I realized yesterday…

I realized yesterday that I’ve probably cooked more in my life with Rachid than with anyone else. And that’s not counting the meals together where each of us brought something. I remember the first time we ate together. The morning of Thanksgiving Day (in 1989 I think) the phone rang and it was Rachid or Fanny asking if we were doing anything… That was already unique – who would just call someone up on Thanksgiving morning and ask whether they were doing anything. And because we are who we are (and I was going to bake a salmon which could just as well stay in the fridge) and having just met the Cordero-Benkhaltis and they seemed interesting — I said, “Nothing. Why?” And they said, you should come over for dinner this afternoon.

So we did, walking with our boys and our friend Maryrose the two blocks to their house. We sat at a table in the middle of the living room eating braised turkey quarters with Ahmed and Fanny and Rachid (Salima wasn’t born yet). And the food mattered only because of what it wasn’t: a big stuffed turkey and a lot of crazy sides. What mattered was how that meal started a very long and very loving friendship between our two families, at times almost one, extended.

Cooking together. Not sure this counts, but a couple of years later, probably around Thanksgiving but maybe Ramadan, Rachid came up with the idea of roasting a lamb in our carport. It was cold; it took all day, turning the lamb, basting it with butter, pulling off bits throughout the day to go with whatever I was making (“sides”). Rachid and JD Ross (son) were faithful to their task of turning & basting, talking and laughing; while the rest of us ran in and out with glasses of wine or maybe something stronger. (Rachid went on to roast more lambs at other homes over the years. He had made connections with farmers in various places…Puyallup I think, one year, Shelton, too? He found stuff out that I having lived here for years couldn’t imagine.)

Rachid and JD Ross tending the lamb.

One time at the ocean staying in a rented house with not much of a kitchen, we’d pretty much used up the provisions we brought with us – except for a salmon slated for the last night. There were no herbs or spices, no mayo, not even a decent pan. What to do? Rachid of course had the answer (he had a lot of answers when it came to food – even sometimes when I hadn’t asked a question). There was an onion; there was Wesson oil. I can’t exactly remember how this went, but Rachid cut the onion into very, very thin strips, tossed them on top of the (now baked?) salmon, heated the oil to just short of bursting into flames and drizzled it onto the onions which immediately crisped up. Salt. Maybe under the broiler for a bit? We served it to accolades. It’s folklore at our house.

There was the time I resented being told to bring a Greek-themed dish to dinner with Dan’s Evergreen colleague. On the afternoon of the dinner, I had a big chunk of beef and no plan for how to make it Greek. I called Rachid of course. I chopped onions and garlic while he prepared the beef with fat green olives he’d brought, herbs and tomato sauce. Rave reviews that night for my Greek stew.

I’ll try to be shorter. Years earlier, hanging out in the kitchen improvising hors d’oeuvres from the fridge so as to keep the conversation going (Salima now 3 or so, tall enough with her arm extended to steal blue cheese off the counter). Turning a piece of halibut bought with just the family in mind into dinner for 4 adults and 4 kids (foil wrapped around the halibut topped with thin rounds of potato, onion, carrot – herbs, white wine). Another time, Rachid whipped up a dish of halibut with cream and sorrel from the garden.

I never really mastered the tajine, despite watching Rachid dozens of times. Ahmed inherited a knack for it, though. A couple of times I did succeed with tangia – a dish JD loved when he’d stayed with Rachid’s sister in Casa Blanca. They took chunks of lamb to the baker to cook in a bath of olive oil overnight in the bread ovens. It’s a really simple dish, but you need a tall clay pot (which Rachid loaned me) to set on the bottom of the oven for hours. The most succulent, tender lamb.

Never even attempted couscous, which was a special way to spend a holiday with Rachid and Fanny. All day steaming the couscous, fluffing it up between his hands throughout the day, Rachid rubbing the skin off the chickpeas, stewing the meat and vegetables all day long but they never lost their bite. Eating from the communal dish, instructed by Rachid that in the family you eat first the couscous and veggies (elegantly with your fingers, but for the rest of us, a spoon), a built-in way to make sure no one went straight for the meat piled in the center (and were kind of satisfied by the time they got there anyway).

Many meals, too many to count, over the years, our two families with kids growing – everyone had to eat every day and there was no question of McDonald’s when we could all cook together. Chad has a story about volunteering to make beef bourguignon (a stretch) and Rachid acting as “sous chef” carefully under his direction.

When old friends from Rachid and Fanny’s school days in France came for a visit, they brought their families and stayed weeks (it was a long way and expensive) and the family just expanded to encompass everyone. I got to improve my French and we got a whole new slate of friends we later visited and stayed with in France, picking up the Arab-French style, customs, flavors, songs, politics, crazy humor, family lore. Memories, I guess, now.

Said, Rachid and Driss wearing their Batallon de San Patricio uniforms.

Rachid took great pleasure in telling me I needed to know “I have no money” in Arabic, which I remember as “m’ein dic she floos” though god knows that might be a million miles from how it really is said. Still, I liked saying it, though never to someone I didn’t know… Rachid invited everyone into the world he knew about and we didn’t. For me, he introduced me to Moroccan writers, Francophone writers from Northern Africa, the Magreb. Tahar ben Jalloun, Mohamad Choukri, others. Some history – the rebellion in the Rif (where we later traveled), words I would never have known, bits of info I could flash in front of someone who assumed an American wouldn’t know any of that! Thanks, Rachid!

I think I’m done now, with these thoughts, though whole chunks are left out. While they’re making me smile at times, they are now threatening the opposite. JD said Rachid made our lives so much richer. And Fanny had this concept, “people of smell” – different than people of color; redolent, funky, scenting the air around us. If Fanny and Rachid hadn’t moved to West Olympia two blocks from us our lives, opened their home and their hearts and everything, we would be different people; our kids would be different people. Instead, we became people of smell.

Bethany Weidner
December 2020

I Was Privileged to Know Rachid…

I was privileged to know Rachid for more than 30 years. We met on the soccer field as competitors, Rachid standing out as the best player on a team that struggled to keep up with his skill and talent. For the past 20 years or so, Rachid and I played together in various leagues and tournaments. He was a great soccer player but he was an even better person. People gravitated toward Rachid as he was a natural leader. The last time I saw him before he passed (a month before), he spoke of his retirement plans and the hope of a return to “normal” life after Covid. The world lost a shining light and I’ll always remember my good friend as someone who was larger than life. Rest in peace buddy!


Rachid Welcomed Me…

Rachid welcomed me into the mathematics department as a new faculty member in 2017. His leadership made the department feel like a family in many ways. He encouraged us to do what was right and inspired us to remember that the students and our colleagues are what mattered the most. He greeted us with a warm smile and checked in to see if we were doing ok, showing he cared about each of us so much. Just like a family, he wasn’t afraid to disagree with others with his booming voice and advocate for what he thought was right. But we all knew that even if he disagreed with us he still loved us and ultimately had our back in the end. In our last department meeting I shared with my colleague that I am pregnant, expecting a new baby in May of 2021. Rachid was SO happy and so full of joy for us. His eyes were shining as he made many comments and even joked about our wonderful news. This was the last time I saw him, and I cherish the memory of his beautiful reaction and celebration for our family.

-Nicola Justice

A toi Rachid…

A toi Rachid,

Vendredi 27 novembre- 9 h38 aux USA….bientôt 19 h en France…

Tu nous envoies un message plein d’humour, comme à ton habitude, juste pour te rappeler à nous….

Et…sans  fracas…. la porte de ta vie terrestre va se refermer.

Nous avons parlé longuement au téléphone, quelques jours auparavant. Les sujets de cette conversation portaient sur l’actualité  des élections américaines, l’épidémie et ses conséquences dans notre vie quotidienne,  la fête de « Thanksgiving » et…sur ta future retraite…. Question hautement intéressante car nous avions encore des projets et des rêves à réaliser, avec des lendemains qui promettaient d’être riches en découverte….Bien entendu quand la Covid aurait enfin décidé de nous laisser un peu tranquille. L’été prochain, inchallah !

 Et cette discussion animée s’est terminée sur notre préoccupation majeure: nos  enfants ! et notre fierté d’être parents.

Alors, tu comprendras que passer d’une tel échange amical à la rédaction d’un éloge funèbre nous a semblé une démarche cruelle et surréaliste.

Quand il s’est agi de trouver les mots pour parler de toi, ce fut compliqué et douloureux car il est difficile de relater 40 ans d’amitié sans trahir des pans entiers de notre intimité. 

Alors, nous avons fait le choix de poser la question à notre deuxième génération : 

« Et si vous deviez décrire Rachid ? ».

La réponse fut instantanée, « claire et limpide » : un éloge dithyrambique dont la lecture aurait pu te mettre bien mal à l’aise et nous n’aurions pas manqué de te taquiner à ce propos.

Rachid ? 

Un homme remarquable par son intelligence et son ouverture d’esprit… avec un timbre de voix grave, bien à lui et si reconnaissable. 

Le temps semblait ne pas avoir de prise sur lui. Peut être était-ce grâce à la pratique régulière du football, son sport favori?

Son aisance à s’exprimer dans différentes langues….sur trois continents et à dompter le langage suscitait l’admiration. Mais c’est surtout son rire saccadé qui reste gravé dans notre souvenir.  

Sa jovialité, sa facilité à tisser des relations et à se sentir bien au milieu des autres dans une forme de philanthropie admirable donnaient l’envie de partager sa gaieté communicative.

Amabilité, sympathie, prévenance, respect de l’autre, tolérance, charisme, sens de l’humour et goût prononcé pour la fête : tant de qualités pour te décrire qui résument bien l’homme que tu étais. 

Cet énoncé ne pouvait que faire écho avec notre propre perception de ta personnalité. 

Ta richesse de caractère et tes valeurs morales nous avaient déjà séduits, nous : tes amis, il y a fort longtemps. Elles ont fait perdurer, malgré la distance qui nous séparaient, notre relation amicale bâtie sur une confiance mutuelle inébranlable. 

Lorsque tu as pris la décision de t’envoler pour suivre « ton idéal » et alors que nous n’en finissions pas de nous dire au revoir, tu as jeté un coup d’œil furtif sur notre téléphone à cadran de l’époque. Tu regrettais que nous ne puissions pas nous regarder sur un écran lorsque nous nous parlions à distance. 

Ce rêve nous paraissait alors improbable et vraisemblablement irréaliste !

Le téléphone !! un trait d’union entre nous… Cette évocation a activé une association d’idées nous libérant de toute contrainte logique. Nous nous sommes souvenus de « nos années 80 » et des difficultés financières qui limitaient les temps d’appel pour rassurer la famille au loin.

La vision de longues files d’étudiants cosmopolites, qui faisaient la queue devant des cabines « endommagées » pour communiquer avec leurs parents, a ressurgi dans nos mémoires.

Les « maigres » bourses d’étude octroyées par le Royaume « Chérifien » ne permettaient guère d’éterniser les discussions, avec un combiné téléphonique qui ne se décrochait pas encore de son support.

Lorsqu’on est issus de famille modeste, rien n’est acquis et tout doit se gagner. Faire le choix de partir étudier à l’étranger correspondait à une volonté d’émancipation et d’enrichissement personnel. Toutefois, les parents continuaient d’occuper l’esprit. Il fallait réussir son parcours non seulement pour soi-même mais aussi pour eux, dont on se sentait responsables.

Changer la société, prendre une revanche sur le monde capitaliste-impérialiste, lutter contre la corruption et l’oppression des peuples par des régimes autoritaires étayaient notre engagement. Défendre nos idéaux et nos valeurs, dans le but de construire un monde nouveau, formaient le socle de notre motivation.

La solidarité des « anciens » vis à vis des nouveaux « arrivants » s’établissait de manière naturelle et créait une dynamique d’intégration dans le milieu étudiant.  

L’égalité des droits, l’émancipation des peuples sur fond de lutte des classes et la défense viscérale de l’universalité de la cause palestinienne étaient (et sont encore) autant de combats qui nous impliquaient tous.

Au sein de l’UNEM( Union Nationale des Etudiants Marocains), il fallait aussi se positionner, non sans heurts, sur  l’avenir du Sahara occidental. 

Cette action syndicale inquiétait alors le régime en place. Lorsque nous rentrions sur le territoire marocain, fatigués et fourbus (après une traversée épique de l’Espagne), il nous était demandé, lors de fouilles minutieuses, « si nous avions caché des livres dans nos bagages ? » tant les écrits pouvaient être perçus comme des armes.

La FEANF( Fédération des Etudiants de l’Afrique Noire en France) préparait déjà ses futures élites et les murs des grandes villes appelaient à la révolution iranienne.

On voulait y croire alors et on y a cru à « la gauche » au pouvoir en 1981.

Les ouvrages des auteurs engagés “se dénichaient à l’Etincelle » et le ciné-club de la FOL( Fédération des Œuvres Laïques), animé par  Jean-Jacques, nous projetait des films militants qui se poursuivaient par des débats passionnants.

Le jazz, le blues, le reggae ou  le rock que nous écoutions sur d’énormes enceintes, nous conduisaient dans d’autres univers. Jacques Brel nous émouvait et  Pink Floyd ou Santana nous faisaient « planer »…. 

Les posters du « Che » tapissaient les murs des chambres. 

Nos débats houleux et les réunions militantes avaient pour objectif d’affirmer, dans notre soif de changement, combien nous croyions en « l’homme ». Notre engagement dans le milieu associatif, dans lequel nous avons tissé des amitiés durables, allaient de pair avec cette démarche altruiste.

Dans le cadre de la politique de la ville, il a été proposé aux étudiants de partager à plusieurs des appartements, dans les quartiers  populaires, loin des cités universitaires. La cohabitation avec les familles immigrées nous enrichissaient mutuellement dans le partage des histoires et des vécus bien différents.

Tout était prétexte pour se rencontrer après la Fac, à la cafétéria du Restau U( Restaurant Universitaire), au « Cabanon *» et  pour finir ensuite « à la maison »…..

Les  soirées entre amis restent encore gravées dans les souvenirs de chacun. Nous échangions avec ardeur et conviction, noyés dans un halo de fumée….et nous nous sentions libres. 

La nuit se terminait en musique. En musique !! c’est beaucoup dire… disons plutôt que chacun tapait sur ce qu’il avait devant lui, sur des percussions improvisées, en suivant le  rythme du meneur et en reprenant à tue-tête les chansons de « Nass el Ghiwane** » : ce qui n’était pas toujours du goût du voisinage.

Il était bien difficile de dire, le lendemain, de quoi nous avions parlé la veille parce que, en l’espace d’une nuit,«  nous avions  refait le monde,».

Ces moments de détente ne peuvent faire oublier les « booms » du jeudi soir : un lieu de rencontre par excellence. La « femme » revendiquait ses droits à disposer librement de son corps. Des couples mixtes se sont formés dans une société qui nourrissait déjà des préoccupations identitaires. 

Les années s’écoulant,  il devenait plus difficile d’envisager de retourner « au pays » définitivement. Ce choix impliquait de laisser un ailleurs derrière soi, d’être écartelé entre deux frontières, deux mondes, deux cultures et de « n’être jamais tout à fait là ».

Tous ces souvenirs de notre jeunesse, nous avions plaisir à les évoquer ensemble, sans trop de nostalgie, en nous rappelant, bien évidemment, des mésaventures cocasses inénarrables. 

La dérision, les fous rires et les blagues intraduisibles contribuaient à ne pas se prendre au sérieux et à dissimuler nos émotions.

Notre amitié reposait sur des sentiments réciproques et une confiance mutuelle indéfectible.

Nous avions cette chance de pouvoir confier nos peines, d’être écoutés  avec bienveillance et respect mutuel et de partager nos souffrances sans crainte d’être jugés. 

Rachid, ce fut une chance de t’avoir à nos côtés. 

Salima et Ahmed doivent ressentir beaucoup de fierté de t’avoir comme père. Ta famille toute entière  doit aussi être admirative  de tout ce que tu as accompli.

Et en ce qui nous concerne, Merci (avec un grand M) d’avoir toujours été là dans les moments les plus difficiles.

Tu es parti vers un autre « ailleurs », vers où ? Une question existentielle à laquelle nul ne peut répondre.

Mais une chose est certaine, c’est que tous ceux qui sont partis avant toi devaient s’agiter à ta sortie du « tunnel de lumière » pour te souhaiter la bienvenue… 

Faut- il se dire adieu, au revoir…… ?

Nous préférons te chanter, mon « frère arabe » «  Khouya arabi, Khouya arabi, Khouya arabi….narjak ana ila mchit…. narjak ana ila mchit »


« NOUS » :  Les amis de 40 ans 

*Cabanon : bar à proximité de la Fac à Pau

** Nass ElGiwane : groupe de musiciens marocains.

To you Rachid,

Friday November 27, 2020 9:30 AM in the US, almost 7:00 PM in France.

You sent a message full of humour as always, just to remind us of you…

And… without a bang… the door to your life in this world is about to close.

We spoke for a long time over the phone a few days ago about the elections, the pandemic and its impact on our daily lives, Thanksgiving and… about your future retirement… A highly interesting question since we still had dreams and projects in mind, and promising days to come filled with discovery… But this of course, only once Covid decides to give us a break. Next summer, God willing !

The lively conversation ended on our major concern, our children and how proud we are as parents.

So, you’ll understand that switching from such a friendly live exchange to writing a eulogy has taken a cruel and surreal turn.

When it came to choosing the words to describe you, it became painful and complicated for it is difficult to narrate forty years of friendship without omitting important moments of our close relationship.

So, we decided to ask our second generation to describe you.

The answer came spontaneously, it was clear and definite. It certainly would have made you blush, and we wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to tease you.


A uniquely intelligent and open minded man… with a deep and easily recognizable voice. 

Time did not seem to leave its mark on him. Could it have been the regular soccer practice, his favorite sport? 

His ease with speech in different languages, on three continents sparked admiration. And his jerky laughter still resonates in our ears.

His cheerfulness, his ability to weave relationships and feel comfortable among others in such an admirable way made us want to share his infectious playfulness. 

So many qualities describe the kind of person you were:

friendliness, kindness, thoughtfulness, tolerance, respect for others, charisma, great humour and eagerness for celebration. 

This profile reflects exactly the way we perceived you. Your personality and strong values had already seduced us all a long time ago. They allowed the unshakable mutual trust and the friendship to continue and last despite the long distance that separated us.

When you decided to fly away to pursue your dreams, while we kept saying goodbyes, you glanced at our old dial phone regretting that we could not see each other on a screen when calling from abroad.

Back then that dream seemed improbable and more than likely unrealistic!

The phone! A bond between us… That evocation generated thoughts allowing us to overcome any logical constraint. We remembered the 80s and the financial limitations making it difficult to contact our families abroad. The image of the long lines of students waiting in front of broken down phone booths to call their parents come back to our memory. 

The meager scholarships didn’t allow us to have long and deep conversations. When one comes from a modest background, nothing is taken for granted and everything must be earned. Going abroad to study meant a personal emancipation and enrichment. Our parents were always on our minds and we had to succeed personally and also for them. We felt responsible for their well-being.

Changing society and the world, resisting capitalism and imperialism, corruption and oppression by totalitarian regimes strengthened our commitment.

Solidarity of the seniors towards freshmen was natural and allowed for rapid integration in student life. Equal rights, class struggle, the Palestinian cause were at the heart of our struggle and involved us all. Within the UNEM (Moroccan Students Union) one had to take a stand, and not without any clashes when it came to the issue of the Western Sahara and its future.

This unionized activism worried the regime then. When we went back to Morocco after a long and exhausting trip across Spain, we were thoroughly searched at the border for any subversive books that were perceived as weapons.

The FEANF (Black African Students Federation In France) was already preparing for the future elites and the walls of big cities displayed the calls for the Iranian revolution. We indeed believed in it all, and especially with the arrival of the left-wing government to power in 1981.

Books by political writers were actively sought after and the screening of political movies by the FOL (Educational Outreach Programs – French National Education Network) were very popular and always followed by exciting discussions moderated by Jean-Jacques.

Jazz, blues, reggae and rock music took us to another world. Jacques Brel moved us while Santana and Pink Floyd provided a high. Posters of Che Guevara covered the walls of our rooms.

Our discussions were extremely animated and driven by a thirst for change. We believed in mankind and the relationships we created went hand in hand with this altruistic action.

As part of city planning and policy, students were offered the opportunity to share apartments in working-class neighborhoods far from the campus. Coexistence with immigrant workers was mutually beneficial. It exposed us to different experiences and stories…

We never missed the chance to meet up after class at the cafeteria or at the Bar Cabanon and ended up at home after closing.

These evenings with friends are still engraved in the memory of everyone. We arduously exchanged with great conviction, drowning in a cloud of smoke…and we felt free.

The evening ended in music. In music may be a bit of a stretch… Let’s just say that everyone banged on whatever was in front of them and sang along as loud as possible the songs of Nass El Ghiwane. The neighbors were definitely not happy with us!

It was difficult to remember most of it the following morning, because in one night we had “rebuilt the entire world“.

These moments of relaxation wouldn’t make us forget about the Thursday night parties on campus, the ultimate meeting place. Women were claiming the right and freedom to have control over their bodies. Mixed couples were forming in a society that was already preoccupied with identity issues.

As years went by, it became harder to consider going back home. It was a difficult choice to make. It meant being torn between two borders, two cultures, two worlds and never really settle down.

All these memories were often brought up when we gathered, without too much nostalgia while also remembering the funny little misfortunes. Derision, giggles and untranslatable jokes allowed us to take everything lightly and dissimulate our emotions.

We were lucky to be able to share our struggles, be listened to with kindness and mutual respect. We shared our sufferings without fear of being judged.

Rachid, we were lucky to have you among us.

Salima and Ahmed must be very proud of you being their father. Your entire family must also be very admirative of your accomplishments.

As far as we’re concerned, Thank you (with a capital T) for having always been there during the most difficult times. You went away to another place, where exactly? 

An existential question that no one can answer.

One thing is definitely sure, all those who left before you must be waiting on the other side of the tunnel to welcome you…

Must we say farewell or goodbye…?

We prefer to sing to you:

« Khouya arabi, Khouya arabi, Khouya arabi….narjak ana ila mchit…. narjak ana ila mchit » 

“Brother, keep my dreams alive if I’m gone… I beg you, keep my dreams alive when I’m gone”.