My Personal Rhapsody / Memoirs of Ruta

My Personal Rhapsody is an intimate voyage to different galaxies representing lives of people who dared to step beyond their personal boundaries. By hearing their stories I do not aim to engage in a formal interview. What I look for is a free exchange between two people without pre-prepared questions. Listening to people’s stories and feeling them inspires me to rewrite their story in a magical, surrealist manner. I believe that each talk or discussion with another person is a two way communication, even if one of the persons chooses to remain silent. The reader is invited to see the story as a totality – energy shared by people exchanging words, motion, touch, breath, heartbeat.

by MY PERSONAL RHAPSODY

illustrations by GODA PELE

No 1. Meeting the Great Sultan

We immediately sensed something is odd with this place and started counting our last minutes.

After being left in the middle of the valley without a shelter, my friends and I have finally reached the road where we met a driver wearing a fancy black costume and shiny shoes. “Perfect outfit for this dusty road”, I thought. The driver – Abdulah - offered us to give a lift towards Essaoira. After a few hours drive, Abdulah receives a phone call from another guy – the Sultan - offering us to visit his place. “No thanks, Essaouira, Essaouira! Our husbands are waiting, we are late!” Neither we were late, nor were we married. The car kept on going until it reached the crossroad: one sign pointed to Essaouira, another – an unknown road. The driver turned towards the unknown shabby place. The road ahead of us looked devastating and yet miraculous: surrounded by slums, kids were playing in a dirty river, wild dogs walking around waiting for their prey. Regardless of how miserable it all looked, the area was surrounded by fabulous gardens, blooming flowers and a fountain, which were just behind a fence as if they were not for everybody. We immediately sensed something is odd with this place and started counting our last minutes.

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We slowly went out of a car with all our belongings: an avocado in a Maxima bag, a bottle of vodka to protect ourselves from food poisoning and our sleeping bags.

The car stopped. I looked up, and everything I could see was a huge wall surrounding a seemingly luxurious house. We were frightened of what awaited us behind this wall. We slowly went out of a car with all our belongings: an avocado in a Maxima bag, a bottle of vodka to protect ourselves from food poisoning and our sleeping bags. The gate opened and the Great Sultan came to greet us. “This is it. The rich Sultan is going to enslave us behind these walls”, I said. I was trying to sneakily watch for what is behind the gate: a golden pool, a garden, a bar, dancers, a maid and unknown men. “We are going to die here”, my friend whispered. The Sultan invited us to enter and as if we had another choice. We walked in through the gate. The men were quite drunk, thus, we tried to avoid making any eye contact with them. We sat down. “The dinner is ready for you ladies”, announced the Sultan. “Great”, I thought. At least we will be given the last supper by guys with great manners. The Sultan drank his whisky and said “Please help yourselves. I have a business meeting with an owner of a dance club in Essaouira in two hours… I can take you there.” A dance club? Or did he mean a strip club? I guess it didn’t matter by now as we were all stuck in his hands. I downed a glass of whisky. So did my friends…


No 2. Almost getting married in Rabat

Who could have thought I would meet my mother-in-law in Rabat.

‘Girls, what do you think, wouldn’t it be great for us to get married?” At first, we took it as a joke “Yeah sure Nahim! All of us could be your wives!”, we laughed. He didn’t. Things got worse.

After dragging ourselves around the villages of Morocco, we thought to taste some coastal city vibes. So, my friends and I have decided to stay in Rabat. We were so lucky with the owner of the house where we stayed. His name was Nahim. Nahim was an extremely generous man. On day one, before even getting to the apartment, he had sent us a message offering a tour around the city. Later in the evening he cooked a delicious dinner for us, told about the local life and spent most of his time with the three strangers who just a few hours ago had entered his apartment. We liked Nahim’s company, he liked ours. We wished to stay longer. Nahim knew that. He knew that so well that after a few days he started to lure us to stay for another week. After a while, his look had changed. Something spooky was in his eyes as if he was observing us with strong affection. On one afternoon he took us to another excursion, this time a very specific one. Nahim showed us the beauty of the city hall, the place where people got married in Rabat. “Girls, what do you think, wouldn’t it be great for us to get married?” At first, we took it as a joke “Yeah sure Nahim! All of us could be your wives!”, we laughed. He didn’t. Things got worse.

“I have a special plan for the dinner this evening, get dressed ladies!”, said Nahim in an excited tone. At that time, getting dressed for us meant wearing dirty unwashed shorts, leggings, old t-shirts, stinky sneakers that have seen mud and dirt and dusty valleys of Morocco. No makeup and black under-nails. “We are ready, Nahim! Coming!” You can call us naïve to agree to go, but if we survived the dinner with Sultan, we will survive Nahim. We felt fearless after going through so much together.

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‘I have a special plan for the dinner this evening, get dressed ladies!’, said Nahim in an excited tone. At that time, getting dressed for us meant wearing dirty unwashed shorts, leggings, old t-shirts, stinky sneakers that have seen mud and dirt and dusty valleys of Morocco.

Dinner time: My friends Laura, Nora and Nahim sit together holding hands. Nahim’s mother is piercing us with her look. Nahim’s sister stares at my under-nails and the leggings. I am trying to focus on food because this might be my last dinner as a single woman. “So when is the ceremony ladies? You first need to convert though.. and change those leggings. We don’t wear this here", translated Nahim his mother’s words. We shook our heads “No wedding, we leave tomorrow”. “If Nahim chooses, he knows, I trust his decision. You all seem very lovely”, continued his mother and went to lock the door. “No no no, we are leaving. Partir, Partir, pas de marriage”, shouted Laura as we looked at her surprised by her knowledge of French. Nahim exchanged quick looks with his mom. We realized we had to act now or be Nahim’s wives for the rest of our lives. Laura quickly threw Nahim on the couch and ran towards the kitchen window, opened it and jumped through to the backyard. “Get the keys, get the keys!!”, shouted Laura while I was searching for the car keys. Nahim’s mother was already by the window when Nora and I arrived to the kitchen. She grabbed us by our hands whilst saying something in Arabic. She noticed I had the car keys and tried to take them away. Meanwhile, Nahim was coming towards us. So we pushed the old woman away from us towards Nahim, jumped through the window and ran towards the car... We drove fast never looking back and yet we still felt the presence of their shadows near us.

No 3. The Balkan Squad

He was a taxi driver of an old Mercedes who offered us his place to stay for a few days free of charge under a condition that we will all pretend being in a movie. Two of my friends and I loved the cinema, so we agreed.

We have met Chipriani at Bacau airport in Romania. “I love your leggings! What a great material”, pointed Chipriani at my velvet leggings. Chipriani was a short, dark hair Romanian man who wore exclusive sunglasses made out of the luxurious horn. He was a taxi driver of an old Mercedes who offered us his place to stay for a few days free of charge under a condition that we will all pretend being in a movie. Two of my friends and I loved the cinema, so we agreed. Under the scrutiny of director Chipriani, we have decided to call our movie The Balkan Squad. No, we did not have a camera, nor did we record a scene on a phone. We simply acted as if we were in a movie with fictional scenarios. We never shared those scenarios between us. The idea was to improvise as we go.

At that time I was still using my Maxima bag, which I brought from Lithuania. A nice touch I thought for the scenery we are in. Chipriani was very much in favour of such an accessory.

Chipriani liked scenes that get you out of your comfort zone, and he tried hard to surprise us. That day Chipriani was sitting on a bench in the middle of the town square while we were walking from a store. At that time I was still using my Maxima bag, which I brought from Lithuania. A nice touch I thought for the scenery we are in. Chipriani was very much in favour of such an accessory. As we walked towards him, a stranger rushed into us, started screaming for help and hugging my knees. All of us were shocked and had no idea how to help him. Needless to stay, we did not speak the language. In a meantime, Chipriani was sitting calm, enjoying a sunny day. So the only thing we did was to scatter our hands in all directions expecting someone to understand our alien moves. Until I realized one thing: the stranger stole my wallet. I quickly ran to our movie director Chipriani to ask what the hell just happened, and to tell him to call the police. He responded in a calm voice “The police is already here, my friend, no worries”. As I turned around, I saw the policeman walking towards us. “Ladies, the man reported you tried to rob him”, said the policeman with a strong Russian accent. “Rob him? Are you kidding me? He took my wallet! Ask our friend Chipriani!”, we all flipped. Next thing we knew, we were sitting in a police office in some shabby town of Romania. The town which I would not be able to point on the map even today.