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The Morocco Trip Part III – Through 2010

This post will be without pictures, but needs to be written. I am very happy to be back here in Sefrou with Hanane. It’s a bit surreal, but not for the reasons you might think.

Here’s the thing. When I left Morocco, I felt just a bit persecuted. Maybe it’s the wrong word. I felt like a foreigner, I felt a bit threatened. In the Medina, I always felt as if I were going to be robbed, walking down the street, I always felt a bit of a threat, especially with Hanane by my side. I felt as if everyone was out to get something from me. It’s hard to explain. I was a stranger in a strange land.

And now, returning. I just don’t care a god damn bit about that. I don’t care if I stick out like a sore thumb, I don’t care if someone takes the last money out of my pocket, I don’t care if I get the shit kicked out of me for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want bad things to happen, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I felt a lot of fear before, and now, it is gone.

It feels good. I wind through the narrow alleyways of the Medina with my friend Yassine well after dark and dance with Hanane in the moonlight on the dirt road in front of her house. In the process, I am meeting with old friends, making exciting new friends, and I can tell you, I am happy to be here.

Of course, not everything is peaches and cream. The flies are out in massive force. There are still hostile stares as Hanane and I walk hand in hand. And her family…

On the one hand. I love these people. Her sisters and brothers, mother and father. Her sister Fatima met a Belgian man online and is trying to rush through the marriage process with him.

Hanane and I were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to notify the police and file the paperwork that says I am her fiance and am staynig with her family. Personally, I think the whole process will unfold like this.

However, I can’t keep staying with her family, so I am going to rent a small apartment in the Medina. Her family and the law have no problem with me being here, but seriously, I will become insane if I do. It is a constant state of activity and thus impossible to actually do anything. While I love Hanane’s mom, she is completely inefficient in her time management and as head of household she pushes this inefficency onto her daughters. Instead of starting and completing one task, the de facto method is to start twenty tasks and finish none of them and thus leave everything in a complete and total state of chaos. Before the floors are all washed the process of washing the floors must begin again because it was interrupted by the process of cooking lunch, visiting with friends, doing laundry, and more. They are having the interior of the house painted. The painter comes at night to paint one room. Yesterday he was to paint Hanane’s which is the defacto storeroom for the entire family so Hanane and I moved everything including the big cabinets, the books, everyone’s clothes (too many clothes…) and about 1000 blankets to the salon. Hanane also spent the whole day doing laundry while her sister’s galivanted around Sefrou.

Then in the evening, Hanane and I went out to meet with friends and when we returned we learned that Mohammad, her brother used the rest of the paint at his house so the panter showed up and there was no paint and since Fatima’s engagement party is today the Salon needed to be cleaned and everything from the room was in it so we had to move everything back into the room and we will have to move it back out again soon and meanwhile the laundry is piling up again and …and… and…

And for some reason, and to be honest, perhaps it’s even a bit why I fell in love with my little Cinderella, her mother and sisters expect Hanane to do everything! Here she is, the only person in her family with a university degree, the only person who is capable of actually completing anything, and really, the only person who isn’t stuck in this cycle of poverty mentality and while her one sister meets with her boyfriend and spends money but has no job, and her other sister is married off to a man she has known only one week, and her mom comes in to yell, and her father is probably sipping a little wine while he tends the sheep, and the woman who bought the furniture, the computer, the television, and paid for nearly everything else that is nice here, is treated like a servant girl, yelled at, and made to work like a mule.

Frankly, it makes me livid with rage. And so, I have to get an apartment of my own and when I get the marriage papers, I will bring Hanane with me, and then, I will take her away from her family because she is a loyal daughter and if we stay in the same town, she will still allow them to treat her badly although, once we are married, I won’t let her. Instead, I will laugh as the laundry piles up, the rugs stay rolled up and the floors wet, and when the computer breaks because no one is there to put the screws in the desk in tightly and it falls to the floor, we will not replace it.

For the moment, all I can do is laugh out loud when Hanane’s mom comes and yells, but in not too long, I will steal their treasure and leave them wishing they had treated it better.

Last night was Hanane’s sister’s engagement party to Khalil (his new Muslim name) the Belgian man she met online a few weeks ago.

Khalil is a big jolly man. He decided to tie the knot in Morocco before bringing his bride back to his home country.

I was glad that it was his engagement party and not mine this time. Frankly, the parties are a bit on the tedious side to begin with and then when you are the fiances, it is really bad because you are expected to sit in about the same spot for four hours or so. Khalil, unlike me, bought the special engagement clothes and again unlike me, he sat faithfully by Fatima’s side for nearly the entire night. I, on the other hand, danced and ate and drank tea while the henna was put on Hanane. I’ve no idea what a Moroccan man would be doing.

Anyway, last night I was free to come and go, dance, wander away, and do whatever I wanted. I had thought to make a video but having a video camera there was too much for everyone and they all wanted to take a turn with it and frankly, after trying to explain that I wanted to make a video, choose my shots, conserve my meager 75 minutes of tape, etc 4 times, I gave up and handed over the camera. Lots of footage from a full distance, lots of bad framing, and, well, we will see what can be done with it.

Let me set the scene. Throughout the day all the aunts and women friends of the bride come to the house, they bring cookies and sweets. They put them all on trays. They wear their nice jalabas. Men are noticably absent though there are some boys around. This seems to be a women’s party, from what I can tell. The only men were me, Khalil, Mohammad (Hanane’s brother), his friend Amin, the girl’s dad, and a family friend who is a taxi driver named Muneer Tayaba, his last name translates as airplane. Then there were a few teenage boys from the neighborhood, and some of the boy children of the women guests.

Mohammad set up his hi-fi and six speakers and turned the music up to full volume. Some of the speakers were blown and there was plenty of distortion, but why make the music sound good when you can make it loud enough to blow out your eardrums?

Most of the day, the women just sat in the salon and looked at each other. I had planned to go hiking with Yassine but since the engagement party was scheduled for 5 pm and it wasn’t too certain what time hiking would end, I really couldn’t, though I should have. He told me they wandered into a Berber wedding…

In any event, for hours the guests look at each other and some of the women chattter away. Then Hanane and Zahira and the neighbor girls start to make their hair up, put on make-up, and dress in their fanciest dresses. Through the night Hanane wore 3 different dresses, Zahira wore at least 3, probably 5, and as for the rest, I didn’t keep track.

As night finally arrived, everyone moved into the Salon, Fatima arrived in a taxi looking like a princess. And then the whole process of eating dates, drinking milk, exchanging rings, and more. And lots of dancing.
Happy Wedding Guest

This woman has 7 kids. for the women, I think these sorts of parties are the most enjoyable thing in their lives. The men, well, they seem like they could really care less…

I danced a lot. It was fun though my energy level is still pretty low because I am still sick. During the day, I bought a camera for Hanane and watching her take pictures was fun too. I should have brought a dozen digital cameras from the states since they are nearly twice the price here…we found her a five megapixel for about $150, and it is pink which is a bonus.

Hanane is the girl I will marry if we can ever get the right paperwork.

And I am the man she will marry if the paperwork gods have mercy on us.

After the ceremonials, the rings, and then more dancing, cookies are brought out (this time they were brought out on trays and each guest was offered the tray by various girls. I am certain this is a result of Hanane and my engagement where her aunts loaded up their handbags with expensive pastries before leaving.

Mohammad and his wife Sameera are expecting a baby in about two weeks…the little guy behind them belongs to a different guest.

Finally, as the night wore down, I had too much and snuck away to lie down. Of course, the music was still pretty loud.

Things are happening in Morocco for me. I have to admit that at themoment, I am pleasantly surprised by the speed with which things are happening. My friend Jessica just showed me a great apartment in the Casbah with two bedrooms, view of the river, sundeck, kitchen, and toilet which I will try to negotiate for around 600 MAD per month. About $100.

My new friend Hassan is trying to help me and Hanane to find jobs and so far our marriage paperwork si moving forward. It’s a bit disheartening to watch Fatima and Lionel’s progress as they encounter one block after another. Yesterday, the big man had to pay double taxi fare because of his size, he had to pay nearly 400 dollars to have his papers translated and they are rushing from here to there to here to there. It nearly brought him to tears.

But for me, I am hopeful. Yesterday, I paid the 300 MAD to become an official Muslim, it doesn’t count until yuo pay the money I guess. So officially, my Muslim name is Yassine. Religion is such a sham. Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply spiritual, but religion, it’s about the money.

Hanane and I are fighting like cats and dogs. We’ll see what is in store for us. Maybe it is meant to be, maybe not. But, I am here and waiting to see what the big creator has in store while I put together this life. And maybe my illness is not as bad as it was, certainly last night it got much worse but I’m hoping that was the last hurrah of this damn flu in my body.

Sometimes, you know how you are just in the flow and things are happening? You know how you can feel it? I feel like right now I am riding with the current, I am on the sweet spot of the wave, I am going with it.

It feels good.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. In the afternoon Hanane and I went to Fes and met with Jessica and her friend David. David is the director of the American Language Center in Fes and a very interesting fellow who has been an expat from the U.S. for twenty years. We met in the Hotel Batha and had tourist priced refreshments (100 MAD for an orange juice, hot chocolate, and two waters! Should have been more like 35 MAD, but this is what you get in tourist areas.)

After that, we joined Jess and David at the beautifully restored home of David and Sally, an English couple who bought a 700 year old Riad in Fes and using Sally’s skills as an interior decorator and a lot of patience, they turned it into a truly beautiful place. Also gathered there was a veritable who’s who of the Fes expat community. A really nice and interesting bunch of folks. Mike the owner of Cafe Clock in the Medina, Helen of Fez Riads and The View from Fez, Kerstin of BareMinimumTravel.com, and a many more.

I’m happy to get to know more of the folks from Europe, Australia, and elsewhere here who have chosen to make this their home and very pleased that as expat communities go, this is a sophisticated and intelligent crowd. I’m sure there are low life expats here as there are everywhere, but last night, none of them were present. So it was really quite nice. Of course, I’m also happy to be making my life in Sefrou where the community is much smaller since that really gives the opportunities to live a Moroccan life and not a displaced expat one.

In any event, we had a really nice time and came back to Sefrou around midnight by taxi.

Sadly, Fatima’s marriage did not happen before her Belgian husband to be left to return to his home and work in Europe. What stopped it? The Moroccan authorities wanted to have the word ‘definitely’ in front of divorced. So he will return to Belgium and have them reissue the papers with this word. Honestly, I don’t think it matters, if it had not been this, they would have found something to prevent or create more paperwork, or to make the process impossible. The courts and government are remarkably short sighted in terms of the benefits of having Moroccans married to foreigners. Remunerations, travel from abroad, family tourism, and more all equal a stronger and healthier Morocco. Just look at Tonga where something like 65% of the GNP is from remunerations alone.

So, the bureaucracy wins for the moment. And time slowly marches onward, but I think there is a strong and genuine connection between Fatima and Lionel, so I am sure he will be back ready to tackle the Pashas of Paperwork again sometime soon.

I just finished my first day as a teacher at the American Language Center in Fes. Things are happening so quickly…wow. Wednesday, Hanane and I were both invited to interview for jobs teaching English at the American Language Center. Thursday, David called to tell us we were both hired! Today I had my first day, hers will be Wednesday.

The Center is really a beautiful place and the students all seem to be very motivated. For the rest of this semester the two of us will each be co-teaching with other teachers. Today, I was in a class with intermideiate students and the lead teacher was a very nice man. His teaching style was extremely funny and his accent is an interesting mix of East, West, and British.

The class was 3.25 hours long. The pay is not going to make us rich (especially while we are co-teaching) but definitely it is a far step up from earning what Hanane was with the private schools in Sefrou. Often she would simply not get paid for whatever reason the headmasters might come up with. So this is good.

The Souidi house is fuller than ever as Samira, the wife of Hanane’s brother Mohammad just had a beautiful baby boy and since their house is small, they moved back into the Souidi house. So, just in case you were wondering, there are 3 bedrooms, two salons, kitchen, wet room (for bucket showers), and 1 turkish toilet. At the moment living in the house are Hanane’s mom and dad, her two sisters, me and her, her brother Fouad, Mohammad, Samira, and their new baby plus their older son Amin, Fatima-Zahira- the wife of Hanane’s other older brother is visiting, Said a sort of adopted orphan boy, another neighbor boy, usually another woman named Hanane is around because her husband is in the army, and then there are also usually 2 or 3 or 5 more people someplace. Plus there are 17 rabbits now, about 20 sheep, a dozen chickens, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something…what does that add up to? Well between 12-20 people in three bedrooms and two salons with one toilet and no shower…lol. It’s a busy place. Luckily thea animals aren’t toilet trained and sleep outdoors…oh yeah, I forgot the two dogs.

Basically, 70-80 living things not counting the flies all living in one little concrete house. Wow. Saying hello when I arrive takes a good long while if I do it right.

So anyway, things are pretty good. I’m not complaining a bit. I think the job will be great. My commute is pretty long. A 7 dh cab ride then a 10 dh, 40 minute cab ride and the reverse to get back to Sefrou. I sort of like being crammed in teh big taxis though…it’s like solo time because the quarters are sooooo close. Good time to think and reflect.

That’s all for now.

As crazy as it sounds, sometimes I forget just how magical and amazing everything around me is. I am struggling to learn a language (two really, or even three if you count Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, and French), working to make my career as an English teacher, trying to find a place to call home, and trying to learn how to navigate this culture plus trying to create a future with my beautiful Hanane despite paperwork, bureaucracy, and no space…

And sometimes…I just foget. Luckily, sometimes I remember too. I look at Mohammad and Samira’s tiny little son Taha and see a little man that will hopefully grow into a smart, open minded, respectful man. I stand outside next to the sheep pen and with the stars shining brightly overhead, I hear the singing of these dozen Arab women in my family from inside Samira’s new bedroom as they sing for the joy of being women, of celebrating birth, of celebrating life. Hanane’s nimble hands beating the drum and the voices of her and her sisters, aunts, and mothers singing joyously at this new member of our extended family.

And then, this morning, I hear the wails and screams and the first thought through my mind is that something has happened to Taha, but no. he is fine. I find myself relieved and happy that it is only the neighbor woman who was just beaten by her husband who just returned from a tour of duty in the hotly disputed Western Sahara region. He returned, he beat her, and he kicked her out. She came to this house, this oasis in the industrial district where women have some sort of power. It’s a powerful family of women I’ve joined. Mama Khadija works hard, she marries her daughters off to the right men (hoepfully) and when it fails she divorces them from them.

Yes, a strange feeling as I find myself relieved that it is ‘only that the woman next door was beaten and thrown out of her house’. Only. And yet, any of these women would take a beating over the loss of a child. And yet strange.

Yes, sometimes I forget that I am living in a totally foreign and alien place. Nothing is really the same here, though sometimes I fool myself into thinking it is. Not even I am the same, though sometimes I convince myself that I am. In the evening as I sit by the hanout (store) of Mohammad and smoke a cigarette and watch the workmen who come and go each buying one or two smokes, the kids buying candy, and one kdi buying a rolling paper though he was only 7 or 8. More than likely he was taking it to someone older, but maybe he was going to roll a spliff for himself and the other 7 year olds….

This life is rolling along…and it is amazing.

As always, there is a lot going on. I’m amazed at how quickly my life here is coming together. Really, it’s a little bit like a miracle.

I was reading an ebook on Quantum Buddhism the other day. Really pretty excellent in that it equated any sort of trinity (father, son, holy ghost- Vishnu, Rama, Shiva – Abrahmam, Mohammad, Allah- etc) with Energy= Mass times the Speed of Light Squared or E=MC2. I love it.

Especially considering that my own revelation about the nature of the creator was along similar lines. The quantum, or energy, that permeates everything in the Universe IS the creator. The force which holds atoms together, causes electrons to spin around nuclei and thus make solid matter, and really in a sense create reality. Nobody actually understands the origin of that stuff though we are learning a bit about how it works and thus, like God, it is incomprehensible and permeates everything living or dead, here or there. My own revelation was that this energy holding reality together IS God. And thus God is really all seeing, all knowing, everywhere, and we are all part of God and God is what makes up all of us. The one big question mark that exists is consciousness and perhaps what some call ‘spirit’. To my way of thinking, it is this invisible presence in each of us that ‘drives’ the machines we inhabit, or in other words, our bodies and minds. This might be what is not composed of this quantum, this energy, this God and thus, we exist. Of God but independent of God as well.

And this whole diversion comes from the fact that I am here and my life seems to be shaping up exactly as I imagine it but of course not too much exactly like because there are plenty of variables that are outside of me and so manifestation stays an inexact science but the more that I manifest, the more I seem to be able to manifest.

It reminds me of John Jacob Astor who once said that making his first $1000 was the most difficult experience of his life but after that making $10,000, $100,000, or $millions was a piece of cake. It’s a little like that right now and I feel like it will continue to be so….

Back in Morocco now with Hanane and her family. She tells me she’s going to kill me about a hundred times a day, but for now, she’s taking care of me. Nursing me back to health.

This trip was like a trip to the dark side. The worst couchsurfing experience in the world in Madrid, getting violated by Canadian customs, the betrayal of my father, the job that never happened, banks freezing up my money, getting bit by blackflies and nearly freezing as I made my way by foot and thumb all the way across Canada…and yet…

It was wonderful. Despite the awful experiences, despite the hardships – I made it. I made friends, I rode horses, I discovered new places, I renewed old friendships, I connected with family, and I made it home with enough cash to perhaps get the ball rolling to marry Hanane and the sincere desire to settle down.

Perhaps it was my friend Rafael’s advice on my last stop in Belgium that really decided me to come back to Morocco and give it a go –

“Look,” he said. “My daughters are the best thing to ever happen to me and they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the relationship I was in before. You were a Marine and you told me it was hell doing that for four years. Commit to five years and see how it goes…it can’t be worse than the Marines.”

And as Hanane nurse me back to health and her family welcomes me back like a much loved son, I have to thank him for his wisdom. This isn’t at all as bad as the Marines were…and I don’t think it ever could be.
The novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is one that affected me profoundly. In general it concerns changes amidst white colonialism within a fictional village in Nigeria. More than that it is a human drama about how life can suddenly change and become incredibly different in the blink of an eye. It is a story about sudden reversals of fortune that no one can possibly foresee.

At the moment, I am remembering all of the feelings this magnificent novel drew from within me. The reason is because I am feeling many of the same emotions in my own life.

It’s funny how we, as humans, manage to make our own lives more difficult than they need to be. We strive for control and just when we think we have found it, the proverbial rug is pulled from under our feet and suddenly we are left with our wind knocked out lying on the ground as the stars spin over our heads. Things fall apart and often, they fall apart quickly. Other times, it is a snowballing process that, if we pay attention, we can watch from a detached perspective and sort of helplessly experience. Unfortunately, there is often nothing we can do about it.

I wonder if this is what I am experiencing at the moment? Am I watching the evaporation of water I knew was there but that will be gone by the time I reach it? It begs the question of the mirage in the desert and whether one should try to reach it because it might possibly be real or whether one should simply head in another direction and perhaps find something that is not visible but that does actually exist.

Paperwork and bureaucracy are the downfall of humanity. This need for control that arises from the fact that we really don’t have control and we try to convince our fellow human beings that we really are in control. No doubt about it, it is paperwork that led me to anarchism. The futility and needlessness of documentation.

I foolishly spent $35,000 to get a degree. I foolishly didn’t bring my degree with me to the country I decided to create my life in. Now, in a country where paperwork is the real king, I am left with the need to get the paperwork to prove that I am qualified for the job I’ve already started working. It’s not impossible to get it, far from it, but to me, it’s frustrating that a phone call to my university won’t suffice with the high quality electronic copy of my degree I thought would be sufficient for all my needs. In fact, I’m loathe to hand anyone my very important piece of paper so that it can officially be translated, during which time, my important piece of paper will be beyond my control. And this is just one piece of paper.

I need to provide many. Official papers to marry, official papers to work, official papers to live.

And life all together feels like it is ripping me apart from the inside out. It’s this feeling of outrage that more is required than who I am. It’s not a trait that makes one well suited to live in this society, or any but the most tribal. It’s funny, because I’ve worked hard to have all the right credentials and papers, but I resent being asked for them in triplicate.

Meanwhile, the taxi drivers seem to sense my angst and each of them raises the price accordingly, Hanane’s family seems to intuit my sense of being crowded and pushes me further into the smallest corners and crevices. Like a mouse I hide in the invisible spaces nibbling on cheese. The money I sacrificed so much to gain flies from my pockets for one expense after another as the money I don’t spend depreciates in the bank as the dollar plunges to new daily lows. The house that is available suddenly is not, or the price is raised, or something else happens and I begin to feel despair creeping into every corner of my psyche.

I feel a desire to get very drunk and to explode, but I won’t because I am in Morocco and because I am trying to build a life. One can’t get simple answers to simple questions here. How much do I get paid? What papers do I need to fill out? Where is the nearest restroom? Instead, like Arabic itself, things are bulky and archaic. Difficult to master and impossible to completely understand. In a five minute greeting six hundred words are exchanged but no one actually gives any information.

The other night, there was a party at Hanane’s. A Sebhua, or baby naming ceremony. I didn’t see the baby even once. the women started arriving at 8. The men began to arrive at 9. the men were taken to the next door neighbors house where they smoked, drank tea, and stared at one another sullenly for several hours. My friend Yassine came and translated the conversations around us for me. Petty gossip mostly. In fact, much of it was actually about Yassine’s grandfather and his aunt. yassine was not involved in these conversations as the men who were dolling out opinions didn’t know that a relative was next to them translating their opinions into English.

Meanwhile the women sang and danced, played drums, and listened to music. The food was served and the men talked with each other little as they tore apart the roast chickens and stewed sheep with prunes while drinking coke and the favorite tropical drink of Morocco, Hawaii.

When the food was done, Yassine and I went to the giant warehouse next door that Mohammad had spent the day converting from a sort of dark and dingy torture chamber of concrete into a disco. We sat there waiting for the other guests Hanane told us would come, but aside from five other men who simply stared at each other, we were alone. Finally, we left to go see what was going on and found ourselves locked into the concrete compound. We managed to break out like prisoners from Guantanamo only to find all the men and women congregated at the Souidi house. It was past midnight. Only then did people start to go to the makeshift disco where the men sat on one side and the women on the other. The DJ blared the music but no one danced until Hanane forced some of the women to join her. Then it was a dreadful two hours of blaring music with the sullen men on one side and the gayly dressed women on the other and a few brave souls dancing. But never more than 12 at once as everyone else watched.

Then a procession of the female relatives walking with cookies and sweets on trays offering them to the guests. We’ve been eating those cookies ever since. In fact, except for a bowl of soup yesterday, I ate nothing but cookies and some barly bread. Harira and Harsha.

Yesterday Hanane and I came to work at the language center again. Still not sure where to record our time or who to tell that we are working. We had the slowest taxi here and the trip back was maddening. A drunk and unpleasant driver with no meter took us to the secondary grand taxi stand in ‘labamba’ the gas station in the Ibrahim district where there were no cabs but scurvy looking men with private unreliable vehicles offering rides for too much. A strange man we didn’t know stopped and offered us a ride to Sefrou for free but was threatened and chased off by the cab coordinator…maybe that was a good thing, maybe not. Finally a taxi came and we crowded in. The petit taxi to her house didn’t offer me any change though he owed me 3 dirhams and frankly I was too tired to argue with yet another cabbie son of a bitch.

Inside, I felt good to be around her family. I felt comfortable but her visiting cousin who I’ve nicknamed Mr. Bad Vibes threw his bowl of soup down on the table and in general brought the sort of unpleasantness a schizophrenic brings to a high tea. Then, probably because I was tired, hungry, cornered, and crowded, Hanane and I fought viciously. I was vicious in my words, though I will defend and say that I was not entirely unjustified. She who I want to give everything to is often stingy in sharing information with me about who I am next to, what they are saying, or what the real situations are even though despite the cultural differences, I can usually feel the emotions at play in a room. This drives me to a fever pitch of madness as I know that things are being said, expressed, and done that fit with what I sense and my window into the actualities of this life simply tells me ‘Everything is fine’, ‘There’s no problem’, or simply chats in Arabic for ten minutes and when I ask about the situation that obviously concerns me simply brushes me off. I know things are not fine but I’m told they are and I’m not one who deals well with this sort of inconsistency even if it is told because she wants to protect my feelings or impressions.

In general, there are a lot of misconceptions about me and what I am and what I have. I’m not afraid of showing myself to the world exactly as I am and yet, I find that my self portrayal is often distorted and changed and I suspect that my words are too. And this is done intentionally by others.

And so, as I feel these things and watch this life unfold, I feel like a bear that someone has mistaken for a donkey and I wonder if they will be surprised when they hold the carrot out in front of me and instead of questing for the carrot I clamp my jaws around their torso, rip out their innards, and crush their skull with my powerful canines so that I can feast upon their brains.

Morocco at times can wear you down. My last post I was exhausted. The Subhua for Taha, taxis to work, new job, still adjusting, just over being sick, and on and on. I felt completely worn down and worn out.
the hanged man
I had thought that I had found the perfect place to live, the perfect job, and a life that seemed worth living and in an instant, everything seemed to fall apart. But of course, I forget, that in Morocco the hanged man is the card that seems to hold the most importance. That is, in tarot, the card “The Hanged Man” shows a man in dire circumstances who has been hung from a tree. In reality, it is the fool who has blindly wandered into a situation and misinterpreted it. However, if one looks at the card, one begins to notice that far from a look of suffering on the fools face, he seems to be content and at ease. When one flips the card one sees that he is simply resting, taking a break from his journey and taking the time to look at the world from a different perspective. In fact, the Hanged Man represents the sudden reversals of fortune that life often takes and reminds us to look at the world through fresh lenses, for things are not always as they seem. Such is the case in Morocco.

The apartment I wanted was ideal. It was in the heart of the casbah, airy, spacious, well lit by windows that looked at the river running through the medina in two directions…one of them a scenic view of the waterfall and main bridge. It has a sun deck on the roof and is next door to my friend, Jessica. When I didn’t hear from Ahkmed, the other neigbor, it put me in a state of trauma. Everything started to seem to be clogged up and the flow seemed to have stopped. Suddenly, my optimism disappeared and with it I began to feel the crowded confines of the Souidi house. I began to think that my work would not work out, my relationship was doomed, my life was going to crumble around me.

And then…the extended family moved out of Hanane’s house. Two couch surfers from the Czech Republic showed up and we took them to the beautiful Cascade in the hills of Sefrou. And then today, I found that my apartment had not been taken from the rental market. Instead, Ahkmed had been shy to call me but had negotiated the price to exactly what I wanted to pay and the landlord had decided to paint and clean it before I move in. The deal is set, perhaps, after all, this is Morocco. Things aren’t always what they seem. In this case, my optimism is high though.

I’ll exchange cash for the keys this evening. Hanane doesn’t know yet. I’ve not seen her. She will be sad and disappointed to have me leave her families house, perhaps mad that I agreed without asking her, but I am confident she will be grateful that I will find the necessary space I need to write and to relax. She and Jessica have a friendship that grows stronger each time the tall English woman and my tiny Moroccan fiance spend time together. They are two of the same kind in very different corporeal bodies and cultures. So I think she will be happy. Of course, she won’t be able to move in with me until we get all the necessary papers and seal our marriage, but again, I am cautiously optimistic. Again.

If all goes well, in just a few days I will have to take the homeless from the tagline for this blog. Cross your fingers for me. Incidentally, the hanged man has his fingers crossed too.

letting go
having an emotional release
accepting what is
surrendering to experience
ending the struggle
being vulnerable and open
giving up control
accepting God’s will

reversing
turning the world around
changing your mind
overturning old priorities
seeing from a new angle
upending the old order
doing an about-face

suspending action
pausing to reflect
feeling outside of time
taking time to just be
giving up urgency
living in the moment
waiting for the best opportunity

sacrificing
being a martyr
renouncing a claim
putting self-interest aside
going one step back to go two steps forward
giving up for a higher cause
putting others first

The Hanged Man is one of the most mysterious cards in the tarot deck. It is simple, but complex. It attracts, but also disturbs. It contradicts itself in countless ways. The Hanged Man is unsettling because it symbolizes the action of paradox in our lives. A paradox is something that appears contradictory, and yet is true. The Hanged Man presents to us certain truths, but they are hidden in their opposites.

The main lesson of the Hanged Man is that we “control” by letting go – we “win” by surrendering. The figure on Card 12 has made the ultimate surrender – to die on the cross of his own travails – yet he shines with the glory of divine understanding. He has sacrificed himself, but he emerges the victor. The Hanged Man also tells us that we can “move forward” by standing still. By suspending time, we can have all the time in the world.

In readings, the Hanged Man reminds us that the best approach to a problem is not always the most obvious. When we most want to force our will on someone, that is when we should release. When we most want to have our own way, that is when we should sacrifice. When we most want to act, that is when we should wait. The irony is that by making these contradictory moves, we find what we are looking for.

Expat in SefrouToday is the day I’m moving into my little apartment in the Casbah of Sefrou. This morning Hanane and I moved my things (the backpack and the shoulder bag) plus a pillow to it. That’s all I have, so it’s easy to start out.

I bought the pillow yesterday when I took a trip to Fes with my friend Yassine. We visited Marjane, the Moroccan version of Walmart and I bought the pillow and Yassine bought a very expensive camera for an American Peace Corps volunteer he has a huge crush on. Her camera broke and he in a fit of love told her “I’ll buy you a new one” despite the fact that he is a student and doesn’t really have any money. To my surprise she accepted even though it would mean he spend his whole savings on her. She later told me she intends to pay him back and that since he offered, she felt okay to accept. Fair enough. Anyway, he had taken a previous trip there with her and she picked out two very nice Nikon cameras she would like. Yassine asked if I wanted to go with him and I said sure.

I bought a makeup mirror for the Souidi women, a memory card for Hanane’s phone, and a new pillow. So there it is.

After we took my things to the apartment, Hanane and I took the taxi trip to Fes where we met up with my neighbor Jess and five beginning blogger expats. I led a small workshop on the basics of blogging for profit, terminology, and the things to think about before you start your blog.

I also got my shoes shined for 5 dirham. Great shoe shines in Fes, Morocco.

After the workshop we visited the Riad that the American Center is converting into a cultural center. Jess is leading the project and I was able to get some furniture for little to nothing and that leads me to the title of this post. As most of you know, I am a tarot card reader. In fact, I look at my life as various stages of the Fools Journey.

While we were in the riad, there was an ancient rusted out stained glass candle lantern amongst the things that were leaving. I felt drawn to it and asked Jess if I could have it, she said yes. I think it was headed for the garbage.
Lamp of the Hermit

The Hermit has internalized the lessons of life to the point that he is the lesson.

There are two major ways this card can be interpreted:

* First, the need to withdraw from society to become comfortable with himself.
* Second, the need to come out of isolation to share his knowledge with others.

Mythopoetic approach

An old hermit walked around the village and the area day and night, and even in daylight still carried a lit lantern. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him “Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?” He said, “Because I’m searching for an honest man.”

This is a story most often attributed to Diogenes of Sinope, one major contributor to the Cynic “school” of philosophy.

There are several different cycles embedded in the Major Arcana. One of them is 1-9, 10-19. The Magician to the Hermit; the Wheel of Fortune through The Sun. The Fool gains knowledge of the external world, meets the mysteries, finds the initial object of desire, finds mastery, finds knowledge, finds a new object of desire, leaves home, gains some strength, and withdraws for a time to integrate the lessons learned before starting on the next turn of the spiral, where the Wheel of Fortune spins us into a new adventure.

Alternately, The Hermit may be the old man or woman, metaphorically, that we meet who gives us the insights or tools or training we need to confront the beasts of the forest, the sealed cave, the gated castle, the wormhole.

The Hermit is related through a cross sum (the sum of the digits) to The Moon. While The Hermit mostly integrates the lessons of the sunlit world, the Moon stands at the threshold of light and dark and churns the waters of life. In both cases, treasures can be uncovered through contemplation of what is brought forth. In both cases, monsters may be found.

Some say that The Hermit is a Threshold Guardian, representing an obstacle the Querent, the hero of the piece, must overcome to move on.

A potentially dangerous aspect of The Hermit is his retreat, his isolation. We all need to retreat sometimes; retreat and renewal are necessary for growth. But The Hermit may be tempted to completely withdraw from the world, not because the journey is done, but because the dragons of the real are too daunting, or because the trivial pleasures of the cave are too intoxicating. Withdraw at the wrong time, stay withdrawn too long, and growth stops.

The cowl The Hermit wears protects him and isolates him. Hopefully, at some point, he casts it off and rejoins the world.

Some say that The Hermit represents the time we learn our true names; who we really are. The Greek philosopher Thales is reported to have been asked, “What is the most difficult of all things?” To which he is said to have answered “To know yourself.” The Hermit is given time to obey the Delphic Oracle’s demand: know thyself.

Later, back in Sefrou, as I walked down the road carrying the lantern in my hand, I realized that it is the symbol of the hermit and that I am on my way to moving into my own space for the first time since last November. I am looking forward to the solitude and contemplation I will have for the moment.

I have entered a new stage. For the moment, I am the Hermit of Sefrou. Funny how these symbols pop up out of nowhere, amazing really. It gives me chicken skin.

Speaking of chicken skin, since I am moving into an old place in the Medina, it is likely (according to the thinking of some) that my place will be populated by Djinns (Genies). I have the lamp, like Aladdin. Djinns live in water places so the sound of the water, the drains of my house, and the empty spaces are probably all occupied by these Djinns.
Djinn

In Islam, a Djinn (also jinn, genie, from Arabic ??? jinn?) is a supernatural creature which occupies a parallel world to that of mankind, and together with humans and angels makes up the three sentient creations of Allah. Possessing free will, Djinn can be either good or evil.

The Djinn are mentioned frequently in the Qur’an, and there is a Surah entitled Al-Jinn. While Christianity maintains that Lucifer was an angel that rebelled against God’s orders, Islam maintains that Iblis was a Djinn who had been granted special privilege to live amongst angels prior to his rebellion.Although some scholars have ruled that it is apostasy to disbelieve in one of God’s creations; the belief in Jinn has fallen comparably to the belief in Angels in other Abrahamic traditions.

Hopefully, Aisha Kondeshia won’t fall in love with me.

lamp of Aladdin Aicha Kandisha -Jarring Effects / Shabeesation

Her name is aicha kandisha
she was a beautiful enchantress and voracious JINIYA
(she-devil) she had the power to bewicth both man and women
she was helpless against her own wicked power.
her victims are driven beyond madness or mental derangement…some become paralyzed,their blood into ice, others are left insane for ever.

The only way to lift the curse is through elaborate trance ceremonies which include heated rhythms, frenzied dancing, and occaisonal self-flagellation. i was even shocked to be told by my grandmother that these ancient rituals are the inspiration for underground Moroccan trance band.

Well its a long story but a lot of music was done by a group “akje” to keep the memory of this legend…some say she was a freedom combatant against the Portuguese in the region of El jadida she used her beauty to attract the soldiers then kill them,, some say it’s just a woman who got hurt by some man…but the common point with all these stories is that she appears to people in secluded places;abandoned houses or empty roads at night….why i don’t know.

View from my window in Sefrou

I think I have the best window view in all of Sefrou.

From where I’m sitting, it appears that there is no such thing as Halloween in Morocco, though I did see one young boy in a mask sitting in the vegetable souk. I took a picture with Hanane’s camera. I’ll post the picture later, inchallah.

Sadly, my first night in the Casbah was totally without incident. No efrites, no djinn, no visits from Aisha Kandisha. All that happened was that I had the best nights sleep I’ve had since coming to Morocco.

A place to hang my hat in Sefrou

Finally, home is where I hang my hat. I hope it stays here for a while.

The white noise of the water lulled me to sleep and put me in the la la zone. I woke up feeling refreshed and great. The Agay River (pronounced Gay River) is right outside and just up the stream is a waterfall. It’s all very beautiful once you learn to not look at the garbage which is abundant everywhere in Morocco.
Agai River Sefrou
The old view from my neighborhood in SefrouThe grand Mosque of Sefrou

The Great Mosque of Sefrou is a monumental and picturesque ,being built on the banks of Agay river,the date of its foundation is unknown ,but we know that already existed in the foureenth centry through a note chroniclers Kunfud Ibn Alkastantini.According to an inscription on the door of the minerat wich shows the date of nearly seventh centry,The Great Mosque was restored by the sultan Moulay Sliman,It has been extended to the north side ,Covering an area of 1250 meters squaren,Has six gates access , 4 on the side of the court and 2 in the south side.

I woke up to the sounds of birds singing in the jungle across the river. It was like waking in a dream, particularly because before I moved in the landlord painted my entire apartment the most lovely blue I could have imagined. Moroccan Wife

My Moroccan wife, inchallah, Hanane.

And that brings me to the point where I can explain my new tagline. No longer a homeless secret agent but instead now living the Casbah life, with my future Moroccan wife (inchallah), and trying to fix my little apartment with my nifty knock off Swiss Army Knife. So far I’ve replaced the locks, fixed the shutters, done a small amount of plumbing, and adjusted a bit of electrical wiring, though I admit, in order to get my big Spanish door lock to fit, I had to go out to the Souk to find a wood rasp for about a dollar and aquarter (10 dirham).
Moving in was simple. I have a few Arabic books, a few sets of clothes, a homemade French press, a solar shower, my netbook, and a few odds and ends that all fit in my two bags.

Yassine gave me a small mattress. Hanane’s mom gave me a blue gas bottle and kettle and I bought a burner for the gas bottle, so I can make hot water. That’s it. As for money…haha. None to speak of since my banks both were hacked and my cards got cancelled…both of them! What luck. Happy Halloween. I won’t be getting any trick or treaters, but maybe a djinn or two. What I’d really love though is a gin and tonic.

Let’s face it. I’m broke. I have less than $500 in a bank account that I can’t touch because of a bank error and a little more than $100 in ready cash. I don’t get paid until the end of the month, and I’m worried about that because I’ve yet to get the paperwork I need. I am earning a bit with a weekly blogging workshop but am having trouble getting paid for my other blogging efforts. Financially, I have every right to be worried. For some reason I’m not though.

The good news is that my apartment costs about $100 a month, fresh veggies and fruit are cheap and right around the corner, and I’ve got a job that hopefully will pan out and provide what I need to build a life here.

What I don’t have is extra money to travel, pay bribes for marriage paperwork, or enjoy anything but the simplest of lives. C’est la vie. I’ve a place to read and write and study and friends. Life is good.

Chair and desk in the Casbah
Chair and desk in the Casbah

My friend Yassine and his family gave me a chair and a small mattress to start. Hanane and her mom gave me a gas tank and a tea pot, plus a blanket.
Tajine and gas stove
TAjine and gas stove

My friend Clark, a Peace Corps volunteer who is leaving here after two years was able to give me some pillows, another blanket, and some various kitchen items, broom, and the essential squeegee.
Jess in Sefrou
Jess in Sefrou

And my neigbor Jessica who is remodeling a riad in Fes for the ALC (my employer) was able to sell me two banquets, a writing desk, a small kitchen shelf, book shelf, double mattress, and a clothes hanging thing a majig.
My living room has couches in Sefrou
My living room has couches in Sefrou

I’m furnished and as such, I’ve changed my couch surfing profile to the long awaited ‘available’. So if you want to surf my couch, come to Sefrou to the baddest part of the ancient old Medina, pass the whores on the right, then go past the card sharper boys, make a right at the cutthroat with a drinking problem, and then bang loudly on the door and yell “Vago!”

You are welcome…or as we say here “Marhaban!”

The hot weather disappeared in an instant. One day it was sunny and very hot and everyone was wondering when the weather would change since by November it has usually been cold and rainy for a month already and the next day (luckily the day after I moved my furniture from Fez) it was rainy and cold.

People were truly worried because the olive crop relies on rain as does most of the country for agriculture, filling reservoirs, and taking care of nature. Sadly, the rain only lasted a day but I have a feeling it will be back and we will have a cold and wet winter.

I never would have imagined I would be using the words cold and rainy to describe Morocco, but this country is so incredibly varied with a Mediterranean Coast, an Atlantic coast, the Sahara, and three massive ranges of mountains crossing this way and that. Fes and Sefrou are located in the middle Atlas and so sit around 4000 feet above sea level. Snow happens here. Not far away in Ifrane there is actualy a ski resort.
If I can figure out my finances and smile about them, I am hoping to have a chance to do a bit of skiing this winter. We’ll see.

As it is, the weather is clear and very crisp these days. This morning there was a visible bank of clouds that cut off starkly from a bright blue sky as I rode the bus into Fez.

There are lots of things going on at the moment. Projects being born, ideas being enacted, and once again I have found myself in a space where I can write. I still need to get an always on internet connection so that I can adequately take care of my online projects though. And, I am wondering just how cold it will get in my apartment since I have no heat and no fireplace.

The past few days there have been growing crowds of young men playing some sort of gambling game in the alleyways of the Casbah. I can’t quite get in close enough to see what it is, but eventually, I will learn. Also, two weeks ago, Hanane and I were surprised to find a snake charmer in the Sefrou Souk on Thursday. Then we saw a busload of tourists…I’m a little afraid that Sefrou has made it onto the tourism charts….

In any event, I am ready and willing now to host friends and couchsurfers in the Casbah, so come on….book your tickets. Just be sure to bring a blanket.

Hanane’s brother Mohammad surprised us all by buying a car a few days ago. The only problem is that it’s been 10 years since he took his driving lessons and he hasn’t been behind the wheel since.
Driving in Morocco
Turns out I’m the only experienced driver in the family so yesterday I got to practice my Derrija in a way I never expected. I got to teach Mohammad how to drive in Arabic. Hanane came along to help with those things I couldn’t say yet (like in Morocco the Jungle Rules apply meaning that if there is a contest between you and a bigger vehicle, you need to give way).
Driving in Morocco

Check out the pretty lady in the rear view mirror and the action going on in the passenger side mirror.

Overall, we both did pretty good. Not to be too sexist here, but every accident I’ve seen in Morocco has had a woman driver involved in it. Personally I think it is the hijabs that get in the way of perefferal vision or maybe they blow up over their eyes. yesterday though there was a new menace on the road. Mohammad and all of the female drivers we saw were terrified he would slam into them or drop his transmission in their paths by shifting from 4th to 1st while going 60 km/hr.

Before putting him behind the wheel I got to test out my own skills in the jungle streets and I found that my observation of taxi drivers and my former life as a driver in Hawaii has served me well. I can tailgate with the best of them and have no problem making illegal left truns in roundabouts, dodging pedestrians, and passing gravel trucks on one lane roads. I tried to pass on some of my hard earned skills to Mohammad and by the evening he was doing pretty good…for some reason though, he thought he should avoid 2nd gear, I don’t know, maybe it belongs to a Djinn.

I’ve also started to make the transition from using paid photo services to hosting my own. I’ve put the first pictures on http://photos.vagobond.com using Coppermine and you can see the thumbnails here.
Hanane and Zahira
In addition to the driving, I’ve also put some of Hanane and Zahira who I invited to lunch last Sunday in the casbah and who instead showed up and made an incredible fish tajine for the three of us, my neighbors Jess and Ahkmed, and Yassine. They are super sweet girls and man can they cook.
Tajine fish

fish in Morocco
Speaking of fish, I caught Fouad and Raidda cleaning a ton of fish yesterday at the Souidi house.

That’s about all for now except that I’ve named my little house since that seems to be something lots of folks do here. The name? What else?

Dar al Djinn. (House of Spirits)

Who knows maybe I will make it a speakeasy. In any event, my first couchsurfers will be coming next week and it will be interesting to see how they like my very simple diggs. Hopefully the Djinn won’t scare them away.

Kids playing on ancient Moroccan walls

After the weekend of working at the school, I agreed against my better judgment to go stay the night at Hanane’s family’s house. It was against my better judgment because I never sleep well there. The workers start loading rocks into metal truck beds at 3 am outside the house. Fouad asked if I would be willing to wake at 5 am and drive to the agricultural souk, then drive back and pick up sheep and Khadija and drive back to the Souk again. Of course I said yes, but frankly, I was pretty tired after working Friday night, waking up early Saturday morning, working Saturday and then coming back. We met up briefly with the Polish guys who were supposed to couch surf with me on Sunday night. Apparently they had a bad experience couch surfing in Marrakech and they decided to come to Fez on Saturday instead and skip Sefrou. I had told them I don’t live in Fez and can’t tell them much, but they showed up a day early and wanted to know a cheap hotel, where to catch the bus, where to go at night and so I did my best to help them. I sent them to the main Bab and recommended the cheap Cascade and Evergreen hotels just inside the gate. Hanane and I managed to get them into a taxi even though there were more people crowded around the McDonalds where we met them than I have ever seen before. I think it’s because the King has taken up his summer residence. It was actually pretty funny because when we walked up, they were sitting on the bench with the Ronald McDonald statue and the Polish man’s Russian friend looked quite a bit like a clown himself. He was about 50, round, smiling, missing some teeth, and wore jeans held up by suspenders. Aside from that, we weren’t able to help them much but I told them to ask around the Cascade or Evergreen since those are popular backpacker spots and there will be more information about getting the bus to the airport, nightlife, and more. These guys seemed incredibly inept at travel as they didn’t even have any dirhams on them, just Euros. They had no map or guide, which I of course admired, and somehow they were wondering around Morocco and found me to ask advice in a city I don’t live in.

Al EAied in Morocco
So, by the time we got back to her house, ate couscous with raisins, and I had agreed to wake up at 5 am, I couldn’t fall asleep because I kept thinking it was time for me to wake up and then at 3 am the rocks started to go into the truck bed and then at 5:00 am I got up and by the time I got on my shoes and went to the door at 5:04 am, Mohammad was driving away without me since without telling me, they’d decided it would be better if I were to sleep! It would have been nice to know. So then I was told to go back to sleep which is usually nearly impossible for me but since I was exhausted, I managed and woke next to Khadija rattling away about something in Derrija. It was time to go, no time for coffee or waking up. I suppose I would have set my alarm if I knew what time to set it for.

Then we loaded the sheep. Four plump dirty yellow sheep. Two big rams and two fat ewes in the back of Mohammad’s car and I drove us to the sheep market.
sheep in Morocco
The biggest holiday of the Muslim year is coming up al-Eid. It’s the holiday that commemorates Ibrahim (Abraham to Christians and Jews) being asked to slaughter his son Ishmael (but Issac to the Jews and Christians) and God then letting him off the hook by slaughtering a ram instead of his son.

Al-Eid will happen on Saturday the 26th. It’s a time of family and food and every family in Morocco (and in most of the Arab world) will slaughter a sheep. It will be a mother fucking blood-bath. Everyone in Morocco will wait until the King kills his sheep and then the blood letting and Bismillah’s will begin.
Al Eiad in Morocco
The sheep have been fattened and given a special diet. In the market, some of the sheep had been cleaned, but most were the same dirty yellow or brown as Hanane’s family’s. There were thousands of sheep in the market and probably through the day, thousands of Arab and Berber men buying or selling sheep. The one’s we took to the market were about 1500 dirhams each, which translates to about $200. That seems like a lot of money for a sheep to me. I’m guessing that they were neither the most expensive nor the cheapest. They didn’t sell. However, that’s not to say that the Souidi family didn’t make any money. Hanane’s dad has a small coffee and tea business set up in a roll door warehouse space. Essentially, he sets up four burners and ten low tables and he slings tea, coffee, bread, boiled eggs, pastries, fried fish, and cigarettes to everyone that is there to either buy or sell. I’ve no idea how many cups or how many cigarettes or how many fish they sold today, but I’m guessing they made at least the price of a sheep. Maybe two. I don’t know.
Hanane's Dad
There was at least one fist fight where one guy punched another in the head over 50 dirhams in negotiating and there were plenty of goats for sale as well as sheep. I have heard that goats are cheaper and that poorer families slaughter them instead of sheep. Personally, I’d rather eat goat, it tastes better. It’s pretty funny to watch people trying to drag their sheep home. The sheep don’t want to help. One way Arab men do it, that is disturbing and funny at the same time, is to lift up the rear legs and put them around their waste and walk the sheep ahead of them like a wheel barrow. Like everywhere there are sheep, there are plenty of stories of men fucking sheep in Morocco and like everywhere, some of them here are certainly true too.

river of blood
I woke up on al-Eid and the Oued Aggai was running red with the blood of all the sheep that had already been killed upstream and we had to get ready to go to Hanane’s parents place where I met her two older brothers for the first time. To my surprise, I liked them both. Driss and Isau are nice guys and it’s hard to mesh that with the stories of Hanane’s youth where they stole her money, stole her phone, and beat her.
river of blood
Given those stories, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they would have been a couple of thugs who wanted to kill me. They were mellow though. Driss is married to a jumbo sized Arab woman and they have a four month old son. Isau works in textiles and is married to Fatma-Zahira, who is pregnant with their first child.

Together with their father, we killed three sheep. Then we dressed them out by skinning and pulling all the organs out. Then the women cleaned the organs and we all sat down to eat sheep liver, sheep lungs, sheep heart, and sheep intestines on the roof where Khadija cooked everything. Of course the rest of the family was there. Fouad, Samira, Amin, Fatima, Zahira, Mohammad, and Miriam, Mohammads sister in law.

Fouad had a blowout with the whole family for some reason and probably ran away from home again. Stupid boy, he ran away before eating. Eat first, then go. I joined the family in the living room for tea and cookies and then I left.

Isau decided to walk with me to my house in the Casbah. I’m not entirely certain why. Maybe it was because he wants to be friends, maybe it was because he wanted to see where I live, maybe it was because he wanted to sort of feel me out and get a gist of my intentions. Probably all of the above.

Frankly, Moroccan holidays and special events are incredibly boring to me. The killing of this sheep wasn’t too different from when we killed one on the Prophet’s birthday, I will spare you more bloody photos, but if you want to see them, you can check out

Death of a Sheep.

As it starts to get cold in Sefrou, I realize that one of the challenges of living here is figuring out what the hell to do with one’s self. I am writing a lot. I am also reading a fair amount both on my computer which I am getting used to (I downloaded about 100 e-books from Project Gutenberg). When the connection is good enough in the cyber cafes I am downloading movies but lately the connection hasn’t been very good at all. I cook, I eat, I walk around and sometimes engage in the unsatisfying agreement that is Moroccan bargaining in which the seller never gets the price they want and the buyer always feels that they have paid too much. But honestly, I can’t afford to buy much at the moment. I’m pretty broke.

So what to do?

My neighbor Jess is trying to figure out the same things and doing a good job of it with her website http://culturevulturesfez.wordpress.com, so maybe something exciting will come up.

It’s challenging because there aren’t really libraries, bookstores, cinemas, theatres, concerts, museums, or anything like that here. Not to mention pubs. There are a multitude of coffee shops but when I sit in one reading I get odd looks like “Look at the crazy foreigner, actually reading a book.” People in Morocco don’t read, it’s why this country is probably doomed to a future of chaos and turmoil.

Since people don’t read they don’t really have conversations about the types of things that are in books and since they don’t talk about that, that leaves talking about the neighbors, talking about Islam (but not discussing it, there is no discussing it), and watching television. Oh, they love to watch TV here. They watch Korean soap operas, Turkish soap operas, Bollywood films, Egyptian films, and a few Moroccan programs that are reminiscent of 1950s TV in the United States, slapstick comedy and Lawrence Welk. And Oprah, they watch Oprah. The most powerful woman in the world.

But I don’t watch TV. I walk a lot, but I get tired of being ‘Bonjoured’ by the touts and glue sniffers. So, while I can easily sit in my house and draw, read, write, cook, and eat…I’m not really into becoming a complete recluse…so …what should I do? Any ideas?

I’ve always been a big fan of using whatever free resources present themselves to make what you need. Last night, I realized (yet again) that the biggest free resource in Morocco is garbage. At the moment, I don’t have a garden so composting (aside from tossing veggie scraps out my window) isn’t really an option. I’m using old yogurt containers as my spice holders and various tins for various things. I’ve amassed quite a collection of plastic shopping bags and last night I decided to see what I could do with them.

First of all I twisted them into some surprisingly strong and supple cordage. I wasn’t sure they would work for this, but they did. I used two methods, twisting and braiding and ended up with a rope around four feet long before I started trying to figure out how to use them to weave. I’ve only made a few small squares so far, but I think it is very possible to make an interesting rug from these things.

If I can actually get to a point where I can produce valuable commodities from this waste and then pass this knowledge on to the people around me, it will almost instantly clean up a vast portion of Morocco. The cordage is good, the weaving seems great, and I’m fairly certain I can make a basket from the old plastic bags.

Sometimes I forget that waste is really only an unused resource.

And the good news is that I’m not the first to think of this. Check this out!

plastic bag rug

http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf517076.tip.html

Book Souq, Morocco, Fez, Fes, Culture Vultures

I wrote a short piece on buying English Language books in Fez for my friend Jess over at Culture Vulture’s Fez recently. Here’s a peek, for the full story go to Read the rest at
The Book Souq – Culture Vultures:

If you’re looking for English Language books in Fez, there are really only a few options. First you can go to the upscale bookstores in the Ville Nouvelle where you can find a small selection of English language books for about double what you would pay for them in Europe or North America. The selection tends to be light with a heavy focus on the classics, guidebooks, books about Fez or Morocco, and language books.

But what if you are looking for a good old pulp novel, or like me, you simply enjoy browsing through the stacks of a used bookstore, hoping to find a treasure, a good read, or just something to pass the time while you wait for a grand taxi to fill up?

In that case, you need to go to an unlikely place. Situated under the Lido bridge, close to Atlas, under a ramshackle collection of tin rooves in what looks like it could be among the poorest of shantytowns is what I like to call the book souq.

Book souq English language books Fez Morocco

This morning on my 45 minute taxi commute I was struck by something…

First let me say this, Muslims pray facing towards Mecca. In Morocco that means facing East.

What I noticed was that on the tops of every apartment and house in Morocco are satellite dishes and what struck me was that each of them are firmly pointed towards the West (Casablanca).

I know, it’s tired old shrift to say that television has destroyed society, but in Morocco, the implications are more profound than in non-Muslim countries.

Prior to the satelite television age here, people would gather together to sing, tell stories, eat, drink tea, and play games. While there is still eating and drinking of tea, the others have all but disappeared from family life. The reason? Television.

Remember that this is not a country with pubs or drinking holes, it is not a country where women can go places at night, and it’s a country where people vastly prefer to eat in their homes than to go out for dinner. By a television appearing in each salon, the old stories and songs are disappearing. The games of yesterday have disappeared. People sit in the salons and watch television and exchange tidbits of conversation during the commercial breaks. There aren’t really places to go other than that. There are cafes but these are the incredibly boring domain of men and guess what each one of them usually has blaring in the corner…a television.

Pray to the East and sadly, worship to the west as well. God damn television.

party at the riad, Fez
The American Language Center in Fez has been renovating a riad in the medina for use as a study and cultural center.
Jess at the riad
My neighbor Jess has been overseeing most of the work and this week hosted a party there on Wednesday night.
party at the riad in Fes
As with most parties in Morocco, the absence of alcohol was noticeable since the guests, mostly bored American students studying Arabic through the ALIF program and the staff of the ALC who are almost at finals didn’t linger for a long time. There was however a bit of mulled wine which was interesting to observe within the mixed crowd of Muslims and non- Muslims. Since the guy who was doing most of the serving is pretty devout, I ended up pouring the wine and found myself a little surprised by who was most anxious to have it and who avoided it. But of course, I ‘ll keep those observations to myself.

Jess hired a number of musicians to perform at the Riad and Hanane who loves to sing joined them for a good portion. In addition, both Hanane and myself helped out in the kitchen with food prep and some serving duties. I had intended to take a lot of pictures, but my battery was much weaker than I expected and so it was only a few that I actually got.
music at the riad, Fes
I also managed to get a nice video of Hanane singing with the musicians. She has won a couple of competitions and while a little out of practice and not used to singing with a mike, it is really a joy to hear her. If I can put the video here, she has given me permission to share it.

My friend Laila from Rotterdam arrived in Morocco last Friday just as my neighbor Jess was having a henna party so Hanane, Jess, and Laila all got henna on their hands. The next eight days were like unpaid work for me, though there were some enjoyable moments too.
Hanane and Laila eating chickpeas

Hanane and Laila eating chickpeas on a rainy day in Sefrou.

Jess had suggested that we all go to the Medina in Fes the next day so in the morning we woke up went to Fes and wandered around until it got dark.
wedding in Fez

We came across a wedding procession in the Medina.

The weather was turning shitty and as such, Laila and I left the next day for Tangier, then for Sebta, a city that belongs to Spain but is in Morocco, then to Tetuan, then to Chefchauen, and then back to Fes. The main reason for the trip was because I needed to renew my visa but since Laila’s visit coincided, we decided to make it a bit of a tourist trip to. Since Hanane and I are pretty poor and I wanted to do this in the cheapest possible way, Hanane opted to stay in Sefrou. With the weather so bad, it was unlikely that we were going to have a grand time anyway.
In the morning I managed to get Hanane in a taxi to her house and managed to finally got Laila to stop buying things and got us both in a taxi to Fes which it turned out took us right to the train station for an extra ten dirham. The greatest positive thing about this trip though was being able to see and experience that my Derrija has improved enough that I can actually converse with strangers a bit beyond just the essentials. The worst part was the responsibility I felt as host, guide, and one feeling responsible for her enjoying herself.
In Fes, we got train tickets, then got on the train for a very pleasant part of the trip. Six hours of shooting the shit with an old friend in first class on a northbound train.
coffee shop tangier

No, this isn’t a school. It’s a coffee shop in Tangier. Note that there are no women here, that’s the usual.

Arriving in Tangier I tried to get us a cab to the Hotel Biarritz but after attempting to talk with the first cab driver, I simply gave up and let her use her flashlight and lonely planet to make demands. The Biarritz Hotel was a run down old place with a beautiful grand staircase and a great view of the muddy shore and a run down custom house. Tangier had a great crusty feel to it that even though the Moroccan government has spent billions trying to get away from lingers on from the days when the likes of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin bought drugs and sexual favors from teenage boys in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Sure, now there is a tourist strip and a tourist medina and everything else that comes with trying to lure budget travelers from Europe and America, but there is something utterly seedy about the place that lingers. We took a stroll through the Medina and past the open air seafood joints and in the process I met several of the locals and managed to have some interesting conversations in Derrija about the history of the old city walls, the dangers of the night, and the days when we would have been targets where we were.
Tangier
Laila wanted a nice seafood dish at one of the port side restaurants and so we each ended up spending about seventy dirham for the hands down worst tajines I’ve tasted in Morocco. It was a bland fish with a tasteless sauce and so many bones that it was a miracle we didn’t choke on them. The upside was that the young guys running the place were stoked to be talking with a foreigner who spoke Derrija and then a burnt out African guy of forty-two came along and since he was not a native Arabic speaker and neither was I, the guys at the place got a huge hoot out of us conversing in our mutually bad Derrija. Finally we switched to his equally bad English and he told us about how when he came to Morocco twenty-five years before he had been a shoe shine boy and he would ask the clients to take off their shoes and then run with them “If they don’t shine thier shoes themselves before they leave home, then I will shine them at my home and sell them to someone else.” These days the African makes his livelihood selling hashish instead, though it looked as if most of his profits probably go to the pocket of his own dealer.
Tangier rainy day
Laila was shocked when a beggar came and asked her if she was finished and then took her half finished dish to a nearby bench to finish it. That’s just the way it is in Morocco.
In the morning, we woke up ready to explore Tangier and see some interesting sights. Little did I know that the rain would be coming down in buckets nor that Laila would turn that into a priority mission to find her a pair of Crocs. Of course since it was flooding, literally flooding so much that the lids to the sewers lifted off, the water was flowing six inches deep down every street, and I saw a drowned rat nearly a foot long, the Moroccan shopkeepers were smart enough to just stay home rather than opening their shops.
After being dragged hither and thither through the pouring rain and meeting at least one madman whom I would have loved to befriend, we dragged our swamped selves into a cafe. The madman was walking through the rain screaming out “Allah Akbar” and when he saw Laila he said to her “Don’t be scared, God has brought you here for a reason and we are blessed because we finally have rain. Don’t worry. Allah Akbar.” I instantly loved the raving lunatic.
Davood and Fatima
The cafe we ducked into was run by an Englishman and his Syrian wife. Davood and Fatima. Great middle eastern food. Expensive but delicious and the one meal in all our travels that was actually worth the price we paid for it. I had tabouli that Davood made to order and Laila had a falaffal sandwich. Plus, two real life lattes! Davood and Fatima, when I started to talk to them told how tourism has changed and how tourists now come in and regularly ask for half a sandwich, complain about the prices, and don’t tip. All of this in the past year or so. They bought the building, restored it to beauty, and now can’t find a buyer for it at any price. They may close it. Morocco is eating them up and they dream of returning to Damascus. Davood said he had bought antiques to decorate that he was told were priceless and now the same dealers will offer nothing for them. He recommended that we visit the American Legation which I had wanted to see anyway because of it’s room dedicated to the writer Paul Bowles, Tangier’s most celebrated American ex-pat. Actually, the most famous ex-pat American in Moroccan history. It was a nice thing to be able to touch his suitcases and to sit in a dry place with warm heaters. It’s a beautiful old building filled with beautiful things but neither of us had much interest since we were both soaked to the bone and I literally was walking around with shoes that were completely filled with water on expensive Moroccan rugs. We spent time in the Bowles Room and another room with dioramas of famous Moroccan victories, one against an invading Portuguese Army and another 12 years later using the seized Portuguese weapons against an Army from the south of black Africans. Morocco American Leagation TangierWe each took lots of pictures of the dioramas though for some reason I didn’t take a picture of the suitcases.
American Legation Tangier
Leaving there we caught a taxi to Fnidiq near Sebta and then a twenty dirham taxi to the Spanish Frontier. The taxi ride to Fnidiq via Casa Saghira was thanks to Davood who suggested it was the best way to get to Sebta from Tangier which many others (including lonely planet) had said was not likely or possible. Crossing into Sebta was easy and it was stunning as well since it was December 21st and suddenly we were no longer in Moslem Country but firmly in the realm of Jesus Lovers near the blessed commercial holiday. We took a bus into the city, sat in a tapas bar and drank a few beers.
Sebta, Ceuta
I’d forgotten to bring my new pin number for the only account with money in it and couldn’t withdraw any Euros.
Patron Saint of Sebta
The prices in Sebta were shocking after Morocco. 35 Euros for a double room instead of 120 dirham (12 Euros) and food equally expensive. I woke up early and escaped out to explore Sebta (Ceuta to the Spanish).
Indoor market at Sebta

It’s amazing that Spain and Morocco can coexist at all. One loves pork and beer the other forbids both. Different worlds and overlapping.

It’s a charming Spanish City on a beautiful Mediterranean Peninsula jutting towards Europe from Africa.
Sebta, Ceuta
The streets are hilly and curved and the place feels more Spanish than many parts of Spain. I managed to milk twenty Euros from my Paypal account and enjoyed a coffee and got a pack of cigarettes.
Sebta, Ceuta
After I returned, Laila was awake and we grabbed a coffee, had a short walk, and then we checked out and went back tot he border. At the border we needed to get stamps and checked for flu and while that was happening she found a Dutch man whose wife had been videotaping the border and got arrested several hours before. It was none of our business however and I was glad to leave. We also saw a young Moroccan guy trying to sneak across and get thrown in jail, get beat a little bit. Morocco is not an easy nice place and I could only sheild her from so much of it’s ugliness and horrors.
Rainbow in Morocco
Upon reentering Morocco, we went to the grand taxi stand and of course the first guy to see us tried to usher us into the taxi. For twenty Euros each to Tetuan, about 340 Dirham too much. I argued with him a bit. Mentally I just said “Fuck it” and then I did some harsh bargaining actually getting a price that was ten dirhams lower each than the standard fare. I knew there would be trouble though, especially when he started to kick his other passengers out of the car and then I saw he and his friend shoving another man. The man was thrown to the ground and kicked while our taximan and his henchman laughed and then shoved him away. “Oh, they’re just playing.” Laila said, but in fact they weren’t. We were in the car of a dangerous guy. Again, I said ‘Fuck it’.Arriving in Tetuan, I asked him where the bus station was and he started to demand that we give him more money and hire him to take us to Chefchauen, where he had figured out we were going. I refused since he was asking for fifty Euros. Laila wanted to know what was happening. I tried to explain exactly who it was that we were riding with and at that point he understood the term taxi mafia and started to berate me in Riffian Berber. I berated him back in Swahili which caused everyone to start to look a little concerned. I asked to be let out several times and he refused but then another passenger needed to stop and so I leapt out of the cab, said ‘Come on’ to Laila and grabbed our things from the trunk. The driver was demanding more money for actually bringing us to the bus station, which was the destination of the other passenger. I refused and walked into the safety of the CTM station. I bought the bus tickets. We were fortunate since the bus was leaving in 15 minutes.
Chefchauen, Morocco, Rif
The ride to Chefchauen was the nicest part of the trip so far. Laila fell asleep and I was able to see the vast and uncommon beauty of the Rif Mountains. The flooding had not spared the mountainous regions of the Rif and along the way I saw roads washed out, cars washed into streams, and a land so beautiful and raw that I now fully understood why all of the travelers I had met who had made this trek were so astounded by the beauty.
Flooding in Chefchauen
After a journey of some four hours we arrived in Chefchauen. While Laila had slept I consulted the hated Lonely Planet and found two guest houses which seemed suitable. One was more highly recommended but I chose instead to go to another which the book boasted of having a fireplace and a book exchange.
Chefchauen
After some time, I managed to find the Hotel Andalus, which was the guest house I had chosen. The clerk, Youssef was a slightly crippled young man with a scraggly beard and glasses. He reminded me inordinately of my friends from Bellingham, Washington. In fact, Chefchauen itself had much of the same feel as Bellingham despite the notable outward differences. Chefchauen was a haven for Jewish refugees from Spain after the reconquest by the Spanish and later for Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis in Europe. In honor of those refugees, virtually the entire city is painted blue, the traditional color of the Jews.
Chefchauen Blue City
This happened in the 1930s and has become the trademark of the place. It has a feel of outdoorsyness, hippy ethic, and back to earth that made me feel refreshed and at home.
women washing clothes in Chefchauen
Laila headed to the Hammam while I wandered the Medina, met several new Moroccan friends, found a cyber cafe, managed to use Skype to text my sister who then called my mother in California who then gave my sister the pin number for my card, who in turn gave it to me. I once again had access to money. Thanks God.
With cash in hand I set out into the Medina to find one of my new friends, Abdul Karim. I was unsuccessful but instead was found by his brother Yassine who had heard I was a green sweatered foreigner who spoke Arabic and lived in Sefrou. Artisanal House in ChefchauenYassine led me to their families artisanal shop where I bargained as hard as possible to buy a thick wooly Chefchauen sweater. My final price was about 130 dirhams. Then we watched television before I set off for the hotel. At the hotel, Youssef said that local price was usually around 230. It must have been the watching TV that did it.
Since Laila wasn’t back yet, I went out and got a shave and haircut from a sweet young barber named Abdel Kadr.
Abdl Kedr the barber in Chefchauen
He was probably gay but maybe just effeminate. In any event, effeminate barbers always give the best haircuts so I was happy to find him. A funny thing though, there is no act of trust so great as to be shaved by a stranger with a straight razor. While the blade was on my throat, I became aware of it, but Abdel Kadr was of such a sweet nature that I wasn’t worried.
Back to the hotel and I found Laila, Youssef and several other people lounging in front of the fire. They were Azziz, the friend and coworker of Youssef; Simon a warden (ranger) from Wales, and Allison a foreign aid worker from Australia who has spent the past ten years working in Southeast Asia. These were great companions and we spent the remainder of the evening talking of books, travels, stories, and Simon and I played a game of chess which I won by the skin of my teeth. We were well matched. I went to bed and slept quite well after a hot shower.
woman in Chefcahuen
In the morning we four went to a small cafe in the square where we ate eggs, toast, pancakes, and juice. After this a short walk to look for a merchant Simon called ‘Hatman’ who made custom knit hats, but we were unsuccessful. We attempted to take a hike to a cascade but since it was still flooding the trail was closed. We then sat in a small cafe for mint tea and happened upon a Frenchman named Jeremy whom I felt an instant bond with. He was slightly older than me, smelled of pachouli, and had been wandering in the mountains for some time. It was his twenty-fifth trip to Morocco over the past twenty years. He seemed attracted to Laila and she to him and I did my best to encourage them in this as any friend should do.
On our way from the cafe the two women went inside because Laila had to use the toilet and this time a Moroccan man, presumably angry that women were in a men’s cafe, pounded on the door and when Laila opened it, he shoved her out of the way and went inside. Simon returned to the hotel and the four of us went to get bus tickets. Jeremy was leaving that evening, Allison was leaving on Christmas, and Laila and I got tickets for the next morning at 9 am.
Dinner in Chefchauen
We then went and collected Simon and the five of us had dinner in another cafe where I invited a bummish old Arab to sit with us and play his violin for ten dirhams. He was awful but I’m a sucker for bummish guys with violins.
Old Moroccan with Violin in Chefchauen
At this point we took leave of Jeremy and returned to another night of stories, fire, and chess. Once again, I won by the skin of my teeth. I retired early and listened as they told riddles down by the fireplace. Sometime in the evening the power failed and I was disappointed to realize this probably meant no hot shower in the morning.
Imagine my surprise when I woke at 7 am and found the power restored and then my disappointment at finding the water cut off completely. Keep in mind I don’t have a hot water shower at home. Okay, now you’ve got it. At the station we found that due to flooding the road from Tetuan to Chefchauen was closed and flooded out. This in turn meant that our bus would be severely delayed or not coming at all, since it was from thence it came. Knowing that the stationmaster was simply telling us later later or later later later, when a third party bus was offered for fifty dirhams each I bought tickets and suggested that a tourist couple also thus stranded do the same. They took my advice. Soundly I think.
The bus was half soaking wet and fully stinky. I saw it as our only option. Bear in mind that Hanane had faithfully waited in Sefrou for us to return and had been quite understanding of my choice to stay and relax one additional day in Chefchauen. She called and texted and by this point I am of course fully aware of the treasure I have in her. I wanted to get back to her. I missed her.
On the bus, the other tourists were relaxed and making the best of things as was I. After eight hours we finally arrived in Fes. I smoked two cigarettes in three puffs each and then guided Laila to the Sefrou taxi stand just in time to avoid missing the last taxi before the stand moves to Atlas in the evening. When we got to the taxi two glue sniffers were fighting over the snack stand and I got her to get in the taxi before they could approach her since I immediately noticed their tourist radar go off when they saw her. Our driver climbed in and I smelled wine on his breath then we had the scariest ride to Sefrou I’ve yet had. He was an awful drunk driver.
In Sefrou, my sweet and tender Hanane came over, made a tajine, and helped us to decompress. I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my entire life.
Hanane suggested that in the morning Laila and she go to Hammam since Hanane had been waiting all week to take Laila there. I seconded that suggestion and looked forward to having my house for a few hours so that I could wash my clothes, relax in solitude in my home, and in general repair the mental damage that this hellish trip had bequeathed to me. I woke up feeling relieved at the thought.
Sadly, the sun came out and Laila decided she didn’t want to go to the hammam. Both Hanane and I were disappointed. I went to the cyber cafe for a few hours and left them at the house. When I returned, I found that Hanane had done all my laundry and cleaned my entire house. Laila was on my roof reading a book in the sun. After this we had Friday couscous at Hanane’s parents house and then went to Fes so Laila could buy gifts for her friends back in Holland.
We went to the Souidi house, ate a beautiful lunch, and then Mohammad, Amine, Hanane, Laila, and me piled into the Mohammad mobile and I drove her to the airport. On the way I was stopped by the police once and then let go with a warning. At the airport, I pulled into the drop off point, pulled out her bag, mumbled something about hating good byes and prepared to leave. Amine carried her bag up to the terminal for her and thus earned me a 400 dirham fine for parking in a no parking zone.
Somehow this wasn’t quite the visit I was expecting but the good news is that nobody died and I got my visa renewed and Laila made it safely home to Rotterdam.
The next day was my birthday and when Hanane asked what I wanted, I told her I just needed to have a day to myself and she being the incredible woman that she is gave it to me. During the course of that day, I bought a violin for 500 dirham and with that, I should be able to find some measure of joy for years to come.
In short, it worked out. What did I learn? Well, next time friends come to Morocco I will make my house and myself available for three days just as both Ben Franklin and the Prophet Mohammad recommend, after that, I will be happy to suggest the services of a guide and cheap hotels and if I need to make a trip in a cheap, fast way…I know just who to take…me. Just me.

I’ve put off getting an internet connection at home for a while since money is tight and I knew the connection would be slow, but now, I’ve gone ahead and done it. I’m connected in the Casbah.

The connection is slow. When the United States is awake, it is incredibly slow and when the U.S. sleeps it’s just sort of slow. Like a good dial up connection.
avatar
I’ve been looking at the news a lot and it’s not surprising at all. The U.S. has found new reasons to further tighten its security and thus make itself more isolationist while still embracing a ‘world U.S.’ policy. Obama continues to make change we can believe in, i.e. no real change at all with more civilians being killed during his first year in office than in Bush’s last. The economy is still struggling, the rich are still getting richer and the poor getting poorer, make note of the fact that the poor don’t usually have stocks, so the Dow industrial climbing higher isn’t the sign of prosperity it is painted as. Health insurance rather than health care will soon be forced on all Americans with those who don’t sign up being penalized. You can read that as if you don’t pay the insurance companies, you will be found and fined. Climate change is striking and energy consumption is still climbing.

Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that the upbringing of Americans makes every one of them (including me) think deep down inside that we might be the most important person in the world. Surprise, we’re not. All that ‘you could be the next Einstein, Lincoln, or Ford’ is to blame and as a result, it’s easy to see why Americans are so willing to use the bulk of the world’s resources while the rest of the world suffers. It also explains why American’s get so angry when they are cut off in traffic or argued with “Don’t you know who I am?”

In short, Americans are fucked. Most of us will never be more than just one in six billion struggling soft bodies trying to pad our next the best we can. We love superlatives ‘greatest’ ‘best’ ‘fastest’ etc but the truth is that unless we really stretch our definitions none of us really are any sort of superlative (present company included). I’m neither the best writer of my generation, the best blogger, or the best anything…and chances are neither are you. You’re just you and if it makes you feel better, you are the best you there is. The absolute greatest.

As I struggle to make my way and to clear the way for Hanane and I to get married and have children and build a life together, I am constantly asking myself why. I love her. I think we could be good parents. And, well, we’re here.

It doesn’t mean I think it’s fair to those kids though if they happen. They get a world that probably won’t be better than this old fucked up world.

So the news is not surprising. It’s boring. I want money but even if I had it, it probably wouldn’t be good for much. What, more travel? A nicer sofa? Hot water? I’ve got more than I deserve, and no doubt you do to, though I doubt you can admit it yet.

But hey, go watch Avatar and enjoy the prospect of an entire planet of fairly happy people who are missing just one thing to save their entire civilization and world, a United States Marine. Oooh-rah. Go Jarhead Clan! Go America! You can feel good about it, you need something to feel good about right? After all, you might be the most important person in the world…or maybe even in the universe.

It’s hard to think for some reason of this as a new decade but the fact is that we are in the tens, teens and out of the oughts, maybe we ought to think about that for a second. What will this decade hold?

Well, for one thing we have passed peak oil. Oil is expected to run out sometime during this decade and alternative energy is not ready to fill in the gap. The most optimistic estimates put oil lasting until 2030 the least sometime around five years from now oil becomes to expensive to be practical anymore and too important to governments to waste on their populations.

That may sound abstract, but in fact, that means that energy will be more expensive, no matter what (unless a miracle cheap source is developed). It also means that food prices will rise, plastic goods won’t be as cheap as they have been up to now, and that in general the high standard of material living that most of the world has enjoyed for the last 50 years will start to decline. This may be especially true for the 1st world nations who may try to maintain thier levels at the expense of second and third world nations who will likely suffer so much that Langston Hughes poem and the basis of the communist philosophy may come to pass….the heavy load will sag on the back and then it will explode. Expect problems.

Of course, none of this will matter if the fruitcakes who think the ancient Mayans were correct are correct themselves. It will all end in 2012.

Then there is the Russian scientist who sees the dissolution of the U.S.A happening this year. Not very likely that he is the new Nostrodamus.

And as for the ‘economic recovery’. I’m laughing at the high handed way those with everything are making those with nothing think that things are improving. It’s not the emperor who is naked, but all of his subjects who think that they are clothed in riches. Just look at the U.S jobs report that came out today and ignore the stock market for a moment…is that a recovery? Only for JP Morgan.

And yet, it will be hard for things to decline where I am at. In fact, the loss of what ‘affluence’ has brought in Morocco would probably improve the quality of life for nearly everyone who isn’t rich here. It’s hard to fall further than the 7th century.

Here’s to you! Thanks for reading Vagobond.com and downloading my latest book. Also a special thanks to those of you who donated and/or bought my books. Every little bit helps to keep this site and my life up and running.

For those of you who missed it this is what happened to the Vagobond (me) in 2009 in brief.

1) Celebrated the New Year in Utah with my brother, his family, and my mom an step dad.
2) Traveled by train across the USA stopping in Chicago, New York, Boston, Providence, and Philly
3) Bought the cheapest ticket to Spain from NYC
4) Couchsurfed and Vagobonded through Spain, Gibraltar, and into Morocco
5) Fell in love with Hanane when I chanced to surf her couch here in Sefrou
6) Lots of Morocco Travel
7) Made my way to Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and back to Morocco
8) Got engaged to Hanane
9) Found a job in Alaska, lost it before I started but flew to Spain, Germany, Ireland, and Quebec then hitched across Canada with $4 Canadian and no blankets, visited friends in Bellingham, had breakfast with my sister in San Francisco and went to work for my father which resulted in the end of our relationship then visited friends and family in Palm Springs, Big Bear, San Diego, at which point I went to my brothers in Utah where I lived in a tent for two months, rode horses, sold my old blog, and started doing my best to earn money online.
10) Flew from SLC to New York, bussed to Portland Maine, ferry to Yarmouth Nova Scotia, hitched to Halifax, train to Quebec and then back to Ireland, Brussels, and Fez and Sefrou where I was overjoyed to once again kiss Hanane even though the money I had hoped to earn to get married haed never materialized as I had thought it would when I left her
11) Found a house in the Casbah, got a job at the ALC, started teaching blogging classes, pre-published Liminal Travel, and then took the visa renewal trip to Sebta, Chefchaouen, and Tangier.
12) Turned 38 with a kiss from Hanane, bought a violin, and celebrated the New Year with she and my neighbor and many new friends in the Casbah.

And if you think it sounds like a lot, I have a feeling 2010 will blow your minds even more, but we’ll have to see. Stay tuned and Happy New Year.