Smoke and Reality
Smoking hash is almost always a part of traditional Moroccan storytelling. If life gets tough or the evening drags on in works by Choukri, Mrabet, or Charhadi, the thing to do is sit down and light up. In European literature as well, from Alice in Wonderland to Naked Lunch, joints and pipes have left a trail of sweet-smelling smoke. This is how hashish became an early, albeit peculiar, medium of intercultural dialog; not until the 1960s and 1970s did it really take hold in the West, when entire beat and hippie generations sought their creative kicks. At the time, Morocco converted its traditional kif, or cannabis, crop for export. Two-thirds of all grass consumed in Europe now comes from the kingdom of Hassan III.
Twenty-seven-year-old Cologne director Daniel Gräbner, a late descendent of the flower children, was joined by Kamal and Jaouad El Kacimi to visit the major cultivation area in Ketama in the Rif mountains, 120 kilometers from the coast; he offers us precious insight into a strange kind of economy. The barren yet fascinating region, in which entire families are involved in the kif harvest and hashish production, seems to be thoroughly permeated by the surreal aura of the successful export crop. Children have even been known to pay the ice-cream man in hash. In a culture marked by oral tradition and illiteracy, everyone tells stories about everything, and listeners will hear something to support their opinion whether they favor or despise the gentle drug.
Hashish as medicine
An old pothead is hanging out at a smoke-in; he fills his pipe and sings praises of smoking, which is “no problem for the body,” and is used “as medicine” by doctors. Then he starts telling an anecdote about King Solomon and the birds. We never get to hear the end of the story, but we do learn that people have been smoking hashish “for 824 years.” Uh-huh. As much as the spirit can get lost in the expanses of inner space, some external boundaries seem nonetheless insurmountable. Where there are people getting stoned, there is also a reality: “Film me, my brother, the bill will come later, in court,” teases one of the pickers and we soon realize that here we are hovering in illegal space (Gräbner’s entire film was produced in arrangement with the local residents; no one was revealed or exposed). After a 1992 legal reform many small farmers were arrested. Once again, “big business” remains unpunished, a business of bribe money in which several hundred kilograms are put in specially prepared trucks and then transported by ship. The utopia of a different, better life reaches even beyond the sea: “The hashish is ready. Ready to cross the sea to Europe. So are we.”
Dream of a better life
Such statements show that in the laid back, traditional life in the Rif, the globalization age has long since set up its outposts: restlessness and promise. In their wisdom the pickers and traders of Ketama know how futile longing can be, yet they hold on to it just the same. One tells the story of his travels: with human traffickers he made it through Libya to Turkey, but he was caught at the border to Greece and sent back. Now he is back to dreaming, with empty pockets. The drug is a lot of things: source of inspiration, export good, means of escape, and now it is the main protagonist in this film with a strange sense of immediacy and intensity.
Amin Farzanefar, © 2003 Qantara.de
Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan
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