights flashed as the van reversed backwards.
A tan face with bright, black eyes said, “Miss! What are you doing?!”
“Walking to city center. No money for a taxi…”
“Get in, please, Miss.”
“I can’t pay you.”
“It ok. No money is okay. Free.”
In a flash, the tan face was now a body, grabbing for my suitcase and placing it in the van.
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 letter, graphite smudged the print. Next, he placed a blue photo album on the center console, its accordion binding was frayed and the pages were filled with more letters and photos.
There was a photo of a young man holding the FIFA World Cup trophy above his head. An Italian flag waved in the background. 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.”
Rocky took me to the city center and searched for a place for me to stay. When we finally found a hotel with availability, Rocky took 280 dirhams out of his wallet, “I pay now, you pay me later. This includes breakfast. You must eat.”
I agreed to meet Rocky later for a tour around Marrakech, after I had rested and showed. Rocky left after I was escorted up marble steps, down a long, red-and-brown painted hallway, and into my hotel room. The front door was mud colored, ornate green-and-gold stenciling covered the doors and hugged the room’s arcs and edges.
In the dim, yellow lighting, it looked extravagant. At second glance, the paint peeled in the corners. I was asleep in a few minutes, all the same.
A few hours later, I was sitting in Rocky’s grey van, dírham in my hand and food in my belly. Rocky skillfully managed Marrakesh’s famous, disarrayed traffic as he told me about the city’s history. 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., Rocky and I were sipping harira in the late desert sunshine. Between Rocky’s episodic conversations with friends, I conducted this interview:
The Tuareg Philosophy
“I am originally from desert, born from the desert,” Rocky, whose real name is Kholqui Skouri, has been giving tours for 36 years in Marrakesh. He is from the Tuareg people, the native “blue people” who come from the Moroccan desert. Tuaregs are Muslim, as well as 85% of the Moroccan population — Rocky included. “And there is some Christians, there is some Jewish; all the religions, they live in Morocco — 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 organize tour or caravan, it is a simple life. [Now], there are fewer and fewer native people who want to stay. Those born in the desert leave, 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 left the desert by chance when he joined his uncle in Marrakesh at age 21 to drive buses. 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. Almost all his clientele come from referrals and word-of-mouth.
Under the Stars
Success followed Rocky, but 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. 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.”
Who We Are
“The Tuareg 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.
“We people of the desert, we do not change because we accept what we are.”
“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 [pointing to his heart] in peace. ‘Thank God, you make me in better than condition than others’. Don’t watch the highest; this makes trouble.
“All these people in the desert, they have small head, I would say. Even if you know lot of thing, always act as if you are small. Why? To know again.
“If you show that you know everything, you will never learn. But if you get low, if you get small head, you will learn because people will show you, they will give you their knowledge.”
A Giving Nature
Rocky finishes this line as my second course is arriving and, noticing this, he takes a paper napkin from the dispenser on the table and folds 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 the more you give, more you explain [what is in your heart], and the more you get. Like a cow, the more she gives milk, the more milk comes.”
I ask 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.”
“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 a hard life from the beginning. How he learns, his education, is the most important thing. When you get a hard education, you grow into a hard condition. If you get Quran in good condition, you get tender. It doesn’t matter what your religion is — 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 on the inside stays 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 to 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 was just beginning understanding how I must be. Because why? The army, it is another world. It is not how we live in the outside world. It is completely different.
“Why? [In army] you don’t do what you like, you do what he tells you to do. Because why? Because this is army, and your body is not your own. Your body is a body of the army. You must wait to be free, to do what you like, to love who you like.”
The Moroccan monarchy makes it a requirement for every young man to serve in the army.
But Rocky is not bitter about his five years of service.
“The army was my second mom. Because why? You try to be correct, [to do your duty], and to follow this mom. You have no choice.
“Why? Because when you do only your own things, everything is for you. But when someone is asking you to do what she needs, you do everything for her. You follow what your country is telling you to. Sometimes, it is hard to follow her. It is not tender to be in army; it is not a gift.” But you learn, you learn the price of freedom, and the joy of it, too.
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 to do bad, like taking drugs and partying, acting violently and destroying property.”
Education, in all forms, must be taught and enforced for proper human development — else we neglect life’s gifts and cause harm to ourselves and others.
“God give us everything, and he give us one limit. This limit is what? Do not harm 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 brushes his palms together, against the other — one, two, three times — in a loud, sweeping motion. A loud clap echos.
“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 a bad heart, you have nothing.”
Rocky is a detailed man — even his philosophy show an attention to the small happenings of life. Life, he says, is in the details. It is in the small things that we find joy, and it is in little ways that we bring a smile to someone else’s face.
“You can’t live alone. Let’s say you do 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.
“Happiness is a part of person; but some people have very little happiness. Because why? Because he don’t help himself to get more. He makes limits for himself, he does not smile for others, and he tries to be private and alone.
“You have to share to be happy. And you have to share it with the people who need help because one day this could be you. You should always act as if this person is you.”
Hospitality + Islam
“This sharing and hospitality are in Islam. God says to be with other humans as if you are with your family. Because why? Because 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 is an angel. Maybe it is God who send this person to you to see how you treat them.”
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. Rocky explains to me why acts of terrorism and hate crimes in the name of Allah are not, in fact, in line with the religion. Rocky does even consider these people Muslim.
Five Pillars of Islam
“In any religion, there is good and there is bad people. No exception. And in all the world, the right Muslim people, they believe in God, in his prophets, the five coins of Islam”
The five coins, or pillars, of Islam, are as follows:
- Pilgrimage to Mecca
- Belief in Allah
Pilgrimage to Mecca
This yearly pilgrimage is not a requirement — as it requires time and money that not every Muslim has. But if one can, they should go, at least once, to this holy of land.
“The most important thing is how you believe in Allah. [Do] you believe from your heart, or [do] you just believe for the others? If you show people that you are nice, but you do bad things, God knows.”
“You don’t have a bottle of water and get scared that one day there is no water in it. As I told you, charity is like a cow. The more she gives milk, the more the milk comes”
This month of fasting, Rocky explains, is an “opportunity to feel how poor people feel all year.” Ramadan teaches you to ‘look down’ and to be humble. It reminds you of the suffering of others.
A Muslim must five times a day facing east, the direction of Mecca, to meet God and ‘clear their path’.
“You are asking God to forgive you. Because why? Because human, he is fragile, he makes a 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 next, 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.”
Why Terrorists are not Muslim
“[In Islam], you can kill in two circumstances, first, if someone hurts your family, you may do it out of protection. Second, if someone comes into your country and try to take your land and take your country, you can defend your country. [These are] only two times when human is allowed to kill.
“You cannot kill for gold. You cannot kill for petrol. You cannot kill for land.
“There are people who say they are Muslims, but in reality, they are not Muslim. They have no religion. Because all religion, they asking the same thing. Don’t do bad to another human. That’s it.”
“Most political things use the religion as a cover while they really seek petrol or gold. They should not use religion, so why do they? Because other people will think they are correct. Because, typically when man does something under the name of Allah, he is correct! So, we trust this man. But it is a lie, a cover.”
“God gives us everything: food, drink, water, sun. We have everything. So why do we do bad between each other? “
What Muslims Pray for
“We are always asking God to give us heath. 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.
“When you see people of any age in good condition, you should know one thing: this person has the power of God.”
If you are interested in arranging a tour with Rocky, contact him via WhatsApp: +212–623–179663.