Thursday, December 10, 2009

On The Fine Line Between War and Running Away

When I was little I couldn’t say my R’s. My mom told me that when we moved to Pennsylvania and I started 1st grade at my new school I’d have to go to speech therapy if I didn’t learn to say that blasted letter ASAP. Mom and I sat in Pizza Hut one rainy afternoon shortly before we moved, and she tried to help me.

“Megan,” she coached, “say ‘RRRRRRRRRR’”
“Megan, say ‘Red Robins in the Rain’”
I said, “Wed Wobins in the Wain”
“Megan, say ‘Ratty Rug-Rats on the Roof’”
I said, “Watty Wug-Wats on the Woof”

I was fwustwated. I could hear difference between what my mom said and what I repeated, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the weird sounds she was making. Until one day right before I started 1st grade. By then we had moved to Pennsylvania, and I was playing Barbies in my room. My Barbies must have been saying something to each other, because suddenly I could say my R’s. It really came out of nowhere. I rushed down the stairs to show my mom my new skill:

“Mom! RRRRRRRRRR! Red Robins in the Rain! Ratty Rug-Rats on the Roof!”

I’ll never forget my exuberance when it came out right for the first time. I felt like I had just beat a level of Super Mario Bros. that I had been stuck on for ages.


About 13 years later I was working towards a Spanish minor at Wheaton. I decided to spend the summer after my freshman year in Salamanca, Spain to finish my minor. In Salamanca I lived with a family and became quite close with their son, Juan. But he harassed me constantly about my inability to say the hard Spanish J. It’s a sound you make back in your sounds kind of like you’re snoring. (I’ll transcribe it as kh)

“Megan,” Khuan teased, “Say my name!”
I said, “Hwan”
“Megan, say ‘embakhada’” (embajada – embassy)
I said, “Embahada”
“Megan, say ‘por ekhemplo’ (por ejemplo – for example)
I said, “por ehemplo”

Tragic. I never heard the end of it from my darling Juan. Again, I could hear the difference, I just couldn’t make it. Until a couple months after I left Spain. One day back at Wheaton I was talking to myself in the shower (in Spanish, of course...don’t judge me). Suddenly I could say the J. I got out of the shower, danced around like an idiot, and kept repeating,

“Embakhada! Embakhada! Embakhada!”

My roommate thought I was a little loca. I was. Again, I felt giddy, like I was Mario, and I finally made it to the castle.


And then came Arabic. I’ve had a couple little hurdles on the way, since Arabic has some letters that aren’t even close to resembling sounds we have in English. There’s one letter described by my textbook as “a sheep sound.” SHNU??? What does that even mean???? It’s called the 3ain. (Yes. When we transliterate Arabic sometimes we use numbers. 3=The sound a sheep makes.) But after time I learned to make the new sounds.

Except for one thing. And this time it’s even worse.

Arabic has 2 letters that we’d call H. The “Ha” and the “ha.” I’m not sure which one’s which, but for now H will be the one that looks like jim and h will be the one that looks like a curly cue. As far as I’m concerned, they’re KIF-KIF (exactly the same). Moroccans look at me like I’m an idiot because I can’t tell the difference between Harb (war) and harb (to flee). Ummm. Kif-Kif?

The other day I was graded on a dictation assignment. Dictation is like death, only it’s worse because it lasts forever and my hand and brain get tired. When my teacher graded it, he asked why I missed so many words.

“Because I don’t know them,” I said.
“But usually you're able to spell things right, even if you don’t know them.”
“But these words have H’s in them.”
“You mean you can’t hear the difference between H and h?
“Listen...Hayat (life)...hua (he)...”

We spent the next 20 minutes doing dictation with words that have Ha’s and ha’s in them. Apparently Ha comes from deeper in the chest and ha comes from the mouth. Whatever that means. It seems to me that anything you say comes out of your mouth. The worst is that I don’t even know which one I’m saying. Sometimes I say one, and sometimes the other. It’s really a 50/50 chance that I’ll be right...or wrong.

After an extremely frustrating (yet comical) class I am finally able (I think) to hear the difference between the two of them. That’s step one. Maybe one day, inshallah, I’ll be able to differentiate in my speech. Until then, Mario is getting his butt kicked by those doggone flying turtles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Moroccan Weddings and 19th Century Western Literature

On Monday night I went to a wedding with the Khattabis. As Marmee says in Little Women (the movie): “Nothing provokes speculation more than the sight of a woman enjoying herself.”

Sometimes I feel like I just can’t win. I try to be good and do everything right so as not to bring heaps of shame on the Khattabi household when they take me out in public. Yet somehow at every joyous occasion I step out of line and do something that invites the speculation of the masses.

There’s entirely too much to worry about at an event where women sit around the circumference of the room, taking notes as they watch the younguns shake their groove things. They always have their matchmaking antennae up. It’s like a Jane Austen novel on crack (or at least massive amounts of mint tea). I find that a lot of people are trying to fit me into one of two categories: eligible or MASKHOTA (naughty, promiscuous, of ill repute).

If I talk to boys, I’m being too forward. If I don’t talk to boys, I’m being rude and distrustful of respected family friends. If I joke around with the brothers I get told HSHUMA (shame on you). If I don’t joke around with the brothers they’re certain something’s wrong with me. If I don’t dance, I’m an ill-humored Darcy. If I dance like a Moroccan, I’m critiqued on my form. If I dance like an American, I’m ridiculous.

Eventually there comes a point where I just give up. If I’m going to be the object of ridicule to matter what I do, I might as well enjoy myself. I embrace my inner American goofball. I dance and laugh. I drag the brothers onto the dance floor, all the while flatly denying any allegation that I’m planning on marrying one of them. I bust out the most absurd dance moves I can muster. And I become the star of neighborhood gossip for at least a week.

On the bright side, I'm hoping that my out-of-the-box personality will help to fend away some would-be suitors and/or their families. After all, the assumption around here is that a single woman in possession of an American passport must be in want of a husband.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On The Strange But Delicious Death of Jackie Chan

Friday afternoon as I walked through the medina to my home, I ran into my neighbor (Soukaina’s classmate) who was headed in the opposite direction. He stopped to talk. “There’s a ram in your house,” he told me.

Me: “YES! the house or on the roof?”
Him: “In the house.”
Me: “In my room?”
Him: “ your room.”
Me: “Oh...that’s not a ram. That’s just Soukaina.”

I continued on my way and he continued on his, until a couple minutes later when he came up right behind me. He decided to accompany me home to witness my reaction to the ram.

When I opened the door to the apartment I was greeted not by affectionate kisses from my little shneula Souks, but by the angry bleating of a ram ready to fight for his life.

So I suppose this begs the question...uh...why do I have a ram in my house?

EID AL-ADHA. Also known as Eid al-Kabir. “The Festival of Sacrifice.” On this day Muslim families all over the world remember the Qur’anic account of Abraham’s submission to Allah, when he intended to follow through with the sacrifice of his promised son, Ishmael. Seeing Abraham’s submission, Allah sent a ram to sacrifice in Ishmael’s place and further blessed Abraham with a second son, Isaac.

In remembrance of Abraham and his submission and sacrifice, every Muslim family in Morocco buys a ram to sacrifice on this day. Including mine. Oh, and then we eat it.

So. Back to me and my ram...

This thing is feisty. We named him Jackie Chan. Throughout the day I’d forget about him briefly...until I’d go to the bathroom or the kitchen and there he was, staring me down, just hoping for the rope to snap so he could get a piece of me.

“Alright, alright,” I told Jackie, “today you’re in my house, but tomorrow in my belly!”

Last night I slept soundly until daybreak, when I awoke to the sound of “Baaaaaaaah” coming from every house in the city. I’m fairly certain Jackie Chan was communicating with our neighbor’s ram. It suddenly seemed to me like a conspiracy. They were organizing. Souks and I looked at each other from across the room, and I said, “l-thawra diyal kebsh!” – The Ram Revolution! Soukaina rolled over to face the wall and ignored my early-morning conspiracy theories reminiscent of Animal Farm.

I went back to sleep, but had a bizarre dream that the rams of Fez organized, with Jackie Chan as the leader, and they turned the knives on us. It kind of gives “lamb to the slaughter” an entirely new meaning.

A couple hours later Soukaina and I got up in earnest. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew we wouldn’t do the slaughtering until late morning, but I didn’t know if we had morning festivities or not. We didn’t. Souks and I did our typical morning routine – breakfast, cleaning, and dancing to whatever was on MTV Arabiyya, alternating between American and Moroccan dancing styles depending on what’s playing.

At around 11:00 Hamza came in to tell us that the time had come. He and Hamouda took the ram by the horns and dragged it up the stairs to the roof, where they did the deed.

All the neighbors watched my reaction. Normally I’m able to play it cool, “Guys, I’m practically Moroccan,” I always say, “I’m used to everything.” But this was something entirely new. I stood at a distance, eyes wide, as they slit its throat and let the blood drain out.

We (ok, they) spent the next hour cleaning the ram, and then cleaning the roof. I was fascinated, but I didn’t really want to get all bloodied up. I took pictures.

After the slaughtering it was time for family bonding. Soukaina and I made henna to dye our hair. This was my second foray into the world of henna hair-dye. The first was a disaster with my sister-in-law Mary and our friend Mic. Henna looks and smells like poo and you have to put it on your head and leave it for a couple hours. But Moroccans do the whole henna thing much more than Americans do, so I have faith in Souks’ henna advice.

With poo on our heads we had more bonding activities – cooking our old friend Jackie Chan. We started with the liver – grilled it, spiced it, rolled it in fat, then grilled it again on a shish kabob. Then we ate it on a sandwich. Mmmmm....Jackie Chan...

In the evening (after I washed the poo out of my hair) Soukaina, Latifa and I went to visit Dounia and her family. It was lovely. It was a beautiful brand of holiday family togetherness that I think must be the same in every country.

More and more guests kept showing up, with Eid Mubareks (Happy Eid's) all around. Of course, it’s always a little awkward for me, since I’m only partially an insider. The immediate family and those of the extended family who I see often treat me like just another cousin. But the more in-laws show up, the more French is thrown my way, despite Latifa’s insistence that I’ll understand a lot better if they speak to me in Arabic.

When we came home, it was just us girls. More MTV Arabiyya and dancing. Latifa joined us this time.

We had Jackie’s stomach for dinner. Um. Yeah. One bite was enough for me.

But all in all it was a good day. And the best part is that Jackie Chan will continue to provide our food for the next week or so.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

On The Beauty Of Life

Last night was a scary one in the Khattabi family.

In the evening I went out to spend some time with my fellow Wheaties – Josh and John. Around 10pm the boys walked me home, and as we approached my building I heard the familiar sound of Hamouda’s voice around the wasn’t his normal light-hearted chatter – it was his “business man” tone, so naturally my first thought was that he was called on one of his late-night business trips. When he rounded the corner I grabbed him by the arm. He looked at me, still on his phone, and I sensed the urgency in his eyes.

A second later Sa’id and Latifa sped around the corner with the same fear and gravity painted on their faces. Latifa stopped to give me a very cursory explanation: “Dounia is sick. Really sick. Soukaina is at home...stay with her tonight.”

And with that she hurried to catch up with her husband and oldest son who were already to the top of the hill.

I froze there, watching them disappear, and having hardly any idea of what was happening. Eventually Josh, John and I continued to my house. I said goodbye to them and ran up the 48 winding stairs to get a more complete report. When I walked in the apartment, Hamza was putting on his coat.

“What’s going on?” I asked him

“Somthing’s wrong with Dounia. She just passed out. I’m meeting them at the hospital.” And off he flew.

For the rest of the evening Soukaina and I pretended to watch So You Think You Can Dance and wondered what was going on with Dounia. Eventually we went to bed, and Hamza came home late. He told us that there was a gas leak in Dounia’s home, and everyone in her house was on oxygen in the hospital, including her husband Adil, her mother in-law, and of course her 5-month old son, Joey.

Soukaina, Hamza and I went back to an uneasy sleep. In the morning I woke Souks up to go to school, as I do every day. We had gotten news that Dounia and her family were out of the hospital and back home. When she came home at 11 we went to Dounia’s...a 20-minute walk into the dead-center of the medina. When we got there, we found Joey with both his grandmothers. Latifa couldn’t stop crying when she told me that Dounia was still in the hospital. The house was a flurry of anxiety as Latifa and Latifa (also the name of Adil’s mother) discussed the crisis with the family members who floated in and out of the house.

At around 1:00 we got a call from Adil, saying that Dounia had been released, and a little while later he brought her home.

Dounia and Joey rested upstairs while the rest of us sat in the living room, trying to release the stress we had all felt all day. After the emotional transition from anxiety to relief, we had to remind ourselves to laugh again. It started with Hamouda picking on me. Then with Adil picking on me. Then Adil’s brother (or friend? I’m not quite sure of the relation). Even Adil’s mom was teasing me. (The last time we met I had returned from one of my many trips to apply for residency. I didn’t realize she was in the house, and I had used some of my more “colorful” Arabic to describe my frustration at the residency process.)

Suddenly we were all laughing. A tragedy averted, we remembered once again the important truth: al-hayat zweena. Life is beautiful.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On Where My Time Goes

Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut it, it will cut you. – Moroccan Proverb

The days and weeks are flying by. I’ve already been here two and a half months, and in less than a month I’ll be back in Annapolis for Christmas. I’m not sure where my time is’s about time I take inventory.

Earlier this month I took a trip to Rabat. While there, I spoke to several groups of American students (all studying in Spain, and spending 4 or 5 days in Morocco) about the life of a Fulbright. Each group asked for a run-down of my day-to-day. What’s that? I feel like my life here is full of surprises and entirely out of control. But is it?

When I sit back and think about it, my day-to-day is actually quite consistent. So here is a “typical” day...let’s say Thursday...

At 7:30am my alarm goes off. But, hamdulilah, I don’t have class until the afternoon. When my alarm goes off I wake up Soukaina and tell her to get up and go to school. I always say the same thing:

“Good morning, darling! It’s a beautiful day! Get up and go to school! Study well so you’ll be smart!”

I suppose in a way it's my Arabic paraphrase of how my dad always woke me up: Another day, another chance to excel! But I’m not sure how to say “excel” in Arabic, and I’m not sure if it would come out of my mouth at 7:30am, anyway.

I usually go back to sleep for a bit, then around 9 I have breakfast with Latifa. Every morning she makes me black coffee without sugar. It’s an oddity in Morocco, and a labor of love. If ever I try to leave the house without eating breakfast, Latifa makes me at least drink the coffee she made just for me.

I leave the house around 10:00 or so. The trip to school is always an adventure of sorts. Just around the corner is a group of SHEBAB (young men). They’re always there. I think most of the time they’re nothing but trouble, but they’ve taken a liking to me. They’d defend me to the death if the occasion arose. I smile, say good morning to them, and continue on my way.

As soon as I pass my gang, I trudge up a big hill. Once I’m to the top I snake around a few more corners and find my way out of the medina, saying hello to the 2 community guards that I pass on the way.

Just outside the medina is the BATHA parking lot and a high school, and there are always crowds of students outside. As I swim through the crowd, the shebab (being the diligent students that they are) practice their English while they're hitting on me. Resourceful little devils.

On the other side of the sea of students sit my favorite parking attendants, and I give a wave. Sometimes one of them, HAMZA DIYAL BATHA, joins me on my walk so he can help me fend off 2 of my suitors who are always lurking around Batha.

On my trek through the Batha parking lot I inevitably run into someone I know and exchange niceties for a couple minutes before I finally make it to my 3D taxi. I get dropped off in the middle of town and walk the rest of the way to school.

I spend the next couple of hours in JJ’s. I love that place. I do homework, catch up with other students, chat with the waiters (they’re the only people who laugh at all my Arabic jokes...even if they’re not funny), and drink my Qhwa Americania – American coffee.

From 2-4 I have my Arabic lessson. I have a private tutor, and we work on both Fusha and Darija. The lessons have been wonderful. My teacher is really pushing me, and even just in the past few weeks I feel like both my Darija and my Fusha have improved immensely. Plus, I really enjoy what we do...reading stories and articles, watching controversial Moroccan movies, Islamic cartoons, name it.

After class I go home, eat lunch, play with our new puppy, and then head out for my aerobics of my favorite hobbies in Morocco. It’s been one of the best places to make Moroccan lady friends. I’m one of 3 Americans in the class, and we have anywhere between 15 and 30 Moroccan classmates – all different ages and personalities. For some reason when you get a big group of Moroccan women together, they get hilarious.

In the evenings it’s time to socialize a bit. parties...spending time with other Americans and/or Moroccans...going to Cafés...taking walks...visiting Dounia and Joey...and the like.

And finally I return to my home to hang out with the family, study, read, eat dinner and go to bed.

And that’s a typical Thursday. But other days are different. When I have class in the morning, I tend to spend the whole afternoon visiting Moroccan friends. On weekends I let my conscience be my guide.

But of course, my motto here has to be “Semper Gumby” (another one of my dad’s standards.) Plans change and schedules get messed up and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. In some arenas I feel like I’m not accomplishing nearly as much as I’d like...but in others I feel like I’m accomplishing much more. I’m not doing “research” yet, but I’m getting to know a lot of pretty amazing people. And that's my job, yeah?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Hathi Ghayba

Feen hathi ghayba?

I’m asked this question a lot. It literally translates to “Where is this absence?” But carries the meaning, “Where have you been?”

Every morning I stumble into one of three establishments that serve coffee. Before 10am I can barely speak English, let alone Arabic, but somehow I spit out the words: Qahwa...Kehla...Qasha. Bla sucar. Laikhaleek. Which means, “Coffee...Black...Strong. Without Sugar. Please.”

After the first sip my strong, black, sugarless coffee I perk up a little bit and get chatty. Suddenly whoever gave me the coffee is my new best friend. I start jabbering away in darija and I don’t shut up until I scamper off to class.

But of course, there are days when my schedule doesn’t allow such interaction, and I skip a day at the Cafe. On those days, my coffee people miss me, and the next time I come in I get interrogated on my absence.

Usually I find the “where have you been” question stressful. I never know where I’ve been. I'm always running from one place to another, I never feel like I have enough time with anyone or anything. I always feel like I need to (and want to) spend more time with my Moroccan friends...and with my American friends...and with the Khattabis...and talking to people from back home...and studying...and reading...and traveling. When someone asks where I’ve been, the answer is usually, “I have no idea. But I want to come visit you very soon.”

This week, though, Feen hathi ghayba? has been my favorite question. I went to Rabat last weekend. Even though I was only gone for a couple days (and had a wonderful time), I missed Fez. When I got back, I realized I, too, had been missed. Little brother Hamza, who usually feigns indifference to me, came in my room and said, “Really, Megan...I missed you so much.” It warmed my heart a little bit. Just a little.

And it went right down to the parking attendant in Batha. "Feen hathi ghayba?” He asked me. I told him I had been in Rabat, and he said, “Oh...I was worried that you went back to America and didn’t say goodbye.”

Not to get all cheesy and emotional on you or anything, but starting to be treated like a part of the community is really special. And, of course, if the parking guy were to disappear...I’m pretty sure I’d miss him too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Why Yo-Yo Should Be Proud

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
Yossarian saw it clearly in all its spinning reasonableness. There was an elliptical precision about its perfect pairs of parts that was graceful and shocking, like good modern art, and at times Yossarian wasn’t quite sure that he saw it at all, just the way he was never quite sure about good modern art or the flies Orr saw in Appleby’s eyes. He had Orr’s word to take for the flies in Appleby’s eyes.
-Joseph Heller – Catch-22.

I have an extensive reading list for my time in Morocco. I’m sure some of these books will make me smarter, like one entitled Women, the State, and Political Liberalization: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences. I plan to null these books out with some that are bound to make me dumber, like my sister-in-law’s gift to me: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And of course, there are those few books that simply maintain the status quo of my intellect. Catch-22, in all its brilliant idiocy, does just that.

Catch-22 is a book that I will always associate with Morocco. Last time I was here, Nick and I read passages out loud to each other...or at least we tried. It’s hard to spit out the absurd dialogue while we’re dissolving in uncontrollable laughter. You know, the kind where my face is fire engine red and I’m gasping for air, while tears are running down my face, causing mascara to run into my eyes and making me unable to stop crying for a good long while. The kind of laughter that causes a scene in JJ’s, and makes me deeply regret my inability to translate the inane antics of Yossarian and his gang into something even remotely humorous for Kamal so he can have some idea of why I’ve suddenly gone nuts. That kind of laughter.

I just finished re-reading it. But now the stupidity of Catch-22 is hitting closer to home. It’s probably not the best book to read while applying for residency in Morocco.

Applying for residency is one of the most dreaded escapades of anyone who wants to live here (legally) for more than 3 months. What should be a simple procedure gets tangled in the web of bureaucracy and (dare I say it?) corruption.

They know that we Westerners are into efficiency. This may sound cynical, but I think they purposely send us on wild goose chases just so we will throw up our hands and slip some dirhams into our passports next time we show up at the immigration office.

One of the favored techniques is the good old Catch-22.

To get a Carte de Sejour (residency permit) they tell you that you have to prove financial stability by showing that you have a Moroccan bank account with at least $2000 worth of Moroccan currency. BUT in order to get a Moroccan bank account you have to prove that you have legal long-term residency (i.e. a Carte de Sejour).

That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

This little catch is why I avoided getting residency last time. This time, the fact that I have a notarized letter from MACECE saying that my funds are provided for is supposed to be sufficient in lieu of a bank account.

But, of course, that would be too easy and make too much sense.

The following was my conversation at the police station yesterday. I already gave him my letters of attestacion from my ALIF and MACECE. The MACECE one is clear that my funding is taken care of by the commission. It wasn’t good enough, apparently:

Mean Man: You need to show me proof of a bank account
Me: I don’t have a bank account
Mean Man: How do you support yourself?
Me: My grant pays me every month.
Mean Man: Where do they send the money?
Me: To me
Mean Man: To a bank account?
Me: No. They do a money transfer through the post office.
Mean Man: You need to have a bank account with $2000 worth of local currency.
Me: No I don’t. My money’s taken care of by my grant. That should be enough.
Mean Man: No. You still need a bank account.
Me: No I don’t.
Mean Man: Yes. Come back when you have a bank account.
Me: No. I don’t need one.
This continued for a while...anyone who’s seen the angry and indignant version of me (the one when I start shaking and raising my voice while trying to remain semi-civil) can picture the scene...then the boss came over.
Boss: What’s the problem.
Mean Man: She needs a bank account.
Boss: No she doesn’t.

Defeated, the Mean Man gave me the papers I needed to fill out and told me to come back with one more paper...I question the necessity of this final paper, but it won’t be hard to get. Plus, I don’t need to push the issue. The Mean Man just got owned by a stubborn little white girl.

This one’s for you, Yossarian.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Searching For Karima - Part 2: Babies Bizaf!

News came of a child born into a world of people demented and wild. I will be here for you, my love.

Karima has been located. My second expedition to make contact will commence this Wednesday at 4pm. Inshallah.

My suspicions were correct. My dear friend Karima the seamstress got preggers and reportedly had her baby in August. She closed her shop, but is still working from home. Patti and I are venturing to Ein Sminh later this week to reconnect with her and meet the little one. As of now we're not sure if it's a boy or a girl, but we'll find out soon enough.

I don't even need to say how excited I am to see my dear friend Karima the seamstress. Clearly we have much catching up to do. Again, I'm shocked at how much can happen in 15 months. Last time I was here I didn't really have young people in my life. Soukaina (then 14 years old) was the youngest person I had regular contact with. Somehow, though, it seems like all my friends have had babies in the year and a half that I was away. Now I have babies and toddlers everywhere I turn. Good thing I spent the past year and a half getting used to little people (teaching Sunday School to 2 year olds, hanging out with a 2 year old Iraqi, etc.)

My friends Johnetta (South African) and Fouad (Moroccan) had a little girl in January. She's gorgeous, with big blue eyes and such a pleasant little disposition (despite the fact that she's teething). Some cousins of my Moroccan family have had babies, and they're adorable too. But of course I'm partial to Joey.

Dounia's son Yousef was born in June, and he's precious. Really precious. The name Yousef is the Arabic version of Joseph and from the beginning I decided to call him Joey.

I'm hoping that in the 15 months that I'm here the name Joey will stick. That way, when he's older and people ask him why he goes by Joey, he can say, "When I was a baby there was a really awesome American girl who lived with my family. She called me Joey all the time, and it just stuck."


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On A Different Brand Of Beauty

“We see a lot of beauty. Some becomes ordinary. Mountains and canyons and prairies...sunsets over [the Sahara desert]...” – The Avett Brothers, Letter to A Pretty Girl (with sincere apologies to Mr. Crawford, as well as the Chesapeake Bay).

The past week has been a busy one. I’ve scampering all over the Moroccan countryside.

In the middle of the week we had a mini-retreat for the Fulbrighters in Morocco to touch base with MACECE and see how things have gone one month into the language grant. We went to the Cedar Forest in Azrou, a couple hours’ drive from Fez, and it was a much appreciated break from the smoggy city. The forest struck me as a lovely place for a picnic, and it’s always nice to have a monkey sighting.

And then this weekend I went down to the Sahara with a group from ALIF. This was my third trip to the desert – the first was in October 2007 with the ALIF students of the time, and the second was in February 2008 with 2 dear friends from high school. This trip, like my very first one, was gorgeous and surreal. I have photos that look like cartoons. Blue skies and orange dunes. Berber men in blue JELABAS. Drumming and dancing. Tea and TAGINES. Sunset. Stars. Sunrise. Camels.

The February 2008 trip, on the other hand, was windy and rainy and somewhat miserable weather-wise. We were overcharged and somehow brought the entire Moroccan village with us. For the whole 9 hour car ride into Merzouga, we crammed 4 of us into the backseat of a GRAND TAXI while 2 others (plus the driver) occupied the front. We tried to introduce the wonder of the Avett Brothers to our Moroccan friends but they could listen to us sing Paranoia in Bb Major for precisely 30 seconds before shouting “MAMA AFRICA!” and drowning us out with their banging and chanting.

But really, we had very little to complain about. The lunar eclipse (or two) that we saw will forever be burned into my memory. Despite the unbelievable (and often frustrating) circumstances of the trip, it’s one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. How often do you take a weekend trip to the desert with two of your oldest friends? If that’s not beauty, I don’t know what is.

This weekend I paid close attention to the landscapes on the way back from the Sahara. Incredible. I must have blinked during the transitions, because somehow we went from an expansive desert of nothingness to breathtaking gorges and canyons. Then suddenly we were in the Middle Atlas, braving mountain passes during which I clutched the handle on the door until my knuckles were white. We passed sheep grazing in the pastures. Then we were in the forest. Then we passed the French colonial haven of Ifrane (nicknamed the “Switzerland of Morocco”). And after what seemed like forever, we arrived back in Fez.

Suddenly I was back in my city of trash heaps, donkey poop, and stray cats that look like death. Of construction that seems to systematically eradicate any patch of green left in the city. Of air so thick I should probably chew it before inhaling. It made me seriously question why I chose to live in such a city, and why I love it as much as I do.

Nothing about it is naturally, or even physically beautiful. It’s certainly an aesthetically stimulating city, but its most beautiful aspects have been “corrupted” by tourism and innovation. Every time I take a photo from a roof in the medina I secretly wish that I had the patience to photoshop out all of the hundreds of satellite dishes.

But then I realized that’s where Fez’s beauty lies. (At least it’s what gives my entire project its salience.) It’s the tension that fascinates me: satellite dishes next to MINERATS, donkeys pulling carts full of Coca-Cola, old men in jelabas talking on cell phones while riding motorcycles. This is Fez.

Much like my February trip to the Sahara, its value lies in more than comfort or convenience or cleanliness. It’s in the past and the present. It in my experiences and relationships, and in what I currently can only describe as the insanity of everyday life. It’s in the city’s identity crisis. It’s in the city’s resilience.

The beauty of Fez is not the same as the “natural” beauty of the landscapes of the Middle Atlas. But maybe it’s even more natural. It’s anthropological...cultural...historical...and modern.

This is my city.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On A Jihad Worth Fighting For

One of my favorite little FASSI secrets is what I like to call the 3D TAXI.

Typically a taxi from the Medina to the Ville Nouvelle should cost about 8dh, but if I pick up the taxi at a certain corner, I can get to the VN for 3dh. The same goes for the way back.

Taxis, always in competition with the bus system, will wait until 3 passengers get in, and then drop us all off at the same point in the VN. If you do the math, you’ll see that the cab drivers get 9dh, so everyone wins. Except, of course, the bus drivers. This little scam is not exactly legal, but the police turn a blind eye.

The catch, though, is that sometimes it’s hard to get these taxis. At certain parts of the day (particularly lunchtime on Friday) everyone is trying to get home, including the taxi drivers. People crowd these “special corners” and few drivers will stop to pick us up.

Simple economics of 3d Taxis: Supply goes down, Demand goes up, Price remains constant. Result: chaos and violence.

Last week (on Friday afternoon) I had to throw a couple elbows. In return, someone stepped on my foot. We each ended up getting one of the coveted spots, hamdulilah. When we were safely inside with the doors shut and on our way to Batha (where the Taxi drops me off in the Medina), the foot-crusher apologized profusely and commented on what a struggle it is to get a 3d Taxi on Friday afternoons. Of course, I had to laugh because the word he used for “struggle” was jihad.

On the list of jihads worth fighting, I’m pretty sure a cheap taxi is pretty high up there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Searching For Karima - Part 1

I’ve been a little under the weather for the past week or so, but on Saturday I finally felt well enough to go on my first real adventure since my return to Fez.

Last time I was here I had a dear friend named KARIMA. She’s amazing. (Warning...get ready for a flashback.)

My host sister DOUNIA got married while I was here last time, and I had the honor of attending her wedding. I wanted to have a Moroccan dress called a CAFTAN made for the occasion. An American friend named PATTI told me she knew a seamstress who could use the work, and I was more than happy to exchange my DIRHAMS (Moroccan currency) for her goods and services in the fashion market. I couldn’t tell you why, but for some reason I expected the seamstress to be a frumpy older lady who would grunt at me in darija. I figured I’d just point and nod and hope that whatever she produced would be acceptable attire for Dounia’s wedding.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I have a terrible poker face. Everything that goes through my head is painted right there. And I’m pretty sure my eyes popped out of my head when Karima greeted me at Patti’s house. She wasn’t exactly what I expected.

She was around my age – about 22 at the time, I think – and she was beautiful. Her HIJAB (headscarf) matched her purse and stilettos and she looked so...fashionable. There was also something striking about her demeanor. Something about the way she carried herself demanded respect.

She answered the door at Patti’s house, took me by the hand, and escorted me into the salon. She sat me down and tried to get an idea of what I wanted in my Caftan. I really had no idea. It’s all foreign to me. I just wanted to wear whatever was trendy at the moment. Heaven forbid I be the laughing stock of the wedding when I show up wearing last year’s style.

Karima and I then ventured out to the market where I could look at some models of the “in” fashions and buy the fabric for my own creation. She didn’t speak a word of English, but was so patient to speak to me in Fusha and took such great pleasure in teaching me fashion-specific vocabulary...button, belt, silk, lace, etc.

Eventually we bought the material, and I gave Karima full artistic license. I swear she had a twinkle in her eye when she said, “Ok, come to my shop in a week for a fitting.” things tend to go in Morocco, the dress wasn’t even close to ready in a week. But I went anyway. Over the next few weeks I visited Karima quite often, occasionally for fittings, but mostly to chat. Sometimes we’d leave her shop and go make lunch or listen to music, or hang out with her sister in-law who lives with Karima and her husband. We talked about everything, and the more we talked, the more I admired her. She’s smart and funny and kind...and she thinks critically about everything. I love that.

Finally, after a few weeks my dress was ready. Before showing me the finished product, she warned me that it was a little different. It was certainly still a Moroccan dress, but she customized it a little...just for me. She said she didn’t want anyone else to have a Caftan like mine at the wedding, so she did something funky with the sleeves. She said, “You speak Arabic. You can get around Fez like a Fezzi, But you’re still different. Don’t lose that.”

In short, the dress was beautiful, and Karima is brilliant.

(End Flashback)

I think Karima is one of the most admirable people I’ve met here in Fez. She’s exactly the kind of person I want to write about in my book.

Interview Question #1: “Karima, how did you get so awesome?”
Interview Question #2: “Karima, can you be my best friend?”

I really truly value her friendship. Something about being with her is so edifying, and I need to have people like her in my life. Ever since I’ve been back here, I’ve been wanting to go find her. I don’t have her phone number, and she has no idea I’m back.

Finally this weekend I was able to make the trek out to EIN SMIN – the neighborhood where she lives and works. It’s way way way out on the other side of the city, and there’s really no reason for foreigners to go there ever. Unless, of course you want to hang out with the best seamstress in the world. Most Moroccans give me a funny look when I tell them I’m going there, and when I walk through the neighborhood people just stare at me. I’m sure they’re thinking, “Is she lost??? She must be REALLY lost, because the neighborhood is a good 20 minutes off the main road...”

I didn’t want to take a taxi because it’s so far, and therefore expensive. So I walked. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes. When I got there, Karima’s HANUT (shop) was gone. I couldn’t remember how to get to her house, and I had no idea if she was still around.

I just stood there for a minute, staring at the place where her shop used to be...right next to the elementary school. Everyone was staring at me. I was really disappointed. My whole expedition to find “my dear friend Karima the seamstress” (as I always call her with my Moroccan family) was a complete failure. I got in a cab and went back downtown.

Of course I haven’t given up. Sometime this week I plan to go again and do some sleuthing. I’ll ask the neighbors what happened to her shop and if she still lives in the neighborhood. If that doesn’t work, when Patti returns to Morocco in a couple weeks I’ll see if she has any information on the whereabouts of my dear friend Karima the seamstress.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Colors Out Of Reach

"When I woke up this morning, a rainbow filled the sky. That was God telling me everything's gonna be alright" - G. Love

Photo taken on the roof of Cafe Clock. With my laptop. (I didn't have a camera.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

On The Bright Side Of Minor Failures

"If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!" - William Strunk, Jr

In my sophomore year at Wheaton, my International Relations Theory professor, David Lumsdaine, always stressed this quote. “Because," he said, “'truth arises more readily from error than from confusion.'” (This time he was quoting Francis Bacon).

Oh, how true. And I think Strunk’s words are particularly applicable when learning a new language.

There are certain words in darija that I hate. There are combinations of letters that are difficult for me to say, or sometimes there are words in which I tend to invert the letters and say something completely different. These words stress me out, so I usually cheat. I find a synonym or use the fusha word and I don’t have to worry about it.

But, of course, this is no way to learn a language. Yesterday I decided that I’d really try to embrace the words I hate.

The darija phrase for “goodnight” (tsbah ala khaiyr) gives me trouble. I hate that H at the end of tsbah. Typically I’d work around it with other phrases: layla sa’ida (in Fusha), ahlam halwa (sweet dreams), etc.

But last night I decided to practice. Soukaina and I said goodnight to each other about a thousand times...

Me: Tsabhi ala khaiyr! (Goodnight!...the vowels change when speaking to a female, FYI)
Souks: Heta anti! Tsabhi ala khaiyr! (You too! Goodnight)
Me: Heta anti! Tsabhi ala khaiyr! (You too! Goodnight!)
Souks: Heta anti! Tsabhi ala khaiyr! (You too! Goodnight!)

An on we went. Thanks to my silliness with Souks I’m feeling good about “goodnight.”

This morning, however, my new resolution to “say it loud” didn’t go quite so smoothly.

On my break between classes I was at Cafe Jawhara (more fondly known as JJ’S), grabbing a quick breakfast and doing homework. I didn’t know what a word meant, so I asked one of the waiters, and he told me in fusha. A few minutes later the other waiter, KAMAL DIYAL JJ'S came by. Kamal was one of the first people I met in Fez last time, and he’s watched my linguistic transformation from miming everything, to using scattered Arabic words here and there, to being fully conversational in Fusha.

When the other waiter told Kamal that he helped me with a word, Kamal was amused that I’m starting over with a new language and asking lots of questions like old times. So he laughed.

At that point I decided to use another one of my dreaded words: dhak....the verb "to laugh." The conjugation is easy in fusha but killer in darija. I wanted to say to Kamal, “alash ktdahik alaya??” (why are you laughing at me??) But with so many consonants in a row I couldn't help but get tongue-tied.

I ended up basically saying, “Why are you l-l-l-laughing at me?”

So of course he laughed more and more. My face turned like a tomato, so I buried it in my hands and said, “ba’d minni!” – “Leave me alone!!”

He kept laughing as he walked away. A few minutes later he was back, looking over my shoulder as I wrote. I gave him my “be careful” look, and he said, “Ma kndhaksh!” – “I’m not laughing!”

But he still had a huge grin on his face. He was laughing on the inside, and I knew it.

But I suppose there's a bright side to all of this. People seem to really enjoy teasing me whenever I fail miserably at pronouncing something. They find something endearing about the fact that I can't pronounce words with 17 consonants in a row.

I guess I'm adorable.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Talking Like A Teenager

I love learning languages. Every time I try out a new word or phrase and someone understands me, it feels a little bit like magic.

Last time I was here in Fez I studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA, or FUSHA) for 9 months. This is the brand of Arabic that is used in news and politics and is at least understood, if not spoken, by literate people across the Arab world. It falls somewhere between Quranic Arabic and the spoken dialects. I focused on Fusha last time because of the breadth of its usefulness. This time around, however, I have the pleasure of learning DARIJA, the Moroccan dialect.

Each country, and sometimes even different cities within the same country have their own dialects of Arabic. The dialects of the Gulf region and the actual Middle East tend to be closest to Fusha while those of North Africa tend to be quite different. The Moroccan dialect is very very different. The difference between them seems to be similar to the difference between Castillian Spanish and Catalan, although I don’t know enough Catalan to say that with any confidence.

I’m very happy to have received a language grant. Because Moroccan Arabic is so different from the standard, many Moroccans – especially the illiterate – do not speak or understand Fusha. Even when people understand, it takes quite a bit of patience for them to speak it. More often than not, my friends start out speaking to me in Fusha, but they get bored quickly. They switch to their mother tongue of Darija, and it’s much more of a struggle for me to understand.

As a linguistics nerd, I love Fusha. It is a beautiful, rich language. But Darija has a beauty of its own. My host family watches soap operas from all over the world, dubbed into Arabic. Most of the time they’re in Egyptian, Syrian or Lebanese Arabic, and occasionally in Moroccan. But MARA MARA (from time to time), we’ll get a soap in Fusha. I was really excited to watch these, since I understand them. But I hate it. Not only because they’re really dumb shows that rot my brains out aside from the linguistic benefits, but because soap operas just don’t work in Fusha. Because it’s not a mother tongue, it’s unnatural and so hard to convey any sort of real emotion

SOUKAINA, my 16 year-old host sister, is a feisty little thing. Everything she says in Darija is dripping with passion. Whether she’s happy or sad or angry doesn’t matter. Every word that comes out of her mouth is beautiful. I want to talk like her.

SHWIA BI SHWIA (little by little) I’m learning to speak Arabic like a teenager with an attitude.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On The World's Best Harira

I suppose it’s time for that obligatory post about Ramadan in Morocco. This is my second Moroccan Ramadan, but the first time I’ve spent it with a Moroccan family. As a non-fasting non-Muslim, I’d have to say that Ramadan is a terrible time to be in Morocco. And also a wonderful one.

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in Islam. From crescent moon to crescent moon Muslims fast from daybreak (around 4:30am this year) to sunset (around 6:40pm). Everyone in Morocco fasts. Even people who aren’t particularly religious the rest of the year take the fast pretty seriously. All the cafes and restaurants are closed (except Cafe Clock, HAMDULILAH), and it’s illegal to eat or drink in public. Everyone on the roads drives like a maniac – people generally attribute this to nicotine deprivation. It’s certainly not the most pleasant time to come for a holiday in Fez.

At around 6:40pm a cannon fires to mark sundown and time to break the fast. That’s when the party starts, with a meal called “Iftar”. Traditionally, you break the fast by eating a date. Then a homemade fruit juice. Sometimes it’s water-based (orange juice, tangerine, grape, mango) and sometimes it’s milk-based (banana, apple, avocado) but always it’s delicious. Then comes my favorite – harira!

Harira is a tomato-based soup with meat, chickpeas, cilantro, noodly things, lentils, all sorts of spices and whatever else that particular family decides to put in it. Every Moroccan thinks that his mom makes the best Harira in the world. But seriously...Latifa (my host mom) really does make the best. Really. I’ve had a lot of good Hariras, but not one of them comes even close to Latifa’s. We’ve eaten it every single night that I’ve been here (because that’s what you do in Ramadan) and I look forward to it every single time.

After Iftar we have tea and pastries. Then it’s time to take a nap, to pray, to watch ridiculous Moroccan Ramadan sitcoms, or to go out for a bit. In Fez, the city usually shuts down around 9pm...very few people stay out late. But at night during Ramadan the streets are always bustling. Sometimes I’ve gone with the family to see friends and relatives, and other times I’ve gone out with Hamouda and/or Soukaina (host brother and sister) to a cafe, or just to meet up with some American friends. Tonight I’m staying in to study and blog. You’re welcome.

Then around 12:30 or 1am we eat again. This time it’s a proper dinner. The food is wonderful but my eating capabilities are somewhat diminished by then. I’m not allowed to go to bed until after dinner, though. In a lot of families they wake up around 4am for another meal called Sahour. They eat and eat until they hear the daybreak call to prayer which marks the beginning of the fasting day. My family doesn't do that though, hamdulilah.

I’m not fasting, but by default I don’t eat a whole lot during the day. I get so much food at night that I’m not hungry until about 3pm...and by then I know that I’m going to have Iftar in a couple hours so eating’s not such a good idea. I’ve been getting by on water and coffee until it’s time to break the fast.

Ramadan ends on Sunday or Monday. When it’s over there’s a big eid (a feast). I’m not sure how that’s going to be, but I’m looking forward to spending it with the family. I can’t say that I’m gonna miss Ramadan a whole lot. I’m really looking forward to being able to sit in a cafe for hours every day. As long as Latifa still makes Harira from time to time I think I’ll be ok with saying BISLAMA to Ramadan.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Variables and Constants

Things change and get strange with the movement of time...

My first few days in Morocco were spent in Rabat, attending lectures and Embassy gatherings. Not a bad start, I’d say, but by the third day (ok, actually by the end of the first) I was extremely antsy and ready to get home to Fez.

For the past couple months I’ve been gearing up for the new version of Fez. I realized that my entire Fassi experience depended on a thousand factors that all met together in one moment. It was based on the convergence of very particular people in a very particular place at a very particular time. I knew that, for better or worse, the Fez that I would come back to would not be the same place it was 2 years ago, when our Ramadan evenings were spent on the roof of the ALIF Villa, watching the Office and drinking scotch. I decided I had to prepare myself for “New Fez” – the version of Fez that an older (wiser?) version of me would experience with a (mostly) new cast of characters.

And finally, I’m here. Fez is visibly changing, and some of the people I once knew here have moved on to other places. But some things will never change.

I’ve been noticing strange little things – like how my feet make the same shuffling sound when I’m climbing the twisted stairway to the apartment. The Khattabis’ apartment has a new look (new furniture, etc.) but smells exactly the same as it did before. I’m not talking about the smell of whatever is cooking in the kitchen – just how every home has a unique scent. I’m not sure how to describe it– but it smells like Khattabi.

Soukaina is my host sister. She was 14 when I left, and now she just turned 16. I hate saying things like this, but all I could think when I saw her is “my, how you’ve grown!” She’s so grown up now – and quite stunning. But I was very relieved when her older brother was picking on her, and she snapped back with the same spitfire quality that I’ve always loved about her. No matter what she says, she makes Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) sound so beautiful.

I’m happy here. It’s so so nice to be back with the Khattabis. Things are definitely different this time around, but maybe the most important thing that hasn’t changed is that I still feel very much at home.

Friday, September 4, 2009

On Hanging Out and Storytelling

So, uh, what exactly are you doing in Morocco?

The answer will depend on my mood.

The formal answer: "Conducting field research for a book on cultural change and the role of women in Moroccan society."

My real-world translation: "Hanging out and storytelling."

For the next year (or so) I'll be in Fez meeting women and finding out who they are...what makes them tick...their hobbies...their interests...their fears...their histories...their dreams...the role they play in their family and society...the basis on which they make decisions. I want to know them.

I don't want to do in-and-out interviews. Instead, I want to hang out with them...drink tea with them...go shopping with them...cook with with them. I want to have friends and to be a friend.

These women (inshallah) will come from different backgrounds...different parts of the city...different socio-economic statuses...different levels of education, ages and occupations. They'll reflect (to some degree) the diversity among women in Fez...and there is much of it.

And then I'll tell their stories.

I'm writing a book of which each chapter will be a portrait and will tell the story of one woman...who she is, how she got that way, and how that plays out in her life. I'll include 10-15 women in the book. I fully expect that the stories will speak for themselves and highlight shifts and tensions in Moroccan culture, without much prodding.

I really don't have a political agenda. Based on relationships that I've made in Morocco previously, I have some hypotheses of what I'll find, but I don't want to spin anything. I'm going for truth through simplicity. Of course, I myself can't be removed from the picture. These stories will be told through the blue eyes of a young single Christian American woman. Anyone who claims they can be an unbiased writer by ignoring who they are or where they come from is either lying or delusional. I have to call it like I see it.

So that's the general gist of it. The first 3 months will be all Arabic language study. I'll basically be doing the same thing I did last time I was there, only this time the government is footing the bill. I'm ok with that.

In December I'll be turned loose on the city of Fez. Oh geeeeeeez...

Monday, August 31, 2009

On Straddling Time Zones

“One foot in and one foot back. But it don’t pay to live like that. So I’ll cut the ties and jump the tracks, for never to return” – The Avett Brothers (I and Love and You)

6 days until take-off. What??

I’m not quite sure where the summer’s gone. Just a minute ago I was sulking at the prospect of having to waste 2 months in Annapolis before my departure. Then I found myself saying “Don’t worry, I still have 3 weeks” to friends when the dark clouds of goodbye began looming in the distance. Now I have less than a week with so much to do and so much to say.

The truth is, though, I’ve been straddling time zones for quite some time. I am a planner, and that tends to work out for me pretty well in America. I get things done. But somehow in Morocco my plans can’t help but be thwarted. Appointments are never kept (at least not on time), deadlines are rarely met, and to-do lists don’t seem to exist. All plans are tempered by INSHALLAH...”If God Wills It.”

Ironically, the laid-back culture stresses me out. Paperwork moves slowly – so slowly. (For example, I wasn’t an “official” Fulbrighter until 2 days ago). When I stress about things in Morocco, generally the answer I get is “’ll all work out, inshallah.” And it does, I guess.

But somehow trying to plan for Morocco from America through Morocco with Americans is enough to make me a crazy person. It certainly has. Last week I spent several days with my sister in-law at their new home on the beach in North Carolina. I think those days charged me with enough sanity to make it through the next week of packing and planning. I may be out of sanity by the time I get to Casablanca next Monday morning, but by then who cares? I'll slip back into the inshallah version of myself and everything will be fine...inshallah.

In the next few days I’ll post again. I understand some of you may not know why I’m going back to Maroc, or what my project is, so I’ll spell that out in detail. It’s something I’m quite excited about, and I’m really looking forward to sharing my research with you as the months go by. I promise the posts will pick up once I’m on site.

I’m also adding some new things to the column on the right. One will be a glossary of Arabic phrases and culture-specific terms. The first time I use them they’ll be written like THIS (note “Inshallah” above) with a brief explanation. Any time after that, they’ll probably be italicized, but the explanation will be in the glossary, in case you would like to refresh your memory.

Most likely I’ll also add a cast list, for some of the more significant characters that I meet. That way you can easily distinguish Hamouda from Hamada, for example.

And now up I go into the attic to find some large suitcases...


Saturday, June 27, 2009

On breathing easy

Since being notified of my grant, there was just one more hurdle to be cleared – medical clearance. The rational version of me wasn’t worried about it, but paranoia started eating away at me. I figured the only thing that could possibly hold me back was Tuberculosis. 21st century America doesn’t tend to be too concerned with TB but I thought it would be so poetically tragic if I somehow contracted it and had my grant taken away. My paranoia was irrational, but not completely unfounded, thanks to brother’s recent run-in with TB.

But, hamdulilah, my lungs are officially Tuberculin free. The paperwork hasn’t made it to the authorities yet, but things are looking good for an early September departure. Last week I attended a 3-day orientation. I found out that I will probably not get an additional language grant (LAME!!) but that a nice-sized language allowance is included in my research grant itself, so I’ll be able to take some classes in the Moroccan dialect – with the shwia’s and the bizaf’s and the lack of vowels.

The orientation made me antsy to get going. Just hearing words like “wakha” (which means “okay” in Moroccan), and hearing people flow from English to Moroccan to English to French all in the same sentence made me nostalgic for my other home.

I’ll probably go back and live with the Khattabis (my old host family) for a bit. The oldest daughter, Dounia had her first son a week ago. I can’t wait to see the little guy. I expect that they'll be my home base until I find an apartment, hopefully in the same part of the Medina.

Suddenly I feel like the next 2 months before I leave will be very long. I have an extensive reading list in preparation for my research, but I’m starting to get jittery. At least now that I know I don’t have Tuberculosis I can breathe easy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On my reason for blogging

I had a blog in high school and my early college years. At its prime it captured the way the 16-year-old version of myself looked at the world. Most of it is pretty silly - I'm not 16 anymore and I’m hardly amused by the things that seemed so adventurous then. I chronicled the days of getting hopelessly lost with Miss Margie Bennington (before the days of GPS), my narrow escapes with police officers (my driving has much improved since then), and the day-to-day life of a light-hearted, if rather sarcastic high school student.

The blog continued into college, but eventually fizzled out. I always attributed this to the fact that college life was mundane and I ran out of material. This doesn't seem to make sense, though, since my life in high school wasn't particularly flashy either. I think the real problem is that I realized that my audience was much bigger than I thought. Periodically throughout my freshman year I would meet people, and they'd say "Hey! You're MegPav! I read your blog all the time!" This always creeped me out a little, and in the end had an adverse effect on my blogging. I became too conscious of my audience and my writing lost its freshness. I abandoned the blog during my sophomore year, resurrecting it once every 6 months or so, only so I wouldn't forget particular anecdotes that I hold dear for some bizarre reason or another.

I tried to blog during my first stint in Morocco, but got bored with it pretty fast. I was drinking from the fire hose, and all attempts to communicate that failed miserably, so I gave that one up too, and poured my thoughts into emails to my family and friends. Occasionally I search through my gmail archives to remember the details of a long-lost anecdote. A recent exploration of past emails reminded me of the "Cheese Man" - my black market booze vendor during Ramadan. Other times the emails help me remember emotions I felt at the time, rather than the emotions that I impose on the situation in retrospect. Fez is now so familiar to me, I feel like I'm going home. But going back through my emails I remember how miserable I was my first couple of days. It was hell-hot, and I was lonely, and desperate to find an English-speaking friend - enter "Padre," an American friend of a friend, with his side-kicks Jack Bauer and Flag Especial.

I have been mostly content with my gmail archives as the primary storage for my memories, mostly because I didn’t see any need for them to be public. But now I do...

I feel a little bit like Huck Finn, who was so profoundly changed by his time with the Grangerfords, but when he got on his raft he left them forever. They never came back into his life – they were just a blip – but they were a blip worth recording. Without them, it's hard to fully understand why Huck changed in the ways that he did. I feel the same way about the people, places and things (nouns in general) that I encountered in Morocco the first time around.

There are a handful of people who had an enormous impact on me while I was there. I consider some of them among the most important people in my life. But most of them I will probably never see again for any extended period of time. I don't want to forget these blips, and I want to make known how I have been impacted by them. I think it will help other people understand me.

This blog will primarily be to record my newest adventures, and the newest characters in my life. But I wouldn't be surprised if nostalgic posts about people from my previous life in Morocco appear from time to time. After all, how can I visit the cheese man without thinking of Aaron Sakulich? How can I barbecue on a rooftop and not be reminded of John, Robert, Drew, Megan, Erica and others? How can I sit at a cafe for hours on end and not feel a tug on my heart for Nicholas Heuer, my partner in all sorts of crime? I hope, despite my failed attempt at blogging last time around, that these characters can be immortalized in this new one.

You’re all relieved, I’m sure, to see that I’ve progressed beyond the pepto-bismol color scheme of my high school blog. I hope to entertain, because God knows that I have a knack for getting myself into predicaments in Morocco. If it will be funny later, it’s funny now, so I’ll do my best to share my awkward culturally confusing misadventures. Beyond that, it’s a mystery what will pop up here. But stay tuned because things will no doubt get interesting.