29 June 2006

I change my plans more than my pants...

After writing earlier today, I headed off with my new friend to the Dar America, the American Cultural Center and library. I thought that I would drop off my resume, on the off chance that there was some available job for an American guy.

After passing through security, I headed into the library to speak with the librarian. His basic advice was to check somewhere else.

As he gave me directions for where I could go and check, a young woman in her early 20s approached and offered to show me the way to the school he recommended I visit. As even she could see from across the library, this guy's directions sucked. Quite a bit.

And so, we left, now four of us (her friend came along as well), and headed to the aformentioned school. The girls, Mona and Malika, turned out to have just completed their BA degree in English, and so were very happy to talk to us and practice their English. We, of course, were happy to meet some people from Casa.

The four of us walked around for ages after leaving my resume at the school. We walked through the city and discussed all sorts of things. I finally had a chance to discuss the role of women in Islam with an actual woman. I have a lot to learn, but Mona basically told me that the subjugation of women under the banner of Islam is the result of the cultural hijacking of a religion--that according to her, Islam is not a religion that limits the freedoms of women. Again, there is much to learn, and much to read, and there are many people to talk to. Still, she has offered to help me (virtually--via email) as I try to learn about Islam and the Muslim world, so this is a very valuable friend indeed.

They looked at me funny when I drank water sold out of the container of a man on the street. They looked at me even funnier when I mentioned how good the grilled sausages of the street vendor smelled. I guess I'm sort of a dirty traveler, and sometimes do things that people (at least sort of upper-middle class people) would never do.

Anyway, it was a great day, and full of interesting meetings. In recognition of this fact, I have once again changed my plans, and I will remain in Casa one more day. I am meant to meet up with Mona and Malika again tomorrow, to continue seeing the city and talking with them.

And so, until then, I leave you...

Casa Gone Wild!

Ahhhh...Casablanca. Where else can you see the third biggest mosque in the world and a man being given oral sex in a public park all in one day?

Just kidding. Wait, no I am not.

I went this morning to visit the Mosque of Hassan II, a brilliant, large, beautiful structure built over the sea here in Casablanca. As my Lonely Planet Guide has told me, the mosque was built with special public taxes, and the slums previously on the land were emptied and demolished (and no help was given to the non-relocated inhabitants).

All that questionable past notwithstanding, it truly is an incredible structure, and it's huge, beautiful interior truly radiates a certain peace.

The cedar ceiling, which weighs something like 300 tons, is retractable like a sunroof. The doors are made of cedar and titanium. The chandeliers are Morano glass from Venice, but nearly every other material used in the Mosque's construction was found within Morocco. Part of the building is built right on the water, and the entire exterior is constructed with Moroccan marble. Truly, it is quite a sight.

The tour, unfortunately, costs 100 Dirham, or about 10 euros, making this the costliest event of my trip (if I do not count that one night I went out to a bar in Marrakech with the Argentines, but let's not talk about that...)

On the way out of the mosque, I made a new friend, Jigar, who is originally from India but now lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He is only in Casablanca for the day, as he has a 19 hour layover, and so we decided to spend the day checking out Casa together.

After walking around like idiots looking for a part of town that turned out to be outside of town, we walked back and strolled through the souqs and the city center. This really is a much nicer city than I had previously thought, and I really enjoyed the markets and the winding medina streets.

We ended up walking a bit further downtown and decided to head toward the Parc de la Ligue Arabe, billed as the biggest park in Casablanca (which is not really saying all that much), which is where we stumbled upon the interesting public display of affection mentioned above.

We walked rather quickly through the rest of the park.

Tomorrow I head to Spain, and I think that I might actually make it to Cadiz tomorrow night...

Bye for now.

28 June 2006

One More Thing...

I have just used Skype for the first time to speak with a friend. The connection was clear and there was very little delay. I would love to talk to so many of you. Please download this program at www.skype.com. It is free and well worth having, and seems to kick MSN's ass any day of the week.

Retracing Old Steps

So I lied.

I left the internet cafe earlier today in El Jadida and suddenly had a small panic attack. I started thinking about all the things that could happen on the way to Spain, and decided that it would be better to start the journey today, rather than tomorrow.

So I am back in Casablanca today.

What do you do if you in a city that you already know, and which you do not find all that exciting? You go to the internet cafe and write about it, thus ensuring that everyone that reads your blog will think that you are a complete loser that writes about doing things instead of actually doing them.

It's not as bad as it looks, I promise.

There is one thing that I really want to see in Casablanca, and I arrived too late to see it today. It will have to wait until tomorrow. The Hassan II mosque is the third biggest mosque in the world, and from what I have read it is truly an amazing building. Other than that, Casablanca is much as I remembered it--not a bad city, really, but nor is it anything to get all lovey-dubby about.

It is strange being back in a large city. Suddenly everybody wants to sell me hash again, and tons of people on the street randomly talk to me. Most of them end up wanting to sell me hash as well. It is really sort of sad sometimes, because many people in these big cities capitalize so much on the widely-acknowledged friendliness of the Moroccan people. After all the spontaneous friendships that I have made in Morocco, all the amazing things that have happened to me, I am forced to return to the familiar safety mechanism of thinking that everyone that talking to me wants something from me. And here, unfortunately, I think that I am usually right.

My favorite opening line so far (I have heard it or a similar variant three times today) is -- "Hey, man, I haven't seen you in a while".

"No," I always reply, "You've never seen me before." Do these people think I am really going to psych myself out, think that, yes, indeed, I have met them? I don't think so, but I guess the line works, because they always end up saying that I look just like someone that they met before. And then they run on into their usual schpiel. (Is that how you spell that word?)

So today is a relaxed day, a day of walking the markets a bit and eating strange street food (I just ate a corn on the cob with kernels so swollen they looked and tasted sort of like garbanzo beans). Tomorrow I will check out the Hassan II mosque and then on the 30th I will head to Tangiers, where I will catch the boat back to Spain.

And that is all for today. I promise.

Some photos

Finally, some photos. Oddly, the Internet cafe that finally works for photos also seems to be a graveyard for the slowest computers in Morocco. This being the case, I have not had the liberty of choosing with leisure the photos that I would really have liked to share. Nonetheless, these should at least give you an idea of some of the things about which I have written.

Saturday Souq (market) Ksr El Barrani

The Barrani Boys and I (wedding)

Abdou, Wedding

Bad Wedding Photo, Throne

Young boys, Ksr El Barrani

Ghost Town, Miski

Abdou and I, Miski (La Source Bleu)

Abdou's Maternal Grandmother

Wishing Upon a Sea Breeze

I met with Si (term of respect) Zouitni this morning at a nearby cafe. Of course, as is only natural for my first appointment in a month, I was a bit late.

Mr. Zouitni is a nice, quiet-mannered man, although I did not know this when I arrived at the cafe. And so I walked around the cafe, asking everyone if they were the man I was looking for. Just as I approached an obese man with a crutch, Mr. Z came to the rescue, raising his hand gently and motioning me toward him.

We spoke for an hour or so, discussing Morocco, my travels, and my academic work, as well as the city and University of El Jadida. Mr. Zouitni seems quite confident that the department will be able to raise sufficient funds to pay me, although I am trying not to get my hopes up too much. If all were to work out, I would start work here in the middle of September of this year.

I did almost nothing here yesterday, as the night bus had sapped me of all energy. After eating a delicious meal of fried fish, I retired to the hotel to indulge in the guilty pleasure of watching a couple of pretty dumb American films on the hotel television.

Tomorrow I head to Casablanca and then to Tangier, to work my way back to Spain, where I must be on the 1st of July.

27 June 2006

El Jadida

Repeat after me:

I will never again take more than the recommended dosage of Moroccan cough medicine in a silly and quite ridiculous attempt to sleep through an entire ten hour bus journey.

Nightmares and fitful sleep. I think that the lady next to me thought I was crazy. I was moving so much trying to get comfortable. It was even more difficult than it usually is.

I got a bit teary eyed yesterday after the bus attendant handed me back my ticket. I knew that I was really leaving Errachidia, a place that has become very important to me. I know that I will return to see all the wonderful people that I met there, but it was sad nonetheless.

I arrived in Casablanca this morning at seven am, bleary eyed and still fuzzy and woozy. I gave all the taxi drivers and touts dirty looks and walked to the side to sit and clear my head. I had forgotten what a big city was like. One week of slow living and the cars were already too much for me.

I sat down just in time to get a perfect view of a large woman chasing a skinny man that had apparently snatched her pocketbook. I tightened the straps on my backpack and guitar and caught a cab. To hell with Casablanca, I wasn't ready for so much.

I got the Eight fifteen train to El Jadida and within two hours was lying in bed in a nice hotel. Oddly enough, the hotel has a television, which is not so common here. I get three channels, and one of them this morning was showing a terrible American film that I just saw a few months ago.

I drank my third espresso of the day and then took a nap for a few hours. When I woke up, I was still blurry, but coherent enough to take a walk and get a view of the city and take a dip in the ocean. This is a nice place, a small city on the water about an hour and a half south of Casablanca. There is a pleasant beach; although the lifeguards are truly a pain in the ass and seem to only let people swim in certain very tightly packed areas. It is quite weird and really annoying to hear them blow the whistles all the time.

I plan to call this guy at the University today and set up an appointment to meet with him tomorrow. I could see myself living here. I hope that it works out.

Still having problems getting pictures up. Hopefully I will get some up soon.

26 June 2006

Time to Go

Today I begin to work my way back up to Spain. I start work in Cadiz on July 1st, a fact that is slowly begin to set in...and it is not setting comfortably...

The marriage continued last night, but I didn't. After two nights of nonstop dancing and late hours, I was finished, and went to bed to try and get some sleep. Unfortunately, although I was done partying, many people in town were not, and the music and honking of car horns kept me awake long after I laid down. I spent the night in a constant wake and sleep cycle that was only finally terminated with the rising of the sun.

Today I headed into town after breakfast to buy some gifts for the family and take care of a few other things before I travel. I shaved my head, bought some presents, and got my ticket for tonight, and then headed home. Sitting outside Abdou's house, I heard some music and a group of us ran off in direction of the noise.

And the marriage party continued...Today's celebration is a breakfast celebration for the first breakfast that the new couple shares. We were invited into the house, which was filled with women singing, dancing, and playing drums. A large table filled nearly half of a large room, and was covered with cakes, pastries, breads and candies of all sorts.

Not wanting to intrude, I stood off to the side and listened to the music, recording all on my IPod. Suddenly, my hand was being pulled, my hat was taken off my head, the weight of my bag was taken. I was pushed and pulled into a circle of women and made to dance.

My dancing, from the first step, elicited a flight of laughter from the women. Howling, they motioned to me to dance more everytime that I showed signs of slowing. Suddenly, the music stopped, and a tall dark women next to me started yelling something at me, laughing and pointing at another woman. She rubbed her two index fingers together in the international sign of marriage or intercourse. I understood nothing and understood everything. The chosen woman and I looked at eachother, silently exchanging hellos and sharing our mutual embarrasment.

All of the other women starting laughing (the tape is fantastic) and pointing at the woman, screaming "zwina, zwina" (good, beautiful). The pushed her into the circle with me and tried to make her dance. She laughed and resisted, but everytime that she tried to leave the circle she was pushed back in again. (Un)luckily, right at this moment Abdou motioned to me that we needed to leave, and once again losing all my volition, I was pulled from the circle.

We left and were asked to stt down in a nearby room for a minute, watching television with the groom and some other sleepy men. We made to leave (nobody explains anything to me--I just get told what to do on occasions like this) and reached the front door, where this time a group of men pushed us back inside, telling us that we must drink tea with them. Back in we went.

We drank tea with the men and ate pastries from the baskets that were presented to us. I was not hungry, but I did not even try and refuse their offerings, knowing that there was no use in even trying. I would eat pastries and drink tea, and then I would return to Abdou's house, where no matter how much I ate, I would be presented with more and forced to eat. And then, when I had reached the point of true fullness, had rubbed my belly contentedly and thanked God for the meal, I would be made to eat more. (The phrase, "just three more pieces of watermelon" has become as common to me as "hello" in my time here).

So that is that. The end of an era. It is difficult to leave this place. The people I have met here have been like family, and I have really enjoyed the feeling of acceptance that the people of the town have made me feel. I have enjoyed saying hello and being recognized, and being asked to carry groceries for old women. I think that I might even miss people watching over my shoulder while I use the computer.

I catch a bus tonight at 9 PM for Casablanca, which is only about an hour and half from El Jadida, where I must go and speak with Si Zoutni, Vice Chair of the Department of Letters of the University there. I hope that I will leave our meeting with a job offer, but I have a feeling that the whole thing is a bit of pipe dream. I will soon see.

I hope to upload some photos as soon as leave this town. Unfortunately, because I do not know what computer is the viral culprit here in Errachidia, I have enacted a boycott on all camera connections in this town. So, photos to come soon, Inshallah.

I hope that all are well, and thanks for reading.

25 June 2006

Moroccan Marriage (part 2)

Quote for the day: "Driss, eat that chicken pancreas, heart and liver!"

Last night was Part II of the recent marriage here in Ksr El Barrani, and it was even stranger than Part I.

If you remember, in Part I, there was a DJ and a huge party with men and women dancing. The bride and groom were exhibited like extremely serious zoo specimens on a large two-person throne of gold and silver. Later in the ceremony, the were lifted on the shoulders of four men, who paraded the bride in groom around in circles.

Part II took place in a different part of town (which, given the size of the town, could not have been more than a 35 second walk from Part I's setting). Rather than using the house as the place for this part of the marriage, the street was the chosen milieu. The dirt roads were covered once again in carpets and mats, lights were strung, and sheets were hung to close off the space.

When we arrived, the band had not yet begun to play, but a large crowd had already gathered. People arrived constantly and began to fill the small street as the band started warming up. As usual, the crowds of sober people were interspersed with young men stinking of liquour and laughing too heartily.

As the band began to play, the streets filled up and the people started dancing. The lute player and the drummers all sang and played, and the violin wailed loudly. The few women present sat off to the side on a carpet as the crowd of young men danced feverishly.

It is a funny thing to watch a group of Moroccan men dance. Even when women are present, they seem to dance separately, and the few couples one sees dancing are usually married and dancing in an extremely modest manner. And so all the bumping and grinding and hip swirling that one generally sees between couples is exhibited between men. If I walked into this scene in New York, it would be obvious that I was in a gay bar. Here, this is completely normal and quite common.

Now, the entire point of the second night of the marriage is to celebrate the groom. The first night, as I mentioned yesterday, is the night in which the woman is decorated with Henna, and this serves as one of the most important occurences of the evening. The most important part of the second evening is the arrival of the groom.

Traditionally, the second night occurs as follows: The band plays and the men dance. At some point in the evening, the groom arrives on horseback, accompanied by his friends and relatives that (once again, like the first night) mime whipping him with scarves and cloth. I have no idea why people do this.

Unfortunately, there was apparently a problem getting a horse (this was the explanation I was given, although I can't really see how that would be a problem in this area), so the man last night arrived in a car. With exhaust pouring from the tailpipe, the car pulled slowly into the street and the people lightly whipped the windows and the trunk.

What was not changed in the ceremony was the traditional garb of the man, which is really something to see. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to give me a good explanation for his outfit, so I will have to research this when I have the time and the facilities to do so. The man is dressed in a dark robelike garment which is tied at the waist with a rope from which dangles a typical Arab knife. His head (this is, for me, the strangest part) is wrapped completely in gauze, opened only slightly at eye level to allow him to see. Rather than look dignified, the man looks like a hospital patient.

Once the car has dropped off the groom, he is led to some cushions, where he sits down with his friends and family. And then, while all others dance for hours and drink tea and laugh and clap to the rythym of the music, the groom sits. And sits. And sits. He does not appear to talk to anyone or dance or eat or drink (the last two would be impossible in fact). He does not go to the bathroom or stretch his legs. And think--He arrived around one am or so and I left at 4:15. He did not move in all that time.

And so passed the night again, with dancing and singing and clapping until late in the night, when we finally picked ourselves up and stumbled home, exhausted. Tonight is Part III of the marriage, which I believe involves the transfer of the wife to the home of her husband's family. After this takes place, the newly united couple retire to a bedroom to consummate their marriage. I therefore do not think that I will be much involved in tonight's festivities...

But, you never know...

More to come soon. Tomorrow I leave for El Jadida.

24 June 2006

Moroccan Marriage

Unfortantely I am going to have to lay off photos on the blog for a few days. After all the problems that I have had using them, I went and got a virus on my camera. I didn't even know that was possible...Luckily I had already made a cd of the photos, so I merely formatted the camera memory...Still, I'll not be connecting my camera to any more of the computers in Errachidia...So that is that....


The rumors started yesterday afternoon that there was a marriage happening in town. I didn't really know what was going on, but suddenly Abdelhak's mother was wearing dark eye makeup and saying there was a wedding. And then that there was no wedding. And in the end, there was a wedding...Communication is interesting sometimes here...

Marriage is a huge affair here, and seems to be one of the most talked about affairs in the region. I have seen already numerous videos of people's marriages, and it seems that Abdelhak's mother (and other members of the family) will not rest until I have promised to get married here in Errachidia. I have tried to explain that I will have to talk that over with the girl I hopefully will someday meet, but that doesn't seem to work, since they still have not let up in their efforts.

And so, although I was exhausted form a trip earlier yesterday to the nearby natural springs of Meski, I knew that I would have to make the trip--per forza--to the wedding.

Marriages here are a three day affair, and yesterday was the first night. On the first night, the bride is decorated with intricate henna designs on her hands and feet and the bride and groom are paraded before the public in what seems to be the true announcement of their union. It is not, interestingly enough, until the third night that the couple consummates the marriage.

We followed the sounds of music through the dark streets and finally came across the house where the marriage was being celebrated. We were invited to enter and join the festivities. Six of uss passed by the young men sitting outside and walked down a long corridor, finally arriving at the interior patio and garden of the large adobe house.

The patio had been decorated for the night, and most of the packed dirt floor was covered in rugs and mats. Lights were strung across the open space, radiating off the palms and vegetables of the garden. In the far left corner of the room sat the two seat gold and silver throne used in marriages here, and beside that sat a smaller silver throne destined for only one person.

The music was loud, blaring from the speakers set up around the room. Young men leaned against the wall closest to the entrance, and little boys and a mentally retarded man danced without inhibition. Across the room sat a group of women, most of the young and beautiful in their flowing, brightly colored djalabas and head scarves. On the right side of the room, behind a thin curtain, another group of women sat or danced and clapped. Every few minutes the room would echo with a strange piercing warble, a sound that women here make at celebrations. Half covering their mouth, they wiggle their tongue and screech, creating a primal, beautiful sound that seems to enhance any music played here.

I entered, and stood with my friends by the front wall, checking out the place. Everything seemed to dazzle, the walls to shake with the music. I was made to dance, pulled along by friends and young kids, pushed and prodded and prompted to try myriad new dance steps, to shake my ass and wave my hands and thrust my hips.

My normal reticence in the public body rhythm department was greatly enhanced by the knowledge that I was being watched from every angle. Little boys looked at me, smiling and holding out their hands to slap me five or shake my hand. Men my age offered me tea and shook my hand, welcoming me into their house. Old women made sure to tell me that I needed to dance, that I was obliged to do so. And the tea cup was filled and replaced again and again and again.

Most importantly, and perhaps most noticeably, the women across the room would not stop staring at me, giggling and smiling whenever I looked over. Some of them were beautiful, and I could have happily passed the evening staring back at them, if I weren't still so damn ignorant about how these things work here and not just a tiny bit scared of getting dragged off and shot for disrepecting somebody's daughter.

I don't think it is time yet to start patting myself on the back too much, however, as I imagine that I could be the ugliest man in the universe and would still get stared at here. Maybe just a little pat on the back. Well, perhaps a medium one while I'm at it. And one more for good measure.

Anyway, so there I was dancing badly and smiling at girls across the room and shaking people's hands, and drinking tea and yelling at one of my friends to stop grabbing my damn arm so much (he doesn't speak French or English, and so he mostly commmunicates with me by grabbing me constantly and saying my name over and over, which to be honest, is sort of driving me fricking nuts, but he's a good guy nonetheless). Everyone is singing and clapping and warbling and slurping tea, and suddenly a fight breaks out between the sort of retarded guy and another guy (who everyone tells me is "also crazy") and these two guys are falling into the garden and punching eachother.

Some people pulled them the instigator out of the house, and the other guy picked up a soda crate and ran out after him. And then basically every male in the place ran outside to watch what might be a fight. Every male, that is, except me, since I was still sort of staring at the girls (I figured it was a safe time to do so) and Abdelhak, who I think stayed behind to block the door if I got any ideas about going to see the fight. Overprotection is the name of the game with my friends here.

At some point in the night, a chain of women came dancing in the door, playing drums and singing a song that basically said, "they're here, they're here, the bride's gifts are here." On their heads they carried blankets and floor coverings and silver tea pots and tea glasses. They danced through singing and drumming, and then disappeared into the interior of the house, only to appear a few minutes later with still more gifts for the bride's new family.

A few hours later, the bride and groom both appeared, and were made to sit on the large silver and gold throne in the corner of the room. True to what I had seen in the videos, they were extremely serious, stone faced, and to me looked absolutely miserable, although I am told that is not the case. Around their serious faces danced the women, and old women waved scarves at the couple and danced on the throne and warbled at top volume.

Other people climbed up beside the couple and stood for pictures, adopting truly serious faces as well, looking like they were at a funeral until they stepped down again and started dancing. The music continued and the tea kept flowing and the guests kept coming, bring gifts and dancing with everyone else.

Interestingly, four of my friends (Abdou and three others) were pulled aside and "tapped" for the very important job needed for the next part of the ceremony. (I say 'interestingly' because I don't think that any of them were really invited). They were brought into a back room and dressed up in a strange blue and white pants and shirt outfit. They were given a white cape and white gloves, and a funny little hat. Walking out into the main room, they waited until the bride came down from her shared thrown and climbed into the smaller one-person one beside it.

And then they picked her up and started dancing what seemed to be a carefully choreographed dance. They bounced her up and down and lifted her up as high as their shoulders and then brought here down and held their capes out like Batman and danced around the seat. All the while the music blared and the people danced and clapped and warbled.

After the woman was done, the man got into the throne, the same song was played again, and the same thing happened. This time with the help, the four of them picked up the throne and danced the same dance, swirling and bouncing and singing.

After this part of the ceremony, things seemed to go back to 'normal' and it was the same thing of dancing and singing and drinking tea. My friends and I stayed the last few hours on the right side of the room, checking out the ladies, trying to avoid the guy handing out tea, and dancing a little as well. We finally left around two-thirty, yawning and yearning for bed. Amazingly, the party showed no signs of slowing and the news that we were leaving was met with groans and attempts to make us stay.

And tonight, part II, which I think involves something with the groom riding a horse, but it's all rather confusing for a first-timer. Tonight the music is live as well, which should be great.

There is so much more to tell about so many other things. This place still makes my head spin, I feel like there is so much I want to investigate and that there is so much to learn and try to understand. But, there is always more time...

Coming soon (inshallah):

1. The Marriage (part II)
2. The Saturday Souq
3. Moroccans and Fighting
4. Moroccans and the Environment

I hope that you are all well, and thanks for reading. Please tell your friends and family to come check it out as well. Have a nice day.

22 June 2006

More from Errachidia

Abdelhak's mother could beat the shit out of me.

She has big, strong arms and a broad, matronly chest. She is an imposing figure, her physique forged by a lifetime of kneading dough and heavy lifting. Two of her front teeth are missing and have been replaced by gold substitutes, which shine when she smiles, which she does often.

Her name is Izhoar, and her chores are demanding, and she completes them with a brusque grace. She balances baskets atop her head and picks up burning hot couscous with her bare hands, rolling it expertly into small, bite-size balls. She carries big loads of hay to feed to the sheep in the backyard and carries the groceries home from the weekly market on her back.

When she watches television she yells at the screen and laughs heartily when the hero kills the bad guys. She belches after eating and then says, "Hamdullah," thanking God for the food that caused that very belch.

Like nearly all the women here, Izhoar seems to wear her apron all day, atop a labrynthine layering of other garments. When she leaves the house, she wraps a floral patterned bedsheet around her shoulders and covers her head, thus protecting her head from the hot sun.

Seeing the women on the street here; it is difficult to tell who is who, as they all wear the same domestic, gypsy-like uniform. As everyone seems to recognize me, and I seem to have met half the town, I just say hello to all of them.

The women here are form a close community, and their daily work is broken up by visits to other houses. In the evening, groups of them congregate, bringing their young children with them. While the young kids play among the rocks and dust, the women talk, laugh, and say hello to everyone that passes.

The doors to people's houses are open most of the time, and there is a constant stream of visitors--friends, family, the town mayor/postman that receives all the mail and then brings it to each of the approximately 1000 families here. Few people actually walk in the open doors, unless they are family, but rather knock on the door frame and wait for a reply from within.

This morning, around 6:30; there was a knock at the door. I peeked my head out the window, calling "Shkun?" as I did so, and seeing one of the local women, greeted her:

"Ssallama leykum"

She responded with a smile and a string of unintelligble words. I motioned to her to wait, and went to open the door. When I did, she again started speaking, and I understood only one word--Izhoar--Abdelhak's mother. I again asked her to wait, and headed off to the room where Abdelhak's mother and sister sleep. I knocked lightly on the door frame, peering through the curtain, and said:

"Il y a une femme a la porte."

There is a woman at the door. Abdelhak's sister started to stir and began to get out of bed. I walked back to the front door to chat with the waiting woman.

Again she started talking, and I understood enough to tell that she was telling me why she was there, and why so early in the morning. Something to do with bread. And something about a strong smell. And bread.

Yeast! I figured it out, and made a face to let her know. She laughed and started complaining, wondering where Abdelhak's mother was. She kept talking, chatting about the heat, and wondering what everyone was doing sleeping when the sun (chamse) was already up.

As she talked, an old man appeared on the other side of the street. He looked at me, holding out his hands, making beggarly signs. I stared, surprised to see a beggar in this neighborhood, and especially surprised to see a beggar at such an early hour. He sat and lit a cigarette. I was thinking what a shame it would be to use the magic word "lesehell" at such at early hour.

My staring and thinking were suddenly and brusquely interrupted by a punch in the arm. I looked at the woman. She was laughing again and yelling at me--"Chuf!" (Look!) I imagined that the rest of her sentence meant something like "at me when I am talking to you young man!" I ignored the old man and gave her my full attention.

Abdelhak's mother appeared at the door, half-asleep but cheery, carrying a shallow bowl of yeast. The woman spoke to her for a few moments, asking her who I was, and where I was from, and if I was Muslim, and then she left to bake some bread. Abdelhak's mother headed to the kitchen to begin boiling water and making coffee with cinammon and ginger and heating fresh milk and boiling eggs, still laughing about the woman's early visit.

It is difficult in moments like this not to fall into the easy and erroneous pattern of thinking small town life is all cheery neighbors and industrious women, and that everyone is unified and helping eachother and working toward a common goal.

Just a stroll around the neighborhood and open eyes is enough to realize that tensions, anger, fear and anxiety must exist. Dust flies everywhere, and there is no way to get rid of garbage. People burn what they can, feed all the organic stuff to their animals, and throw the rest in the streets. The fields, while still rich and bountiful, are obviously not what they once were, and entire plots lay dry near the once great river, now a mere trickle.

What more, in the same way that relationships are created and strengthened by peoples ties by marriage, blood and friendship, so too are grievances aggravated by the same ties. What might be a small dispute in a big, anonymous city becomes a highly charged, very personal issue in a small town, as I am rapidly discovering on this trip.

Yesterday afternoon I cam across such a problem. A young man was walking down the street with his sister. Another guy, standing in front of his house, made a crude remark to the girl, the brother got mad, and a fight nearly broke out. The entire family then got involved and the scene got ugly as everyone began yelling at everyone else. The old women were shrieking, one young man was crying, another young man seemed to be hurling ugly threats and epithets at everyone. Luckily the brother and sister were soon pulled away (by Abdelhak) and the family returned into their house to continue screaming at eachother.

A few minutes later, the mother of the insulted girl arrived at the house, knocking angrily on the door. Within seconds, the two mothers, nearly identical in the above described uniform, were screaming bloody murder, saying all sorts of things that I could not understand. And then of course, the rest of the family jumped in to scream a few things as well.

We left then, having gotten the point, so I am not really sure how long it all went on, but the point is, these things happen.

Anyway, that's about all for today. Tomorrow I head off to Miski, which I think is a place with natural springs and swimming pools and oases and the like. Saturday I plan to leave here, saying goodbye to my adoptive Moroccan family and heading off back alone.

I hope all are well.

21 June 2006

Turkish Toilets

NOTE: Excuse the rather base subject, but one must occasinoally discuss such things. They should, however, be approached in a respectful and dignified manner. Or something like that.

Having had a bit of intestinal difficulty recently, I visited the doctor at the local clinic, as I mentioned earlier. He prescribed a certain medicine with laxative properties, which I immediately procured in the pharmacy. The pharmacist, a young woman who was not in the least unattractive, repaired to the rear of the establishment in search of the product.

"Vous-etes constipe?" she asked me upon her return.

I responded in the affirmative, trying to figure out why else someone would buy a laxative. Perhaps she thought me the perpetrator of a some sort of locker room prank? Well, I would never know, since I preferred to change the subject as quickly as possible.

Arriving back at Abdou's home; I took slightly less than the recommended dosage of said medicine. It had a disgusting, slimy consistency and a horrible taste, and I choked in down sadly and bitterly. It was not long, however, before I had the opportunity to verify the efficacy of Moroccan medicine.

While doing so, I had the chance and the free time to let my mind wander and to consider somewhat base subjects and strange themes consistent with my environment.

I thought back again to the television program I saw about the Koran, on which a man recommended not dallying in the bathroom. I thought of Abdou telling me how he enters with the left foot and leaves with the right (my mistake in last post), and how upon entering, every time, he says something like "I spit on the devil". I also thought of how Abdou told me that once or twice he forgot his bathroom etiquette and starting humming, and how his mother rapped heavily on the door, yelling at him to stop all the music and take care of business. I thought too of my friend Taoufik, and how he giggled and said "ewww" when I told him that, yes, indeed, in my country people do read while using the sanitary facilities.

I daydreamed, thinking of all the bathrooms I had ever visited, and of the mockumentary entitled "Bathrooms of the World" that I made years ago with a dear friend.

And it occurred to me--on many fronts I have problems with American culture and politics and all the rest. I mourn the dissolution of the American family, the consumerism of the general public, the xenophobia and ignorance of many of my fellow citizens. BUT, it also occurred to me that in America, we sure do make a fine bathroom.

I do not presume to know the true history of the Western toilet or the typical American bathroom. I would like to believe that Mr. Crapper really is somehow responsible, but that story seems doubtful to me. I don't know who truly deserves the credit for the bathrooms of the United States of America, but someone surely does and I salute that person proudly and hail their achievement.

We have taken, in America, a wholly disgusting, albeit natural affair, and turned it into a luxurious and comfortable, even pleasant experience. We have built a throne and introduced the literary arts into the experience of human waste removal. We have placed the shower, toilet, mirror and sink in the same cloistered environment, allowing us to truly enjoy a "pitstop" type experience. In some cases, people even enjoy a sound system in the same room.

George Castanza is, of course, the ultimate fictitious standard bearer for this tradition, having turned a handicapped facility into an airy, well decorated room, complete with a wet-bar and a wealth of reading material.

And the Japanese, as we all know, have taken this a step further, a crucial step, with their technologically advanced toilets doing all sorts of crazy stuff.


And so, I say, Moroccans have better food, and I find their country filled with cultural wealth and myriad treasures in all the arts. But, for me, whether I am in Morocco or India or Italy or France, a hole in the floor just does not quite cut it. I can handle it, but I don't have to like it.

I don't wish to in any way assume an air of condescension or superiority. Things are just different, not necessarily better. Still, for me, the day that Mr. Western built his throne and raised the walls of a tiled palace around it, he not only made something new and different, but he took a step forward for all of humanity.

And that's all I have to say about that. Enough for today. Have a good day.

Some Photos--Errachidia

Me and the Boys

With Abdou, Mother, extended family

With Abdou's cousin, Abdou's house

Streets of Ksr El Barrani, Errachidia

Abdou and Hassan

Kids near a Mosque, Errachidia

With Abdou's Mother, in the Workshop


In today's issue:

1. Grocery Shopping
2. Faith
3. Health


Yesterday morning, Abodu's mother asked him to go and buy some chicken for that afternoon's meal. I went along with him, walking down the street and past the fields of olive trees, finally arriving in a dusty lot enclosed by adobe walls.

Inside the walls, a dog barked and strained at the chain holding him back. A man sat lazily in a chair beside a truck. A boy carried out some live chickens and threw them into a small wire trailer.

We walked into a shaded room, passing through the only door, looking directly at the only window, from which poured one ray of blinding light. The floor was bathed in blood and littered with chicken feet and feathers. The boy I had seen a few moments earlier asked Abdou how much he wanted.

"Zhuzh kilo" he told him, and the boy picked up a chicken that looked to weigh about two kilos and placed it on the scale, ignoring its protests. He handed the chicken off to a large man in dirty clothes and sandals, who put the chicken between his legs, holding the neck in front of him. Muttering a quick prayer, he sliced its throat and unceremoniously threw the still flapping animal in a large plastic bucket.

After about two long minutes, the chicken stopped moving. The man reached into the bucket, picking up the now bloody animal by its feet and bringing it over to a waiting pot of boiling water. He then dipped the animal in the water and swirled it around for a few minutes. Taking it out, he then cut off the chicken's feet, ripped off the head, and pulled out all the feathers. When he had finished, he dropped the load in a plastic bag, and we went outside to pay.

The chicken cost approximately two dollars and fifty cents, and to look at it in the plastic bag you would think it had come directly from the Perdue factory. Within an hour of its death, Abdou's mother had washeds, cut, salted, marinated and cooked the chicken.

Now that, my friends, is fresh food.


I have really been giving a lot of thought lately to Islam, and faith in general, and I thought that I would share a few thoughts. One of the things that I have found most interesting about Islam, and the way that it works in Morocco, is the way in which faith plays a real part in people's lives.

Faith here is not a question of begrudgingly dragging one's self to church on Sundays or attending a synagogue ceremony a few times a year. Faith here, for the majority of the population, does not seem to be a political issue. It is rather a very constant, comforting and guiding presence that truly defines people's lives and their behavior.

As I have discussed before, much of the cultural environment of friendliness and generosity is a result of Islam. Islam provides rules and guidelines that are meant to foster a certain amount of equality and fairness. The Koran, for instance, teaches Muslims how to take care of orphans, widows, etc, going so far in some cases as to provide percentages of one's income that one should give.

Now, what I have found very strange indeed is that the Koran does not only teach Muslims how to take care of their fellow man, but also seems to be a book of rules about, well, everything.

The other night on television here, Abdou and I watched this older bearded gentleman speak about the Koran. He spoke in Arabic but was based somewhere out of the US, so the program was subtitled in English. Talking all about the Koran, he touched on some subjects with which I wholeheartedly disagreed (for example, the role of women in Islam, or at least his interpretation of this) and on others which honestly just left me really confused, and respectfully amused.

As I found out, for instance, the Koran (like the Torah) provides dietary guidelines. It also discusses how Muslims should eat (using three fingers of the right hand, which one then "has the right to lick") The Koran also discusses how "a man should purify himself after urination" and advises Muslims "not to spend a long time in the bathroom." Even stranger for me were the guidelines on such things as footwear (never wear only one sandal--wear either two or none at all; put the right shoe on first, take the left off first) and bathroom entry (always enter with the right foot, leave with the left).

Now, excuse me, and I truly mean no disrespect to the holy book of millions. But I would love for someone to explain to me why God would take his time discussing footwear with the Prophet.

I don't know. These questions remain to be answered. To be fair, I talked them over with Abdou and Co. and they told me that these are not strict rules. And they also think that women should be able to work, etc, so they don't agree with the TV bearded guy on that question either. There is much to learn, much to read, much to investigate...


I have decided to continue with my tradition of occasionally visiting foreign hospitals and clinics. It is good way to see the local population and engage with them in a way otherwise impossible.

In that spirit, I went and got myself and strange and mysterious infection in my thumb, and decided to place on block on my intestines, allowing nothing at all to exit for five or six days.

I undertake such experiments in the name of science. Do not try them at home.

So, I dragged my weighty body and swollen thumb to the clinic down the road from Abdou. It was hot as hell, so I wrapped by head up like a Saharawi. When we got there, neither the doctor nor the nurse had arrived yet. The waiting room was already packed with women and their children. Children with dehydration, children with colds and coughs. New mothers and their newborn babies.

In typical Moroccan fashion, the women rushed me to the front, and I only had to wait a half hour or so. The doctor saw me, laughed with me a few moments about my name (do you have the same profession as your namesake, James Bond?), gave me a few prescriptions, and sent me off to the nurse.

The nurse, a dirty looking guy in sandals, was not nearly as professional as the doctor. He grabbed a needle (sterile, Mom, I promise, I checked it closely, it was new and unused), no gloves, pricked the growing pus filled thumb, squeezed it a bit (mostly for show, I think, since my thumb seems just as pus filled as before), wiped it off with a square centimeter of guaze and sent me off into the world, unbandaged and not much better off.

But, I'll be okay. Abdou too is studying to be a nurse and says he'll wrap me up good. And if not, well, it's just a thumb, right?

Be good, more to come soon.

19 June 2006

Ksr el Barrani, Mdaghra, Errachidia

So here I am, on my second day in Ksr El Barrani, the neighborhood just outside Errahchidia where Abdelahk and friends live.

Things are quiet here, as I said yesterday, but I have by no means been bored. On the contrary, things here are a constant surprise. I feel like a small child in this town, where all social rules and customs are different for me, the language is completely foreign, and the most natural things in the world are to me completely unnatural.

It is an interesting way to be for a while.

Last night, I participated in Muslim prayer for the first time, at the invitation of Abdelhak's cousins.

Abdelhak and I had stayed at his grandmother's house for dinner, and sat around on some cushions, watching television and relaxing. One of his cousins came into the room and asked me if I would like to pray with him. No pressure, just an invitation, which I accepted.

We went to the back of the house, where he taught me how to wash before prayer, which is a very exact science, and not unlike the methods of washing used by Western doctors.

First, I was told to wash my hands three times with warm water that I took from a bucket before me. I then brought the bucket into the bathroom, where I washed my backside and my private parts three times. Returning to the patio, I again washed my hands three times, then moved onto other parts of the body. The methods of washing were quite specific, and the number of times very important. By the end of the whole affair, I had very clean hands, feet, butt, private parts, ears, head, face and arms (to the elbow).

We then moved into a sort of family room, where three of us laid out the prayer mats. I was told to follow along while they prayed.

The singing of the koranic lines was mesmerising, and the truth is that the constant movement of the prayer cycle was nice. I am not sure that I will be converting or participating in any organized religion anytime soon, but as far as all that goes, the experience was a good one.

I have found that many people here in general are very proud of their faith, which plays a very important part in their life. What more, they seem interested in talking about their religion, but not in a pushy way. More of in a "I would love it if you too believed in what I believe to be true, but if not, that's your thing."


This morning I saw a newborn lamb that one of Abdelhak's sheep gave birth to. Cute. As I stood there with the mother, looking at the furry little creature, still wet in birth fluids, I tried to communicate to her my happiness about the new birth..."Thanks be to God," I told her, marveling at the creation of a new life. "Yes," she told me, and made two hand motions--one that mimicked the slitting of a throat and one that mimicked holding money in her hands.

I thought that was funny.


A final note on issues of privacy and personal space here. It is very interesting to note that these concepts do not really seem to exist here. Very few people, even in large houses, seem to have their own private room. As far as I can tell, in many families people change sleeping places on a regular basis, sleeping some days in beds and others on couches, other times on the floor. It seems to be quite normal.

This lack of personal space in the home extends to all realms, and can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I just have to laugh at the whole thing, and accept that this is how it is here...Like today, Abdelhak fell asleep after lunch, and I took the opportunity to head out alone to the internet cafe, leaving him a note telling him where I was. On the way, walking down the dusty, hot street, I heard my name called. "Haj Driss," someone yelled. I turned and saw a guy that I know. We spoke for a minute, and I mentioned where I was going. "Let's go," he said, and off we went.

I sat down at the computer and he sat down next to me. I opened my yahoo and he opened his msn messenger. And for the next twenty minutes, we shared a computer. And then he left, and somebody else took his seat, and then a group formed around the seat. Strange, and sometimes hard to handle, but this is life here and here I am.

And that is all for today, from here in the neighborhood of Ksr El Barrani.

18 June 2006

Back in Errachidia & Small Town Tourist Politics

So, I have made it back to Errachidia, finally, after a couple of taxi rides and an extremely long bus ride.

There was a bit of confusion about the time of my arrival, so I spent the morning gently sipping coffee, warding off drunks at the cafe at the bus station, and eating sandwiches. My friend Abdelhak (Abdou) finally found me (after I made a phone call) sleeping, my head on the table.

Abdou's family is all here this time, so I have had the chance to meet his mother, his grandmother, cousins and family friends, which is great. What is also great is his mother's cooking, and today I ate the most delicious sardines I have ever had. His mother is also an artisan, and works out of a space connected to the house, weaving blankets on an (to many) old-fashioned loom.

It is hot as Hades here, and dusty and dry, but it is a nice and peaceful place, seemingly without much of the drama that I began to experience in my final days at the Cascades d'Ouzoud.

I am sure that I do not have the time or the environment to write all that needs to be said as a primer to understanding the politics of a small town driven by the tourist trade. I will, however, attempt to give a quick rundown of my own experiences in Ouzoud, and hopefully later I will have the chance to contribute more to the subject.

Basically, in the one week that I spent in Ouzoud, I crossed the line that separates tourist from inhabitant. I do not mean to say that I was accepted completely as one "of them", but in a way the time that I spent there did give me the chance to see much that most tourists would never see.

Imagine this--I spoke with some Italians that had been to the falls about 20 years ago. They tell me that the area was empty...not the surrounding area, which is filled with quiet farming camps and the like, but the area immediately around the falls, which is today packed with restaurants, cafes and bazaar-type shops. And so, the area around the falls is basically a frontier town, populated quickly and rather haphazardly by people looking to cash in on a rising tourist invasion.

Tourists, especially Western female tourists, are the gold of this community, and are therefore jealously guarded. Any seeming attempt to "steal" somebody else's "merchandise" is considered an extreme fault. Thus, as I noted and learned rather quickly in my last few days, there are certain subtle rules, norms, etc that must be followed.

I discovered this one day while swimming with a friend, a local, at a nearby "swimmin' hole' (god it feels good to say that). We saw, nearby, some English girls swimming, while their guide tried to impress them with his (honestly quite impressive) feats. He jumped off the tops of trees into the water, made dangerous dives and flips look easy, and the like. Anyway, I began to talk to them, as one tourist often does with another tourist. We had a bit of a conversation, my friend and I left, and that was that.

Later that day, walking up to the top of the falls, another friend of mine and I saw the same girls sitting at a cafe. We stopped and joined them, ordered a tea, and chatted with them for a while. At some point, their guide from earlier that day passed by and the girls said hello, as did I.

By this point, I had been told by various people something about the rules about talking to other people's "girls" but I honestly figured that I did not figure into this equation, as I too was a tourist....

Anyway, point is that I was wrong. I had passed the line between tourist and local; to some extent, and was therefore expected to follow the rules like other locals. I ran into the guide that evening. He was an ugly man, strong and toothless and brutish looking. He called me into his cafe, breathing on me the fumes of the mehhya (an illegal fig moonshine) that he had been drinking all day. In words that I could barely understand, in a mixture of French and English and Arabic, he made his point very clear:

Stay the f--k away from my girls or I will hurt you.

I assured him that I would do exactly that, and had no intention of talking to his ladies in the near future.

Problems like this, I soon discovered, are inherent to a place like Ouzoud. Locals work hard to disguise this from tourists, obviously aware that the more that they preserve their image as a peaceful haven for hippies and potheads, the more business they will all have. This does not mean, however, that beneath the pacific surface of the town does not lie a bubbling, alcohol stinking, possibly dangerous, and ultimately fascinating mess.

It was with this new knowledge in hand, as well as my new status as enough a local that these things need not be hidden from me (although who knows how much more still remains hidden) that I witnessed an argument over a pair of sunglasses nearly end in fisticuffs. I also saw money thrown angrily to the ground twice in one day.

This is not a side of the town that one sees in a day, or even two or three, and it made it very clear to me the ways in which appearances can be very deceiving. It also made it very clear to me that the work of an anthropologist must be extremely complicated and filled with constant pitfalls. Learning the rules, and learning to avoid making enemies while making friends and contacts, must be a truly difficult position to hold.

Anyway, I have written much more on this subject, which I find fascinating, but I must leave now to go off with my Errachidia friends. I hope that all are well. More to come soon, to be sure.

15 June 2006

Still in Ouzoud

Well, inertia and a sense of comfort are powerful things.

I was meant to leave for El Jadida yesterday with Abdelhak, to meet the other members of his department and discuss possible teaching opportunities. While I am very excited by this idea, the whole planning of the trip just became too much for me and I decided not to go. Had I gone, we would have left at nine at night, stopped for the night in a Marrakech cafe, and continued on in the morning. This just seemed too much for me, so I will stop by the University on my way to Spain at the end of the month.

And so I stayed here at the waterfalls of Ouzoud, where everything is moving as slowly as always. I have been hanging out with a guy here, Abdul Hafid, and his friends, all of who work as guides in the area.

The whole guide culture is very strange...They are called faux guides (fake or false guides), as they are not recognized or licenced by the government. And so, guides must run toward buses and taxis, offering to all tourists their services. Prices are not fixed, and always originally run high. The tourists, of course, pay as little as possible.

What is very strange, and quite interesting from an anthropological standpoint is the way in which the tourists both create and disturb the local life. A guide with three foreign tourists, for instance, brings his clients to the restaurant of his choosing for lunch. He must decide where to bring them...but this is no easy task, as he knows everyone in the village. Does he bring them to his cousin, or his brother, or his friend? And so, here in Ouzoud, everyone is friends, yet everyone has people with whom they are angry, and everyone owes or is owed a favor. The network of social connections is confusing and complex.

I am now once again staying down at the bottom of the waterfalls in a campground there. I was staying at the Source of the river, but left as I had planned to leave with Abdelhak.

The Source was a truly amazing place. On my second night there, I was invited to eat with the family of Said, the young guy that seems to run the place (although this was never made absolutely clear to me...everyone seemed to claim ownership). When I arrived at their house, the mother and daughter were just beginning to make the meal, and as Said had to leave for a moment, I joined them to check out their cooking techniques.

While the mother got together coals from one of the many endlessly burning fires, the daughter got to work on the meat, bought that day at the local market. The family is Berber, and the women speak no French, so our conversation was quite limited, and yet we somehow understood eachother quite well. I would point, for instance, at the meat and make a noise like a sheep. The women would laugh and say the word for sheep, which I would repeat. We would all then say "muzzien" (good) and have another laugh.

The food that they were making turned out to be delicious, but at first sight it was really nothing to speak of. They made a simple tagine, as usual, but also prepared some shishkabob type things by wrapping sheep kidney in strands of intestine. These tasty little morsels were then grilled on the open fire.

Their cooking area was an incredible place with floors of packed dirt. One wall was the mountainside and the others were made of bamboo stalks and mud. Half of the large room was covered with a ceiling made of a similar material to the walls--the other half was mostly open, protected from the elements by only a criss-crossing of bamboo and the grapevines already heavy with grapes.

The women cooked crouched down on the floor, cutting the meat with an obviously often-used knife, shredding the flesh with expertise, all the while stoking the coals, heating water for tea and preparing the table. Alongside the cooking area was the true kitchen, a cavelike room of packed earth lined with sagging shelves filled with jarred spices, plants and olives. In the corner was the blackened wood oven, built into the dirt of the room.

As they prepared the food, Said and the dayworkers began to stream in and sit down, lighting cigarettes and talking quietly. In walked Said's father, Olaid, a man said to be only fifty, but who has the face of a seventy year old man. He held aloft a bulging package and declared that he had walked twenty kilometers to get his kif. He looked anything but tired, and was obviously happy to have replenished his supplies of the local herb.

He sat down and immediately got to work on making his kif smokeable, separated the leaves from the stalks and mincing them on a plank of wood, smoothing the pile occasionally to check the consistency, until finally he had a large pile of a nearly dustlike substance. With neither haste nor wait he packed his pipe, smoked it, and exhaling, popped the spent embers onto the ground. He immediately packed another and another and another. He was soon once again laughing heartily and talking about his favorite subject, the natural origins of everything around us.

Kif? Naturelle. (big smile)

Olive oil? Naturelle. (big smile)

Olives? Naturelle. (big smile)

Everbody? Naturelle.

This was Olaid's favorite subject, and mine too, as we could understand eachother in few other subjects. I immediately added my own commentary to the conversation, bringing up the donkey we had ridden into town that day.

"Quatre Quatre Berber?" Naturelle.

Here we both laughed, enjoying the local custom of calling donkeys four wheel drive vehicles. We continued, listing all of the things that a Berber Vehicle does not need.

No Gas
No Oil
No Key


Riding the donkey had truly been a thrilling experience. As Olaid told me, the vehicle only had two seats, and I sat on the back sidesaddle, occasionally ducking to avoid low branches, bouncing endlessly and holding on tight so as to not fall off. Along the way we passed other donkeys and always stopped to exchange the nearly endless greetings of the area.

Assalamulakum. (peace be upon you)
Alakumassalam. (and upon you)
Beher? (good?)
Labas? (good?)
Beher. (good.)
Hamdullah. (thanks be to God)

We finally ate, although the women continued to sit in the corner of the room, preparing food for the other campers staying the night. After dinner, Said asked me to play guitar, and I did. The whole family looked at me strangely afterwards, which was a bit disconcerting until I tried to imagine the scene in my own house if I brought some strange Berber guy into my house to play some strange instrument and sing in a strange language. The looks, I imagine, would be quite strange.

And so now, here I am, still in Ouzoud, spending my days in odd errands, letting myself be taken along to find this guy's thresher, or this guy's money, or to see the other guy's house. The loops are endless and exciting, in a strangely bored sort of way. The land is beautiful, at times ridiculously dry, yet seems as fertile as the Nile Valley, and everything that springs from it seems strong and vibrant, and of a green color that nearly hurts the eyes.

I will leave soon for Errachidia, as I have a promise to keep and friends to meet. Until then, here I sit, whiling away my time by the riverside, falling asleep to the sound of waterfalls and birds and animals of the land.

There is so much more to tell, but there is more time to come, so for now I leave you. I hope you are all well.

13 June 2006


I do not have much time to write at the moment, so let this short message suffice until I have the time to sit calmly and write with tranquility.

I left Marrakech the other day and met a student of English who studies at a University in Marrakech. He (Taoufik) invited me to his home, where I spent the night and the next day before heading off for Les Cascades d'Ouzoud; a beautiful place in the Atlas Mountains.

I have been moving around the area, changing places every night, spending some nights at campgrounds with beautiful views of the waterfalls, other nights farther away at the source of the river that leads to the falls.

I have met some wonderful people, and oddly enough I met a professor of English from El Jadida that seems to think that he can get me a job at the University. I may be heading up that way with him tomorrow to have an interview with the Dean and the Chair of the Department. Strange.


Some other quick highlights of the last few days...a bit of a taste of the things that I would love to sit here and write about for hours and hours...

- I met some Moroccan prostitutes, but found it so difficult to read the generally easy signals that let us know when a woman is employed as a lady of the night. Apparently when she grabbed my hand and rested her hand on my knee I should have known. Two obvious signals, or so I have been told by the guys that were with me. I only finally picked up (with no doubts) on all of this when one guy asked me (in a rather colorful fashion) if I would enjoy engaging in sexual congress with them that afternoon. I replied in the negative.

- I visited the English Professor's (Abdelhak) family home. The place is no longer inhabited, but it is hundreds of years old and is currently undergoing a very slow restoration. His grandfather was apparently a very important man, and from what I understood, the black people in the town are the descendants of his grandfather's slaves. What century is this again?

- I spent last night (and will spend tonight, if I can find my way back) at a campground at the Source of the river. Oddly, the guys that run it are sort of friends of mine from the Sahara. I met them over the winter. The place that they run is on a beautiful piece of land that abuts the river.

I arrived yesterday to a reception that I will not soon forget. After being given the tour, I was set down with the man that owns the land. His wife brought over freshly baked bread (made in a clay oven with open flames), olives and olive oil from their trees, and hot mint tea. The old man sat there puffing away, smoking first kif (marijuana) from a pipe, then switching to a few hash joints to shake things up a bit. We just sat there, eating and talking about the beautiful things around us, thanking God (Hamdullah - a very common phrase) for it all.

The place is beautiful, and everything is so natural as to be truly enchanting. The honey is from the bees behind the house, the olives are from their trees, the figs are from their land, the tea is made with spring water.

Waha. I cannot remain much longer in the internet cafe. I have taken what is called a Grand Taxi from Ouzoud. Unfortunately, les grandes taxi only run when they are full, which I fear may take some time at this hour.

I wish all well, I will write more soon when there is more time.

09 June 2006

Magic Words

My friends in Errachidia, worried for my education in the Arabic Language and my comfort on the streets of Morocco, taught me one very important phrase.


I have no idea how to spell it, and very little idea what it means. I only know that if someone asks you for money on the street, you should tell them "Lesehell".

The word, like most greetings and the like in Arabic, speaks of God (in Moroccan Arabic, the first A seems to often be minimally pronounced, so perhaps the word is Allahsehel or something like that), and I imagine that it means something like, "I have no money to give you, but don't worry, Allah will take care of you."

Or something like that.

Anyway, these friends of mine tested me constantly on my use of this word, sneaking around corners and suprising me with sudden requests for money or food. They asked family and friends to beg money from me, all just to hear me say "Lesehell".

Once here in Marrakesh, back in the real world, where real beggars beg for real money, I had a chance to use the word on my own. I was a bit worried, as it is a bit strange to go around saying things when you don't really know what they mean....I mean, maybe these guys had taught me how to say something really terrible and insulting...

However, all my fears were erased with the first dirham request by a small child here in Marrakesh. He asked for a dirham, I signalled my empty pockets and pronounced the magic word. He smiled and laughed, and repeated the word, and shook my hand. I think that he was thanking me for not giving him anything.

It goes without saying that I was a bit surprised by this reaction, and resolved to "Lesehell" the hell out of anyone who asked me for money for the rest of the day and get to the bottom of the mystery.

It works like a charm...It is incredible. I have never ever before learned a word that, pronounced quietly and with care, can actually make someone smile when you have given them nothing. In some cases, I have become so endeared with the person after our shared smile that I have in fact stopped to give them something. Which I guess sort of takes away the whole point of learning the word, but whatever.

Anyway, I have studied almost no Arabic. I do not know numbers or verbs or, well, almost anything for that matter, but having learned fifteen or twenty phrases and words has totally changed my experience here. People are so appreciative and seem to find it really crazy that a little white guy can say "hello, how are you?" and "I'm fine, thanks be to God".

Which is really pretty sad, since learning what I have learned has cost me neither time nor money nor effort.

Well, I'm off to the street to head back to the hotel and "Labas" the clerk until we are both "Hamdullah"-ing like a couple of crazy fools.

08 June 2006

Leaving Marrakesh

Sumbitch, it is hot. Really hot. Like "oh crap, I hope I don't faint" hot.

I've decided not to head out to the beach with the Argentine girls, so as of tommorow I'll be heading off alone, slowly working my way back to Errachidia by way of some waterfalls along the way.

I visited a Moroccan bar for the first (and most likely last) time the other evening. Such a strange place.

We walked in the door of a Pizzeria that the taxi driver recommended. The people at the door gave us strange looks. "Would you like to eat," they asked, "or just for drinks?"

"Just for drinks," we told them, and indicated that we would head to where the rest of the people were, upstairs and through a closed door from behind which we could hear loud music playing.

They looked at us even more oddly, seemingly surprised that we wanted to have a drink where the Moroccans drank, and not sit alone in the unlit restaurant area.

Oddly, there were women in the bar as well, and they did not appear to be prostitutes, although they were certainly not your run-of-the-mill Moroccan women. The place was mostly populated by men, drinking and somehow talking and understanding each other over the incredibly loud music.

The music sounded like most popular Moroccan sounds to me. My untrained ears seem to hear all Moroccan songs as one long song occasionaly broken up by a moment of silence.

The band was two people--a guy on the keyboard and a singer. The singer would walk all around the bar and say hello to people as he sang. He would sit down at tables in dark corners and continue to sing without pause.

The waiter kept on bringing us plates of fruits and vegetables. At first I scoffed. Then I scarfed (them down).

That's all for now. I hope that all are well.

06 June 2006

Christophe, Freksh, Driss, and I (NOW WITH PHOTOS)

Recipe for a Typical Moroccan Bus Ride:

1 Rickety Old Bus
1 Clinically Insane Bus Driver
10 Ridiculous stops in the middle of nowhere
12 hours
1 Bitter, mean bus attendant
1 Glue sniffing maniac at 3 am stop (optional)

I arrived in Marrakesh yesterday morning at 8:30. It feels strange to be here, considering that I was here just a few short months ago. Little seems to have changed but the temperature, which is now at about 42 degrees Celsius (approx. 108 degrees Fahrenheit). Djeema El Fna Square continues to be a totally insane shock to the senses, packed with snake charmers, henna artists, fruit hawkers, pickpockets, water salesmen, story-tellers, and guys with monkeys.

The last few days have been filled with strange adventures of the type for which I always yearn and seldom experience. I spent a few days in Fes, and took the time to visit the Tanneries where people continue to dye and work all types of leather with traditional processes.

These processes are incredibly archaic, and the sights, smells and sounds emanating from the entire operation are in their own way both jarring and inviting. Viewed from above, the tanneries spread out beneath the viewer. Men wade in giant vats of colored liquid, pulling hides from large piles and running them through the dyes.

The dyes themselves are made from such ingredients as pigeon shit, animal urine, and natural coloring. The smell is horrible, and most stores in the district give visitors a sprig of mint to hold beneath their nose as they browse the shops.

Leaving Fes the next day, I headed off with Sol, Veronica and Rosangela in the direction of Merzouga, a town most famously known as a gateway to the Sahara and the dunes of Erg Chebbi.

I had been to these dunes before, having visited this part of the Sahara in January, but I was excited to go back again, knowing that the pacific feeling that I experienced last time in the desert is something for which I will always search and to which I will always return.

Things in the desert started out terribly. Rather than going to the same place that I knew from last time, we decided to head to a different place, nearly dragged along by a tout that assured us of our need to go to the place that he knew. We acquiesed, and when we arrived, everything felt wrong.

Imagine: In the middle of the desert, in a place only reachable on foot, by camel, or by the local Land Rovers, one lives only by the grace of those with all that one needs. He with the water and the food and camels and the shade is boss. In short, as many have said; "te tienen por los cojones." I imagine that no translation is necessary to express the sentiment.

And did we ever feel this power imbalance. Lunch was super expensive, water was expensive, changes in our intinerary were expensive. There was no need for subterfuge or hiding of intentions. We were being fleeced, screwed, and robbed, and there was nothing we could do about it.

And still, I took a deep breath, put things in perspective (the three dollar omelette was not, contrary to popular opinion, going to put me in the poor house anytime soon), and calmed down. I was not going to let anything ruin my time in the desert, in the middle of endless rolling sand dunes and an endless sky.

Luckily, things turned out more incredible than I could possibly have dreamed. A recent freak rainstorm had flooded the region a week before we came. For many, living in the difficult, dry terrain, this rain was an obvious blessing. For others, including the four that drowned in a nearby hostel, the man that was electrocuted, and the many that lost their houses, the rain was anything but a gift from above.

For us, and for all those lucky enough not to lose a home or their life to the torrents, the rain was a wonderful gift, and allowed us the strange experience of swimming in a temporary lake in the Sahara. The last time a similar thing occured was five years ago. Before that, fifty years passed without this type of rainstorm. Oddly, some visitors a few years ago visited with a canoe and left it behind. Lacking a proper paddle for the craft, the locals improvised with a push broom. We did the same.

When we finally took off into the desert, atop our dromedary mounts, I was still a bit pissed off about the whole affair. I was at that moment prepared to be annoyed by everyone. I found myself angry at the guide, who seemed to treat us like an annoying cargo to which he directed neither words nor glances. Walking in front of the camels, holding the guide rope, he took short, choppy strides and moved us through the desert as if we did not exist.

A short time passed, and all sorts of pains associated with riding atop a single hump began to to appear. I asked the guide to stop and let me down, gesturing that I would walk with him.

I was surprised by the guide, who, dressed in the local Berber attire had appeared to be much older. This guy was easily less than 20 years old, and to my surprise, seemed to be smiling and happy to have company for the walk through the hot sand. And so we walked together the rest of the way, somehow understanding eachother in a mix of Spanish, French and Arabic, laughing and making jokes and having a great time. This guy, Moha, quickly decided that Christophe was not a suitable name, and I was rebaptised with the Berber name Freksh, which was to stick with me for the rest of the trip.

We spent the night outside a typical Berber tent, sleeping under the seemingly endless dome of stars. Luckily the weather had cleared up by the time we slept, for a short while before dinner, the skies had opened up and let loose with a raging torment of rain and sand, once again giving us the rare opportunity to experience an excessive amount of moisture in the arid desert environment.

We left the desert the next morning, once again riding our camels and then driving across sand flats and through sandstorms in a decrepit Land Rover. Arriving in Rissani, about an hour away, we bought tickets for Marrakech, ate some food, and got on the bus, ready (more or less) for the 12 hour journey before us.

When we got on the bus, we were among the few passengers, but as the transport stopped in every town between us and Marrakesh, the seats quickly began to fill with passengers. At one of the many stops in the first half hour or so, an entire musical group joined us in the back of the vehicle. They were dressed in traditional garb--djilibas and hats, and carrying a variety of instruments--djembes, huge tambourines, horns, and other unknown types of drums.

Within a few minutes, the group, evidently returning from a performance, had begun to play their drums and sing. The entire bus looked back with interest, and we were quickly made to join in the festivities, clapping and singing along. The girls were repeatedly asked to dance, I was asked to sing, and at one point I joined the musicians with my guitar and we performed an absolutely unique Afro-American version of the Italian anti-fascist song, Bella Ciao.

At some point in all of this, the musicians began to invite us to stay with them in their town, as there was to be a festival at which they would be playing. We demurred, explaining that we had already bought tickets to Marrakesh. We were invited again, and again said no. At some point during the musical performance, we all came to the conclusion that we would join the group, that we would happily give up money paid for our ticket to join these friendly folk in their town.

We all descended from the bus at the same time, stepping out onto the side of the road. Following the musicians into their village, we walked down dusty streets past houses of concrete and adobe, avoiding mud puddles with their direction and assistance. Where, we wondered, could this festival possibly occur? Their was no sign of any celebration at all. We sensed something strange--not dangerous, just strange--about this whole affair.

We arrived at Abdou's house within a few minutes. Strong, tall, and very dark, Abdou was the obvious leader of the group of 18-20 year olds. He ran the entire group like a general, giving out orders that were happily obeyed by all around him. "Get that bag," he would say, or "close that door," and his friends would scurry to fulfill his orders. After we settled in at his house, we quickly discovered that these orders were not limited to his friends, and we all found ourselves in the awkward position of being ordered to brush our teeth, wash our face, eat more, drink milk, stop smoking, follow me, go to bed.

As we also quickly discovered, the "festival" which we were to attend was a concert on Abdou's rooftop made especially for us. Their were no screaming fans, no wild dancing in the audience, no street vendors hawking greasy wares. The festival was us and them, and there it ended.

We took it in stride, as it was obvious that these guys meant us absolutely no harm with their little "festival" lie. On the contrary, they treated us like kings, making us dinner, playing music for (and with) us, laughing with us and at us.

After dinner, we settled in to watch some television with the group. Most of the people had gone home by now, and only a core number remained. Abdou summoned me to his room and gave me a djilaba to wear to bed, and placed a Fes-like hat atop my head. Seeing me like this, he was inspired to begin to call me with the (for me tongue-in-cheek) honorable title of Haj, a title reserved for those who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca.

My name now became Haj Driss, as earlier in the evening I had once again been baptised. I was now known by the name Driss (Haj Ddriss), Sol was Champs, Veronica had become Fatima, and Roseangela Najet.

We ended up spending an entire day with the group, and while we may have originally balked at the subterfuge required to lure us to their house (note: the possibility, however small, does exist that he whole thing was caused by a linguistic confusion, but much thought on the matter has pretty forced me to discard the idea), the treatment we received was more than enough to endear us to the group.

On the morning after the "festival", after a delicious breakfast, we headed out into the town for a tour. We saw the kasbahs, the old fortress-like structures that made up the old town, now abandoned. We walked through fields of olive trees, followed by the town's children. The guys taught me Arabic words and then forced me to use them on the locals, occasionally elbowing me and saying, "tell this guy good morning," or "tell this kid you have no money for him."

After seeing the town, we headed out to the house of Driss's family, for a delicious couscous with his mother and sister and his sister's children. The family was incredible, friendly and welcoming. The mother made the couscous on the floor of the kitchen, mixing the steaming grain by hand and baking bread in a clay oven. The whole family joined us to dance and sing and eat. We were all invited to return.

We ended up leaving a few hours after the meal, finally ready to take the journey to Marrakech. Tears poured from many eyes (not mine, as I'm one hardened soul), and I was made to promise that I would return within a week (which I will do). Until then, here I am, in Marrakech, hot, sweaty, happy and, as of yesterday, newly short-haired.

See you soon.

04 June 2006

Er Rachidia

Very little time to write at the moment, and I have many photos to share, so this will be a short entry. More to come soon.

For now, I will merely say that my three Latin lady friends and I have met some of the kindest, most open people that I have ever known. So kind, in fact, that we got off our bus (destination Marrakech) here last night and stayed with one of them in his family's house.

We are now on our way to Marrakech (at least that is the plan), but I will be returning here in four or five days. I have been invited to stay in their town for as long as I like, and I have been made to promise that I will return.

And so, all plans to study Arabic in Fez have been thrown away like so many sunflower seed shells, lost in the dusty streets of the suburbs of Er Rachidia.

Tomorrow I will write about the whole affair. I hope that all are well and thanks for your comments.