Thursday, 31 May 2007

A squirrel in the closet and a possum in the shower

I took a stroll in Digital Alley this morning on a DVD safari hunt. Digital Alley is one of the winding smaller streets in the medina. There are tables shoulder to shoulder along the walls, some only a table; some with a back shelf for displaying the DVDs. It is lined end to end with DVDs. Some of them have a backstop with shelves equally filled. Every so often for a reason beyond my knowledge there is a Police Raid and you see the owners of the tables storing the DVDs away and out of sight. Now you know the Moroccan police know that theses chaps (all over the city) are hawking DVDs for such a low price as you would not believe so why the pretend raid? A Moroccan version of hide n’ seek perhaps? Q and I were caught up in one of the raids some time back. Watching the owners grab-pack the merchandise and scamper away to the four corners of the medina was a lesson in Moroccan internal politics. An hour later, they were all back and in business.

About a third of the way in the little shops begin, really just big enough to turn around twice. Some are filled with DVD players, some with computers (but never more than one of each) and the third one down on the left has a bit of anything – earphones, televisions, adaptors, wires, cables, and a can opener. As I walk along I am continually hit with the smell of fresh mint. The ladies are walking about with handfuls of fresh mint to take home for tea and it is perfuming the air. Continuing down the street and curving to the left the shops become larger as do the television and computer screens interspersed with furniture shops. As you pass the large furniture store on the right look left, there is a cavernous opening that leads to a Singapore like shopping maze within. It is dark and cool, crowed with shops and people, very few if any tourists here. Stacks of DVDs next to clothing piles circa 1970, then a jewelry shop that has not one but two Paget Philllipe watches. Now we believe they are real eh? All the way from Darvos, retail price of 240, 000 usd. It’s not like they were asking me to believe it was an Excalibur EX 08 from Roger Dubis at 500, 000 usd is it? On the opposite side, as you go further in, the shops become more squished up against each other, is a shop with every sort of Moroccan trinket and in true juxtaposition of medina shopping - hanging next to the chandelier is a mother board. We continued down the cave like hallway to find an opening into a furniture shop time warp. It was for all the world a cheaply furnished 1950 den; although I can’t say it would have been considered in bad taste then. My difficulty is that I need the DVDs in English where most of them are in French or Arabic, albeit more than a few are in German or Russian or Spanish. I have learned from my friend Hussein who has a single table he sets up in the middle of the main medina street at different locals every day, that you can tell the English speaking ones by the tracks on the DVD. We left the shopping maze with six DVDs for less than eight dollars usd.

We bought a microwave as Q wanted it for leftovers and I shall need it when she is gone for any cooking (oh stop laughing) I might do. They sell them at Marjane but Q has a big resistance to buying anything there that we can find in the little shops. “ I don’t want to give money to the big French conglomerate when I could be giving it to the little shop keepers.” And thus we were looking for a microwave in the medina. We found a small one suited to our needs for 350 dirhams. I got my “guarantee” that if it doesn’t work or blows up I can return it. He plugged it in to demonstrate to us the workings and carried it to the roadside so we could get a taxi. We arrived home anxious to give it a go. “Alright then, I’ll just plug it in,” say I. “Uh hummm uh, well bloody hell!”

“What’s the matter Mom?”

“The bloody plug doesn’t fit! It has a European plug.” I scrounged through my two bags of adaptors gathered from years of travel but could find nothing to fit as a converter to Moroccan plugs. Nothing for it but to head out for a hardware shop. After a series of stops at which the very nice men took me out to the sidewalk and directed me to yet another shop I found an adapter, but the wrong one. There was a man standing at the counter talking with the owner. “Come with me.”
“Yes, yes, go with him,” with the shoo shoo motion of the hands.

The nice man walked me down an additional two blocks to another hardware store. I love the smells of a hardware store, wood, oil, and usefulness. The young man was not only lovely but had a bit of English – very helpful that. The plug is the right one, the fly in the ointment is that it only fits one of the plugs in the kitchen – and of course it is not the one we had destined for the microwave. But it does work and that’s fine for now. Inshallah.

Q’s attended a conference on democracy in Morocco where several resolutions were passed; it was broadcast on the BBC.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Not the Usual Fare

I know most of you come here for tales of Moroccan life; hopefully I make some of you laugh, and perhaps think. Even if you are only here for the pictures, I appreciate your time. Today I have to write about something more serious, and I hope it will make you think. If you are a first time visitor and you came for the laughs, bear with me or flip down quickly to the past posts.

Each and every one of us can make a difference in the world. Each and every one of us can stick our necks out for someone else, for a principle, for a truth, for compassion. The proven scientific laws of physics say we affect the universe just by being in it. It is not a philosophic truth but one of hard science. We each decide every day what effect we will have.

I watched a movie last night “Freedom Writers” starring and produced by Hilary Swank. Powerful. I wish I knew a bigger word. I picked it up by accident? No, I don’t believe that. I think the universe pushes together the people and circumstances that have business to be done. Not destiny, I don’t think our lives are preordained. I think we have choices. Now I admit to the possibility it could be sheer hubris that leads me to this conclusion, the desire to control my own fate. I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t die from it either.

This movie is the true story of a teacher, her students, and the difference she made in their lives. Anyone who comes here at all often knows I hold teachers in high regard. Aristotle taught Plato. Plato taught Alexander. Alexander conquered the known world. That’s the power of a teacher. Parents are teachers they have that same power.

Erin Gruwell was a new teacher in Long Beach, U.S. The school was as bad as any prison with gangs, guns, and lack of hope. This woman made a difference. One person affected the lives of so many. Please, if you can, find this movie and watch it. I warn my friends whom I know have soft hearts, take your tissues. Easy chaps this is NOT a chick flick, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is not of that genre.

We who have known freedom for all of our lives, I don’t think we can know the mind of someone who has known oppression for all their lives. We can have compassion, we can have understanding and hope, but we cannot truly know that state of mind. What is it like to be condemned by the color of your skin, or the borders drawn on a map? We can’t know the terror, the constant apprehension of living with a gun to your head, be it in the ghettos of America or Afghanistan. I have been to a couple of war zones, but I knew I would be leaving. The desperation that must come when you know you can’t leave; you can’t get your children to a better, safe life.
The death of hope is by far worse than the physical death of the body.

I am fortunate and cursed in that I have seen true poverty, which is not a lack of money but a lack of hope. I have seen violence and death up close. I have lost people I loved to bullets fired in hate, and I tell you we can make a difference. I don’t know the why of it but if you read history, if you read the paper, you find people who came from the worst circumstances and made a positive impact on the world. Names that come prominently to mind are Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Steve Biko. There are others, many who did not achieve fame.

There’s one thing about violent death you don’t see on the cinema screen, you can’t get from a book, and that’s the smell. Like cold metal shoved hard into the back of your mouth until you gag with the taste of it; like Christmas morning turned to murder. You never forget that smell. Some of our neighbors live with that every day. Our neighbors, yours and mine, because in our world of internet and jet travel and smuggled arms, Baghdad is next to London and Kabul is rubbing up against New York City.

I think every hungry child is our responsibility. We can’t feed them all no, but perhaps one? One of the best charities I know is Heifer International. They take a goat, rabbits, or a cow to a village and require that the offspring must be given to another family. Through this action an entire village can be saved. It is truly a small act that makes a huge impact. It’s what is needed, small steps that can be repeated. I rail against the grandiose plans with great war chest to end the poverty of the world. I admire the intent. I admire the actions taken to raise the money, but the real work is at the bottom of the ladder. We have to be as particular about where we give our money as we are about how much we give.

I love what His Holiness calls it – benevolent selfishness because no good act goes unrewarded. I think of Debio’s care of the young man who works for her and the hundreds of good deeds you have all done and it gives me hope. Look around, our world is in chaos. It is not acceptable to have starving children. It is not acceptable to have weapons in the hands of child soldiers. It is not acceptable to have young men and women dying in uniforms for petrol. It is not acceptable to do nothing.

All of you give me hope. I’m amazed at the compassion, care, humor and talent that are out there every day. I am asking that each of us be aware, every day of every action we take. A word spoken in anger to a parking attendant can do more harm than we know, what effect would a kind word have instead? When the cab driver doesn’t speak our language, we need to remember he may be fluent in several others. What is his history? Was he a professor who is escaping persecution? When the pushy woman breaks the queue perhaps it is a mass of years of being pushed aside herself. I choose to believe that inside each of us is a Buddha heart of pure goodness – by any other name – soul, conscience, spirit. We can become overwhelmed by acts of cruelty or neglect but that core of goodness is there. If we can remember that and see it in others before passing judgment what would happen?

Every day, every one of us can make a positive difference in the world. It is a big responsibility isn’t it? We can affect world politics with our votes, our letters, and our protests. We can eliminate world hunger by taking a small step to make a difference – multiply that by billons and Bob’s your uncle. We can change a life with a kind word or act. These are real concrete actions not some philosophical meanderings.

All right I’m done now. Thank you.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Day at the beach

Outside my window

May 29 2007
Not topblogmag

Outside my window pass hoards of tourists. We are on the tour guide’s must see list. French, German, Americans, and lately a great many Chinese. Now get that picture – a group of Chinese tourists plodding through the medina set among the tall dark Moroccans, getting on the bus, and disembarking at the Oudayas where they go through the gardens dressed in sandals, shorts, and it looks like the same white shirt, then walk our streets and buy Moroccan sandals and leather camels. Clicking, clicking their cameras. They did not read the guidebook that says YOU SHOULD ASK first, nor have I met even one who speaks French. These are people who know less of how to queue than the Moroccans. The day of the prominence of the “ugly American” may be over, they have big competition.

Q opened the door a few days back and as we were stepping out into the street one of the French tourists practically knocked Q over as she’s poking her head in our door for a look about. “Oh look this riad’s really quite lovely.” As Q was trying to tell her that we are not a riad, but this is our home, she acted as if Q had not spoken at all.

Moroccan men cannot parallel park but they can dance.

There is a continuous football game that goes on in our street, the players just change.

I heard drums and bells outside under the window. I opened my shutters and looked down to see three chaps all done up in costume going through the streets playing music. My mistake was opening my window and aiming my camera. It was a con. It’s like the Mexican Mariachi bands, or the violin players who come to your table until you have to pay them to leave. I finally was ready to acquiesce. As I ran downstairs to get some money they gave up and left. As you can see from the photograph I only caught the bottom half on the one! I guess you do get what you pay for eh?

In the early morning the chap comes by with his cart for the garbage that we have all put out on the stoop. You have to get up and put it out in the morning because if you do it the night before the cats will get it and scatter it everywhere. There are mornings that find me barefoot, chasing him down the end of the street with my bags, much to the amusement of the neighbors who have all been awake for hours. Around ten he is followed by the vegetable man singing out Ahhh yealll ahhh and pulling his very noisy wooden cart.

I walked down to the beach on Sunday. I counted three teenage girls in bathing costumes. The only other females in swim attire were the young children. On the one hand they aren’t as likely to suffer from skin cancer or wrinkle at an early age, but as I watched one of the young boys run into the sea with abandon I remembered the powerful feeling of swimming in the ocean. I was sad that the girls were not allowed to have that. Morocco is moving forward… Even as I write that sentence I realize I am imposing my sense of what this society should be doing. While I do feel that freedom of choice is important, I know it comes with a cost. I can want for these wonderful women the best life for THEM, not what I think is a best life. The women did not look unhappy or as if they wanted to be dressed differently and worry over cellulite. They were perched on the rocks and leading their children into the water, walking along the pier with their husbands or boyfriends.

I walked along the boardwalk which is like thousands of others by the sea with Coca Cola emblazoned on the patio umbrellas, surfers hauling their boards, boys unloading a rubber motor boat, tiny one man sailboats, and a stereo blaring loudly enough for the ships at sea. Again it was one of those ‘western stumbles’ as they were playing Cat Stevens.

On one side of the pier is a calm little lagoon where swimming and body surfing are the order of the day; other days you get some big waves for the surfers. On the other side is a rough sea with a wicked undertow that provides great scenery but too rough even for the surfers.

A question asked by Hamid, Q’s tutor, in all seriousness, as they were discussing religion and American culture:
“Would it be more important for a Protestant or Catholic to go to confession or be on Dr. Phil?”

Day at the beach

Monday, 28 May 2007


We (not the royal we, as I always fear a spat of head-chopping; but as in me and my blog we) have been chosen as Blog of the Week by Top Blog Mag. I have no idea how great or small an honor this is, but I choose to accept in the spirit given. I owe my placement in no small part to the Good Woman as she was first to have an article accepted and told me of the magazine. Thank you dear.

So without further ado, today's entry can be found at You can click on using my bloglist if this link does click... I shall ask Geoff about that.

Thank you all. I am off to make sure I have a formal gown to go with my Paris shoes in case there is a party or anything.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Tagged, music, and Nancy

What’s in a name? Does a rose by any other name… Did your parents struggle over yours; did you have angst over your children’s or did you pick it out of a pail? Did you change your name when you married (male and female)? Do you like your name; does it fit your personality or is it more suited to a serial killer or a transvestite? Does your name label you as being from a certain country or religion, say a Hindi from Chicago? How did you choose your blog name? Is it your alter ego, someone you admire, or revenge for a teenage prank? Do you think our names have some part in forming our personalities, or is it more that cream pudding you spilled down the front of the dean’s wife’s dress?

This onslaught of thought came as a result of being tagged by ‘Twas Brillig to answer the following question:
Where did you get your child’s' name from?
Q has a family first name, she is just grateful she bypassed Edwina. Her middle name is one that I did hope would influence her personality. It is a name of passion and independence; at times I got more than I bargained for, in my thinking. I am glad to say she likes her name and it does suit her well.

I firmly believe any action taken in your twenties, without evil intent, should be forgiven and forgotten. One’s brain is not fully formed until you are thirty. I base this opinion on personal experience! It’s just one of those opinions I thought I should put out there. What do you think?

Someone has been playing Celine Dion for a week now – over and over in one of the houses on our street – all of the day and into the night in competition with the prayer calls. We have the windows open to get the ocean breeze and the sound comes curling in through the open shutters. It is surreal. Celine Dion in North Africa? They only play the sad, whining ones so we are thinking perhaps a broken heart, or just tone deaf? And I heard the blues as I was walking through the medina today – sounded like B.B. King. Standing life size outside an appliance shop in the medina is a cutout of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his weight lifting days. The man had a waist like Scarlet O’Hara. You get these wafts of western culture and it catches you unawares like a stumble.

A friend of ours can’t get her cat neutered until she returns to the States because her Moroccan boyfriend thinks it is evil. Yes, that’s the word used, evil. This attitude may have something to do with the large number of cats in Morocco. He thinks that depriving the male cat of the ability to have sex is WRONG. He doesn’t mind spading the female cats, but his reasoning here seems somewhat more just to my mind, because she can still have sex.

When we were in Fez we lived in The Villa across from the American/Arabic Language School. It is a big rambling place that is home to foreigners taking lessons at the school. We had the larger apartment on the first floor giving me a bird’s eye view of the activity. When we arrived in September most of the Fulbright Scholars that came to Fez with us took up residence in The Villa. Already in residence was a young woman from New England. A Grace Kelly look alike but with serious attitude and a plan to do her bit for saving the planet, the sort that gives one hope for the future. She is the one who organized the big Thanksgiving Day (for anyone not American this is a BIG holiday) party at which everyone made and brought food and in general had a brilliant time. She is the mother you want on the Parent-Teacher committee because she will have the costumes ready, make the food, and pick up the children for the play while you are still trying to get your mascara on. During our sojourn a young man in his thirties arrived from Norway. He was a Moroccan with a voice like mink and a face you would expect to see on the sheik riding his white Arabian through the desert sands (sigh, oh yes). Nancy and I both thought he was totally yummy and we swooned whenever he was near. She was a through delight and when she departed she sent me this letter.


Thanks for the e-mail, I'm pretty bad at face-to-face good-byes anyways. Nevertheless I wish I had a chance to see you before I left, because I have one more thing to tell you…

I knew I had to tell a comedian about this because it was a moment that could not have been more perfectly constructed… I knew it had to be you because, well, you'll see….

So I was up early as usual on Wednesday and getting ready to make coffee when up from the dungeon comes our Norwegian deity in his green sweater (my personal favorite). We chat a little about the imminent end of classes - he being irresistible, I trying to make sure I don't spit out my tooth chip by accident.

"I've been meaning to ask you," (my ears perk up) "I was thinking if I liked your room I may move in, after you leave of course," (…I mean… you really don't have to suffer down there a moment longer…) "so could I have a look sometime?"

"A'jee, say no more." I gave him a trademark head flick – smooth, sexy… nice work Nance. We climbed the stairs as I tried to recall my room's state of cleanliness and decided that I had naught to worry about.

"It's a good room," as I unlocked the door, "but there's something wrong with the…" shit shit shit shit FUCK. Maybe it was selective memory, but Nancy, this is ridiculous. I opened the door and was confronted, freshly laundered and draped to dry over every outcropping in the room, by EVERY last pair of my underwear, panties, knickers, and drawers.

"I see…" he smiled.

"TakeyourtimeIhavetogoaskPamelasomething!" I ducked under his gaping (gorgeous) gaze, on the fast track out of the room "sorry about the… laundry." I left him face to face with my prized possession – an old pair of yellow briefs filched from an ex-boyfriend with a bottle of Heineken Beer embroidered where my "manhood" should be.

LM– You're so much fun. Thanks for hanging out, lending movies and being a great Mama. I'll be looking for you on the bookstands…

Love Always,
Nancy ******r

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Tuck in, eat up.

I bought an address! I now own a domain, I am so proud. When we were first here Q was having a conversation with one of the Americans. They were discussing the social implications of class distinctions. When she asked how Q would categorize me, Q said, “Mom is landed gentry, but without the land.” Now I have a domain so can I consider than cyber land?

The following is from an article I read this morning about the increasing roles women are playing in Algeria. I was cruising along being very pleased with the statistics (women 70% of lawyers, 60% of judges, dominate medicine, 60% of university students, and driving buses and taxis) when I hit this next paragraph. It brought me up short I tell you. It’s fear isn’t it? This reinforces my theory that the root of all evil is fear. Now I know I have a few male readers out there, what is your take on this? It is not Islam, this is not what the Koran teaches, and so to say it is the religion is too easy.

NYTimes 26 May 2007
Not everyone is happy with those dynamics. Some political and social analysts say the recent resurgence in radical Islamist activity, including bombings, is driven partly by a desire to slow the social change the country is experiencing, especially regarding women’s role in society.

Others complain that the growing participation of women in society is a direct violation of the faith.

“I am against this,” said Esmail Ben Ibrahim, an imam at a neighborhood mosque near the center of the city. “It is all wrong from a religious point of view. Society has embarked on the wrong path.”
I see this in Morocco as well, and I have seen it in Pakistan so it is not confined to North Africa or the Middle East. It frustrates me no end, really makes me want to hit something. Not very enlightened eh? This is when I put on my boxing gloves…

Q and her fiancé’ A had a wonderful time at Mama’ Fatima’s house in the Fez Medina when he visited Morocco. There were discussions of “That’s right the Jews left Germany because they had some difficulty with Hitler.” It was meant however in the best sense when one considers how conservative the older son, who is the male of the house (even though there is no doubt it is Mama’ who rules the roost) is in his beliefs. His wife does not come downstairs when there are male visitors, and wears a hijab in the house even if those visitors are male relatives. He had several discussions with our friend Sandy while she was there as a student-guest and his view is that the Holocaust never happened; this resulted in the almost embarrassing display of welcome lavished on A who is Jewish, when he arrived. I am telling you, the women of Morocco are not wussy. Fatima Zora and her friend Marilyn have started a business together, an English school. Fatima Zora does not wear the hijab and there is no disapproval from Mama who does.

There was a house full of relatives. Two sheep were killed in preparation for all the family and visitors expected; one of which was hanging upstairs and being carved as-you-go. The downstairs large mahogany table was covered with a display of home baked cookies to make the best baker weep.

The older sister Fatima, who is an Economics Professor in Marrakech but wants to quit and open a beauty salon, was there discussing in detail (to the horror of Fatima-Zora the younger sister) the varied and specific oils that should be used for massage. Once again proving that Fez, in spite of its size, is a ‘small town’, Fatima Zora said to Q, “My friend Fed-wa tells me you were in to the Spa and had the hamman and the waxing.”

Q is thinking, “Fabulous the entire family now knows I was waxed!” She said, “How do you know Fed-wa?”

“Her salon is across the street from my old school. I used to go there, and she said there was a Western girl in named Q so I knew it was you.”

At the end of the evening Mama Fatima said to Q, “You are behaving like an American! You have to be invited to visit! I do not expect this from you.”

Mama Fatima is constantly trying to feed me up. She says I will never get a Moroccan husband if I don’t put on some weight. Along this same cultural line, Fatima Zora has decided she is ready to marry so she GAINED twenty pounds in preparation! Stick that to the skinny ladies of Hollywood and the catwalk.

Q returned from class. She walked in the door with that look of someone who has just had the cream from the cat's dish (if you are not British that is "smug").

"Whatever have you been up to," I ask. Being her mother, I know that look when I see it.

"W-e-el-l, I felt a bit bitchy during class so I wrote dirty sentences. I made myself write them in grammatically correct Arabic, so it came out: "Fatima would you like to penetrate my dog?” and "Dear Karim would you like to surrender to me?"

"The funny part," she said, "was that my Moroccan teacher just assumed no one would be proficient enough to make up the sentences on purpose; so he thought I had made a mistake. It was great."

Parental advice from Fez: rear your children so that when they are grown they will amuse you.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Observations in the Maghreb

Last night there was a big fireworks show. They were launching the fireworks off the Hasan Tower, an unfinished mosque. It was started during his life, they ran out of money and it was never finished. It has a perfectly flat top as opposed to the normal mosques with a small tower and place for the chap to stand and call out the prayer time. We can sit on the terrace and have ringside seats. It was really quite grand.

In Morocco they pour the tea from a height of six to eight inches above the glass with a lift and lower, up and down motion. It has become tradition. The original purpose is to aerate the tea, but the superstition is that the more foam on your tea, the more money you will have. All well mannered young women learn to serve the tea properly. Q can do it. I haven't tried it yet as I fear I will splatter hot tea everywhere. Those glasses are really small!

1 December 2006 at the Villa in Fez
I was getting nothing done in my room, I think I have the "I finished four stories and sent them in to the contest and I am having a bit of a let down, and empty emotionally" thing, like you do. So I decided to eat cereal.

I walked into the dining room and cute-girl-from-downstairs-just-moved-in haven't-met-her-yet was at the table. Tilley, who is so sweet we may box her and sell her in the confections aisle, was rummaging in the cupboard. Kristof our witty Austrian, was just inside the doorway to the kitchen, leaning on the frame eating cereal.

As I opened the refrigerator I heard Tilley's voice, but not what she was saying. Kristof said, "Lady MacLeod," and motioned with his head that Tilley was speaking to me.

"What's that then?" I asked.

In her clipped, upper crust, English accent she asked, "Do you know whose nuts are roasting in the oven?" I swear to you, straight face, as sincere as if she had been asking after the state of my health.

I stood, looked at her sweet face, and then turned to Kristof. I put my hand against his cheek in a gesture of affection and said, "Kristof, darlin', should she not be making this inquiry of you?"

As his face turned an impressive shade of scarlet and he choked a little on his cereal, Tilley sucked in a quick breath and covered her mouth with her hand, eyes wide.

"Tilley I have no idea whose nuts are in the oven," I said, "but no matter what you have heard from those Marines, I didn't do it." I turned and marched with great dignity back to my apartment with the sound of joyful laughter following me.

I took a Petite Taxi to Marjane this morning. The cab driver who was a sweetheart and had as many words in English as I do in Darjia did some very well intentioned and sweet recruiting for his faith. “You must learn Arabic to read the Koran; to enter the mosque; the Koran takes all, Buddhists people too – under Islam. You are a writer-woman, very great.”
I often get credit here when someone notices my Mala beads (Buddhist prayer beads, mine are sandalwood) around my wrist, as they look very similar to the Islamic prayer beads.

On the walk home I passed a little Fatima in all her sparkly dressed up glory headed for a wedding or a fancy dress party, and a chap riding a bicycle, like you do, with four or five skinned (I can say this with authority as it was the glistening that attracted my attention) carcasses of sheep roped over the back wheel. I kid you not!

I remain entranced, the mouth-hanging-open-you-are-not-from-around-here entranced, with the birds of Morocco. There was a high flying v-formation lofting over as I walked home, and I was greeted with a cacophony of birdsong as I stood in front of the French Ambassador’s residence to write in my little black Mole Book about the sheep on the bike, ‘cause yeah I was really likely to forget that...but you never know.

AT dinner last night Sally told us about the Australian “Sorry March”. Really quite grand it was. Apparently some years back the Aborigine population of Australia requested an apology from the government for the treatment of their people in the past. It seems that during the colonization and as recent as 1960 Aborigine children were taken from their families and sent to live with “white” families so that they would learn to assimilate. “There are people my age, and in their fifties who have no idea who their parents were, who their families are,” she said.
The government refused. The people of Australia (who number only about twenty million) organized a march [May 2000] where a quarter of a million people in the “Walk for Aboriginal Reconciliation” crossed Sydney's famous landmark, the Harbor Bridge. For five and a half hours, a steady human stream filled the bridge, traversing the four kilometers from North Sydney to the southern end. This was just one of a number of demonstrations the people took upon themselves to organize in the face of bureaucratic denial.
Isn’t that cool?

The Moroccans just do not know how to queue properly. IF the British and not the Frogs had colonized here they would not all be rushing the counter, of course the British were busy suppressing people in Egypt and India. You can only do so much.

Q was giving me a shoulder and neck massage during the final draft of my paper: “Some people blow shit up, some people command troops; I cook and give backrubs. I have peace time talents.”

Q and her professor Hamid were discussing problem solving. “In America we do like to go to books to find the answers to our problems,” Q explained.
“In Morocco, we have no choice, our neighbors solve our problems!” said Hamid.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Please don't sweep the rugs.

The most famous wedding tradition in Morocco takes place in the village of Imilchil

All the young people who live in the High Atlas mountains come to participate in the "Moussem", a kind of tribal marriage Festival where the brides choose their grooms

What is the Legend of Imilchil Brides' Festival?

Her name was "Tislet", his was "Isli". Their families were enemy Berber tribes from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Although they were lovers, in true Shakespearean tradition, their irate parents refused to allow them to marry. Their hearts were broken. To live apart was impossible. They sadly exchanged vows, then drowned themselves in two nearby lakes which now bear their names. Destiny wills that even in death, they are unable to unite. The imposing mountain seated between the two bodies of water acts as a guardian even as their spirits reach out for one another.

This act of desperation so devastated the hostile clans of the Berber "Ait Haddidou" that parents of this tribe thenceforth granted their children the right to choose their own marriage partners.

This is the story around the annual Berber Brides' Festival of Imilchil, held high in the lake plateau of the Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco. Each year in September after the harvest, from every corner of the Ait Haddidou domain, come young men and women in search of a mate.

The moussem, or festival, occurs near Imilchil, at the site of the burial place of Sidi Mohamed El Maghani, the patron saint of the Ait Haddidou. Legend has it that the marriages which were blessed by this holy man were happy and long-lasting thus the reason for the arduous trek to this isolated area.

At one time, this was an exclusive "family affair", with members of some fifty tribes from the region converging on the otherwise barren plateau for a Berber version of the family reunion and wedding celebration combined.

Now, those outsiders hardy enough to make the grueling trip are also welcome to participate in the festivities, the affair has become an international attraction for tourists from all over the world. So bring that brother or sister you just can’t marry off and see what they might find. I think it sounds better than speed dating!

DON’T SWEEP THE RUGS! It is not a sentence I have yet been able to make clear in Darjia to my housekeeper. Sweep the runs? Why would you sweep the rugs? You shake the rugs. Shake, outside. I shall try again on Thursday, perhaps a demonstration.

For a fun brain game go to

I’m it again! Tagged by i Beatrice: here we go,

1. I love dark chocolate
2. I like spiders and ants because I admire their persistence and industrious natures.
3. My greatest life's happiness is my daughter
4. Inside my head I am still thirty-years-old. I don’t think I will correct the error as it works for me.
5. I don’t cook.
6. I love to walk.
7. I do not do well in the heat.
8. I love to laugh. I think Eddie Izzard is brilliant.
9. I am a klutz. I am always running into walls and bumping my head and toes.
10. I very much enjoy Action blow ‘em up movies, plot is not required to have complexity, but the leading man is required to be pretty.

I have made a new and important addition to my conversational Darjia: Ha-r-r-r-ack means shit in Moroccan. As in, Harrrack she swept the rugs again!

The following is a conversation I had with Q. on the heels of something I had said that she found a bit shocking.

Q: “So when does that happen?”
Me: “What’s that?”
Q: “When you just get to say whatever you want. When you don’t care anymore what people think about what you say?”
Me: “Fifty. It is one of the brilliant things that happen when you turn fifty. For women, I am not so sure it happens for men.”

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

A call

My friend from America, Marilyn called me today. I met Marilyn when I was in NYC and we hit it off right away and became great friends. We had the same love for literature and dreams of writing, museums and opera, and a lust for walking the city. We became pregnant within one week of each other and spent much of our pregnancy walking the sidewalks of NYC together, and eating. We ate a lot. During our last trimester we both had a craving for Mexican food.

El Coyote in Greenwich Village is one of the best places for Tex-Mex food in the world. It is a small restaurant with six or seven booths, and some ten or so tables spread about into a back room – more of an indentation really. The only bathroom lies at the end of a very narrow darkened hallway where the doors for the men and women’s face each other. I am 5’10” tall and Marilyn is 5’11” tall and we were HUGE. The sight of the two of us coming down 5th avenue scared off more than one tourist I can assure you. We had gone for lunch a week before Marilyn delivered. Once we had placed our bellies in the booth it never failed that one of us had to pry loose and go to the bathroom. The trip down that narrow hall was like a Stephen King movie where I was just waiting for Jack Nicholson to show up, especially when I reached the end only to see the door from the Men’s room opening! He took one look at me wedged in the hallway and backed himself into the Men’s room snappy quick.

Marilyn delivered a beautiful healthy little girl one week before I did the same. The girls grew up side by side for three years. Marilyn and I talked parenting, losing the baby weight, and the future. Now it was the four of us who walked NYC, and every museum, every zoo, and every merry-go-round saw us visit.

Marilyn moved her family to the country, and had another healthy girl. Q and I left the city as well. We have kept in close touch since those years. Emails constantly, photographs of every event, calls when we were happy, calls when we were frightened or sad, and we threatened visits but something always came up. We always knew what was going on in each other’s life and what the children were doing.

Her eldest daughter graduated university the same year as Q. Her youngest began university this year and has done splendidly. Not only are her grades good, but also she has found her career path, and loves the school. She and her older sister have been remarkably close since they were small children. Diane went to California to visit her big sister over her Christmas holiday.

My friend Marilyn called me today. Diane is dead. She was in a pedestrian accident in Baltimore where she attended university. She died at the scene.

I debated whether to write this for the blog. Normally I only pass on good news, but I think we all have to have these wake up calls now and again. Diane wasn’t sick, she wasn’t in a war zone, and it wasn’t a terrorist’s attack. It was an accident, and her life is over. Marilyn has had her heart torn out. “How can a person be in this much pain and still be alive?”

Go now – hug people you love. Call your parents, call your children, call your partner or spouse. Act sappy, mushy, and do not do it quietly. So quickly and it is gone. I have had this loss and it never gets better. You bleed every day and it is a wound that does not heal. You never hear that laugh again, you don’t get to see her graduate, have a career, get married…all that we take for granted. Every day, every day we have to pay attention to our lives. Live every day like it is the last day of someone you love.

Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

another look back

25 September 2006, Fez, Morocco, 0754 hrs
Second Day of Ramadan

Yes, well, the big news today is – we did not die in a fire last night. While not as dodgy as electricity in India (it does not bugger off as often, albeit does on occasion) the Moroccan system is of one of parsimonious usage. We have a total of two working plugs in the apartment; apparently the other two are only for show. We have our computers plugged in, the fan, two very small, very small, no - really small lamps, the kettle, and an open spot on the extension for the iron and/or whatever else may need plugging in when needed. I had put my electric toothbrush on this spot overnight, with the fan and kettle off, and the computers asleep; I thought I was safe enough. Apparently not, since around three a.m. a popping noise woke me (thank you Shiva) and at the end of the bed, on the table where we have the kettle, the tea set-up, and a large basket full of ‘stuff’; it was there I saw the flames shooting up from the cloth covering the tea tray set next to the toothbrush. I sprang (sounds like Christmas doesn’t it?!) from the bed, wide awake, pulled the cover off, knocked the electric toothbrush and base to the floor, while reaching with my other hand to unplug the device. It was during this gymnastic feat that I was stomping on the fiery cloth with my sandaled feet (said sandals of which I had brilliantly placed at the bedside - obsessive ness is a virtue). Once again I was grateful for our large and private balcony as I carried the now reeking cloth and electrical device outside, closed the shutters, latched the double glass doors, assured myself nothing else was in danger of igniting, and returned to sleep.
During this entire Beach Party Bingo scene (those of you of a certain age will get this reference, you know who you are; the rest of you think of your own metaphor), Q briefly lifted her head, ask if everything were “A’righ’?”, and then drifted quickly back into a sound and undisturbed sleep.

After my morning ablutions, I threw the mess on the balcony away, did a swift clean up (I love Clorox), and made morning tea

Meanwhile back at the school, Q’s teacher made the most gentle observation when she explained to him her philosophy regarding fasting – which involves not doing it. She is fasting after breakfast to lunch, and after lunch to dinner. His comment was lovely, “It is fine. God will stitch it all together.”

1817 hrs local time
Ah! The prayer call sounds out over the city, coming after the cannon shot; time to break the fast! Oh lovely, Earl Grey tea with milk, crisp yellow apples, banana, almonds, and succulent dates that ooze sweet syrup. Q has made a traditional Moroccan soup (more like a stew) for Ramadan. It has lamb, cinnamon, fava beans, tomatoes, and a host of spices I cannot begin to name. It is luscious. We had walked to the nearby hamut before sunset, and purchased fresh loaves of the local bread to serve with the soup – heavenly.

Monday, 21 May 2007

a bit of this and that

21 May 2007, Rabat Morocco

Cherries!!! Have come to Morocco; or rather have come into season. What is as expensive as steak in the West cost a pittance here, which is great news for me, as I love cherries. They are sweet and ripe.

I had to share this article I found in the Onion with you..

.BOISE, ID—The Idaho Legislature passed a unanimous resolution Monday declaring English the only language the elected assembly knows how to speak, write, or understand.

"We're putting into law a general feeling that everyone here has had for years: English is the only language we know, and English is the only language we want to know," Lt. Gov. James E. Risch said during a press conference outside the State Capitol building. "It's a good language, serves us well in matters of communication, and we can't think of any good reason to go around knowing some other language that we have no use for."

The legislature is expected to pass a separate resolution later this week officially declaring out-of-towners "suspicious."

And in case you are running short on emotions or just can’t put a name to it, Hallmark (a brand of greeting cards) has done the research for you. They actually have a very expensive research center to identify and codify emotions. I can only assume to increase their market share. Here is the latest:
The first emotion the project successfully isolated was "requiapathy," the combination of relief and guilt that comes with the sudden realization that you no longer miss a dead loved one. That discovery quickly led to the uncovering of "seprudity," the feeling of appreciating a coworker's dedication without fully understanding his or her job function, and "trepatiousness," a synthesis of rage and jealousy, though more muted and often accompanied by a sensation of weightlessness. (Onion)

I really have to find a way to use those words in a sentence!

-Leaving the Medina, no taxis to be had, making our way with plants in hand, made waiting for a taxi in that area unpleasant to say the least. We walked out of the cul de sac watching for a taxi, we lost one to two aggressive young men. As we are approaching the crossroad, and darkness is approaching, and the chance of getting a taxi is decreasing – we spot two chaps sitting in their lawn chairs besides two taxis. “Taxi?” (in English and Arabic)
“No, no. You need a taxi?” and “Mohammad” my Moroccan knight gets up from his comfy chair where he is no doubt awaiting sundown to end his fast, and approaches the road where he imperiously lifts his arm –
And I swear to you out of the twilight appears an empty taxi that pulls right up to us! We are all grinning and laughing, I am giving him the thumbs up; his friend is applauding, and he is giving me the thumbs up as we drive away. It was brilliant.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Leothario and Othello

While looking at the carcasses at the market today, skinned and hanging from the ceiling with their genitalia exposed twisting a bit in the breeze, I was put in mind of an acquaintance we have made since our arrival here who can be categorically placed in the Lothario genre. Skippy, aka I-spent-two-years-in-the-Doctors Without Borders as an aid, is a pleasant looking young man with an endearing manner and a charming personality. He should have USER tattooed across his forehead and possibly his genitals as a warning to all susceptible young women. Since September last, in Fez he has taken sexual and monetary advantage of several young women (albeit from what I have heard there were no complaints about the physical side of the relationships), in the process he has hurt more than one of them quite badly and taken a large sum of money without paying it back. The present state of this tale is that after having left Fez for Rabat he has found himself now in a romantic liaison with the female version of himself! Rather like watching a snake swallow its tail. One of them will come out of this with a taste of their own medicine for sure. “You pays your money, you takes your chances.” It makes one realize where the writers get the plot lines for the soap operas.

Speaking of which, I had walked down to the nearby hanut (small shop that sells small quantities of everything) and I noticed the shopkeeper and two of his male customers were gazing upwards at the television that is situated high on the wall in the corner, enraptured. I walked in and looked upwards to see what the source of this undivided attention was – an Egyptian soap opera! Which I can tell you holds their own against Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Tosca or Shakespeare’s Othello and Desdemona for high drama. The men noticed me and there was such a scuffing of feet and a wave of “ah hmm” and general throat noises as they quickly placed their attention anywhere but on the television. I smiled at the owner and he smiled sheepishly and I swear – blushed.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Worms, racing, and sexual prowness

Worms! Our visit to the vet at which we expected the vet to say how well M.C. was doing was marred somewhat by her statement, “I am amazed at the amount of worms this poor little cat is living with!” and that scrape on his little face, ringworms. Yuk! Poor little worm ridden pussy. We came home and Q slathered his little face with a garlic/olive oil concoction. Can I tell you he didn’t like it? Q made him a homemade cat collar from the Cheerios box. Now that’s entertainment! After the follow up visit to the vet today there is a suspicion, only a suspicion mind you, that on the first visit he may have been given the deworming medication for HORSES! Do you think that has anything to do with that rearing motion he goes through before pouncing? I’m just sayin’.. He has now been properly medicated complete with a proper salve for his face, perhaps not more effective than the garlic but certainly less pungent.

There is a race on today. I went down to the big avenue to see the Start. Police cars, flashing lights, sirens, crowds – whoohoo! Maroc Telecom sponsors it and I only saw one woman…granted I did not stay to see all the runners. Running in this heat makes me tired to watch it.

1157 hrs local time
Alright now I know for sure and for certain I am in a patriarchal country! It was not the women wearing different degrees and styles of the djellaba (and there are some in completely contemporary dress) with heads covered, nor the sight of some women in the veil; as here it appears to be more a matter of choice (by degrees certainly). It was not the crowds of men seated in comradely fashion in the sidewalk cafés, with only the occasional woman here and there, whom you assume is a prostitute. It was not the prohibition against entering the mosque. It was not the lack of women in government, there are some. It was not any of the societal or cultural norms in Moroccan or Muslim culture. No, it was today when I entered the apothecary on one of the main streets and as I was waiting in line, I was practicing my right-thinking state of mind – right thinking, patience, kindness, and compassion. I looked up to see displayed on the counter – prominently – a cardboard cutout advertisement in bright colors hawking a cure for - erectile dysfunction! It was written in bold print, in both Arabic and French, complete with some sheikh chappy on a bloody throne smiling! There you have it girls – there were no signs of condoms, birth control, or bloody sunscreen in a country where the unemployment rate hovers close to 45%, the incidence of AIDS is increasing, and the summer temperatures reach 130 degrees; but yes Daddy, we have the stuff to keep your Johnny at full salute! I mean really, my giddy aunt!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Batting a thousand!

Joy and rapture! My blog has scored over one thousand hits. I am so excited. I am such an approval junkie! Thank you every one who reads.

A day in Fez

Fez Morocco
16 September 2006

I woke today and had the 21st century step on my foot – the internet connection that had been working so well, just whizzing along since our arrival – just buggered off. I rebooted the main computer, adjusted, readjusted, and fiddled with everything I could think of in French and English! No joy. I decided the only thing for it was to leave for the 15th century.

I recruited Q to join me in my jaunt to the Medina in the heart of Fez, “the oldest and largest” repeated ad naseum in all the guide books, and we took with us sweet Alif. She is a darling child of Kashmiri parents, who now live in New York – there’s a picture, but the weather is right. Her father is an Internist and her family, except for her and according to her, are devout Muslims. She explained to us, her tiny elf like face intent in her sincerity that in Islam there were three levels of prayer. You prayed because you were afraid and did not wish to go to Hell, you prayed because you want to go to Heaven, and the third and highest level is that you pray just from the love of God. With her face glowing in pride, tinged with what can only be called awe, she said her mother was at the third level.

I later admitted to Q I had some hope that someday she could describe me in such glowing terms as to my spiritual progress. “I say other stuff about you.” she said with her usual literal irony.

As we made our way out of the Villa and rounded the corner three blocks away to flag a Petite Taxi we spotted the fattest cat with the biggest balls in all of Fez. You have to understand, all of Fez is overrun with cats, they are everywhere – like the monkeys in India, but much less aggressive I must say. The Prophet liked cats, so…they are on the streets, in the restaurants, haunting the garbage cans on the corners of apartment complexes. They stake out territory like their much larger relatives to the south. The Villa has two cats, a mother and her large and tetchy son. They are well fed and it shows; and the mother cat guards her territory with all the attentiveness of a mother lioness. This is prime territory and she knows it. You see the ones on the streets, and in the fish market some doing fairly well, not so well, and some with their ribs sticking out, and the ones at the Central Market in better, but not prime shape. But never have I seen a cat in all of Fez like this chap. There he sat, licking his chops – literally, in the doorway of the live chicken shop. Now, our question was this, did this big orange tom get so sleek eating the eggs that dropped through the cages or was he there to pick off the weakest of the herd? It was a phenomenon, and a portent of the day to come.

We flagged our tiny red taxi from the flock swinging to the east, and as I settled myself in the back seat my eyes met the laughing black eyes of the driver in the rear view mirror, as he said, “Ah, cowboy!”

Oh man, first Scotland and football, now this yokel (cute as he was, and he was) mistakes my very proper, battered, beaten, and broken in, climbing hat for a bloody Stetson! It was a good laugh for everyone as he continued on, nodding and saying, “Oh yes, “Dallas.””
Inwardly I moaned.

We arrived at the great Blue Arch on the Medina. The gateway into what one must wax eloquent about as to mystery, and winding stone streets enclosed with walls that soar five and seven stories above you. At times the walkways close in so closely that you must walk single file. No street in the Fez Medina is wide enough to permit an automobile of even the most compact size, a few Vespas have made their way in, but the main mode of heavy transport is still by donkey, the occasional mule, and the muscled back bent to weight.

Passing under the arch, we see the shops at the entrance of the Blue Arch are larger with hawkers out front to bring you in through the narrow dark twisting hallways – that open suddenly onto a sparkling vastness that soars some six to ten meters overhead with arches leading like catacombs onto some endless underground construction of rooms never-ending.

In the front room of the shop there were boxes of every size and level of decoration, made from camel bone and cedar wood, shelves floor to ceiling some seven meters above filled with brass and silver trays and tea services. Sitting behind the counter with a cocksure youngster looking on in his Nike jacket, in counter weight to the agelessness of his craft, was the artisan of all this beauty. We watched as he patiently etched the design into a tray of brass, silver and tin with a tiny awl and hammer. We watched as the design came alive under his hands, and he smiled as Q spoke to him of his work in Arabic. I told him how much I admired his work, and his patience.
The slick salesman into whose hands we had been delivered by the hawker from the street was a pro. I love a man who loves his work. “You look around, for you, everything you see is 50% off!” Uh huh, you betcha’.

His amazement and joy at Q’s proficiency not only in French, but in Arabic as well was surpassed only by his love of the sound of his own voice. We spent time looking at his quite extensive collection of Berber knives and short swords. After some time in the shop, Q told me later he said to her, “You must teach your mother Arabic. She must learn to speak Arabic as well as you.” Like there are not thousands of bloody English speaking tourists that pass through the Medina every day! But Q says he said I am special, alrighty then.

Going ‘downhill’ deeper into the Medina, it seems we pass further back in time. The passages become more and more narrow. We had made our way off the main passageway and out of the normal stream of tourist, as was our intent.

As we passed hamut after hamut full of all the items you would expect, such as djellabas, hookah pipes (not really indigenous, but hey it is for the tourist), rugs, blankets, and pottery. We also see shop after shop displaying in shocking colors and prominence, lingerie that looks fresh from the shelves of Fredrick’s of Hollywood! There are shelves of the pointy toed shoes in row after row, in every color imaginable – plain and with bangles.

Passing into another byway we passed a dull wooden door set into the stone slightly ajar. From within we heard the sound of the sing-song of small children reciting numbers in French. As we leaned in toward the sound that was physically pulling us in, the door opened to reveal sitting on three benches nine beautiful little children. The teacher invited us in to watch the children recite their numbers in Arabic. The teacher told us these were orphans. That was it for me, I forked over the biggest bill I had in my wallet and left before I made a fool of myself by crying, or trying to take them all home with me.

As we continued on we came to one of the many forks that open into a souk. This one was pottery – everywhere! Slipped in between the bowls and platters was a perfume and oils shop, with henna and all the accoutrements. The owner was a charmer; all he needed was a snake. When sweet Azif offered him a 100 dirham bill and waited for change he said, “I will take it and you come back later for the change.” Completely deadpan. Azif feel for it completely. The look on her face was priceless. We loaded up with White Musk Oil, and Azif got her henna.

I wandered down to the next shop to look at the pottery while the girls were paying for their purchases. The introductions at the shop were moving along, and then, “You are Scottish? I saw the football! Scotland and the football, very nice.”

What? What is this? Again with Scotland and the football! “Q, get over here and find out what is the deal with Scotland, football, and Morocco.”

After a conversation in a mixture of Arabic and French, she found out that – apparently long ago Scotland managed to field a team that made it to the World Cup and defeated the team from Morocco. Morocco has not forgotten.

Around and up another lane and up the stairs to shoes. Shop after shop of shoes. As the girls were filling up their eyes with the possibilities, I turned a corner and looked into a shop two stories tall filled with – thread. Every color, in every shade I could imagine, the shops were a story tall, and nothing but shelves of the tread; and then I continued down the street to shop after shop with more colors of more thread than I have ever imagined in existence. It was like wandering around on an artist palette.

Passing down and around we came up behind a young girl of eight or nine pulling a Barbie backpack up the cobbled street; it was surreal. Looking up into the shop windows we saw djellablas of every color in the most beautiful material, with embroidery and sequins. These were the wedding djellablas and kaftans for parties and special events.

We stopped at a hamut with a kaftan of extraordinary blue-green material and fancy embroidery on the border of the bell shaped sleeves and around the hem. Watching the little Moroccan and Q haggle was the one of the great joys of the day. It is hard to say which of them was having the most fun. Q got him down to 60% of the price as he was leaning over the counter, holding her hand, pleading “You are so beautiful. You are robbing the tears from my eyes.” He said as he kissed both her cheeks.

Q’s eyes were shining as I handed him the money.

And the mules, the donkeys. The ever present danger in the small enclosed streets of getting ‘muled’.

There was a noticeable slowdown in traffic around noon, by one the bustling streets were almost deserted except for the stray tourist and the restaurant traffic. At three the maelstrom began again.

We passed through souk of leather where there were stakes of drying and tanning hides. Turning a corner I saw what was barely an indentation in the wall with an old man squatting in the cubby hole inspecting the hides. He attention on the hides was absoulute.

We started heading ‘up’ which is always the way ‘out’ of the Medina and came to the stand of succulent dates, so large and luscious the syrup oozed out of them when you ate one. We bought four liters of dates; two for us, two for Azif. At the date stand there was the man with friendly hands, who pestered us up the street until I used the ‘imperial No’ – works every time. The girls were amazed. “How did you do that?”

“Age and experience ladies, age and experience.”

As we passed on through the food souk, we were offered figs, dates, nuts, and apricots on a beautiful silver tray by a hawker making the rounds. We then passed several *hamuts* filled with yellow, brown, pink, and green soft looking candies. “Come, you try this.” said the wiry looking chap in a brown djellaba .

“Oh Mom you have to try this. It is great.” Q encouraged.

“Alright, but I am getting quite full.” I said walking over to the stand and taking a piece of the candy from his tray. Oh baby! Oh my, oh so yummy; like clouds of caramely soft sugar melting in your mouth when you chew it; and the brown pieces have walnuts and almonds ground to fine consistency. Yea, right fine; so I bought a container! Oh my teeth. Oh my waistline!

We walked through the tailor’s souk. Men were sitting in the closet like shops with yards of material laid out over their laps as they stitched long French seams. WE passed shop after shop. They are about three feet by ten by twenty.

As we started to fade with fatigue and hunger, the streets were becoming more deserted, darker, and with less people; the hawker appeared from the darkened street in front of us and motioned into the **street behind him. I looked at the girls with raised brow. “Well I am hungry. Let’s try it.” Q said.
Azif and I were less certain but willing to take comfort in our number. Unknown to Azif and I, Q had looked – up – and seen the sign for the restaurant, recognizing the name from Lonely Planet.
Having no such assurance myself, I was making my emergency plan as the street became darker and more twisted following the hawker.
“Alright” I was thinking to myself, “if the burlap bags come out and go over our heads I will kick out to the front knocking Azif to the ground and out of the grasp of whomever. I will then give my “bagger” a good elbow to the face and turn to shove Q back so she can run.”
This entire intricate plan is running through my head, thinking of backups and refinements; when the passageway ends and we are standing in the sunlit huge open space of a palatial Medina house turned restaurant. There are blonde, white, well dressed, obvious non-natives in the corner ‘table’ – Table being every romantic idea you ever had of a Moroccan restaurant in the Kasbah coming true. Huge cushions of deep purple and gold, cedar tables with red carpets lay out on the marble floor. There were huge silver urns at the corners of each eating space, and the iron grills that allowed a glimpse into the private dining rooms in each of the corners.
As Azif and I sighed simultaneous breaths of relief, we began to laugh; and Q looked at us like we had gone bonkers. We then told her our theory of the white-slavery-sold-to-the-Berbers.
“Oh I recognized the name right away.” She said.
“Now you are telling us?” I ask as I fell back into the luxurious cushions.

To the Kasbah – so much wonderful food. We were stuffed. The fountain, blue tiles, cushions, silver urns, private rooms all invited us to languish for hours.

A young boy – so beautiful – guided us to the Blue Arch, to the taxi . Yes, yes I knew perfectly well how to get there. Q gave me one of her, “mom!” looks.
“So, I paid him because he was pretty. So what!? He showed us his school…”

I am in love with all the young boys of Fes, with their laughing eyes and smiles of sunlight and amber.

WE passed a singular hamut, as it was not in the leather or tailor souk per se, but on one of the endless corners across from a fountain. The man inside caught my eye as he was stitching with the most enormous needle; it was the size of a teaspoon without the spoon part. He was putting an intricate design on a belt. The lining of the belt was in place, I could see that. He was making the stitches through the leather, but under the lining – with the huge needle. I stood and watched in fascination for a few minutes, but time and the need to get home pulled me away.

It was a day of joyful decadence. There is no other way to describe it. We returned to the Villa, and I am smugly satisfied to report the two girls hit the sack for long naps while I stayed up and did three hours work at my computer. Ah the young – no stamina.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Tag you're it...

I’ve been tagged! By PJ from Coming2Terms.

“The rules are as follows: first I write a bit about who I am -- eight things to be exact. The second part involves me tagging five others.

1. I am tall
2. I box. It allows me to exhibit more patience to the world.
3. I have done some things I am really ashamed of, and some things that I wish I could take back. It took many years but I have forgiven myself.
4. I want to write stories and have them published. I want zillions of people to buy the books I write. I am terrified I have no talent.
5. I am really nice. It is one of my best things.
6. I once spent the better part of four years in bed, ill.
7. I enjoy speed (race cars, horses, planes, roller coasters, speed boats, motorcycles, hang gliders)
8. I have red hair.

There you have eight hidden facts about me. Then I am to Tag five others:

Sparx you’re it, at notes from inside my head.
i Beatrice you’re it, at I Beatrice.
Q you are it, at long way home.
Piggy you’re it, at pig in the kitchen.
The Good Woman you’re it as well, at My Wee Scottish Blog.

The temperature in Rabat is to be over 96 degrees F today. Oi.

. I was passing the fruit stand on the corner yesterday, where they serve the most wonderful concoction, but do not know the meaning of the phrase “take away”, when a beautiful (I am so serious, think a brunette Brad Pitt with a deep tan) young man of about 30-something, jumped out of a Mercedes (they are everywhere here) briefcase in hand, clothed in a Seville Row looking suit and began walking beside me. “Hello (in English). You are English?”

“Yes, Scottish.” I replied wondering if he knew of our football prowess.

Then he let loose with a string of French way too fast for me.
“Je parle peu le francais.” I replied my standard phrase.

“Will you have coffee with me?” he asked.

“No.” I said, thinking “Oh man he is sooo pretty.”

“Why not?” he asks as if he was shocked at the idea anyone would refuse.

“Because I am on my way to the market.”

“Will you give me your phone number?” he persisted.

“No!” I said laughing in spite of myself.

“Why not?” he asks grasping his chest in mock pain.

“Because I don’t know you!” I said firmly and turned the corner and went into the market leaving him standing on the sidewalk.

Alright, I know the big chances are he was after my passport, or my money, or a visa to the West; but oh man He was soooo pretty! It was rather like getting an unexpected delivery of a dozen roses.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Peanut butter and safety boards

We all have our own individual way of going about daily tasks don’t we? Some of us are procrastinators (moi), some are organizers, and some are excruciatingly productive. M.C. is a digger. When he visits the litter box he makes a trench that is large enough for his entire tiny body. After completing his task he creates a mountain of litter to cover it. Like corruption, I love instinctual behavior when it works for me.

I have taken on the job of keeping our street cleared of the ice cream wrappers. It is a small task, but gives me enormous satisfaction. I like it for the sake of having a clean street, I like the idea of doing something neighborly, and I don’t want the hoards of tourist (they have increased in number with the increase of temperature; who would have thought?) to take away an impression of trash on the streets in Morocco.

A blog from Egypt with wonderful photographs and descriptions:
The name of the blog is “Turn Right at the Sarcophagus”. Isn’t that fabulous?

Abdul came over to replace the wicker/rushes contraption on the glass roof with a more substantial covering. It is a large, heavy blanket or rug. When I expressed some dismay because when it rains the cloth will hold the moisture and cause extended leaks. Abdul replied, “Oh there is no worry about that as there will be no more rain.”

“No more rain? For how long?” I ask with no small amount of dismay.

“Not until winter.”


I saw, on the ride from Fez (in our private, comfy, air conditioned, door to door SUV), the women in the fields mining the gardens with hoes, and planting seedling with sticks, much as it was done fifty and even one-hundred years ago. I saw a woman riding her donkey. Her djellaba pulled over her clothing, her bright red hat with its flat, wide, brim - tassels and dangling red balls keeping time to the hooves of her steed, going along the dirt road that parallels the very well kept up highway where we were speeding along. Where was she going? What was strapped on the donkey behind her? What does she think about globalization? Does she love her husband? What hopes does she have for her daughters? How are her teeth? Has she ever had a mammogram? Does she know what Botox is? Arriving in Rabat you see the urban stylish women in Western clothing and gorgeous djellabas of every hue and style some with babies, some with briefcases. Going from Rabat to Casablanca you see more mechanized farm equipment and no few large factory/industry compounds.

I find myself paying meticulous attention to the care and maintenance of my feet. Because I am constantly wearing sandals here I am constantly washing my feet, putting on lotions, scraping off dead skin, and in general giving myself an ongoing pedicure. Not even when in India at the hottest times of the year do I wear sandals. I always wear my boots in order to avoid having to constantly side step the ubiquitous paddies of cow shit. I am all for homage to the great Lord Brahman, but I prefer to keep my toes smelling of boot leather. When walking the streets here, there arises the unavoidable comparison with India. The pungent odors of India stay with you long after the plane has left the airport at Delhi. Fez is notable for the cleanliness of the city. Not the Clorox wiped clean of the West, but rather a sand scoured clean of the desert. Oh there are smells, indeed there are; and not all of them pleasant. But as I settled into the life of the city, I find myself bending toward the pleasant, and simply brushing away the offensive, much as I do the constant but non-lethal insects. The same is true of Rabat but with the scent of the ocean and a constant cool breeze.

Back September last, when I unpacked all the sundries (wet wipes, toothbrushes, floss, toothpaste, ASA, various medications for a sweeping variety of ills, a good sized first aid kit complete with needles, silk thread, and latex gloves, lotions for face and feet, bath goods, soap (all in quantities to last three to six months) I had so meticulously shopped for, and packed in preparation for our stay in Morocco, Q’s comment was, “You know I don’t think I ever want to go to India.” Shaking her head, “India must be a really scary place. You can get most all of that stuff here Mom.”

The men are back in the street, only two now with pick ax and sledgehammer, they are expanding the opening to the drain for some reason. I was watching them from the window upstairs and saw the chips big and small fly off the edge of the tools. I thought of the West with our OSHA and Boards of Health and Safety. These men have no protective eyewear to keep out the dangerous pieces of rock. The sound is like an ominous gong in some scary Poe story.

I can find no peanut butter in Morocco. I have looked for it. It is the one item Abdul has asked us to bring him when next we go West. I did find the teeny boxes of Ritz crackers today. What a treat. But noooo peanut butter.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

the Universe and holes in the street

Big doings in CERN today! After thirteen years the final three pieces of the Large Hadron Collider will be lowered into place over the next months. Next summer the circular race of subatomic particles will begin with much smashing and breaking apart it is hoped to show the reenactment of the first trillionth of a second, and earlier of the beginning of the universe, as we know it. So much is riding on this for the physics community, if nothing happens – nothing new- this research may well go the way of manned missions to the moon, and that would be unfortunate indeed.

The hope is to find the Higgs boson (which conceivably endows other particles with mass, aka the God particle) or something entirely new that defines the nature of mass. The never-ending quest for just what it is that constitutes Dark Matter is one of the major questions waiting to be answered. There is even the postulate that the reactor experiments will reveal new dimensions of space-time. So the String Theory boys and girls can polish off their blackboards, and Supersymmetry gets a shot at the golden ring. Personally I will be overjoyed if some light can be shed on quantum gravity and the graviton. That will be a tremendous boon to the possibility of long-term space travel. It is all part of the dream of finding GUTS (grand unified theory of everything) or they could end up chasing their collective highly educated tails, which would call for the theory guys to go back to the blackboard. It is a huge undertaking both in terms of the sheer size of the machines being used and the significance of the data they will or will not find. Exciting stuff!

Don’t you love it when you buy something and it exceeds your expectations? I bought a fairly small external hard drive before leaving the West to back up stuff – at this point I would love to tell you it was my works in progress which while true is not the real purpose. It was to transport my Law and Order (the original, CI, and SVU) episodes and Battlestar Galactica, seasons one and two! There you have it. I find L&O the best writing aid. Once you have seen the episodes there is no need to pay attention, and the cast of characters is very comforting. When I went to Boston for a visit in March I downloaded from I Tunes like mad. I am so pleased the external hard drive continues to hold it all and ask for more. For some reason we cannot download from I tunes here. It stutters and staggers and takes hours and then is out of sync. I don’t know if it is distance, does that make sense? Or our connection, but it is DSL and fairly fast? It is a mystery, one to which I would love a solution. Meanwhile I watch past seasons over and over with much joy.

If you have not read Not Even Star-Crossed, Just Unlucky today, stop reading this and go! Funny, endearing stuff that is!

An unfortunate smell led me to open the front door and stick my head just around the frame. Because I am clothed in only shorts and tee I was unable to step outside and ascertain what was going on. Never fear, my bedroom on the second floor has a handy window just above the bed, double cased in glass doors and then wood doors, giving me an eagle eye view of the street down below, quite handy that is. As I looked down the first scenario I beheld was three Moroccan girls having the same reaction to a roach that had run out of one of the holes (coming up hold on) that I would have to a large rat or snake of any size. Instead of smashing the bloody thing so that it cannot reproduce they “ekk!”ed and jumped up onto the small sidewalk and into the doorway. I am confused about this behavior. Did they not want to get the bottoms of their shoes soiled? Did they fear the roach in a rabid capacity? Is there a prohibition against killing roaches in the Oudaylas?

On to the source of the unfortunate smell – there are seven chaps standing about in those official type overall looking outfits of green and black. Two are knee deep in the two holes now present in my little cobblestone street! Between the two holes are piles of long metal rods of some sort and one of the chaps is screwing them together to make a longer extension. Do we have some sewer issue here? Are they going to give the pipes a high colonic? Will the smell get worse? Are there going to be any explosions? No, there will be tea. One of the neighborhood ladies has just brought out a tray of tea and another of bread and cheese for workers whose jackets I noticed are marked with S.O.S. hmmm…

Apparently not sewage, but the gutter refuge makes its way through there and out to the sea. The chaps in the holes (with gloves!) are pulling out what looks like handfuls of wet grass (?) and smells like sour seaweed. The Oudaylas version of cleaning out the gutters, of which we have none.

After tea: They finished right up (still not really clear on what was going on), pulled out the rods, replaced the stones, and washed down the street. Bada bing bada boom. Very efficient.

M.C. has developed the habit of traveling from the keyboard of my laptop to the keyboard of Q’s laptop. He finds this a satisfactory position to observe goings on and I suspect it warms his bum. The result for us is slowed work pace, some really odd sounds from the computers, and many laughs.
Cleaning out M.C.'s litter box, yet again, it occurs to me that not since the days of potty training of Q have I uttered the phrase, "Nice formed stool!", so often and with such pleasure.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Problem and solutions

Unwed mothers are outcast in Islamic society. This article is written by Mariane Pearl describing the horror of the problem and how Morocco is working to solve it.

In 2004 there was a new Moroccan Family Law passed that is also addressing the problem, but nothing is solved overnight. You have to institute small steps that can be repeated over and over to a solution.

This is a detailed description of the new Family Law Act of 2004

kudos to The Morocco Report that addressed this issue on a 10 May 2007 posting

Blogs, cats, and rugs

I find it interesting that when I was in my twenties and thirties and was climbing mountains and jumping out of airplanes people said, “Are you nuts?” I have found this past decade the response to the very same activities is, “Well good for you!” Now what the dickens does that mean? Now that I have some age and experience on me it’s all right if I die in a meaningless pursuit of danger, or was I so much more loveable in my youth more people feared for my life? No that can’t be it. I am still really adorable.

I spent yesterday caring for Stinky as Q had gone to Fez for work, and to help Caroline prepare for exit to the U.S. I will miss Caroline and Neal, as they are truly adorable. Two very bright, involved, compassionate people who are just right for each other. I am sure Q and A (he he) will stay in touch as they got on well in that couples genre.

Stinky, hereafter to be known as M.C. Solaar (MC for Moroccan cat, and Solar after the French rapper), had a great day. After a shaky start and two visits to the vet, hand feeding, bottles, and antibiotics – he was running, playing, jumping, eating, and hitting the litter box every time (huzzah) with formed stool (as opposed to his former state of diarrhea, hence his nickname). Q’s intensive care of him has paid off in spades. As Q said, "It is hard to get more resilient than African feral cat stock."

The afternoon found me in Blog World. I found some excellent advice on on how to network in cyber world. I am hoping that my blog will work as a website to showcase my writing. I am fairly certain I shan’t meet a literary agent on the streets of Morocco, so I have to look in cyber world – easier on the feet as well.

Continuing with my premises that if you want adventure go out the front door.. I went to the Medina to get some cookies for Q who is feeling a bit tired from the back and forth trips of late, and to the apothecary to lay in some preemptive drugs for the next migraine. I stopped by Hussein’s DVD stand and found “King Kong”. I was continuing to browse when a lovely young woman came up to me and ask, “Do you speak English?” Thinking to myself that with her beautiful face and sun kissed complexion encased in a white hijab she was unlikely to be a Brit in search of a loo, but then again you can’t judge by appearances.
“Yes, what can I do to help you?”
She was joined by a young man who said, “We would like to ask you questions for a study we are doing. If you don’t mind?”

‘Well, how long would that take,” I asked not wanting to find myself spending the afternoon in a café’ (which can happen easily) because I have work to do.

“Only two minutes,” he said.

Are those two ‘Moroccan’ minutes I am thinking?

“Certainly then.” I turned to pay the ridiculously low price for my DVD. When I turned back it was to see the young woman pointing a CAMERA at me. I don’t even like still photographs, to be caught on film – voluntarily – for those who know me is extraordinary, but I had already said yes. I look on movie cameras, just as I would a pissed off cobra.

Maryam and Driss are graduate students making a documentary film about the interactions of culture worldwide and how that is impacting life on both sides of the line. “How did you see Morocco after 9/11?”

“Exactly the same of course. Morocco had nothing to do with that incident,” I said.

“Do you think Moroccan women are oppressed?”

After a chuckle I said, "The Moroccan women I have met are very much in charge of their lives. Do there need to be legal changes made? Is there legal oppression? Certainly there is and just as they had to change in Europe and America changes need to be made here. Fatima Zora and Maryam, our friends in Fez, are two young women who have started their own business. I also realize this is a different culture, and what seems as important as breathing to me may not be of the same signifigance to a Moroccan woman. I have read of many organizations of women, for women, to improve the laws.

“We noticed you are wearing the djellaba. Can you tell us why?”

“Having spent part of my youth in India, and points north, I like to be sensitive to the culture of others, and I like to show my respect for that culture. In addition I find the djellaba a beautiful garment and suited to the weather, just as the salwar kameez is suited to India. Both garments work with the weather. I don't wear the djellaba in Marrakesh however.”

Inquiring looks

"Because I noticed it was not well received. I think it is because there are so very many tourists in Marrakesh that it is seen more as a costume than a measure of respect so I wear my western clothes there."

The two very handsome and engaging youngsters took my card, as they want to read my blog to see what I have to say about living in Morocco. Yes, I will go anywhere to recruit new readers!

There is no lapse of time between complaining of something broken, or something needed and the solution from our landlord Abdul. The sink upstairs was leaking last night, bada boom he is here with the repairman not thirty minutes after we call, and in addition fixes the stuck lock on my bedroom door and the loose piece of cedar framing. As we are watching the plumber he ask me if I would like him to give the interior of the place a coat of paint next we are out of town for a day? What do you say to that? Oh my giddy aunt.

When Q returned from her trip to Fez she was shocked to find that not only had everyone (the orange juice man, the hanut man, the sandwich shop men, the ladies next door) noticed that she was gone, but she was now required to give testimony to her adventures.

Benevolent Selfishness works, the following is a post from:

09 May, 2007
I believe in the world
Jonny Z died, and Jonny Z was good. Just: good; rare; valuable. I am baffled & far away; I want to do good deeds & dedicate them to him, I want Marrakech to be a different place than it was last week.
Today in the grand taxi, I paid for everyone's ride -- 24dh, a tiny present to the world, from Jonny Z via me. It took some explaining. Everyone was generally bemused, and then they started talking about me, in front of me. (this happens all the time.) "She works in this women's association," a guy in a leather jacket explained to the women in the front seat. (no clue who this guy is. o morocco.) Everyone started chattering about the association, or women's associations in general; I tried to pay attention, and then my head started to hurt so I looked out the window.
When we got to Sidi Youssef, one of the front seat women tugged on my sleeve -- she said she was interested in the association's activities, she wanted to come with me to check it out. She asked Halima polite, general questions, but Halima can always tell: she brought a glass of water, and closed the door.
I sat in the room while they talked for an hour. She started calm, until she rolled up her sleeve and showed us her bruises. She took off her hijab and sobbed into it, covering her mouth. I understand 2% of what she says, but I can tell she's tough. I have a little kid's faith in Halima: she will fix this, she has powers. They stood in the doorway, saying goodbye for a long time, holding hands. Halima came back inside, tight-mouthed, and made some calls.
There was probably no better place in the world for this woman to come today.
I feel better “
This is from a friend of Q, a fellow Fulbright Scholar who is in Marrakech at present. Isn’t that brilliant?!

Q brought our new rugs from Fez! They are gorgeous and the fit is perfect. I took some photographs and I will post them tonight.

A cool and continuous strong breeze has made its way through all of Rabat today sweeping out the heat and humidity of yesterday. Delicious.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

chocolate and gratitude

The Australian cure for colds, the flu, and emotional turmoil, is apparently rest and as much chocolate as you can eat. I am assured by my Aussie friend Sally (who is brilliant and could not be wrong) that this is true. I did witness the effectiveness of this treatment last winter when Sally had a bugger of a cold, really verging on pneumonia it was! Rest and chocolate, and she was right as rain. I love that some things are true.

Why we write:

I have been contemplating the act of being grateful. This train of thought was brought on in part by coming across the facts I posted last night that have to do with the state of the world, and that today is Mother’s Day. I have so much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the knowledge that I should be grateful as redundant as that might sound. And how empowering gratitude is, rather than submissive as might be thought. I have found in my personal experience that people who are not grateful are bitter. You know those people, “I never get what I deserve. I should have won that. She never works hard at anything and she gets everything I want. I could have been so much more if I’d had a break.” Those are unhappy people.

I had some unbearable losses, yet I did bear them and found joy again. I am everyday grateful for that joy. I have recently been made aware that Mother’s Day is not a day of rejoicing for everyone, or even a non-holiday as it is for some, but for others it is a day of profound sadness and a reminder of what they have never had – a child of their own. Now I have never had a mother of my own so I have some insight into how this day can affect those of us with unusual circumstances.

I don’t think it is age or years that give us the wisdom to be grateful, but our experiences and how we react to them. His Holiness the Dali Lama said the coolest thing when a reporter asked him if he thought the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese was karma for some past evil act. He said, “Sometimes stuff just happens. It is how we respond to those circumstances that forms our karma.”

I have been made aware over the years that not everyone is fortunate enough to find their true love. I did. It was wondrous and magical. Everything you can imagine in the best romance novel ever. Then he was gone. My son was gone. I wanted to go with them. I sat for over six months and felt good and sorry for myself because I was certain no one else had ever known such pain as mine; the rest of the time I blamed myself. I was wrong of course on both counts, but I was young. In an attempt to die, but in a heroic genre, I finally got up out of my chair and back into the world via some rather dangerous adventures. I found out I still wanted to live. Years later I was rewarded for getting up from that chair with the gift of my daughter. You just never know what is around that bend do you?

So where I have never known what it is to be a daughter, I have the joy of being someone’s mother. I have also been made aware (good to have friends eh?) that not every mother and daughter have the sort of relationship we do. I am grateful for that relationship every day. To have had her as a child, to watch her grow into a compassionate, curious, involved, brilliant young woman is a journey I would have paid any price to be on. She is a steadfast and loyal friend, a faithful partner, and bloody hilarious. We argue, but never for long. We get on each other’s nerves, but it can be solved with an afternoon away. We disagree, but always agree the other might be right. We love each other. She knows I always have her back, and I know she has mine. She cooks for me, and I buy things for her she thinks are extravagant. I clean for her, she reminds me to not take the world so seriously. She thinks I am “cool”, I think she is perfect. We laugh, a lot.

When she left for university I began a letter of gratitude to her. I updated it and resent it every year since. Here follows part of that continuing missive:


I am grateful that:

You have an amazing work ethic

you love animals

You are the most forgiving person I know - without being a doormat.

You like museums

You like science fiction

You are physically affectionate

You laugh easily and often

You liked London, but you love Venice

You know that listening to a friend who needs you is more important than cleaning your room

you never give up.

you can say, “I am sorry” when it is needed

you don’t watch television

You love music and art.

You know evil exist

You know goodness exist

You know that you do not always have to agree with someone to love them.

You understand quality is superior to quantity - in all things, shoes to friends.

You decided to allow me to be your mother this time around

You have borne the difficulties in your life with great dignity

You like Eddie Izzard and Monty Python

You have forgiven me my many mistakes in parenting

You decided to learn to play the clarinet when you were nine.

You decided to learn to play the violin when you were seventeen.

You make such good choices for your friends and romantic liaisons

You are curious.

you think learning is an adventure.

you want to contribute to the well being of the Universe.

You are tall.

you like flowers.

you do not have my kinky, frizzy hair.

you love to read.

You find my foibles amusing rather than distressing

you can appreciate Beauty without being seduced by it.

You can tell a good wine from a mediocre one

you love me even when I am wrong.

you love me even when you are wrong.

you are funny.

you know and appreciate the taste of excellent whiskey

you know even though things can always get worse, things can always get better.