Two devotees find many inhabitants of North Africa eager for the message of Krsna.
An interview with Gaura Bhakta Dasa February 18, 1992.
BTG: When did you go to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia?
Gaura Bhakta Dasa: November 1991. Abhidheya Dasa and I left from New Mayapur, our farm in France, after we had the blessings of the devotees. And we stopped for a program in Malaga, Spain.
BTG: So you went from Malaga to Morocco.
GB: Yes. Of course, we had to go through customs to enter Morocco. We were very afraid because we had eight hundred of Prabhupada's books hidden in the car. The customs people asked us what we had in the car. We said, "Just presents." They wanted to check. But Abhidheya said something to them, and somehow Krsna protected us and we were able to go through.
We stayed one day in Ceuta, a Spanish city on the north coast of Morocco. A very nice city, lots of tourists. We met a devotee there, Hari Narayana Prabhu. He's an Indian. He gave us a very nice reception, prasadam, and two or three hundred French magazines. He encouraged us to preach. Then we drove further into Morocco.
We arrived at Tetouan, a small city. The first day, we were chanting Hare Krsna and some people thought we were on drugs. Maya is always making plans to try to stop our service. When I spoke to them they were satisfied "Yes, yes, yes, go on chanting."
Two days later we went to Tangier, an international city. Lots of tourists, writers, artists. We met Nayanabhirama Prabhu, an American devotee teaching English there. He arranged a program at his school with about twenty or thirty students. We gave an introduction to Krsna consciousness, and then everyone asked for a Bhagavad-gita. We told them we had just a few copies, but at the end everybody got a copy.
BTG: Arabic Gitas?
GB: French and Arabic. But the people there speak French more than Arabic.
After that we met an Indian family. The mother said, "I want all the English books you have." She invited us for a program at her home, and to our amazement she had big Deities of Radha-Krsna. She cooked, we showed a video about chanting, and we had bhajana [chanting of songs] and a lecture. Very nice program.
The next day we went out to sell Prabhupada's books. Abhidheya went to shops, and I was on the streets. It was amazing because all the people I met took the books. Someone even embraced me and said, "Thank you very much for bringing these books to our country." He realized the value of these books. And I realized how fortunate these people were for understanding the importance of the books.
Then we went to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Here also we sold books in shops and on the street. We met very nice people who are interested in the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. They like Indian culture very much.
I noticed that in Morocco there are a lot of Hindu movies. The people like Indian songs, dances, and language. I even met some people who speak a little Hindi. We met some yoga teachers who teach gymnastic-type yoga. When we introduced ourselves as teachers of bhakti-yoga, they were amazed.
They said, "That's what we need in this country. Why don't you stay here and teach this bhakti-yoga also?"
We said, "We first want to see other countries and then think about it."
From Rabat we went to Casablanca, where people showed even more interest. We met more than 150 Indian people there. They are very attracted to Krsna consciousness, so they invited us for programs. The president of one Indian association invited us for prasadam, and he gave us presents. He said, "Whatever help you need, please don't hesitate to ask. I am here with all the Indian people, who are ready to give you a hand if you want to get established here."
Abhidheya had gone to Casablanca last year. He had met some Indian people, and when we returned he saw how they had improved. They were chanting, and they were reading Prabhupada's books. When they saw Abhidheya they were crying in ecstasy, they were kissing him. They said, "Please come to our home and do a program." Everyone was chanting, taking prasadam. It was amazing seeing these people chanting Hare Krsna in ecstasy. I could see they were relishing chanting Hare Krsna. They're devotees. And in every shop people took books.
After Casablanca we went to Marrakech for one or two days. And then we went to Agadir, on the west coast.
From there we went to Efran, in the mountains. We met two young men and invited them for chanting and prasadam. To our amazement, in the middle of kirtana one of them stood up and started dancing in ecstasy. We were shocked. He picked up themrdanga and started to play, and his friend followed the tune of Hare Krsna on a guitar. Very naturally. We didn't ask them to dance, to chant. They just felt it.
It was like they'd just woken up from a dream, like they were devotees who had forgotten Krsna and when they heard Hare Krsna that was it they woke up and started chanting and dancing. We chanted until one in the morning. And even then they didn't want us to stop.
From there we went to visit Abhidheya's family. They live in Morocco near the Algerian border. He has more than seventy cousins. We had programs with his cousins and distributed books in the shops. It was difficult because there was some political trouble. We arrived when people were preparing for the election. There were some people for and some against the Islamic movement. So it was not easy for us, because the police, the army, were everywhere, controlling the people, looking for people. They stopped us every hour to check our car. It was not easy to preach freely. So we decided to go to the Berber cities.
BTG: The people who were there before the Arabs?
GB: Yes. They are the real inhabitants of North Africa. They are different from the Arabs, because they have a different language and culture. Their culture is more Westernized in one sense. But they are Muslims by conversion.
We started in the city of Tizi Ouzou. They were very favorable to Krsna consciousness. Everyone speaks French, everyone took a book, everyone was excited by Krsna consciousness. There was no fanaticism. They were ready to hear about Krsna consciousness.
BTG: What city was that?
GB: Tizi Ouzou. It's the capital of the Berber cities. Very intellectual. We distributed lots of books. And from there we went to Setif, Algeria, where my parents live. They told me, "You practice Krsna consciousness, which is not part of our faith; it's not Islam." Yet because Abhidheya was there, they offered to host us. Because Abhidheya is from Morocco and speaks the same language as my parents, they were very excited.
Then my father said, "Now it's becoming too dangerous, so don't preach. If you do, you will get in trouble. Please don't do it here."
So from there we went to Bejaia. It's another Berber city, next to the sea, a very historical city. We sold books in the streets and the shops. We distributed lots of books, and the people were happy.
On the way we stopped at a small bookstore that belonged to a man I had met before. He had asked me to come see him when I visited my family. But he wasn't there, so I looked around and saw another bookstore. I offered the owner Bhagavad-gitaand Krsna book. He said, "Yes, I will buy some." He wanted twenty of each. I said ok.
So he followed me to the car and said, "Hey, can I have all the books."
I said, "These books are for other countries. I cannot give you all the books; I can give you some."
He was not happy. He wanted to take everything. So I asked him why he wanted all the books. He said, "I am responsible for the Youth Hostel. People will love these pictures, these books, so I would like to give them these books." So we sold himBhagavad-gita, Krsna book, Coming Back, and magazines. Lots of books. He was very happy.
Then we went back to Setif and then to Constantine, in the East. Here we visited the parents of a devotee from Algeria. Her parents were very happy. We met her brother and her sisters. They were all very excited. We preached to them for two hours. Everyone was laughing in ecstasy. In the beginning they were thinking that this is a very fanatic, very secluded movement. But when they saw us (they are Berbers like us) they were amazed that Arabs are in this movement.
BTG: Your background is Berber?
GB: Yes. Abhidheya also. He's Berber from Morocco, and I'm Berber from Algeria.
Although we had a lot of contacts to visit in Constantine, we left because we didn't have much time left and because of the political situation. My father had told us we should leave the country before the second election, January 16. So we went to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. In Tunis was the real nectar. Krsna was so kind that after all the trouble we had in Algeria, He gave us some relief. We started going to shops, and I was amazed because shop after shop all took the books.
BTG: What kind of shops were they?
GB: Pharmacy, cloth store, shoe store, book store one after another. Abhidheya said he did the same thing. After two hours we met each other, and I said, "Prabhu, it's so ecstatic, isn't it?" He said, "Yes, I also did lots of books. Ah! Krsna wants something here, huh?" So we continued very excitedly distributing books.
We had a contact, a Tunisian lady who had visited the Paris temple last year for a week. We'd been corresponding. When I phoned her she was so happy. She said, "Prabhu, please come as soon as possible to my home. I want to see you, and I want to make a feast and invite my parents to see you." She introduced us to some of her friends who are of the Bahai faith. They are very open and friendly to devotees. And they like to hear philosophy and share their realizations with us.
So the next day we went to where the lady lives. She has a nice temple. She has Prabhupada's books and a picture of the Paris Deities. She invited her friends. When they came, they all said, "Hare Krsna, Prabhu!" and offered obeisances just like devotees. They were all respectful. So we did a bhajana, cooked prasadam, and gave a lecture on Krsna consciousness. Everybody was in ecstasy. Day after day we had a program there.
And then we went to another program with others of the Bahai faith, Iranians. We showed them videos and cooked prasadam with lots of ghee. They took books. And from there, after one week, we went back to Tunis.
BTG: Where was that place?
GB: Madhvia. And from there back to Tunis. We continued to distribute books and have programs with the Bahai people there also. They were so excited by the program. There were about twenty people all wanting to invite us to their home for a program of prasadam, bhajana. But we said we cannot stay that long. Finally, we accepted one program, with Egyptians.
Tunisia is one of the best places. Maybe not as rich as Morocco, but people are more into spirituality than in Algeria or Morocco. We distributed about four hundred books. It was amazing. I never thought we could distribute books so easily in these countries. And we had more than twenty programs. We had very nice prasadam. We were given donations. Krsna arranged everything the money for our maintenance, food, everything. People were crying in ecstasy. They said, "This is a very wonderful movement. We are just like in India now."
BTG: These are all Arabic people?
GB: Yes, all Arabs. Some are from Egypt, but most of them are from Tunisia. We had to decide whether to establish something there incognito, of course or continue traveling as we were. Because we had a plan to go to Turkey and especially to Lebanon to see the Druze, who are very fond of our philosophy, who like our books. And now we have a plan to go and preach in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia all the neighboring countries.
Now we know how to preach in these countries by Krsna's grace. What to say, how to present it. And we're not afraid, because we know that there are devotees; they're just waiting for us. We are convinced that in all the Arabic countries there are devotees, just like in France, England, America. We go and see them and give the books.
So then we returned to France, happily and very enthusiastically.
BTG: Indian people will be very surprised to see that the Muslim people are chanting Hare Krsna and becoming devotees.
GB: Caitanya Mahaprabhu has done the whole thing. We are also surprised. We didn't expect such a response from them. They responded very enthusiastically to the message.