The term chiefly used for a foreign woman in Morocco (and maybe elsewhere we did not venture) is gazelle – the reason for which remains a mystery to me. My family and friends, desert-travelers and travel-companions, collectively tried to solve the mystery, but every time we inquired about this particular puzzle, our query was met by a range of merry-eyed chuckles or evasive smirks.
Over the din of callers, languages, clunking, chiming, and clashing of the souks of Marrakech, the calls directed at me were primarily, “Oy, la Gazelle!” My aunt, the resident expert and cultural-translator, had warned us youths to expect that particular term, and informed us that was not disrespectful. She said that indeed, we should simply laugh along, if not take it as a compliment. Despite this warning-reassurance, it took me about a week-and-a-half to completely absorb the status of gazelle, an animal with which I feel no affinity in the first place. By the final stage of the trip, however, we all joked about gazelles, even referring to my uncle, his friend, tour guides, and passers-by as gazous.
The icing-on-the-cake of the animal allusions was a parallel drawn between dromedaries and gazelles. A handsome, blue clad Berber youth who led us around an oasis and a kazbat recounted this supposed-Berber proverb (although the obscure nature of the term gazelle leads me to believe that this is less ancient Berber wisdom, and more popular - albeit popular amongst a nomadic people – culture):
Quelle-est la différence entre le dromadaire et la gazelle?
Avec le dromadaire, on traverse de désert ; mais avec la gazelle, on traverse la vie.
What is the difference between a dromedary and a gazelle?
With a dromedary, you travel through the desert, but with a gazelle, you travel through life.