Along a long road lined with colorful shops of sterling silver earrings, rope bracelets and handmade leather goods, lies a shop with racks of hangers holding airy dresses and 90’s inspired vests. Standing beside a paisley patterned navy shirt is Jamal Chahboun.
Chahboun, owner of a small Chefchaouen shop passed down from his father, speaks about his love for people, his fear to leave home and his usage of seven different languages.
While Chahboun walks to the front of his shop, an intricately patterned pink vest intrigues a young woman. She asks him the price. He asks her where she is from—in perfect English. In Morocco, English is the last language learned—if it is learned at all. Hearing perfect English is peculiar to the usual encounters that I’ve had here. Soon, price negotiations lead to conversation and a friend is made.
“Sometimes the people don’t believe that I learn my languages just talking to people. I did not learn at school, I learn here,” Chahboun says, a nonchalant hand pointing to his shop nestled behind him. Aged face lines decorate his countenance, complementing the stretch of his eyes as he smiles. He stands in the shade underneath his shop awning, though his golden brown face still catches a slight hint of the sun.
Chahboun, who says he’s been speaking languages for 40 years, speaks Arabic, French, English, Spanish, Italian and German, as his main languages, and Portuguese, as his side language. Out of all of the languages he knows, he attributes only one, French, to being learned in school. Arabic is his mother language. The rest was all learned from his little shop. He says that he learned them by his “hope of wondering.”
“I did this by myself. Nobody helped me for that. I just try to read magazine and [hear] the music,” he says. “Languages you have to practice them. My friends would show me and correct me if I didn’t say something in the right way. I always meet them in my father’s store.”
With brownish tinted teeth and glassy eyes reflecting his deep thought, he speaks of his friends that he knows in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He sends them postcards to their housewares store, but he will never visit them, he says. If he does, he says that he may never return.
“I am afraid to leave Morocco and don’t come back. It happened before,” he says, looking into the distance. Though he says that he has left his country before, he explains that he is speaking of the time that he left Chefchaouen to another city within Morocco. He is afraid to leave his family behind.
Chahboun continues to stare into the distance. His eyes hold the memories. He shakes his head.
“I don’t want a repeat.”
However, Chahboun does not have to leave home. He meets the world through his shop and through his shop, he speaks languages of the world. It is his connection to all people.
“I can communicate in Italian because Portuguese is similar to Spanish. Italians can understand you if you speak with Spanish,” he says. “We get it.”
He belts lets out a smoky and contagious laugh in between sentences.
Our conversation stops abruptly. It is time for me to go. But I find it difficult to leave. He has a kind and comforting spirit, like that of a sweet grandfather. Genuine.
I give my salutations.
“You leaving?” he asks, eyes low, voice softening. “It’s nice talking to you. Come back. I’m always here,” he says. “If you have some friends [who] want to come here, welcome. Welcome OK? I hope to see you again.”