Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Napkin Therapy

It’s been a long day. I’m tired and grumpy. Around 10pm I get out of a taxi in Batha and hesitate for a minute. Do I go home, go to straight to bed, and hope that tomorrow will be a bit more encouraging? Or do I go elsewhere in search of a little reminder of why I love living here?

Then the CHEERS theme song starts playing in my head:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you got...
Got that right.

Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot...

Yeah...but how?

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go...
By this time, I’m already halfway to the one place in the world...

Where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

Now I’m on TALAA KBIRA, one of the medina’s main drags, speeding my way through the souk that’s just starting to close. I turn left into a little alley. At the end of the alley is a door. The theme song is finishing...

You wanna go where people know that people are all the same. You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

I make my entrance accompanied by applause from the live studio audience in my head.

“Alright,” I say, “Who’s got some napkins for me?”


is my Cheers.

I first went to Clock in late 2007, a few days after it opened. Some friends talked me into trying the Camel Burger. Mike Richardson, the British mastermind behind the café, greeted us at the door and encouraged us to enjoy our lunch on the roof. The second I went up there I fell in love. I was an instant regular.

At my favorite table at Clock, January 2008

When I returned to Morocco last fall the café had grown. Mike bought the house next door to expand the terrace and to add a cooking school. Clock now hosts art exhibitions, and coordinates classes in all sorts of arts – Moroccan and otherwise. They have weekly concerts, and throughout the week all the guitar players in Fez (it seems) come to jam together. The café has become a social hub that brings together local Moroccans, expats, and tourists passing through. Everyone talks to everyone else. It’s Fez’s very own melting pot. Somehow in 3 years this café has become an indispensible part of the cultural climate of a 1200-year-old city. Bravo, Mike.

Tango lessons with some Clock people - note the photography and calligraphy exhibition

Clock is an anthropological goldmine. Everyone I meet there constantly challenges my ideas about globalization and blended cultural identity, two focal points of my research. The very existence of a place like Clock, with its mingling of cultures, blurs lines and exposes modern Moroccan culture for what it is – complex. The interactions that take place at Clock speak volumes about how young people are navigating these cultural complexities, often without even realizing it.

Abdul, the resident flamenco guitarist, playing on the terrace

But I’m not always “on the clock” as a researcher. In fact, I’m usually part of the sample. I go to Clock because it’s a little haven. Because the plurality of cultures contained in that one little house in the Medina allows me to be as Western as I want to be and not be judged for it. In Morocco, Clock is the one public place where I’m very simply myself. I make myself at home. I laugh and dance. And I’m kind of a goofball.

Fati, Me, and Sis, goofing off at Clock

It’s this “myselfness” at Clock that has been the basis for some very close friendships. The regulars, and especially the staff, are some of my favorite people in the world. On days when I need a laugh, or just to be reminded that there are people here who know me, Clock is a sure bet.


AJ sets a pile of napkins on a table for me, and I start folding. Closing time is my favorite time. The kitchen is closed, the bar is closing, and clients are trickling out. I stick around to help fold napkins for the next day. The mindless repetition of folding napkin after napkin is soothing and therapeutic. The best conversations happen over a pile of Café Clock napkins. Whatever it was that made my day rough is soon forgotten as I talk and laugh and fold napkins in my very own Moroccan “Cheers.” I walk home happy.

Me and AJ at closing time, folding and laughing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Winning Grandma's Favor

Latifa’s mother, whom I call LALLA was the first to treat me like a part of the family. One night way back in 2008 she asked me to do the dishes after dinner. I'll never forget that night, because that’s when I knew I was in...accepted. The rest of the family soon followed suit. Except for the other grandma.

Said’s mother, MIMA, has taken the entire two-and-a-half years of our acquaintance to warm up to me. She is extremely critical (to my face), and has never really understood why the family keeps me around. Whenever she came around I’d always ask Latifa, “Is she going to be nice to me this time?” The answer was always “probably not” so I mustered my very best good-humoredness and settled into an afternoon of listening to why I will never find someone to marry me.

For the past couple weeks Mima has been staying with the family. I’ve been going there a lot too, spending as much time with them as possible before I leave. Slowly but surely Mima and I have been growing on each other. I greet her with kisses when I enter the room. I ask about her health. I listen to her recite Moroccan proverbs, which I really enjoy. I win points when I help Latifa in the kitchen or clear the table and do dishes after dinner. But the real test came yesterday.

After lunch Mima asked Soukaina to make tea. Unfortunately, Souks was about to leave for school. Mima then asked if “the girl” knows how to make tea. That means me. I told her I’d be happy to make it. The rest of the family tried to dissuade me: “Are you sure you want to do this...make tea for Mima?” I knew that if she didn’t like it, she’d say so. We’d have to take the tea back to the kitchen, and Latifa or Dounia would have to remake it...correctly. But I was determined.

There’s more to making Moroccan mint tea than boiling some water and pouring it over a tea bag. It’s a process. And if I messed it up, I’d never have a chance to win Mima’s good favor. I was nervous. Can you blame me?

I went to the kitchen and started the kettle boiling. While the water boiled I got out the B'RED. It’s not just a teapot. It’s a b’red.

I put 2 scoops of tea hboub – loose green tea “seeds” – into the b’red. Once the water was boiling in the kettle I poured it over the tea. I turned down the flame and put the b’red on it. Once the tea had boiled a little bit I added the sugar – 4.5 scoops – and let it boil again. Finally, the mint. I added the mint at the very end, to infuse it into the tea without burning it.

Then I prayed.

I carried the b’red on a tray with 6 small tea glasses and set it on the table. I sat on the couch and poured, lifting the b’red up high as I poured the hot tea into each glass. I’m not sure why you do that, but that’s just how you pour tea. Everyone watched silently. They were nervous for me, which made me even more nervous.

I distributed the glasses to Mima, Latifa, Dounia, and Hamza. They all held their breath for me as Mima took her first sip. “That’s it,” she said.

It was as it should be. Success.

“It’s masous,” Dounia said, meaning not sweet enough.

I almost got whiplash when I snapped my head around to shoot her a look of death. She winked at me.

“No it’s not!” Mima defended my tea, “it’s exactly right.”

The rest of the family exchanged congratulatory smiles for me. I was glowing.

“You just might find a husband after all.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

On My Mosaic

Fez is home.

I know the best shortcuts through the medina’s serpentine alleys and derbs. I know the best places to get a deep-fried mashed potato sandwich (called MACOUDA) in the Medina, the Ville Nouvelle and Fez Jdid. I know everyone, and everyone knows me – shop owners and cafe regulars and bus attendants. This month a taxi driver said, “I remember you! How’s your research?” and another one said, “I remember you! I asked you to marry me once!” And the few people who don’t know me somehow know that I belong.

My nationality is becoming increasingly ambiguous. Every day I hear people in the streets arguing over whether I’m Moroccan or gauria. Most commonly it’s when I pass a couple of shebab in the street, and one starts to make some sort of creepy comment in French, Spanish or English. The other looks at him like he’s an idiot “La, la akhoya! Maghrbia, hadi!” ("No, no, brother...This girl’s Moroccan!") Regardless of whether the “realization” that I’m Moroccan is followed by some respect or by simply another pickup line in Arabic, it makes my day. Every time.

I’m not sure what it is that makes me seem more and more Moroccan to people who have never seen me before. My appearance – very white, blue-eyed, dressing in unmistakably American style – should be a dead give-away. But I think there’s something else in play – some sort of intangible sense that I belong here. That’s not to say that I “fit in” in the typical sense, but I’ve carved a place in Fessi society and snuggled into it. I fit like a ZILEJ tile in a perfectly planned Fessi mosaic.

(Photo by JKP)

For the past couple months the thought of leaving this place – which will happen in 6 weeks – has seemed absolutely tragic. How can I leave this city that I’ve worked so hard to make my home? How can I remove myself from this master-crafted mosaic?

Then, I remember...

I want to. And I need to. America is home, too.

David Byrne and the Talking Heads said it best:

Home – it’s where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there.

I think I’ve unwittingly condemned myself to a life of perpetual homesickness, whether I'm here or there. But the glass-half-full side of the matter is that I’m leaving home to go home.

And I’ve been thinking about that mosaic. Maybe I had it backwards. Maybe it’s not that I’m a tile in this mosaic of Fez. Maybe, instead, Fez is a tile in the mosaic of my life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Reporting From The Yellow Brick Road

A year ago Soukaina armed herself with a flat iron and set about the task of straightening my curls. My hair was quite long at the time and the process took ages, but was always a welcome opportunity to shut ourselves in our shared bedroom and have some time for just the two of us. As she struggled to beat my curls into submission, Soukaina hummed along to the tracks of The Avett Brothers’ album “I and Love and You” which had just been released and was constantly playing in our room. She took a particular liking to the song "Tin Man" and I began to translate it for her.

You can’t be like me, but be happy that you can’t. I see pain but I don’t feel it, I am like the old Tin Man.

Her blank stare betrayed to me that she had no idea who the Tin Man was. Geeeeeeeez....

I had to backtrack into composing an Arabic summary of The Wizard of Oz, just so she’d understand who the Tin Man is and his significance in American culture. Only then could I translate the song with any real meaning. That’s a lot of mental energy to expend while she’s tugging on my hair, which will never go quite straight.


Two weeks ago Soukaina and I took a walk with our friend Kelsey, an American student who was staying with the Khattabis for a few weeks. Not far from the house we passed an alley where a man was tying an enormous TV onto the back of a donkey. Soukaina and I barely noticed until Kelsey mused, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

I translated: Ma baqinach f Kansas. I sighed. Another Wizard of Oz quote, lost in translation.

But I had to laugh when I remembered the last time I had used that phrase myself – in Tel Aviv, commenting on recycling bins, mini skirts and enforced traffic laws. In that case, “Kansas” was Morocco. Weird.


Yesterday Soukaina and I had a date. I took her to a showing of The Wizard of Oz, followed by a discussion with Moroccan students of English at the University and at the American Center. Soukaina, who has just started to take English lessons, was excited to see other students and their engagement with American culture as part of their language studies.

Watching The Wizard of Oz in that context – in Morocco, with Moroccans – was like watching it with new eyes. Naturally, I had my own research in mind as Glinda explained to Dorothy that she could have gone home any time she wanted. But before that she just needed to explore, adventure, ask questions, fall down, and learn things for herself. It was through the journey and adventure in Oz that she (along with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) developed her character and found the strength to stand up for herself and for her friends (and her little dog, too) in the face of injustice. Glinda gave Dorothy instructions – follow the Yellow Brick Road – but didn’t hold her hand every step of the way. Dorothy had to figure some things out on her own.

What a beautiful metaphor for my research! Young women developing their characters by adventuring beyond the world they know, where they’re not taken seriously and are – as yesterday’s discussion facilitator described the black-and-white Dorothy - “ignorable.” But the girls in my book, who foray into a complex world of color, excitement, adventure, danger, good, and evil, do not do so randomly or aimlessly. They’re guided by something bigger than them: tradition, values, family, truth...the Yellow Brick Road. It's this anchored independence that takes Dorothy and my girls out of the realm of "ignorable" and makes them heroines.


And of course, as I'll explain in my next post, one other idea from the movie struck me hard yesterday...

“There’s No Place Like Home”

Monday, September 27, 2010

On Work and Play

It’s been 2 months since my last the day. I have a series of excuses I could make, but my dad told me something about excuses once...ahem...the crux of it is that they all stink.

So, a quick, excuseless recap...

Ramadan (the Muslim holy month of fasting) took up most of August. For various reasons I decided to fast with my Muslim friends the whole month, so from about 4am until 7pm I didn’t eat or drink – water included (except for Sundays, when I ate with my church). The days were long and hot, physically draining and emotionally trying. As expected, research productivity dwindled as my interviewees made themselves unavailable and I myself wanted to do little more than lie around all day, conserving energy and not dealing with people who might annoy me when I was hungry and irritable. When I walked about the city I pretended to be Bear Grylls (from the show Man vs. Wild), doing all I could to prevent sweating and to preserve hydration. I walked in whatever shadows I could find and curbed my natural tendency to power-walk everywhere. It was of little use though, as the intense, dry August heat always got the best of my survival tactics. Water was the first thing I reached for when the sun set.

I began Arabic classes again as a way to maintain some level of productivity even though my interviews were lacking during the month. Getting through 2 hours of class every morning while I was undernourished and sleep deprived was certainly a strain, but I made it through and have, in fact, seen a significant improvement in my Media Arabic.

But as miserable as the days were, I already miss the Ramadan nights. The famous Moroccan hospitality was at its best, as I was invited to FTOUR (the meal to break the fast) at some family’s house almost every night. (For the record, I still think Latifa has THE WORLD'S BEST HARIRA.) In the evenings after ftour the streets came alive, something that only happens in Fez during Ramadan and the Sacred Music Festival (in June). For once, it was safe to walk around until about midnight, as families went for strolls all over the medina. I filled the evenings with guitar jam sessions on the roofs of several different cafes, going out for walks with friends and their families, taking Soukaina out to the fair, or simply staying in, watching sitcoms and Ramadan specials. And, of course, eating.

Ramadan ended on September 10, and since then it’s been a massive return to productivity. Interviews have resumed, and my calendar is full of classes and research-related appointments. Most of my otherwise free time is spent writing and writing and writing.

But we know what Benny Franklin says about all work and no play, so lest you worry that I’m becoming a dull girl, some photographic evidence to the contrary:

(Why yes, indeed, I did tour Morocco’s winey-est winery last weekend.)


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On The Words Of An Uneasy Writer

It just occurred to me that the title of my blog: Musings of an Uneasy Writer, as well as the tagline: Ten Thousand Words could do with a bit of explanation. Since interviews are moving at summer pace (meaning it’s a thousand degrees in the shade and no one wants to do anything), I’m focusing on reading, writing, and catching up on some blogging. It seems like a good time to explain my header a bit.

Both the title and tagline are references to songs by The Avett Brothers, far and away my favorite band of all time. The Avetts (consisting of brothers Scott and Seth Avett, plus Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon) are very important to me, especially while I’m over here. For one thing, they make me feel at home. I will never be able to dissociate the Avetts from my whole family. It’s truly amazing how my mother, father, brother, sister and I can all bond so strongly over a single band. Whether we travel together to concerts, listen to new albums together, or get in arguments over interpretations of certain songs (especially The Ballad of Love and Hate, which I tend to re-interpret annually as my understanding and experience of both Love and Hate change), the Avetts have been a uniquely unifying influence in our family life.

The other reason the Brothers are so meaningful to me is that their playlist can dispense advice as a good friend, with nuance covering the spectrum of emotions and situations in life. It allows a temporary indulgence in "negative" emotions such as bitterness, anger, or revenge...then gently steers me back to a more balanced view on life, with wisdom and simple but profound honesty that are hard to come by.

The title of this blog references the alternate title of an Avett song called Denouncing November Blue (Uneasy Writer) off the Avett’s 2006 album, Four Thieves Gone. In the song (which is itself a take-off of the Charlie Daniels song “Uneasy Rider”), the narrator denounces a previous Avett Song called (you guessed it) November Blue. The original song (from the 2002 album Country Was) laments the fading of a summer love that is “bit by the cold of December, falling like the leaves.”

The denouncement of this song is clear in the Uneasy Writer’s opening lines:

November came and went like the summer that I spent with a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes. I returned to my home with a heart part made of stone, and cried all night for a girl I never knew.

The rest of the song (“Denouncing,” that is) tells the story of what happened next. The narrator saw much, experienced much, and wrote several books, including:

Being a Free Man
People Don’t Know Nothin’ (No Matter What They Tell Ya)
Life in Prison: Volume 1

In a way, I guess that’s what I see myself doing at the moment. I’m striking out into the world, seeing people, places and things, and trying to write about them. I hope that the people I meet and the things I experience will eventually materialize into a coherent book (preferably not a single volume called “Life in Prison,” since a Moroccan prison is the last place I’d like to be). But at the moment, this blog is simply the haphazard musings of an Uneasy Writer.

Now onto the tagline...Ten Thousand Words...

A song with the same name is included on the Avetts’ most recent album, I and Love and You (2009). The song speaks to the importance of words and how we use them.

Aint it like most people, I’m no different. We love to talk on things we don’t know about.

As a writer, a linguist, and a human being, I’d have to say that words are a pretty important part of my life. How I use them matters. And what shall I use them for?

Truth, apparently.

That’s something that an Uneasy Writer can always be reminded of in a world where “there are no lines separating the truth from the lies.” (And It Spread). In my research, my writing, my blogging, and my life, the purpose of words is to convey TRUTH. I don’t want to forget that.

The songs that the Avett Brothers write are oozing with unpretentious truth. If I can write a book like they write music, I might be in good shape.

November came and went,
Like the summer that I spent
With a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes.
I returned to my home
With a heart part made of stone,
And I cried all night for a girl I never knew.
From the east it comes,
Her love and the rising sun,
And I pray each time they come it's not the last.
You see, I've gotten strong,
I made it through what came along,
But I can't move on for the beauty of the past.

I came across a pretty girl,
For about a month she was my world,
And I held her hand, and swore we'd never part.
I moved on, she stayed behind,
I said I'd call, she said she'd write,
We lost touch the moment I drove off.
I left town like a gambler with
The sense to cash in all the chips
Before I lost them all on a bad deal.
I made believe I was in a race,
Drove ten thousand miles in seven days,
While writing a book called "Being A Free Man".
I Met more people than the president,
The good times came and the good times went,
And I learned how to ignore my hunger pangs.
I looked ahead to the open road,
Thought about the people and what they know,
And wrote a book called "People Don't Know Nothin".
(no matter what they tell ya, man)

Once I spent my last dime,
And counted the ratio of miles to time,
I looked up to my disdain and my surprise.
I had driven my car around the world,
Ended back in the town with the girl,
So I wrote a book called "Life in Prison".
(Volume. 1)
I see that girl every now and then,
And we drink to having such good friends,
And apologize for the way it did not last.
Funny thing that it's all true,
And I'll always love November Blue,
But I turned her down for the beauty of the past.

November came and went,
Like the summer that I spent
With a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes.
I returned to my home
With a heart part made of stone,
And I cried all night for a girl I never knew.

Ten thousand words swarm ‘round my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin’ in the swarms
Still can’t find out how to hold my hands

And I know you need me in the next room over
But I am stuck in here all paralyzed
For months I got myself in ruts
Too much time spent in mirrors framed in yellow walls

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

And everyone around me shakes their head in disbelief
And says I’m too caught up
They say young is good and old is fine
And truth is cool but all that matters
Is you have your good times

But their good times come with prices
And I can’t believe it when I hear the jokes they make
At anyone’s expense except their own
Would they laugh if they knew who paid?

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

And after we are through ten years
Of making it to be the most of glorious debuts
I’ll come back home without my things
‘Cause the clothes I wore out there I will not wear ’round you

And they’ll be quick to point out our shortcomings
And how the experts all have had their doubts
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

Monday, July 26, 2010

On My Home On Derb Errome

I moved. I felt like Fes Jdid was sucking the sweetness right out of me, so I opted for a fresh start: back to the medina, to a little place called DERB ERROME.

The house I live in is beautiful. It’s owned by a friend of a of those brave souls who bought and is in the process of restoring an old Moroccan home.

I live on the first floor...a lovely little apartment with plenty of space for dancing (a must), and a nice big window. The window is key. It lets in sunshine and the noise from the street below. (Of course by “street” I mean what anyone in America might call an Arabic we call it a DERB.) The noise from the street took some getting used to, but it’s certainly grown on me. It’s the noise of guides leading groups of tourists in English, French and Spanish. It’s the clinking and clomping of donkeys carrying Coca-Cola or tanks of gas to the hanut on the corner. It’s the music of weddings in the huge house next door, where the owners rent their home out for parties. It’s the noise of laughter and gossip and boys playing soccer. It’s the noise of people living. I love it.

Upstairs I have a terrace. A beautiful terrace. It has an incredible view of the city I love. Already this terrace has become the site of dinner parties, dance parties (thanks to the free live music from weddings next door), movie nights, guitar jams, morning coffee, and sunset beverages.

Have a look. DAR DARKOM (My home is your home.)

Look, Mom! I cook! That chicken that I'm cutting up in my sink was alive when I bought it, and we ate it several hours later. Also, notice the window.

A view of Derb Errome from my terrace.

The terrace view of my city in the evening.

(Photos taken by my lovely little sis)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On Sugar and Spice

Coffee is a very important part of my life. Moroccan coffee is intense. It’s strong, often spiced, and extremely sweet. However, most everyone knows that I like my coffee MASUS – with absolutely zero sugar. It makes me an oddity...welcome to my life.

Sometimes people ask why I don’t want sugar, in which case I usually quote The Great Santini: “I don’t want anything to make me sweet.”

indulges my obsession with masus coffee, but Soukaina refuses. She insists that drinking unsweetened coffee is “so un-Moroccan” and dumps absurd amounts of sugar into the pot as she’s brewing it. She knows I’ll still drink it because I can’t function without it. What really gets me about Soukaina’s coffee, though, is that as sweet as it is, it still has the kick from the spices. Interesting.


Last month I got in a fight with a cab driver. He wanted a tip. I refused to give it to him because he had offended me. He had muttered some uncomplimentary things about me while he drove me to my destination. He didn’t realize at the time that I understood Darija.

You can imagine his surprise, then, when we found ourselves in the middle of the street, screaming at each other in Darija over a Dirham (roughly 11 cents). A couple of bystanders came, intending to rescue their local GAURIA (white girl), and gave him the dirham he asked for so he’d let me be. I walked away, still furious, shaking my head and thinking, “you guys just don’t get it.” It was the principle of the thing, right?

Minutes later, by the time I reached my door, I was still furious, but no longer at the cab driver. I couldn’t believe I let myself explode like that. True, he started it, but I absolutely lost it. I kept replaying the scene in my head. Who was that girl? Where did all that rage come from? Where was my sweetness? Where was my grace?

The cab driver was the proverbial straw that broke my back. At that moment I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d had enough. Enough of fighting for respect. Enough of having to defend and explain myself. Enough of letting things go, or pretending I don’t understand what people mutter. I had built up months of anger and wounded pride.

I definitely am not that girl, screaming like a lunatic over an insult and 11 cents. But nor am I the Sugarplum Fairy of public diplomacy, conquering hearts and minds with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. There has to be some middle ground.

A particularly poetic Moroccan said to me a while back, “If you’re too sweet, people will eat you like a cake.”

True, friend. But if you’re too bitter, they’ll spit you out altogether.

What to do?


My mom sometimes refers to my little sister JENNA and me as Sugar and Spice. When we ask which is which, she diplomatically answers that there’s some of both in each of us – with different proportions, of course. But everyone knows that Jenna’s a tender-hearted darling and I’m a bit more ornery.

Jenna’s been here visiting me in Fez for the past couple of weeks. Through the dance parties and dinner parties, adventures in Fez and beyond, and good old-fashioned sister bonding, her sweetness has rubbed off on me a bit.

I’m realizing that the only way to maintain my sanity in Morocco (or elsewhere) is to stay as sweet as possible (apologies to the Great Santini) without losing my spice.

Kind of like Soukaina’s coffee.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Being Contextualized

I sat in my neighbor’s salon, sweating. Partly from the heat and partly from the social anxiety that attacks me every time I visit a new family for the first time. My hostesses pressured me to continue eating: “Kuli! Kuli! Zidi! Zidi!” (Eat! Eat! More! More!) I tried to refuse, but my protests were no match for four Moroccan women, plus one vivacious little girl, all determined to further extend their hospitality. Defeated, I took another cookie.

Last night was the first time I’ve had tea with my neighbors. We’ve been sharing a front door for the past five months.

“You know,” said MALIKA, my 20-something neighbor that I often exchange greetings with as I come and go, “when you moved in we all just assumed you were MASKHOTA (a ‘bad girl’ of ill repute), but now we know you’re nice.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I dipped a larger-than-usual piece of bread in some olive oil and shoved it in my mouth. I figured having food in my mouth would excuse my speechlessness, but it couldn’t hide the strong flush that came over my face. They don’t call me MATICHA – Tomato – for nothing.

Malika continued, “We see now that even though you live by yourself, you’re still BINT AL-A’ILA – a girl belonging to a family.”

I still felt awkward, so I fidgeted with my teacup. Because I didn’t say anything, the women talked amongst themselves...about me, of course:

“She’s so sweet! Look, she’s shy! See? I told you she’s nice! She came over to check on the baby! She came to Morocco to study...MESKINA! (Poor Thing!) So far from her family! I met her parents a couple months ago. She’s like a photocopy of her mother. And her dad...did you see him? What a nice family!”

As they talked about my family it dawned on me that the turning point in my relationship with my neighbors was when my parents visited in March. Because of work schedules my parents came separately – within one week of each other – but both got a taste of my life. And both had a significant impact on how my neighbors in Fes Jdid see me - especially the ones who share a door with me. Since then what used to be a relationship of suspicion and restrained hostility has gradually developed into cordiality, and finally even warmth.

First, my dad blew peoples’ minds. That American girl who’s always flying solo was suddenly accompanied by a chaperone. (But let’s be honest – with me acting as tour guide and translator, who was chaperoning who?)

The week he came was a stressful one for me. I was having some issues in my house and my neighborhood. But because of that he got great insight into my emotional and physical support systems. He was able to spend time with the Khatabis, who love me and treat me like one of their own. And he got to meet my friend HASSAN AL-FARHAN. This nickname means “Hassan the Joyful” because this man is absolutely oozing with Joy. Also, it rhymes. On top of this, he lives nearby and would drop anything to help me out.

During that particular week Hassan came over a lot – to help with some repairs on my house and to team up with my dad to intimidate some neighborhood shebab who were hassling me. But for propriety’s sake, Hassan and I stopped by to speak to my neighbors about it. We wanted to be absolutely clear about the nature of his visits, lest imagination and gossip run wild. The gesture surprised the neighbors and they clearly appreciated it. They also offered their brothers and sons as reinforcement against any shebab who might give me a hard time. This was the first conversation I’d had with my neighbors aside from “Salaam/Salaam” – Hello/Goodbye.

People really enjoyed meeting my dad. Some young men and fathers of young men saw his visit as a golden opportunity. A couple individuals invited me and Dad to dine with their families – invitations that I was fairly certain would include some talk of dowry. I didn’t even bother translating their requests before flatly refusing.

A week later my mom came, and her experience was quite different. Things had settled down in my world and Mom got to experience something closer to my normalcy. We spent time with Khattabis, of course, visited Dounia’s new house, toured the Medina (Tour Guide: Yours Truly), went shopping for pottery and other goods, and of course spent an entire day at CAFE CLOCK – talking, reading, seeing whatever friends passed by, and catching up on mother/daughter time.

At one point, Mom watched as I wielded my bargaining skills for a pair of sunglasses. Unbeknownst to me, as the price decreased, my audience increased. Malika’s sister Fatima Zahra (FZ JARA) had crept up. It was the first time I’d seen her out of the house, and for the longest time I thought she and Malika were the same person. She complimented me on my bargaining (a high compliment coming from a Moroccan) and we proceeded to have a lovely conversation – our first since I realized she wasn’t her sister.

Everyone loved meeting my mom. The neighbors quoted a Moroccan saying to me last night: “Qlab l-qula ala fumha, Tatlaa l-bint li umha” It’s not worth translating literally into English because it makes no sense, but the meaning is that if you want to see what a girl will be like, just look at her mom. Also, it rhymes.

Overall, my parents’ visit made great strides in my once forsaken attempts to forge peaceable relations with the neighbors. Generally in Fez, and particularly in my neighborhood, if a young woman lives by herself it’s assumed that she did something wrong – had some breach with her family and was sent out on her own. But for me, that’s just not the case.

It seems that the most important thing that my neighbors saw while my parents visited is that I have parents. I belong to someone. I come from somewhere. On top of that, they saw that my parents know where I am and what I’m doing. And they support it. In other words, my parents put me in context.

Perhaps equally important, the neighbors also saw that my dad couldn’t trade me in for 10,000 camels, even if he wanted to.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On An Enriching Vacation With A Minor Deportation

I trudged down a desert highway with my two bags full of dirty clothes and quickly melting Israeli chocolate. I guess I shouldn’t have left my sunscreen behind. In the distance I saw what might be a bus stop, and I was on a mission to find Israeli bus 961. Only then could I get up north to Beit Shean in Galilee, and hopefully – hopefully - make it across the border back to the Jordanian side.

How did I get here?

I suppose we have to rewind 2 weeks.


For the first week of May I had been sent to Amman, Jordan for Fulrbight’s annual Enrichment Seminar for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. There were 2 conferences – one in Rabat (the capital of Morocco) and one in Amman (the capital of Jordan) to give researchers a broader understanding of the region we live in, and thereby enrich our research experiences. I was one of the lucky Moroccan researchers chosen to go to Amman. Naturally, I decided to further my enrichment by adding about 2 weeks to my stay and traveling around the region. Adventures ensue.

ADVENTURE IN AMMAN: Realizing Moroccan Specificity

We began with three days of conferencing – presenting research and listening to presentations, guest speakers, the US Ambassador to Jordan, discussion groups, eating lots of food and drinking lots of coffee. It became apparent pretty quickly that Morocco is somewhat of an outlying case in the region. Should North Africa really be lumped in with the Middle East? We’re not exactly Arab; our dialect Arabic is unintelligible to everyone else in the region; we don’t have the oil or the “holy history” of the rest of the region. Basically, we’re MENA oddballs.

On the other hand, what other region would we belong to? Europe? Certainly not. Africa? No.

MENA it is, then.


On the last day of the conference we took an excursion. First to Mount Nebo, from which Moses surveyed the Promised Land and where he was last seen. It looked like a barren desert to me, but I’m sure at one point it was flowing with milk and honey. Or maybe it was a simple matter of perspective...not quite as barren as the desert the Israelites had been wandering in for 40 years.

From Party in the Promised Land

Next was a trip to the Baptism Site. Of Jesus, that is, in Bethany Beyond the Jordan. But the Jordan River has now dried into more of a gently trickling creek, and is no longer connected to the pool in which Jesus is said to be baptized. But the site is preserved, with an ancient church, a plaque from King Hussein, and a tasteful mosaic commemorating the Pope's visit to the site.

From Party in the Promised Land

From Party in the Promised Land

We finished the excursion with a sunset swim at the Dead Sea, and suddenly all seemed right with the world.

From Party in the Promised Land

To top it all off, we were given toolish hats and tote bags that say “Fulbright” on them in English and Arabic. Sweet.

From Party in the Promised Land

ADVENTURE IN PETRA: Discovering a Lost City

For my next adventure I hopped on a bus with my dear friends and colleagues CAITLYN and SAM to the lost city of Petra for a couple days. It’s beyond me how an entire city can just get lost lost, but I now believe that Jordanian Bedouins are without a doubt the best secret keepers in the world.

It’s a city, probably built in the 6th century BC, carved (yes, carved) into the caverns and canyons of the natural rocky desert terrain. Somehow it was lost – that’s right, lost for hundreds of years before its “rediscovery” by a Swiss explorer in the early 19th century. Unbelievable.

It is by far the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m not sure anything could possibly top it. Words do nothing for it, so I'll post a couple pictures here, and you can satiate your curiosity by clicking the link to my photo album, "Party in the Promised Land"

From Party in the Promised Land

On day 1 of Petra, Caitlyn and Sam and I hiked all around, seeing the main sites, herding goats, and climbing on things we probably shouldn't climb on.

From Party in the Promised Land

From Party in the Promised Land

From Party in the Promised Land

On day 2 of Petra I was having some knee problems, so I sent my friends on a hike and ended up spending the day hanging out with 8-12 year-old Bedouin boys. They got tired of trying to sell postcards to tourists and decided to talk to that weird white girl who speaks Arabic instead. Story of my life.

From Party in the Promised Land

ADVENTURE IN TEL AVIV: Beaches, Bars and Shopping Malls

At the conference I particularly bonded with the Fulbrighters from Israel. They were also oddballs, for obvious reasons. I decided that I could add to my enrichment by going to Israel and hanging out with them for several days. Why not? So I got on a bus and headed for the northern border crossing. My plan was to start up north, spend a day in Tel Aviv, then head on down to Jerusalem, then finaly back to Amman. Plans soon changed, as they tend to do in this part of the world.

I fell in love with Tel Aviv. I stayed with Morgan, one of the Fulbrighters, and had a blast with her. I’m not sure what impressed me most – The beach? Western coffee shops? Girls wearing skirts and tank tops? People jogging at night? Bars? Recycling bins? The mall? A religious obedience to traffic signals? It felt like a little slice of heaven in the Middle East.

Granted, this is all very superficial, and I can’t really overlook the problems I have with a religious state and the national and international political and sociological problems that go with it. But from a vacationer’s standpoint, superficial glory is ok.

I got sucked into Tel Aviv and ended up staying a little longer. But when it comes down to it, I can do whatever I want. I’m on vacation.

ADVENTURE IN JERUSALEM: Jungle Boogie in Jesusland

Eventually I made it down to Jerusalem, where I stayed with yet another Fulrighter named Amalia. I spent my first day there wandering around the old city: Dome of the Rock, Holy Sepulchre, Wailing Wall, etc. More incredible history under my feet.

One thing that has really struck me about this region is the acknowledgment of religious diversity. That’s not to say that the religions peacefully coexist (obviously) but there are churches and mosques and synagogues everywhere – in Israel and Jordan, at least. Coming from Morocco, where the existence of Christians isn’t even acknowledged, it was a shock to see churches and crosses everywhere I turned.

I came at an interesting time, as it was “Jerusalem Day” – an extremely controversial celebration of when Israel “took back” Jerusalem. But a party is a party, and a concert is a concert. I went with Amalia and her friends to a massive concert in a park. Much to my surprise, Kool and the Gang was playing. That’s right. Kool and the Gang. Jungle Boogie...Celebrate...Get Down On It...


The next day was another day of sight seeing in the old city. Crosses still amazed me. I couldn't stop photographing them.

From Party in the Promised Land


Finally the time came for my return to Jordan. I was going to spend my last several days just hanging out with JULIA, a friend from Wheaton who is currently living and studying in Amman. I had entered Israel from the northern border, and planned to return through the middle one. It’s almost a straight shot from Jerusalem to Amman, and would take only about an hour by car without the security and formalities of border crossing. But that, of course, would be too easy and would give me very little to blog about.

I exited Israel and boarded the bus to the other side to go through Jordanian security. I had been told that going into Israel was the hardest part, but going the other direction should be a breeze. Lies.

A Jordanian security official boarded the bus and promptly told me that I couldn’t enter Jordan from that crossing. He said that by entering Israel I canceled my Jordanian visa. I’d have to get a new one and re-enter the country from the same border I had come through – up north.

This meant that I would have to return to Israel, find my way to the northern border, get into Jordan, then find my way back southward to Amman. Lame.

He made me get off the bus and wait there, somewhere in the nothingness between Israel and Jordan. He had my passport. I just waited. Finally a bus full of Americans came by to take me back to the Israeli side, where I had to go through the Israeli security again. They gave me one of those dreaded security stickers that says I’m dangerous, probably because I’ve spent time in Muslim countries. The border police took me aside for a chat. It all turned out well enough, because I’m so sweet and kept my cool. We ended up chatting about my Amazon Kindle. I talked to them about the pros and cons of reading on an electronic book, and eventually they passed me through into Israel. Again.

Once back on the Israeli side I had to figure out how to get to the northern border. Of course all the taxi drivers knew I was stranded and wanted to charge me about 10 times more than I could afford to take me up north. I had to do some creative problem solving. I found out the bus number from some of the Israeli border police. The next step was getting to the bus, since it’s illegal to walk the 2km from the border to the highway. I’d get shot. I found a tour bus driver who took pity on me, and allowed me to hitch a ride to the highway. He dropped me off and I had to walk until I hit the bus station.


And now we’re back where we started. I’m sweating, burning, hauling luggage down a desert highway, with my eyes on the box in the distance that might, just might, turn into a bus stop for Bus 961 which would take me up to Beit Shean, a town 6km from the Jordanian border.

It was. Hamdulilah. Finally the bus came, and I boarded. It was already full of Israeli soldiers. All with guns. GUNS! On the public bus! It was about an hour and a half ride to Beit Shean, and one of the soldiers said he’d let me know when we got there. He probably got sick of me asking “where are we?” at every stop.

Finally in Beit Shean, I sat down in a restaurant for a sandwich and some water. I made friends with the girl who worked there, and she offered me a ride to the border. I geared myself up for Border Crossing: Round 2. This one went much better.

The Jordanian passport stamper remembered me from when I came through 5 days before. His friend had asked me to marry him. When I got up to the counter he said, “Megan! Megan who lives in Morocco! How was your trip?” I was shocked that he remembered me. I sent my regards to his friend, reaffirmed that I’m still not interested in his proposal, and walked out the door into Jordan...beautiful Jordan.

A British woman and I shared a Taxi back to Amman.


When I got back to Amman I met up with Julia. Since then we have been just...chilling. In cafes, at home, with her friends. It’s been a much needed wind-down before I make my return to Morocco. As much as I love these adventures, it’s real life that really fascinates me. Just living and functioning in Fez or Amman or Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Or Petra if you're a 10 year-old Bedouin.

I’m very much looking forward to going back to Fez tomorrow. But I can certainly say that in the past 2 weeks I have been successfully enriched.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On the Unintended Consequences of Asserting My Feminist Agenda

We walked into the room and every head turned to stare at us: four 20-something American women, all sweaty from the aerobics class we had just finished, and all soaking wet from the sudden downpour we found ourselves in. We sought refuge in the nearest establishment – a famously de-facto all-male cafe on the edge of the medina. We all took a deep breath and walked into the shelter, already full of – well – Moroccan men. Some had come much earlier to watch the soccer game. Others, much like us, decided they wouldn’t mind some coffee or tea while they waited out the storm.

The difference with us, of course, is that we’re women. According to Moroccan cafe culture, the cafe is strictly male space, not to be trespassed by women. We were clearly unwelcome.

Our efforts to slip in without creating a fuss were far from successful. Finding four chairs in the already crowded cafe was a challenge in itself. To their credit, a couple guys offered us their chairs, but we refused, finally finding four empty ones and carrying them (with the help of the waiter) to our table in the back of the room. We sat down and immediately felt eyes burning into our skulls.

“What are these American girls doing in our manspace?”

But let’s be honest. I derive some sort of sick pleasure from shaking things up a bit in cafe culture. That evening my friend and colleague LAUREN PEATE wonderfully referred to our invasion of manspace as “asserting our feminist agenda.”

Yes, men. A woman stranded in a storm gets just as wet and cold as a man does. I’ll go into the cafe. Because I can.

I frequent several otherwise-all-men-cafes. But each one takes a lot of work to get to the point where I feel comfortable there. It’s day after day of the same thing...

YES, I want black coffee, without sugar.
NO, I don’t have a male escort.
YES, I know the price – I can read the sign (in Arabic) so don’t try to rip me off.
NO, I’m not a tourist.
YES, I will just sit here, drink my coffee, and watch people walk by.
NO, I didn’t come here to make conversation.
YES, I have a phone number.
NO, you can’t have it...

Really I don’t want much, except coffee. And respect.


My dad came to visit last month, and he’s a bit of a coffee addict. When he needs his coffee, he needs his coffee, so I ended up sitting in lots of these cafes, which are far more numerous than the female-friendly ones where I generally go to get work done. At one point we went to a cafe near my house in Fez Jdid. Until then I had specifically avoided that cafe and others like it in my neighborhood.

I think one of the reasons I avoided it until then was because I knew that the men in it sit there and watch me every day as I go about my business. Not to sound self-important, but I figured they must talk about me at least from time to know, “Here comes that white girl again...” and that kind of thing. The thought of actually sitting with them was terrifying. A major disadvantage of my improving darija is that I have the misfortune of hearing and understanding what people say about me when I’d much rather remain blissfully ignorant.

While my dad and I conspicuously sat there – the foreigner and the woman – I got a phone call and everyone in the cafe heard me speaking in darija. As I was leaving, one man commented...

“So, you speak darija?”
“Yeah,” I told him, “I live here.”
To which he responded, “Well we all know you live here. But it’s great that you speak darija. You’re welcome here anytime. You’re very respected in this cafe. Come here to take your breakfast.”

It was an awkward conversation. Welcoming, yes, but also strange. Several times since then I’ve sat at that cafe (without my father as an escort) and have felt incredibly awkward every time. But, of course I play it cool. I have my routine. I go to buy HARCHA or MALAWI – two Moroccan breads that are wonderful for breakfast – then go to the cafe. I always drink the same thing – black coffee, no sugar – and just...sit. I look straight ahead toward the street, but I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on there. Mostly I just think and process. I gather my thoughts and plan out my day. I spend a quiet 20 minutes, then go on with my life. I love it. I also try to pretend that there aren’t people staring at me and wondering what I’m doing in their manspace.


The other day I was approached on the street by the same man who had welcomed me to his cafe several weeks before – I call him HASSAN DIYAL QHWA. He was friendly enough. He welcomed me back to Fez after my 5-day absence and he said that next time I came to the cafe he wanted to talk to me about his daughter – an 18-year-old who loves music. He always sees me walking with my guitar, so he thought we should meet. I agreed to meet her. After all, that’s my job, right?

The next morning I met Hassan at the cafe, and he introduced me to his daughter, AFAF. I went home with her to drink tea, and Hassan went back to the cafe. Note, please, that Afaf isn't allowed to sit in the cafe. Afaf and I chatted about music, sports, school, and traveling. I like her. She's spunky. Her dad doesn’t like her to go running by herself, so I told her we can go running together. I have a new running buddy.

Later, after lunch (Moroccan visits generally last all afternoon), Afaf went back to school, but I got to hang out with her parents. Hassan and I had a lovely little chat about how everyone perceives me in the cafe. It was without a doubt one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had. He gave me a play-by-play of the commentary about me:

Look at that foreigner...wait, we’ve seen her before...wait, we see her everyday? Does she live here? She DOES live here! What’s she doing here? She must be a trouble-maker. No, I’m sure she’s a student. She likes music, she’s always carrying that guitar. And clearly she does sports, because sometimes she piles her hair on her head and is sweaty. Look how mean she is! Why is she so mean? No, she’s not mean. Look at how friendly she is to the banana man. She just doesn’t talk to people she doesn’t a Moroccan girl. Wait...what’s she doing in our cafe?!?! What’s she DOING?!?!?! Why is she here? Probably because she wants coffee. But doesn’t she know that women don’t come to men’s cafes? Well, she’s Western, she does what she wants, AFRITA! But look at how she sits when she’s here. She ignores us all. She doesn’t even stare at people on the street. She just thinks. She’s not looking at us, she’s just looking at herself. She sits in the cafe like a Moroccan man. Wait...WHO IS THIS??

In summary, Hassan told me that shwia bi shwia I have been shattering every perception anyone has about me.

This went on for a while, complete with Hassan’s imitation of my demeanor while I sit in the cafe. It was – I have to say – accurate and hilarious, yet a bit disturbing that the tiniest gesture can’t go unnoticed.

And so it seems that by “asserting my feminist agenda” (Peate, 2010) I have opened Pandora’s box. I now get the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the cafe people say about me. But I also have met a wonderful new family in Fez Jdid who treats me like I’m their own.

Well worth it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On Crosswalks and Catalyzing Change

Most every chronicle of an American’s adventures in the Middle East undoubtedly includes a mention of the traffic situation. Learning to cross the street in Morocco – or any other Arab country, I’m told – is an art form, and one that may save your life. There are crosswalks in which pedestrians have the legal right of way. But they mean nothing.

In the months that I’ve been here Arabic TV stations have aired a series of horribly graphic commercials. They depict gruesome traffic accidents and one even shows the dead bodies of school children hit in a crosswalk. They end with a plea: “We need to change our behavior.”

I don’t drive here, and Mom, you’ll be glad to know I recently turned down an offer for a motorbike. Deep down I REALLY want to be that American girl who rides a motorcycle (certain cause for speculation – my specialty), but the thought of driving on the streets of Fez fills me with such fear it could only end in disaster.

But I’m a passenger often. I’m pretty picky about my drivers, but taxis are the luck of the draw. Very often riding in someone’s car prompts a discussion about the rule of law, corruption, and civil responsibility. They all think I’m an up-tight American and I think they’re all insane Arabs. Inter-cultural dialogue is a such a beautiful thing.

The truth is, if you follow traffic laws in Morocco you’ll never survive, because everyone else drives like a maniac. It’s like an Olympic wrestler taking on the EFC champ: if he tries to fight clean he won’t stand a chance. In order to get from Point A to Point B you invariably have to concede that a two-lane road can actually accommodate the width of four cars, and you have to tailgate because if someone sees half a car’s length in front of you they’ll cut you off to get 5 meters closer to the red light. Not to mention young men (and old men...and women) feel the need for speed, and in Morocco the concept of the queue (as in waiting your turn for ANYTHING) is entirely foreign and counter-intuitive. The only way to survive on the streets of the Maghreb is to get with the system...the unwritten code that Americans will never understand, but taxi drivers seem to have down to an art.

But still...a little order couldn’t hurt.

Among my acquaintances is a guy named SIMO. He loves to tell me about his narrow escapes from the law. (I’ll admit it before I get scores of comments decrying my hypocrisy...The high school version of myself wasn’t known for following the letter of the law when it came to driving. And I saw every evaded ticket as a testament to my powers of persuasion. But shame on me.) Instead of flashing a smile and charming his way out of a citation, Simo simply halves the amount of the ticket and slips it to the police officer in cash.

“A 400dh ticket? Oh no! I can’t possibly afford about I’ll give you 200dh and we’ll call it a day?” Or in the unfortunate circumstance that he doesn’t have 200dh cash with him... “How about 100dh and 3 cigarettes?”

At least once a week Simo would regale me with tales of his bribery and they would never sit well with me. I’ve heard all the arguments:
-The police don’t get paid very much...they’re EXPECTED to take bribes
-It’s the same as a tip for good service.
-The police double the amount of the real fine so they’d be taking a cut anyway.
-I can’t afford the ticket, and I don’t want them to take my license away.
-Everyone else does it, why not me? You gotta get with the system.

But what it all comes down to is that Simo pays off a police officer time after time after time and has never learned...until about a week ago when he had a big and dangerous accident. Car totaled, two people in the hospital. Idiot.

So what’s my point?

The laws are there. Police need to start enforcing them. And drivers need to start obeying them.

Back to crossing the street...

Last month I was walking with some Moroccan university students. They insisted that we cross the street in the crosswalk (wait...we have those in Morocco???). Their reasoning was a lovely brand of academic idealism, much forgotten in the US:

“Social change begins with individual action.”


Thursday, February 18, 2010

On Getting Your Money's Worth

Dear U.S. Taxpayer,

Yes, I know. I seem to have fallen off the face of the planet. But take it as a sign that you’re getting your money’s worth.

Sometimes I think it’s unbelievable that you (yes, you) are paying for me to study Arabic and live in Morocco. But in the past 6 weeks I have been earning every penny (dirham, actually, since I’m paid in Moroccan currency). My language study has been put into overdrive – 20 hours of upper-level Fusha a week. I’ve been almost entirely consumed by schoolwork and I have been putting your money to good use. My head is about as full as it can be right now, juggling 2 languages – one in the school, the other in the street.

But lest this open letter to my creditors become complainy, I have to say that my many hours of studying have been punctuated but all sorts of cultural activities designed to give me some illusion of physical, intellectual and emotional balance: guitar classes, dance classes, dance parties, birthday parties, engagement parties, dinner parties, embassy parties...

I’m sorry that my blogging (and emailing) has fallen by the wayside. Truth be told, I have a lot of thoughts running through my head at the moment. It simply takes time and energy to form those thoughts into words. But it’s a valuable process for me. Until I make words of them, they’re just a jumbled up mess and my life makes no sense. I need to get back to writing. Now that I finished my final exam, I should have more time for processing, formulating and articulating. Stay tuned...more to come in the next couple of days, inshallah.

Megan Pav

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Life In-Between

Why, yes, I am sitting on the roof of my new apartment in FEZ JDID, drinking sugarless tea and eating a bowl of Rice Krispies. How did I get here? A lot has happened in the past month that’s pulled me off the bloggin’ wagon, but I’m back and it seems we have some catching up to do.

I was able to go back to the Land of the Free for two weeks and spend Christmas with my family. I got a healthy dose of culture shock when I woke up in the morning and a life-sized Joe Scarborough was jumping out at me from my dad’s enormous HDTV. In the same day I witnessed the return of Spandex and the super high, intentionally sloppy ponytail. But the indoor heating was the biggest (and best) shock...especially with the blizzard that covered the D.C. area shortly after I arrived.

It was in many ways a lovely vacation. I got to spend time with my family (a lot of them)...I saw the Steelers win a couple games (too little too late, I guess)...caught up with some dear old friends (among the dearest and oldest I have)...and my sister and I learned the dance to Jai Ho that they do at the end of Slumdog Millionaire (probably the highlight of my trip).

But of course, being back in the States led to the natural comparisons between here and there. I love here and I love there, but for very different reasons. Then certain political events went down in both countries and elsewhere, which highlighted the things that I DISLIKE in both. The whole thing made me feel dreadfully in-between. Not that that’s anything new.

On New Year’s day I left the States again...through Tangier...finally back to Fez on the 3rd.

I had set up a new apartment in Fez before I left for Christmas. I wanted everything to be in order when I came back so I didn’t have to worry about moving and all of that when my new class term started. But, lest we forget, this is Morocco. Things didn’t work out like I planned and due to problems with the landlord and the apartment and some neighbors, I decided I needed to find a new place.

I crashed with the Khattabis for a few days (they tried to convince me to stay forever), and stored my things with some other Fulbrights. After seeing a few apartments – some of them disasters – I found a good place for a good price from a good landlord who is also a teacher at the school. And the best thing about my new place: the location.

I’m no longer in the ancient Medina (where I lived with the Khattabis), nor am I in the modern Ville Nouvelle (where I lived 2007-2008). I’ve moved into Fez Jdid, which is situated geographically as well as historically between the other two cities.

The name Fez Jdid means, “New Fez.” It was the new city before the French came and made a newer city. It’s an awkward in-between place of which I know nothing (Yet). It’s kind of perfect.

My next adventure: learning Fez Jdid. YALLA.