Day 16 VCCA: Meeting the Moroccans

It’s another dinner at VCCA, with four round tables filled with artist chatter, people getting up and down for seconds or dessert, and miraculously this evening–wine on every table. I’m sitting with Barbara and David, the two artists who permanently reside here as staff on call (among many other things). Joining us are Rahim and Aziz, just in from Morocco. Rahim is a poet and speaks very little English, but with help from Aziz–a fiction writer–we all seem to have enough to say to make the dinner conversation move along.

We get past the formalities of who lives where and how long everyone is staying as a Fellow and then Aziz asks me point blank, “How many books do you have?”

I bite into my salad and think this question over for a moment. It’s great being at a place prestigious enough that the working assumption is not only that one has a book, but books. It can be hard answering that question, though.

“None,” I say. “I mean, I’ve edited two anthologies and I have another anthology coming out next year. But really I just have a little self-published chapbook that did alright and is going to be on TV this summer and…” I cut myself off. Aziz is only getting half of what I say, if that.

“No books?” he asks, looking confused. He says it with an accent, like a Halloween boo plus a sharp ks.

“No, no books. Just a chapbook.”

“A chapbook?” Rahim chimes in. Now I’ve got both of them confused.

“I don’t understand,” Aziz says. “How many books?”

“One book,” I finally decide. “Just one.”

The dining room grows louder and the Moroccans consult each other in Arabic, shaking their heads. Aziz asks again: “How many books?”

“Just one,” I say.

They lean in, as though they can’t hear. Rahim cocks his head. Aziz waits expectantly for me to answer his question. Again. It’s endearing, really…they have no idea how truly awkward this repetition is for a little pea like me. It feels almost like a lie, but I can’t think of how to say chapbook in Arabic, Portugese, or French so I stick with my blubbering American English. I smile a little this time, saying it louder: “Just one. I have just one book.”

“I have five books,” says Aziz. The oo‘s in the word sound even longer now.

“I have three books,” adds Rahim.

“Wow,” I say. I eat more salad.

Later, I ask them how you might say the name Katey in Arabic. “Kee – ahh – dee,” they both say. “Kee – ahh – dee.”

Kee – ahh – dee?” I try the sweet syllables.

They smile, growing excited. “Yes! Bon!” They nod their heads.

“What does it mean?” I ask.

Aziz clears his throat. “Good feeling. It means good feeling. Kee – ahh – dee. Yes.”

“Good feeling? Hey! That’s great,” I say. “Kee – ahh – dee. Are you sure? Kee – ahh – dee.” I want to be certain and when I look to them for confirmation I see they’re already gesturing approval.

Kee – ahh – dee, Kee – ahh – dee,” they say in unison, tapping their hearts. “Good feeling!” And for a brief moment I relish the image: two soft-eyed, handsome Moroccans tapping their chests and saying my name. Good feeling. That definitely works well enough for this just-one-book author!

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