30 June 2007

All Messed Up

So I screwed up all the templates and all that nonsense, but this will have to do for now.

Not as visually pleasing as I would like, but it'll get better.


It is Saturday morning, around half past ten, and I am still in Faro, trying to figure out what to do with myself. I must decide by noon if I will stay in my current hotel or leave, so the clock is ticking.

Yesterday I made my way out the beach, a beautiful stretch of coastline within the confines of the Natural Park or Ria Formosa. The water was nice, a bit cold, and the sand was beautiful. The beach is, however, about twenty minutes outside of town (by bus), and so a bit of a pain to reach.

Walking around town yesterday, I happened upon another religious celebration--June seems to be the month for these--and was struck by how antique the celebration felt. Old ladies and old men, along with a smattering of young people and priests, walked behind a large statue carried on the shoulders of a small number of older men. They sang hymns and looked ecstatically at the statue and up at the sky. Traffic was momentarily held at bay by policemen on motorcycles (a seemingly anachronistic element in the scene), and the statue was carried, unmolested, to the doors of the church.

At night, the church next door carried on with its own celebration, and again the cheesy electronic keyboard played on and the large speakers blasted the background music for the performers. I slept early, but the music carried on late into the night.

I continue in the same hotel, with my Armenian host, Paul and his cousin, a woman who apparently also lived in Portugal, but now lives in New Jersey, married to an engineer who works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She is apparently just visiting, and her American hubby is meant to arrive soon for his own vacation.

I sat last night with them, watching the news in Portuguese. The screen flashed updates on the fate of the disappared English girl, Maddie, and described other crimes happening around the country. Paul grumbled and talked of the changes in the country and around the world, complaining about unchecked immigration (irony of ironies), drug abuse, and "changing values". His cousin, smiling, said something like, "Liberty is good, but too much liberty is no good."

I merely nodded and smiled, occasionally bringing up a quiet point to counter their often biased, strange, sad opinions.

In regard to a totally separate topic, I have decided that I will, in fact, take my father's advice and change the name of this blog. Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. Please continue to leave comments, opinions, anything you like.

29 June 2007


I left Lisbon yesterday and made it down to Faro, after just barely catching the train at Lisbon's Oriente Train Station.

The ride was easy and pleasant, as daytime trains in Europe tend to be. The cafe was clean and easily accesible, the conductors were kind, and my fellow travelers were quiet.

Faro is a nice place, a smallish town on the Southern coast of Portugal. It is a bit touristy, and packed with classy cafes and shops, but there is also a very real, very local scene here that is quite easy to find.

I am staying in a slightly less visited part of town, in a small pension run by an Armenian man who fled Lebanon at the onset of their civil war, in the 1970's. This man, Paul, seems to be always about to cry, tears crowding his eye sockets as he talks about everything that he has lost, his health, the death of loved ones. He tells me that when he goes to church, he asks God for luck, as for him this is the only thing that decides between the fate of one man and another. He, quite obviously, does not consider himself to be one of the lucky ones.

He tells me that he is not angry for the money he lost in Lebanon, but rather for the time. He has been over twenty years away from his home, and he says that still all he thinks about it so much lost time. And so he wiles away his time at the Pension, watching Casablanca over and over, paying bills and sipping coffee at the nearby Cafe do Se.

Outside my hotel, quite close, is one of the Cathedrals of Faro, and last night the church organization threw a big bash in front of the church. They set up small fair tents, plastic tables, and chairs. They set up a huge stage, packed with amplifiers, and hired one woman to play a keyboard and sing popular Portuguese songs. She seemed very small up there on the huge, empty stage.

The old people danced, the young ran wild, and everyone ate sausage and fish, drank beer and soda. The music went until late and the drunks screamed until later, waking me up at five with what seemed to be a game of aluminum can soccer in front of my hotel.

I made some friends yesterday, two local girls--one a crude, garishly dressed clown of a girl, the other an apologetic, meek girl with a bad limp. They called me over to them while I was walking in the neighborhood and asked me if I would like to join them for a beer. Ignoring the obvious advances of the clown, I accepted, willing to settle for any company rather than spend the whole evening alone.

I actually had a good time with the girls, and met some of their other friends--a hard core punk guy and his dyed-hair girlfriend, a goth girl and some other interesting types. They were all very friendly, and talked with me, though unsurprisingly, I had the great luck to be able to spend a few minutes playing American Ambassador throughout the evening.

And so, once again, as I have so many times, I found myself answering questions from cocksure Europeans, trying to explain to them that the world is not quite as black and white as many of them see it, that no, George Bush, terrible as he is, is not responsible for every single problem in the world, that yes, it is true that there are a lot of rednecks in the South.

Best of all, I got an earful about the "American ignorance of geography" from a girl who minutes before had asked me if there were beaches in the United States. After I responded in the affirmative, she exclaimed, "Ah yes! California!" I didn't mention the other thousands of miles of coastal territory possessed by the United States.

But this is Europe, and I guess that the occasional drop of Anti-Americanism, as long as it is not a personal thing (hey, they invited me to drink with them) is to be expected and considered somewhat normal. All that I can do is tell them (to quote the title of an unwritten book) that, "Hey, You're as bad as U.S."

28 June 2007

Name Change

My father made a suggestion on the blog's name. I loved it, and I think I am going to take it. In fact, I would have done so already, but I don't really have time to mess with the top graphic on the blog. So now I want to know what you, my dear readers, think.

Pancho's Via OR Peripatetikos?

As for information on the two names, Pancho's Via is a pun on the name Pancho Villa and Via (way). As some of you may not know, I am known, throughout NC, as Pancho. So the name works.

Peripatetikos refers to an ancient style of teaching in which the teacher would walk while teaching. In English, we have the adjective "peripatetic", which refers to movement in general. So this name works too.

I am still currently in Lisbon, having lacked the energy, spirit, and will to leave yesterday. I stayed in a place on one of the main squares--a cheap, dim, flop-house type of place that only cost twenty euros for the night.

Today, if all goes well, I will head South to Faro and its lovely beaches.

But no promises.

27 June 2007

I Have Returned

I have been gone, gone, gone, but I have returned.

Ellen got here five days ago, and left this morning. The visit was incredible, but left little time for sitting around in Internet places and writing on this blog.

We saw some great music acts, ate a lot of delicious food, and walked up and down the hilly Lisbon streets.

And now she is gone, and to be absolutely honest, I am completely at a loss for what to do. I may head north, but then again, I might head south. I only know that it is time to leave Lisbon. I have done it justice, and it is time to go.

Too much has happened over the past few days for me even attempt to summarize our trip, so I will merely put some photos here for you to enjoy, and leave it at that. Updates will be more regular from now on.

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

21 June 2007

Lisbon, Portugal

I got into Portugal this morning after a terrible evening in the Madrid airport, trying my best to sleep and having absolutely very little luck.

Internet is not cheap here, so I will keep this post short and sweet. Lisbon is beautiful and exciting, like a more realistic Spain with chipping paint, but not quite. The hills are steep and views of the ocean are common. The air is salty and the people seem somewhat raw and real. I love it.

Morocco ended for me in a picture perfect fashion. The afternoon was a genuine microcosmic copy of my entire view of the country.

On the way to the airport, cops on motorcycles came racing down the road in the wrong direction. They were soon followed by black Audis driving at an equally absurd speed in an equally incorrect direction. I asked the taxi driver to explain, and he did in very blunt terms.

"Criminals," he told me, "mafia."

He continued to explain, answering the questions that I had not yet asked.

"Government ministers, friends of the King, every one of them all the way up to the King, they are all criminals."

I guess that free speece is alive and well in Morocco, at least when in a taxi and talking to a foreigner.

At the airport, hungry, I went looking for something to eat at the only cafe. They had run out of sandwiches, so I sadly settled for an overpriced bag of Corn Nuts. A nice healthy meal.

The young guy working the cafe called me over a few moments after I had finished licking my salty fingers. "Take this," he told me, handing me a plate with half of a sandwich and some french fries.

It was half of his dinner, and he would not take no for an answer.

More soon.

20 June 2007

Some Final Photographs

I wanted to include some previously unseen photographs before leaving Morocco. Here they are. Enjoy.












At seven a.m. yesterday morning I left the Nabil household in Ksar El Barrani, Rachidia.

Driss's sisters were crying, his mother was crying. We shook hands and Driss's mother and I kissed eachother's hands numerous times. Driss's brothers and I kissed eachother on the cheek while shaking hands.

I walked out the door, not wanting to look back, embarrassed by own lack of tears, my own stoniness in the face of such unabashed emotion. A cry came out from behind me. "Don't go!" yelled Driss's sister Hadda. Another cry came out from Driss's brother, Younnes. "You forgot your sandals!" he yelled, waving a pair of Chinese-made flip-flops purchased at Old Navy for one dollar and fifty cents.

"Goodbye!" I responded, "and I meant to leave the sandals."

It was truly an emotional goodbye, and my lack of tears was in no way proof of a lack of interior turmoil. While I am excited and ecstatic about the next portions of my voyage, leaving Ksr El Barrani was in no way an easy task, and I did so with a heavy heart.

An hour later, I boarded a bus bound for Marrakech. The windows were broken and stuck, the tires were complelely bald, and the exterior paint was chipped and faded. I said goodbye to Driss and Abdelhak, who had accompanied me to the bus station, and with trepidation and a still-heavier heart, boarded the bus.

Luckily, my local Peace Corps friend Anne had given me some English language books to pass the time during my travels. And so, with the help of Carl Hiaasen (cheesy, yet fun, mystery writer) and Barbara Kingsolver (wonderful book--Bean Trees), I was able to ignore (mostly) the treacherous cliffs and mountain passes that our bald-tired bus was traversing.

Twelve hours later I reached Marrakech, tired and sore, and grabbed a taxi to the main square. I honestly felt something like a country bumpkin must feel on his first trip to the big city. Everything was too fast, too much, too new, too bright, for my countrified eyes. In the span of one bus ride, I skipped from dark roads and adobe homes to neon and traffic jams.

My response was multifaceted. Here is what I wrote last night in my journal before going to bed:

And so it all comes down to this--to the end of a portion of this trip. It is an end marked by moments of true splendor and amazement, of incredible shock that this city could possibly exist in the same country as Ksr El Barrani. It is an end of bright lights and smoke and a mass movement of people that shocks the senses, or wide-eyed excitement at the sheer glory of this towxn--the rising, backlit towers of the mosques, the inmpressive walls of the medina, the sheer number of people and cars.

It is also, unfortunately, a reminder of the realities of this country's tourist-filled cities. It is the annoyance of the hashish sellers and shop owners, pushy as ever, still hissing at me in the darkness. It is the waiter (to use a term loosely) at an outdoor grill who literally shakes his open palm in my face while telling me that the tip is not included. It is this same waiter who takes my reluctantly-offered tip (as far as I could tell, he had done nothin) and kicks (or feigns to kick) it into the teeming throngs of people in the famed Djeema El Fna Square, deeming it unworthy of his "work."

Tonight I fly to Madrid, officially terminating the Morocco section of this summer's traveling. I will spend the night in the Madrid airport, and tomorrow head for Lisbon on an early-morning flight.

18 June 2007


Traditionally, after a bride is married, she is decorated with Henna on return visits to her pre-marital home.

A daughter generally lives with her parents until marriage. After marriage, she moves to the home of her husband's family, where they will live for a period of time before moving into their own house.

The henna designs are very intricate, as you can see below.

17 June 2007

Fighting Culture

It was bound to happen.

My stomach is a mess in a country in which stuffing your guests with sugary treats is considered a moral and religious duty. My bowels are angry in a country in which Western toilets are replaced with a hole in the ground (aka Turkish Toilet). [See previous info on said toilets here and here, where last year I waxed poetic on toilet matters.]

Yesterday, I battled all day to avoid eating too much, explaining to all of my numerous hosts around town that my stomach was upset, that I was full, that I had already drank several glasses of tea. All to no (or at least little) avail. In total, in the time between lunch and dinner, I consumed, against my true wishes, the following:

- approximately 6 small cups of sugary tea
- one cup of sugary, milky coffee
- one crepe / pancake type thing
- one cookie
- one small glass cola
- one small glass orange soda
- one slice cake
- handful of peanuts

Now, I truly do not wish to seem ungrateful. Every single person that I have met in this town has treated me like a king, a son, or a brother (or, just yesterday, in an unrelated incident involving an enamored, slightly crazy 16 year old girl, as a potential husband). Everyone has looked out for my best interests, sometimes to a fault.

It is just that, on a cultural level, sometimes it is difficult to navigate here. As I said to Driss yesterday, "Someday I would like to walk into a house and hear the host say, 'So sorry. A thousand pardons. I have no tea. I have no soda. I am all out of cake and cookies. All I have is this big glass of cold water.'"

That, however, will never happen.

And so I continue, fighting stomach cramps and running to the bathroom, battling an entire society, fighting against all odds to keep my stomach in the least horrible shape that I can muster.

16 June 2007

Saturday Souq

Today was my third and last Saturday Souq. Once again Driss and I made the trek through the hot and dusty streets, stopping to say hello with incredible regularity. With everyone that we met we discussed the heat, as always, as if some sudden and unexpected change in the weather had occurred.

Once at the souq, we wandered around, and I was, as always, struck by the particular mix of aromas. The smells of spices and incense, body odor and freshly killed animals, all mixed together to form the odor that is Morocco--neither good nor bad, or perhaps both.

We left soon after arriving, needing to escape the relentless rays of the sun. I bought a watermelon to bring to the house, and we helped women that we knew to carry their produce and other recently purchased items. They carried things on their heads and in their hands, and I knew that our assistance was as unnecessary as it was appreciated.

I leave here on Tuesday, once again convinced to stay one more day. If all goes well, I will be in Marrakech Tuesday night and I will leave on Wednesday evening on a flight to Madrid.

15 June 2007

Rachidia's Women

The women here are a wealth of knowledge, strength, and humor. They never fail to amaze me. The amount of work that they do (they never seem to stop), the temperature and weight that they are able to bear, their unflagging laughter--they are all without equal.

Last night, I came home early, as I wished to rest and improve the state of my digestive system. I have been suffering from a bit of gastrointestinal distress, but I don't want to make a big deal out of it, since I fear that people here might feel bad and blame themselves for my illness.

Still, I did need to inform my caretakers of my stomach issues, as I needed to find a way in which to beg off from eating too much. And so, I limited myself to indicating my stomach, and telling them, "Not Good. A little not good." Everyone, of course, had an explanation, most of which centered on water temperature. Perhaps they were right, though I have been drinking cold water on hot days my whole life, and it does not usually make me sick.

Well, just as I expected, Driss's mother fell into a state of worry and caregiving, although she never stopped laughing at me. She made me lie down face first on the ground, and performed the following "medical procedure," which she explained is used on children with stomaches.

1. She lifted the back of my shirt and spit on my back.
2. She rubbed in the spit and pounded my back.
3. She made me lift my torso a bit and massaged my stomach.
4. She pushed me back down and pinched my back, lifting me slightly by my skin.
5. Another pinch and lift.
6. Another pinch and lift.
7. Another pinch and lift.
8. Another pinch and lift.
9. She said she was done.

And then she asked me if I felt better. Amazingly, I did feel slightly better.

After this strange event, she brewed me up a pot of tea made with crazy herbs, four different ones I believe, and made me drink cup after cup of it. And after a while, whether from the strange beating I had received, or the tea, or merely the sense of being cared for, I really did feel a lot better.

Nonetheless, I have still got diarrhea. But that's a whole different story that nobody wants to hear. Perhaps I will move along, eh?

This morning I got a cooking lesson from Driss's sisters Hadda and Yemna. Hadda woke me up early in the morning, knocking on my window and calling out my name. It took quite a few knocks, but I finally woke up and stumbled out to learn how to make melowia.

Melowia is a breakfast food, something like a mix between a crepe and a filo dough pastry. It is actually quite simple to make, though it is rather labor-intensive. Essentially, it is made of flour, water, and salt. With these ingredients, a dough is made. This dough is formed into small balls, which are then flattened into thin sheets and folded in on themselves (like a note passed to a friend in class).

This done, these little packages are allowed to rise slightly. They are then flattened out until they are about the size of a notebook, rubbed with oil and placed in a hot frying pan to cook. The women move the dough around the pan with their hands, their skin seemingly impervious to the heat and bubbling grease. (I, on the other hand, used a spatula.) When done, they are flakey and delicious, and are served either plain, or with preserves or honey.

This lesson done, I moved on to make bread with Yemna. As I have explained before, the bread here is baked in a clay oven heated by burning sticks and bits of palm. The dough is placed on a metal tray in the oven and moved around with two metal sticks (one of them, in this case, a thin piece of rebar). The fire is blazing hot, and bakes the flat bread very quickly. It is, in fact, hot enough to raise a rash on unprotected legs, as I soon learned.

I now understand why the women here wear so many articles of clothing. I will never again bake bread without the proper attire.

All of this done, we sat down, the entire family and I, to eat breakfast. Hadda and Yemna told stories about my cooking abilities (or lack thereof) and everyone laughed.

The breakfast tasted better than ever.

14 June 2007

Rachidia at Sunset

My time here is coming to a close, and I am becoming nostalgic. My days are numbered (the number is three at this point--I leave on the fourth), and while I am excited for all of my upcoming adventures and plans, I will certainly miss this place and the people that inhabit it.

In four days I head to the insanity that is Marrakesh--to the crazy souqs and always busy Plaza of Djeema El Fna. And after two days there, I will fly out to Madrid, where I will sleep on the floor of the airport, just like in the old days when I used to dream of being homeless. And then from there, I will catch an early morning flight to Lisbon, Portugal.

I have already found a place for Ellen and I to stay there, so a bit of the pressure is off, though I will still have to find a place for my first night there (alone) once I arrive.

Do I smell a homeless guy adventure?

Probably not. I do, however, smell delicous choriço and linguiça and Sagres beer and super-strong coffee and Vinho Verde and caldo verde and arroz de mariscos and tremoços and percebes and all kinds of other delicious food and drink.

The change will be welcome, let me assure you. Morocco has truly delicious, healthy, wonderful food. Unfortunately, they have mastered only two or three dishes, and nearly everything here is a mere variation on the same theme. The same spices, day after day, served with the same meat (nearly always chicken), and only slightly different vegetables, all served with the same (albeit absolutely fantastic) bread.

It is all delicious, but as I say, the change will be welcome. My taste buds will scream with delight and fear as these new foods attack my grill like so many thousands of tasty little ninjas. Their little swords will slice me millions of times, leaving me reeling with the sensation of newness.

There shall be a conquest of gastronomy and a tournament of cuisine, and I plan to be there.

13 June 2007

The Promised Land

So here is the tour of Driss’s home, as promised. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I have had to make a number of short video segments in order to get the video up online.

Driss did all of the camera work, and we decided to exaggerate the « Moroccan-ness » of the video by dressing me in traditional Moroccan garb. My wardrobe consists of kandrissa (known throughout the world as Ali Baba pants), which are not very visible, a djellaba (the Ewok-like robe which I am wearing), the sesh (the thing wrapped around my head), and a pair of babouche (the funny yellow slipper-type shoes), which I do not think are all that visible either.

The videos show the majority of the house, though I did not enter the room where Driss’s sisters sleep, since I have never done so before. Note that the walls of most of the house are built with handmade mud bricks, a very common thing in this area. The construction of houses with earth keeps the house quite cool in the summertime and warm in the wintertime. The environment here, being nearly Saharan, demands such construction techniques.

I have yet to upload the final clip, which shows the backyard, but I will soon update this post. We will see if I get around to it. If I don’t, the backyard is an enclosed area of dry earth, which, when watered, works as a bit of a garden. There is also a an animal pen in which the family’s sheep are kept.

And…I apologize for any problems with the videos. I think that this is the last time I will decide to make any sort of video project in a country with third world internet connections. This small-time business has cost me way too many valuable hours of my life.

Enjoy !

Front Door and Television Room

« My Room »

Driss’s Room and Bathroom

Interior Patio and Garden

Salah and Youness’s Room


The Well

12 June 2007

House Tour


I am currently working on trying to upload some videos in which I give a tour of my Moroccan home. Unfortunately, I had made one video, but it is too large to upload for the slow Moroccan Internet connection. I will therefore soon be putting up short videos (six, I believe), which when viewed in succession present a unified view of the house.

More soon.

11 June 2007

Crazy Flight Purchases

How crazy has travel become?

I had planned on getting to Portugal by land and sea, taking buses all the way to the north of Morocco, followed by a ferry acros the Strait of Gibraltar, followed by a slew of buses and trains to get to Portugal. All this, colorful as it might have sounded on the blog, would have been a huge pain in the ass, and would have involved all sorts of uncomfortable and seemingly endless rides in rickety, dangerous transport.

Instead, with a bit of research, I have found flights from Marrakech to Madrid and then from Madrid to Lisbon. All this with a total price of around eighty-five euros. It would have cost me more to go by train and bus (the train alone from Madrid to Lisbon costs at least forty-five euros, seventy-five euros with a bed, the ferry is around thirty-five euros).

Truly amazing.

Moroccan Family Time

I wanted to write a short post expressing my gratitude to my friends here in Ksar El Barrani. As long as I have been here, I still am unable to describe the extent to which I have been accepted into this community. I am still unable to understand it fully, still unable to truly comprehend what has happened here.

When I think about my tenure here as a foreign visitor, I sometimes try to put things into a severely rational perspective. I think about the local economy, about the daily wages here as they compare to those back home. (My brother makes more money per hour working at Borders than I would have made in an entire day of wheat harvesting...and I only worked a half-day). I think about the real drain that I represent on the family's resources--on the water I use and the food I eat and the space that I consume.

I do, of course, try to occasionally help out, though too much would frankly be insulting, and money would be like a slap in the face. I have bought a cake for the family (they loved it--I had the baker write this great phrase--llah irhem u walidin, which means something like "may god watch over your parents") I have brought home chickens for dinner, and I try to do any work around the house that they will let me do, which frankly is very little.

Still, no matter how much I do, it is obviously not enough to repay them for all that they do for me. There is no price that I can put on their wonderful company, delicious food, their cleaning of my clothes or preparation of my bathing water.

How can one possibly repay all of this?

Most amazing of all, it seems that my mere presence is is enough...I do not mean this to sound narcissistic or self-aggrandizing, but there is no other way to say it. I love to be here, and they love to have me here.

Most of my time on this trip has been spent with Driss's family--with his mother, father, two brothers and the two sisters that still live in the house. In addition, Abdessamad, Driss's nephew, is often around, and there are many visitors. Every day and every night and every morning we eat together. We listen to music and dance, we laugh and sing, we try to understand each other through hand signals, basic Arabic, and the interpreting abilities of Driss and his brother Salah. Driss's father, Mohammed, normally a quiet, reticent man, has been laughing for what seems like days. Everyone seems suprised at his jolly demeanor. We share inside jokes within the family and repeat them incessantly, guffawing every time until we are near tears.

When I miss a meal at the Nabil residence, the next day they tell me how quiet the meal was, how normal. They tell me how sad they will be when I leave. Driss's mother tells me that I am her son, and that she is my Moroccan mother. They talk about the next time I will visit, about things we must do, about how happy they will be to see me return.

It is really all just quite mindblowing, and each day I am pushing back my day of departure from this town. I know that I must be in Portugal on the 21st of June, and I believe I have abandoned all notions of visiting touristic sites in other places in Morocco.

Ksar el Barrani has captured me, and it is hard to leave.

10 June 2007

"Maraton" at Rich

Today's post will be quite short, as I am exhausted after a sleepless night and a day of relentless sun.

For some reason or another, I could not fall asleep last night until after two a.m., and today I had to wake up at five a.m. to join Abdelhak and some other friends in the town of Rich.

Rich, a small, somewhat charming town, would usually have played no part in my travel or tourism plans. Today, however, was different, as a ten kilomter race was taking place in the town, and a local girl was running in the race. Abdou had planned to go, in his capacity as the founder of a local association for atheltics and development. He invited me to join him, and so I did.

I can generally think of many things that I would rather do than watch people run. Nonetheless, I had a very pleasant and interesting morning. I watched with incredulity, as only today did I realize that it is possible to run well without 100 dollar sneakers, polyprelene clothing, and specially formulated dry-wick socks. Apparently, as I learned, people can run fast in just about anything.

Ever see a man in cargo pants do a consistent seven-minute mile? I never had, before today.

In addition, I had the chance to witness some of the Royal pomp and circumstance of the Moroccan state. The race finished, generals and colonels and ministers and governers stepped out from their ceremonial (shaded) box at the finish line, and walked in a parade of suits and uniforms to the main stage. There they were greeted with cheers and hurrahs and seemingly unprompted ululations from the brightly dressed women in the front lines of the crowd.

And that is about it. After getting back, I spent the rest of the afternoon (until now) resting, trying to regain a bit of my thinking capacity after my restless night.

More soon. Enjoy the photos below.

09 June 2007

SEX in Morocco

Well, my anthropological inquiries keep producing juicier and juicier insights and social secrets....Read below.

I had a very interesting conversation today with a young Moroccan. This 23 or 24 year old man and I discussed, over about the course of an hour, such topics as marriage, the role of women in a Muslim society, divorce, and, incredibly, even sex.

While I do not wish to mention the identity of this fellow, I must say that I know him quite well, and that his integrity and honesty are not to be doubted. He is a very serious young man, to the point of exaggeration at times, and is quite devout in his religous practices. His insights and information are always quite helpful.

As we spoke about all of these topics, I asked him when he wished to get married, and he told me that he wanted to wait until he was thirty four or thirty five. He explained to me that changing societal norms had made this a possibility, as opposed to the era in which his parents were married, in the late 1960s or early 1970s. At that time, his father was twenty years old, and his own father (my friend's grandfather) decided that it was time for him to get married. His bride (my friend's mother) was a mere thirteen years old, still a young girl.

Apparently such marriages were not uncommon, though they are now. Men would marry very young girls, and they would wait until they were of child-bearing age before engaging in sexual relations. My friend described this age with a hand motion that indicated the growing of breasts.

With all of this in mind, I asked my friend a question that I have recently been asking of many people--What about sex? In a society in which the "purity" of the woman is paramount, what does a young man that wants to be married at thirty five do about sex? Does he remain celibate? Does he visit with prostitutes, as many of my somewhat less religiously-observant friends apparently do? Does he find a girl who is not overly preoccupied with her own "purity".

The problem, see, is that sexual purity here is not a matter of debate. Most men (at least according to my friend--I have not conducted any scientific research) will immediately divorce a woman if there is no staining of the nuptial sheets on the wedding night. This divorce could take place as soon as one or two days after the wedding itself (often a week long affair on its own).

And so, any woman that has sex before marriage risks a public social shaming, ostracization, and an embarassing return to her natal home. Luckily, modern laws prevent the use of the traditional punishment here, apparently espoused by the Prophet himself--death by stoning. Still, her punishment is not something to be taken lightly.

So, I ask again, what are young men and women to do? Sex is natural, and obviously impossible to completely control, especially in a society that is more and more open to globalization, foreign values, and the like.

Well, dear readers, the answer from my serious young friend suprised me a great deal, even though I heard a similar statement from a friend just a few days ago.

They have anal sex.

That's it. That is the answer to the maintaining of feminine purity, the prevention of pregnancy. This is how young people have sex and keep the hymen intact. This is how young people show their love and express their sexual desires.

They have anal sex.

I have little more to say on this issue for today, and I think that I will just leave it at that--give the readers something to chew on.

Only eleven or twelve days left in Morocco...stay tuned.

08 June 2007

Gendarmes of Rachidia


Policeman #1
Policeman #2
Young American Man

Setting: The hot streets of Ksar El Barrani, around one o'clock in the afternoon. The Young American Man is walking to the store, tired and dirty after a long morning of wheat harvesting. He notices a police jeep, thinks that their presence is strange in this small town that rarely, if ever, sees police. He greets the police and continues walking.

Note: Most of the following conversation takes place in Darija, the local Arabic Dialect. This is a simplified and shortened version of the original, much longer conversation.

Policeman #1: Hey, you, come here.
Policeman #1: How are you?
YAM: Well, thank you. And you?
Policeman #1: Fine, thanks be to God. What are you doing here?
YAM: I am a tourist.
Policeman #1: You are not from the Peace Corps or another organization?
YAM: No, I am a tourist.
Policeman #1: How long have you been here?
YAM: About a week.
Policeman #1: And how long will you stay here?
YAM: About another week.
Policeman #1: And what are you doing here?
<em>YAM: I am a tourist.
Policeman #1: Where are you staying?
YAM: In my friend's house.
Policeman #1: Where does your friend live?
YAM: (pointing in the general direction of the house) Over there.
Policeman #1: Where over there?
YAM: (pointing again, now wondering what the policeman would like to hear, since their are no street names, no landmarks, no way of describing the placement of a house besides "over there") Over there.
Policeman #1: Okay, and your papers?
YAM: In the house.
Policeman #1: Go get them and then come back here.


Follow Up:

I left the police and began walking toward the house, not worried at all, since I had done nothing wrong, but annoyed that I was being asked to furnish my documents for no reason. As it turned out, the whole process was painless. I got to Driss's house at the same time as the cops (they followed me in the jeep), showed them my paperwork, and they left soon after, explaining that this was all "for my safety".

I tried to imagine what exactly they could or would do for me in case of some sort of act that would contribute to any personal danger to me. I could think of nothing.

But Morocco is like this. I must register with my passport at every hotel, and the relavant paperwork is delivered by the hotel personnel to the local police station every evening. Here, the term "Big Brother" is not a big exaggeration, and I am sure somewhere there is probably a file on my comings and goings between Morocco and other countries.

What was truly amazing about this whole occurence was the reaction of my various host families here in Ksar El Barrani. While I felt bad to have brought the police to the home of my friend, Driss's parents were adamant about the fact that I had done nothing wrong, and in fact worked to rectify the situation within the town.

You see, they were sure that the police had not just happened to see me on the road, but rather that they had been alerted to the presence of a foreigner, and had come looking for me to find out the reason for my being there. In fact, just the day before, the semi-official mayor and professional police snitch had stopped by the house to check on some "routine paperwork". Driss's parents found this coincidence a bit too coincidental, and one day after the run-in with the police, I came home to find the Snitch-Man sipping tea with the family.

They had confronted him, told him to stay out of their business (and also, in order to discuss this all in a civilized fashion), invited him over for tea. He, of course, denied the whole thing, though they remain convinced, and he has now got the message.

Abdelhak's family was just as supportive (word travels fast in the town). His mother told me that next time the police ask what I am doing in the town, I should tell them: "My mother lives just over there. This is my town and my family is here. My brothers live in that house, and my aunt is there. Now Goodbye."

I am truly amazed at the way in which these people treat me, as if I were honestly a member of the family, and not just some random Westerner that somehow happened upon this crazy, hot, dusty place in the South of Morocco. Every single day I am surprised and grateful for everything that I have here, so thankful to my Moroccan "Mothers" and the rest of my Moroccan "family".

07 June 2007

The Butcher

Today I killed a chicken.

Yet another of many firsts for me here in Morocco.

I have wanted to kill a chicken for a long time. This has not been a dream based on a desire to cause suffering or pain to any creature, but rather a desire based on a personal conviction that if I eat meat, I should be ready to complete the necessary steps to change an animal into a meal.

As it turns out, I can do it. And to be honest, without making myself out to be a budding serial killer or a cold-blooded SOB, it was not all that hard.

I bought two chickens from the shop, as in this way I could be instructed on the first and practice on the second. The process is simple. I was told to place the chicken on the ground, and using my feet, pin the wings and feet to the floor. Then, after giving thanks to God (Bismillah) and placing the forefinger of my left hand in the chickens mouth (thus supporting the neck), I was to draw the knife across the chicken's neck twice.

As it turned out, the knife was quite dull, and I don't think that I even cut the feathers on the first few swipes. Once I realized this, however, I finished the job in what I believe was a relatively painless operation for the chicken. The shopkeeper and my instructor told me that I did a very good job, though I think that I nearly cut off my fingertip in the process.

After the chicken has been killed, it is placed in a plastic container (basically a garbage can) to hold it during the infamous post-mortem convulsions. From these convulsions, I know understand, comes the expression, "running around like a chicken with its head cut off".

I have included a video below, though I imagine that many will not have any interest in watching it. Watch if you will, though you have been warned of the content. It is, however, a much less traumatic viewing than you might think.

I have also been meaning to discuss Moroccan hygiene for some time, and so I think that I will take this opportunity to do so.

First, Muslims as a whole, as far as I can tell, are very clean. There are, of course, exceptions, but in a religion in which one is meant to wash one's self five times daily before prayer, it should not be surprising that cleanliness is a common virtue.

Nonetheless, the hygienic infrastructure can be somewhat difficult to accept for a foreign visitor from the first world. In Driss's house, for example, there is one small room with a crooked wooden door that is reserved for all one's daily hygienic needs. In that tiny room, all of the normal toilet activities take place, as well as the process of the Moroccan "shower".

Most toilets here are what are called "Turkish toilets", which are basically holes in the ground connected to a plumbing system. There are often foot-shaped areas in the general depression of the toilet. These, quite obviously, indicate where one should put one's feet. Below is a picture of a basic Turkish toilet, though they vary greatly in quality and luxury. Some are much more "rustic", to use a gentle term.

Now, without going into too much detail, for fear of making this the most off-putting post I have written, Moroccans (like much of the world) do not generally use toilet paper. Thus the "right-hand rule" for eating, touching of others, etc. The left hand is the dirty hand, and not to be used for many other purposes than cleaning one's self.

In addition, to supplement the lack of toilet paper, every toilet room is equipped with a water faucet, and generally a small bucket. Ideally, though this is most common only in houses, there is a bar of soap.

So, that is the toilet. In general, though many are shocked by these practices, this seems to be a very clean process, and people are very careful to wash their hands and other body parts with great attention and care.

As for "showering", the American shower that I have always known and loved, is not very common in most of Morocco. The only exception, I believe, is hotels, which often have showers, and the homes of very wealthy Moroccans, where showers and Western-style toilets are both common.

Rather than shower, Moroccans use either the "hammam" (a traditional, communal bathing house) or heat up water in their homes to use for the purpose of cleaning themeselves. In Driss's house the process is as follows:

First, I tell Driss's sisters that I wish to take a shower. They heat up water and prepare the bathroom, placing a towel, soap, and a small stool in the bathroom. Once the water is hot, they place two large buckets of water in the bathroom, and let me know that I can enter. What follows is truly a pleasure.

I sit on the stool, and using a smaller bucket, pour warm water on myself. I soap up, rinse off with buckets of the water, and repeat. What is amazing is that I have honestly come to love this Moroccan version of the shower more than an American shower. There is something nice about the whole affair, though I imagine that this is aided by the fact that I am not allowed to play any role in the preparations for this process, and that everything is provided for me.

Okay, well that is it for today. I am off to relax with my friends Radwane and Driss at the vegetable shop / butcher where Radwane works. We are preparing a delicious tagine to eat outside the store before heading off the large town souq.

More soon. Sorry if anyone found this blog's content less than enjoyable today.

06 June 2007

The Good Harvest

I can now die happily, as I can truthfully write the following sentence:

Today, while harvesting wheat, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the importance of bread in the Moroccan diet and gastronomical culture.

Well, almost truthfully. To be honest, I mostly thought about cutting wheat and trying not to cut off any fingers.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I cut wheat today. Perhaps this is not the most heroic or exciting of activities, but believe me, for someone raised in the upper-middle class suburbs of New Jersey, this is a feat on par with the first human landing on the moon. Growing up, I could not even tell you exactly where bread came from, beyond that it came from flour. I am not sure that I could have come close to explaining the process by which flour is made, nor correctly identified the useful parts of a wheat stalk.

As I am sure that many of my fellow citizens of Suburbia still could not. And so, today I consider myself fulfilled, one of my many dreams and desires having been made a reality.

As for the story behind the current braggadaccio: I arrived at Abdelhak's house the other day to find his father and some other men eating lunch there. This is not a common occurrence, as Abdou's father generally eats at the work site (he is a painter) and rarely returns home for lunch. He explained to me that he had been working in the fields on the hasada, the harvest, and asked if I would like to join him the next day.

Now, don't think that I didn't notice the glint in his eye or the slightly joking tone of voice. I think that he was amused by the thought of the visiting American working in the fields. Nonetheless, I decided to call his bluff, excited by the opportunity to learn something new and work in the fields.

I must say, the work was everything that I hoped it would be. It was hard work, tough on the legs and back and arms. One is constantly crouched or bent, and constantly slicing with one hand and pilings stalks of wheat with the other. Their are large, prickly bundles of wheat to pick up, and huge bags to fill and then place on a donkey's back. The sun is bright and absurdly hot, and in the fields there is no protection from its relentless rays.

And yet, it is fun. Everyone talks and laughs (not that I understand much of the talk), and there is constant coming and going of men with donkeys (they transport the wheat out of the fields). Everyone takes breaks to sip tea and eat 'khobbs mwarrak', a delicious, thin bread flavored with meat grease and spices, which is much more delicious than it sounds.

Now, I can imagine that the life of a farmer is not an easy one, or necessarily all that "fun", but here in Rachidia, it seems that most people have a regular profession or trade as well as a small plot of land for basic necessities such as wheat, animal feed, etc. And in this way, farming (I imagine) provides a bit of a change from daily life for the locals as well, as most of the work for crops such as wheat seems to be at harvest time.

And, while everyone working at first looked at me with a half-smile and a look that said, "whitey won't last ten minues," by the end of my work day (a half-day, as whitey was going swimming), everyone was telling me how well I was doing, my cutting abilities had vastly improved, and I understood the basic steps of the entire harvest process. I even think that I actually provided a helpful service.

As far as the "importance of bread in the Moroccan diet and gastronomical culture", I think that I will leave that for another day, though it is something on which I would like to elaborate. For now, my sunburnt skin, my blistered hands, and my tired body say that it is time for food, rest, and sleep.

More soon.
(Oh, and Jerz, I'm wearing sandals)

04 June 2007

Rachidia Continues

It has been a long time since I have written anything worth its salt, but I hope that today I can make up for some of my recent absence.

Things have been good here, and I continue in Rachidia, with no definite date of departure. At the moment, I am thinking of staying until the 14th, at which point I need to begin to work my way up to Portugal.

My days vary in their activities, though every day has a number of similarities. I seem to do a lot of walking or cycling, a lot of sitting around doing nothing, and a lot of eating and drinking of tea.

Yesterday, for example, serves as a perfect average day here for me. I woke up early and headed off with Abdou and his brother to visit with all the friends and family that work in the painting business. We hung around for hours, tried our hand at waxing the walls (they have some very strange ideas, at least for me, regarding painting here, many of which involve glitter), cooked lunch (my first real tajine-it was simple but delicious), hung around some more, took a walk around the nearby university, fell asleep in the grass, and went back to the house that was being painted.

After hanging around some more, Abdou and I rode our bikes over to the town zoo--a very nice park with three or four sad cages filled with sad animals--and walked around a bit before heading back to our bikes, and ultimately, back home.

After taking a quick "shower" (more in a moment regarding hygiene), I headed over to the house of some other friends, Hassan and Said. I had been invited the night before to have dinner there, and Driss and Abdou were to join me. There, for nearly three hours, we were stuffed with food and tea. Everything was delicious, but the quantities were absurd, and as a guest, I am spoiled to the point of being ridiculous. Not to mention that only today did I learn a nearly failproof manner of denying more food or drink. More on that soon as well.

Needless to say, we left the full and exhausted, after having listened to multiple cds of local bands and seen every photograph in the house. A wonderful time, though full of traditions that can at time be somewhat tiring.

While this sort of day has been typical for me, I am starting to see that the typical day for locals is not quite as idyllic. Now, obviously life is difficult here. I am not so naive as to not realize that nearly everyone here wishes that they had more. Nor do I think that the men sitting around idle at their jobs would not like to be working, if only there were work to be had.

Nonetheless, I am not sure that I realized the extent to which violence, death, drug and alcohol abuse, and the like figured into the daily life of many here.

I began to notice this with news of universities around the country, and the violence between various groups, political and cultural, that exists. The most prevalent problems seem to be between the Amazigh (Berbers) and a group known as the 'Camaradas' (Che Guevara wannabes, as far as I can tell). The day that I arrived in Meknes, a 'Comrade' had been killed, and two have recently been killed here in Rachidia. That would explain the military presence around the University, I guess.

As if this were not enough, the wedding that I attended the other night (which I left early to go to sleep) was also the scene of acts of violence. Apparently some people from a neighboring community came to the wedding (all such events are held outside, and there is therefore no attempt to control attendance--all are welcome to attend certain parts of the ceremony). They had apparently been drinking, never a good thing for Moroccans (read: often inexperienced and/or socially outcast). Around four in the morning, various fights broke out (all contained within that same group) over silly affairs. Knives were drawn, bottles were broken, and blood was drawn. Later on, this same group set fire to a local man's handcrafted cane fences, which lie prone in the road at all times, ready to be sold.

I continue. Yesterday at Meski (the local natural springs where I often go swimming), a man and a woman, (a prostitute), fell into the water after having drank quite a bit of Mehhya (a local spirit, very strong, originally a Jewish beverage). When they pulled themselves out of the pool, the woman spit the water in her mouth in the man's face. He promptly began to beat her up, she returned the blows, cops were called, and they were both hauled off in handcuffs.

And to complete the trifecta of local blood and violence, a few days ago, again at Meski, a man fell from a palm tree while retrieving his bag (people often put their bags high in the tree so as to deter any theft) and died while waiting for an ambulance.

Now, all of these acts and accidents are not here described to highlight dangers of Morocco. Morocco is, on the contrary, a very safe country (note that all the violence described was within specific groups with specific grudges, and furthermore that I don't often climb palm trees). What I do mean to describe is an omnipresence of "real life" that seems to be quite expected and accepted here.

Fights happen, as does death, and people don't seem all that fazed by things. Driss is eighteen years old, and saw this young man die on the ground next to what is basically his town pool. I saw him later that day, and he did not seem disturbed or overly upset. In fact, he only told me about this today. If I had seen such a thing, I think that I would have nightmares and be unable to think of anything else, at least for a few hours, if not days.

This is, of course, but one of the many ways in which life here in Morocco differs vastly from life in the US and many other countries. This is the theme that I would like to begin to expand on in this blog for the remainder of the trip, and I hope to not fail in this plan. For today, I would like to present a few interesting points and thoughts about marriage.

First, let me get this out of the way, and leave this clear and simple. Cousins get married here all the time.

I guess that I should not be overly surprised, but I am.

I asked Driss the other day how a friend of ours had met his wife, as I am quite interested in the marriage traditions here. Basically, I was aware that mothers are often responsible for the organization of what is essentially an arranged marriage. This is not to say that freedom doesn't enter into the equation (at least for the man, I am not sure about the women, though I think they too have veto rights). On the contrary, I have spoken to many young men who tell me that they have told their mother to find them a wife. They seem to accept, and even enjoy, this passing of the marital buck. The mothers, it seems, get to work with enthusiasm.

Anyway, I asked Driss how this friend of ours had met his wife, and he began to describe--"Well, she is the daughter of his mother's brother".

"You mean his cousin?" I asked him.

"Yes, his cousin," he calmly replied. I continued to ask about the wives of other men that I know, and in the two or three cases I asked about, all of the marriages were marriages between first cousins.

I must say, I found this quite shocking, though I say again that I should not be surprised, as this happens all around the globe. Still, it is weird to see something so accepted in one place and so socially unacceptable in another.

Now, I must also say, and I mean no disrespect (although, cultural relativism aside, I find cousins to be a bit too close genetically for marriage) that, as far as my untrained eye can tell, this custom has its consequences. Just in this tiny suburb of a tiny city, I have met one person with Down's Syndrome, one man referred to as "crazy", but who obviously has some sort of mental retardation, and one deaf man. I have seen children and grown men with thumbs growing off of their thumbs, and more cross-eyed people than I have ever before seen. In general, people seem fine, and healthy, often healthier in fact than most Americans, but the percentage of birth defects seems too high for it not to be a direct consequence of this kind of marriage.

All that aside, I must say that a Moroccan marriage is a glorious affair (read my old post on that from last summer) and something not to be missed, if possible, by anyone visiting Morocco.

Okay y'all, that's it for today. Off to the desert-like roadside with some friends, a guitar, and a hookah. More soon on hygiene and more.

03 June 2007

Update from Rachidia

I am unable at the moment to write much, but I wanted to share some photographs of my recent activity here in Rachidia.

Things are going very well, I have been keeping very busy with visits to families and associations, meals and walks and bike rides. I am slowly but surely learning to speak Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, and this is very exciting.

Enjoy the photos. More to come soon, including an analysis and description of Moroccan bathing techniques and an exposé on marriage in Rachidia.

A visit to the workplace of friends (they are painters), and a shared meal (tajine cooked on site by yours truly and Abdou)

Wire sculpture by Chris Pancho Bond, constructed while waiting in the hot sun for lunchtime to arrive and the workers to stop working.

Woman carrying huge bag of something very heavy. It is balanced on her head, at times slightly aided by the fingertips of one hand.

With Driss and Rdwan at the weekly Souq (market)

Watermeon (dlah) at the weekly Souq.

Helping out at the bookstore in the binding of my Darija textbook. (A photocopy of the Peace Corps language guide for Morocco--Copyright rules here are as closely followed as they are in China).

At class with Abdou and his professor, Aziz.