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The Morocco Trip Part 1

Arriving in Tangier at 2am
The high speed ferry was nice and took just 35 minutes to bring me to Africa. On board, a customs agent stamped my passport and then we debarked with no real formality. As I walked off in my hat, dozens of taxi drivers and touts swarmed me. I didn’t have any money so I walked in the direction I thought the atms might be in and found one. I figured out that the exchange was about $11 per 100 and got 300 Dirhams. I didn’t know what that would get me.
A persistant taxi driver followed me and then took me to the train station. I didn’t understand the amount he requested and being tired and used to the ever so honest Spaniards who seem to never even consider cheating you, I handed him 100. He handed back 50. I knew I was being gouged, but I let it be. Having no idea of Morocco and realizing that the language is totally different, I didn’t want to start with an argument.
At the train station I had four hours to wait for the train to Fes where I had decided to go to get away from the port city. I changed my last 10 quid for another 130 dirham and sat studying my new phrasebook.
I met a lovely Moroccan woman who is married to a Spaniard and we spoke in semi-fuent Vagonese for about an hour, part Arabic, part Spanish, part French, part English. We were joined by a very nice Moroccan man from Rabat who conversed with us. He seemed to not be short of money and as such was absolutely no threat. I used the restroom and a beggar-like woman demanded a dirham when I came out, she was sitting there like an attendant, so I gave her one. I hate being so obviously a foreigner and already I was beginning to miss the noble and honest Spaniards I had come to love.
When the train arrived, my two companions went to first class and I went to second. They suggested I join them in first, but I like to ride the cheap seats before I ride the expensive ones (it was a difference of about $4). On the train, I met a man named Mohammad from Sidi Kacim where I had to change trains at 12:10 am. He was quite a nice older man who suggested I be very careful in Fez because I was such an obvious foreigner. He also gave me his number and said I should come visit him in Sidi Kacim to see what non-tourist Morocco is like. I might do it.

I’m sure he sees money when he looks at me, but I found him to be the sort of crafty guy that would not only make money off me, but also end up saving me money. Incidentally, Omar, from Rabat also said I should call him.

Moroccan trains are confusing and the stations are not clearly marked so I dared not go to sleep even though I had hours ahead of me. So I sat and watched the darkness roll by occaisionally broken up by run down Arab tenements and distant blue and white lights of houses. I wonder what it looks like in the daytime.

Arriving in Fes, it was well past 2 am and I was exhausted. As I walked out the train station gate I saw the guard motion towards me to a young man in a yellow jacket.

He beelined on me and started speaking English. The damn hat has to go. I talked with him, tried to be polite, and he was insistant, so I disengaged. He had mentioned a guesthouse in trying to guess where I was staying (impossible since I didn’t know) and so I told the first taxi driver I encountered to take me there. It was one of the most expensive places in Fes and was closed for the low season. Shit.
I was abandoned in a dark part of Morocco’s vast medina with nothing that looked like a hotel or cafe anywhere near me. At this point, who should arrive but the English speaking guy from the train station. I felt like I had been set up. Despite this, I got in his car and then he led me to his father’s guest house, an amazing palace of a place, showed me a incredible room and then told me it was 700. I would have paid it, but at this point I only had about 250 left and I hadn’t been to an ATM, besides it seemed like too much luxury for me by myself. I told him my financial situation. I was exhausted and making stupid travel moves.

He took me to his friend’s guesthouse that seemed to also be closed for the season, we climbed in through the garage and then I paid the great price of 250 dirhams for what was actually a pretty decent place where I was the sole guest. Karim, for that was his name, tried to win me over with ideas about making businesses and buying carpets and reselling them. All probably very valid. At this point I told of my need to sleep and then shortly after I had retired, I heard Karim leave. At this point, I was the sole inhabitant and I began to suspect that I was sleeping somewhere illegally. I got up from my bed, went to the reception desk, figured out how to access the 56k modem on the computer there, and left the name and address in case I should suddenly disappear. I had a seriously queasy feeling from this guy and I thought that when I didn’t want to participate in his business ideas, things might go from bad to worse.
Then I had to sleep, the morning call to prayer was blasting but that didn’t stop me from catching a very necessary three hours of shut eye. Then I woke, brushed my teeth, jammed my hat into my bag, put on my black robber beanie and black shirt, and beat feet from what was probably an expensive night of illegal habitation. I wanted nothing more to do with Karim.

Having no money at this point, I walked several miles from the Medina to the new town center where I had seen on the internet that there was a youth hostel. I found a bank machine, withdrew five hundred dirhams and then found an honest taxi driver who actually used the meter and told me what the minimum fares for day and night are 4 dirhams by day, 6 dirhams by night. He offered to get me some very high quality hashish which I politely declined and then he dropped me at the youth hostel. I was stoked, online I had seen that they scheduled tours, had maps, made excursions to other areas, and even did safari’s in the sahara…unfortunately, they were booked full. The manager suggested I look at the hotels on the next street. I found one dingy place for 70 dirhams and most were around 2-500 per night. I wanted to pay less. I chanced upon an expensive cafe that boasted wifi, but my plug didn’t fit in the outlet, crap I thought, I need a new adaptor, but later I was to discover that in fact, it was just a strange outlet. In the short time I had before my battery died, I found the name of a Pension I liked, the Hotel Olympia which had some good reviews.
Several cab drivers refused to take me there since it was back in the Medina but finally I found one who agreed for 15 dirhams. Arriving, I saw lots of non-moroccan guests and figured that this was alright, but they too were full. I thought this was the low season? Next door I found another box room hotel called the Hotel Mouritania. The room was 80 dirhams a night, I booked for one night, dropped off my things, and then wandered around the narrow souks of the Medina. I got lost and then refound my Hotel. I can’t tell you how nice it was to not be dragging around my bags.

The souks are filled with craftsmen making leather, metal goods, rugs, and more. Donkeys crowd the narrow ways as they are the sole means of moving goods from one area to the next. Shops selling pirated CD’s sit next to shops selling live chickens or still bloody lambs. I was still too freaked out to take any pictures even though I’m sure I look like a tourist, though I think the beanie, 7 days of beard growth, and overall state of dirtyness help to mask me a little. One aggressive fellow got in my face and said Donne moi l’argent since French is the second language here. I stared at him and said no, things seemed to be progressing and then an older man shooed him off. I sat and ate couscous and chicken and fruit salad and tea and a coke and paid too much for it. 90 dirhams and now I am going to bed at about 5 pm, probably about 24 hours later than I should have. I’m sure this is just the beginning.

2/6/09

Yesterday was much better. I think that culture shock was a bit more than I counted on especially since I arrived with no sleep, disoriented, no plan, and well…I arrived and that is all that can really be said about anything.


I woke up early and walked the Medina. I found it very deserted early in the morning and lost myself in it. This was very nice. Then I walked back from where I exited it and this was also nice. After that I found an internet place and blogged, checked email, reassured my mom that I am okay, and checked couch surfing. I had messages from two CSers in Morocco. I will go stay with her today, her name is Hanine and she teaches English, the other is nearer the dessert and he has also offered to host me, I will accept if possible. As to other offers, I prefer to accept the couch surfing. I think this is the right way to travel and meet people, there is a certain safety in it.

Back in the Medina I had breakfast of some hobs arabe(round bread) and coffee, then I bought cigarettes and a razor, shaved off my beard, and decided that I will not try to hide any longer.

After this another walk through the Medina and I was approached by a young man, Mohammad who spoke English well. He offered to take me on a tour for 50 dirhams, I bargained and we reached 40. We saw the tanneries where they offered me mint for the smell of the rotting flesh, this was fascinating.






Then we visited a pottery shop,


an herb medicine shop, and finally his father’s rug shop where despite myself I bought a camel hair blanket for about $30.


I figure a blanket is a good thing to have and besides, I really liked the proprietor, Ahmed, who is the uncle of Mohammad.. I don’t know where I will put the blanket, but I will figure something out, perhaps it wil save my life since I have no sleeping bag and a blanket is always a good thing to have. I think the price was very good. Afterwards, I was pulled aside by another merchant who told me that yesterday he thought I was a Berber. This of course pleased me. He looked like a white guy and said that my features look very much like his people. He also, of course, offered to get me started in an import export business, a good idea, but I am not ready for this yet. Perhaps though, there is some future for me in bringing others here and taking them on tours…we will see. Inshahallah.

I paid the washer woman about $3 to wash my socks, underwear, and a few shirts and my levis. Also I got my shoes shined…perhaps it is only in third world countries that there are shoe shiners and this says something about the future of my country. Maybe not though, I only know that I saw no one shining shoes in Spain.
After this, I returned to the internet phone place, called Hanane, set up a place to meet tomorrow and then got a fine lunch of lamb kabobs, olives, fries, and bread. I am sleepy again.

I learn something new everyday. Today I learned that even though the washer woman does a nice job of washing the clothes, she feels no responsibility to bring the clothes in when it begins to rain. Unfortunately, these are clothes I don’t really want to abandon. Four pairs of socks, 5 pairs of underwear, one white button down, 2 white t-shirts (I can abandon these I think) and a grey t-shirt that I like quite a lot.

I’m not sure what to do with myself in the evening. I’m sure there must be more entertainment than just sitting in my room on the computer or sitting in a coffee shop, but I’m not sure.

I’ve also learned that one can ony watch LOST on ABC.com in the United States, I’m not sure how they block it, but somehow they do. That was one thing I thought to do this evening, but no, it was not possible. I used the internet for a bit and bought a mars bar for 12 dirhams, probably too much, but I think that maybe Morocco is not as cheap as I may have thought. If I were to live here, I think it would be better to live in a less tourist place than Fes.

Although I do find that if I walk around today without my bags and away from the transport stations, that I go fairly unmolested by those seeking to improve their fortunes to the detriment of mine. I do wonder what the local price for a blanket such as mine would be. I do like this blanket. Perhaps it is not the finest quality, perhaps it is only a $10 blanket, but none the less, I like that it is soft, warm, and tightly, if not finely made. And who knows, I am no connoisseur of camel blankets, maybe this one is dandy.

I’ve rigged my clothes to hang on a makeshift line I made of a shopping bag and my sarong. The sarong comes in handy for so many things. Perhaps I will have a head hole cut in the center of my blanket and stitched up and leave Morocco looking like Clint Eastwood of the Sahara.

The restaurant owner who gave me no change stopped me on the way back to my room. It turns out he is the boss of the hotel and the restaurant, I also read that tipping is semi expected in Morocco, I’ve been a bad tourist, but I think I have put a small amount into the economy in any event. I hope that my stay with Hanane is not expected to pay hotel prices and that I can instead teach a bit in her school, improve my Arabic, and see some things in Moroccan life that I might otherwise miss.

I still can’t believe I am doing this with no guide book. It’s cold and there is probably a zero chance that my clothes will be dry by morning in this cold cell that I currently live in. The call to prayers is like the sound of a dying cow, not the incredibly beautiful voice of the Imam at the Mosque I lived next to in Hawaii.

As I walked across the large square, it struck me how un-culture shocked I now feel, not too long after arriving in this very foreign country. Here I am in a Muslim nation where people in a very different style of dress from my own rush across the square to prayers five times a day.

Allah al-akbar!

2/9/09

The adventures began with getting some money and some coffee and then heading to the bus station where I thought I was supposed to meet Hanane, I had misunderstood, a consequence of not having a map or a guidebook. The place where I was supposed to meet her was in Fez-Safrou, about 35 kilometers away from the Medina where I had been staying. I called her, but since I was incapable of really understanding where it was that I was supposed to go, a friendly shopkeeper got on the phone and she explained. He got me a taxi to Safrou, I thought, but it turns out the taxi was only to the place where the taxi’s to Safrou congregated. At this point, I still had no idea of the distance I would be going. The taxi driver, that is the first taxi driver, not the second, didn’t have change for the 100 dirhams I offered so this entailed he and I going from person to person of the other drivers to find change. He was another honest man that used his meter and while he could easily have overcharged me, instead, he patiently helped me to find change.

At this point, I had to find a taxi to this place Safrou which I was just starting to realize was some distance away. A driver agreed to take me and I sat in the back seat, then two women crammed into the front seat of the beat up Mercedes cab, and another woman and two more men crammed into the back with me. It was right around a dollar and we rode thus for about 20 minutes until we finally reached the tiny town of Safrou. At this point I was supposed to call Hanane but since the payphones only take cards I had to find a phone center. There was one across the street which a kind man in bright yellow clog like shoes helped me to find.

I called Hanane and then figured it was about time I get a sim card for Morocco and since I was at a phone shop, I picked one up for 30 dirham. I called Hanane again and she told me she was on the way.

When she found me, I was very pleased to see that she matched her very sweet voice. She is a tiny little thing with a great smile and a wonderful command of English. Quite pretty in her colorful hijab. We got a cab to go back to her house since at this point it was raining quite a lot. She told me that there was another couch surfer that was supposed to be nearby, from Italy named Claudio. Now here, I have to confess, I was a little disappointed since I honestly didn’t want to share her attention with anyone else. We searched for him to no avail and then Hanane said we should go to her house and if she had to she would come back for him.

We took the taxi to her house after looking for him for quite a while. At her house I was introduced to here sisters Fatima and Zahara. Also she introduced her mother, Kadija, and her father. I also met her brother Mohammad and several nieces and nephews. These are absolutely lovely people. Their house is a sort of typical Moroccan house with many sheep in the yard, a squat toilet, retro-fitted electricity, and warm hearts of wonderful people.

Hanane then went to find Claudio and I was left with her sisters. These were not the demure and shy women I might have expected, instead, they were affectionate enough to make me slightly uncomfortable but not in a bad way. Simply put, there was quite a lot of affection and hand holding. Zahara is quite the diva and perhaps one of those beautiful women who demand your attention a little too much.

To be honest, I was quite thankful when Claudio arrived and she transferred her attentions to him. To be sure, the ego was a little bit bruised, but certainly I am not here looking for this sort of relationship. My preferences, if I were to be asked are much more along the likes of Hanane, who while very attractive is not so diva-like. In any event, I am here to learn about Morocco (al-maghreb in Arabic) and her people and this is one of the finest shows of hospitality it has ever been my pleasure to receive.

Just moments ago, this saint like woman Kadija, their mother, came and placed a pillow behind my neck since she thought I might be uncomfortable where I sit and type. When I sat down, she brought me a blanket for my lap and a sheepskin (not that kind dirty minded readers!) to keep my feet warm.

Shortly after Hanane and Claudio arrived, we were brought tea of a kind I don’t quite know. Then the wonderful Kadija brought out a huge tray of couscous and Claudio and I learned how to eat couscous with vegetables and chicken (djaj) Moroccan style. Everyone eats from the same big tray and one picks up the couscous and sort of bounces it in the hand until it forms a ball and then you plop it into your mouth. The vegetables are eaten with the main couscous and underneath, the djaj sits like a special treat which is broken into bits after it is exposed and shared around.

After eating, there was more tea and then the mess was cleared. As an American, it is hard for me to sit when people are cleaning, especially when I am the subject of such hospitality, but I understood it was proper for me to remain seated and so I did so. Hanane sat across, Fatima sat next to me and we shared a blanket and the Zahara shared a blanket with Claudio. I was quite surprised by the affection of these girls and especially since it is in front of their parents.

Hanane taught us a song in Arabic, Claudio at first refused to learn Arabic since he is studying French but for me it is very nice to learn new things and learning them I certainly am. After singing a bit, Hanane had to go to work and that left me and Fatima under one blanket trading Arabic and English and the other blanket trading French and Italian. After a bit, Fatima had to go to work as well, she is a beautician and that left me as a bit of a third wheel.

I don’t want to make any of this sound scandalous as I think it is all quite innocent. the youngest sister, Zahara is 21 and was married once already but divorced, she explained that she doesn’t like Moroccan men because they tend to put women down. She expressed disdain that Hanane always wears a hijab and said that to get a good job, a woman cannot wear a hijab these days. Hinane has her masters in English literature and Zahara is studying marketing.

It is one of those situations where I am ever so slightly uncomfortable, and yet, I feel that things are working out quite the way they are supposed to. It is nice for me to be able to observe this unfolding.

Before Hanane left, she told us that the plan was for us to go for a walk with Zahara and then we would meet with Fatima and then we would meet her for coffee. The weather here is quite unusual, I know that I never expected to be cold in Morocco but it is very cold. In fact, it snowed! So we cancelled our walk and I’m not sure what the plan is now. They tell us that the weqther has not been this way in at least 20 years.

I should point out that we ate massive amounts of couscous at about 1pm, at about 3 pm we went into the kitchen and Kadija was baking a huge piece of flatbread. I thought this was for dinner, but no, this was the middle, middle meal. Not dinner, just a huge snack of bread with olive oil, jam, and cheese. I am completely stuffed and slightly worried about what massive form dinner will take. I am totally charmed by these people. I tried to pay for the taxi but Hanane refused to let me.

I know that I have a suspicious mind and am always looking for the ulterior motives behind the actions of people around me, but I wonder what the cost of all of this could possibly be. I don’t think for a second that they will demand anything, they are humbly offering all of this. Hanane has said it is okay to stay for 1 day or 9 days, I will accept at least a few days and perhaps as much as a week. One nice thing is that Hanane is a teacher and she has offered to tutor me in Moroccan Arabic, this is a very nice thing. This will make all of my travel in Morocco or other Arab countries a much more rewarding experience.

I am glad to be away from the Medina in Fes even though it was beautiful and I am happy to be able to see it. It is a world heritage site and the largest auto free urban area in the world. At one point Fes was the largest city in the world. It is miraculous and wonderful, but the problem with areas like this that draw many tourists, is that they also draw the more base elements of humanity. While it is wonderful to see our common human heritage, it is depressing to see the predatory nature of those who come to fleece the tourists. I’ve seen it in Hawaii and I’ve seen it everywhere else tourists go. England, Spain, Tahiti, The Bahamas, Philippines, Thailand, China, and well, like I said, I think it is everywhere.

This is part of the reason I love couch surfing. It provides an opportunity to see the world and her people without the predatory capitalistic ethic that is so common in all sorts of travel. All of this is true and yet, yesterday I bought a blanket I wasn’t necessarily looking for and hired a guide that I wasn’t really looking for either…I was glad to find both.

After Hanane came back, we had a third meal. This was a lovely Moroccan soup made by Kadija. Then Fatima came back. If I had to choose one sister, certainly it is Hanane. There is a certain righteousness about her that I find to be more than simply good looks or affability can account for.

Hanane loves books and told me about her six year relationship that caused her heartache and pain. She took in a traveler who had been beaten and robbed and fed, clothed, and took care of him. She is a truly good woman. She is Muslim but not the kind of Muslim that is self righteous, instead, she said, we are not perfect Muslims or I wouldn’t have my hajib off in front of you’ and I like this acknowledgment of imperfection in self and in faith.

As we went to sleep last night in the living room, Claudio said to me “We are staying with a crazy family! They are crazy! I think he may be exactly right. If this is a typical Arab family, then the world needs to know that things have been terribly misunderstood. Their last name is Suidee. And sweeties they are. Crazy in a wonderful way.

Today, Zahara took us to the medina of Sifrou. Much smaller than the one in Fes, but still awash in color. At the medina she was as concerned for us as a mother hen and warned us to hide our wallets and money before entering. After entering a rather comical old beggar latched onto the idea of being my guide and despite our best efforts it took nearly ten minutes to shake him. I professed to speak no English but could barely restrain my laughter when he said he was an old hippie, that he was part of the Woodstock generation, and that he knew Bob Dylan. No doubt he was here in that era and quite possibly he even hung out with Bob Dylan, lord knows there were enough American hippies making their way to Morocco in those days. As nearly always though, when someone wants to be my friend too badly, I tend to shy away. I think this is always wise, because even though I think that most people in the world would like to be my friend, I feel more comfortable about this when they at least know who I am. So I pretended to know no English and played the Hawaii card. When he asked my language I said “Je- parler Hawaiiano’ in halting French and then broke into humuhumunukunukuapua’a no ka oi I ka pono and followed with my grandfather’s mystery phrase
kwelasamachimingmingalomatimbupakarugentihi, we’ve never discovered the meaning of this or the language and I crossed my fingers hoping it wasn’t berber since family legend says that it is quite a filthy phrase in whatever language. At this point, he said “If I talk to you in Berber you won’t understand either and I laughed as if I didn’t really understand him” Finaly he gave up and said “Come back if you want to experience something”, quite a nice phrase to part from an ungrateful tourist. Just the sort of thing I might say if frustrated in my efforts to procure a client when I was a stockbroker, akin to “Call me if you want to stop losing money and start making some.”

Claudio and I bought some chicken, cakes, bananas, and olives for the family larder. All told it came to about 100 dirhams. Incidentally, this is the price Zahara said I should have paid for my blanket, but I am okay with having paid too much in this case. I think it will be my only major purchase in Morocco unless I decide to pick up some shoes, and if I do that I will ask Hanana to assist me. Also I keep thinking that a jacket in olive drab with some fur on the collar might be a nice thing to have rather than my blue one.

I think it is too cold to go to the desert and I may have to come back to experience the Sahara another time.

Certainly I could live here on my $300 a month and have a garden and some goats and spend quite a lot of time doing art and writing. In addition I might be able to eventually arrange safaris and do some guiding for people. The problem of course is that I like to be able to blend in and here, despite the words of the berber man, I don’t think that would happen, as evidenced by the ‘old hippie’ from this morning.

From here I will go to Rabat and then Marrakesh. I must pay a visit to Casablanca if only to wear my hat to Rick’s Café and then I will return to Spain, go to Sevilla and on to Lisbon. Hopefully this bitch of a winter will ease up at some point, or else we will all be struggling to survive in the new ice age and Iraq will again become the center of the world as America moves there en masse.

Is it fate that has me improving my Arabic, learning about the Arab world, and sitting in a place that will be better to be in as the world comes to an end? Perhaps Sallie Mae will crash before my loans become due…that would be a nice thing.

On the second day here, it rained all day and I started to feel a little trapped with Fatima and Zahira as my guards, I anxiously waited for Hanane to finish with her work so that I could have some conversation. Claudio is a nice guy and a kindred spirit. Whenever we start to talk to one another, we are sort of intercepted. To be honest, I had many thoughts of escaping yesterday. Zahira took us to a café in the evening which was a nice break from being trapped inside the very cold house. We are told that it has never been this cold and rainy here before. I believe it because the house is not suitable for subsisting in the cold at all. We can see where the water runs down the walls and since there is a huge hole covered with plastic on the roof, it is obvious that rain has never been the issue that it is here before.

There is much more, but for now, this is enough. I am writing on my computer and then trqnsferring it to a zip drive and then to here…so more later…Here are just a few of many pictures here…


The other day before our Italian friend Claudio left, Hanane’s brother Fouad took us to the Hammam,the Arab baths. The Hammam is a public building that is not far from the Souidi home. There is not a western style shower here and so we tend to take baths with water heated on the fire or on the stove and then using soap and it is very important to scrub the skin.

Muslims are suppossed to pray five times per day and ablution is required each time. This consists of washing the hands, feet, face, ears, nostrils, and arms. So people tend to be very clean even without the western shower.

In addition, when one showers with the bucket, you are suppossed to use an abrasive glove to scrub the skin. People here find it odd that one would simply lather up with soap, rinse, and repeat. Instead, you should scrub the skin until it is almost painful.

But, back to the Hammam. The Hammam is used by both sexes but at different times of the day. It is composed of four large rooms, a dressing room, and rooms of various steam intensity. The family was very concerned for us before we went and told us that we should take no money, talk to no one, and not hire the man to scrub us in the baths but instead to let Fouad take care of us.

This concern is touching, if also a bit smothering, but since my Arabic is bad, and since they have seen foreigners get in trouble, and since their concern comes from the heart, I accept it and deal with the smothering until such a time as I can demonstrate my ability to survive encounters with locals.

So we loaded up gym bags with towels, soap, scrubbers, water dippers, shampoo, and new fresh clothing. Then we followed Fouad down the street to the Hammam.

I haven’t been taking pictures as much and certainly I took none in the baths, I tried to find some on the web but all the pictures are very fancy Hammams so this and the other illustration will have to suffice.

Inside the changing room we stripped to our shorts (board shorts for me and some young men, but also briefs and boxers), then we put our things on the shelf, Fouad took our money and paid for us, got buckets, and we entered.

The first room closest to the door has the toilets and is the room that stays the coolest because it is farthest from the steam room. Fouad had us sit on small plastic chairs we had brought and he took the buckets and filled them in the steam room. The tiled walls were cool and the steam was very hot.

We began to bathe with soap and water in our American/European ways, while Fouad got the water. He is 15 and a strong kid, he worked his ass off to make sure we were clean and safe, Hanane told him that if anything happened to us, she would kill him, but I think he did it because he is a genuinely nice guy.

I thought the bathing was nice but Fouad insisted on scrubbing our hair, legs, arms, backs, and chests. We were allowed to clean our nether regions ourselves thankfully, and I was grateful not to have to insist on this. After a thourough scrubbing, Fouad then gave each of us a massage. Normally, one would pay a guy in the Hammam for this, but since we were being shepherded, this was the case.

I would estimate we spent at least an hour and a half in the baths. In Arab culture, the Hammam is a place where the sexes can be seperated, where men and women can gossip and where business can be conducted. Of course it was odd to be the only haoles, but I’m used to that, mostly.

When we emerged, I felt clean, fresh, relaxed, and good. I was surprised to find Fatima standing outside the door and then to find Khadija waiting at the corner with a huge stick in her hand. Hanane had become worried and sent her mother and sister to make sure we were alright while she cooked. So we went back to the Souidi house and ate another huge meal.

Just a slice of Moroccan life.

Originally posted 13 Feb 2009

2/14/09

I make rules for myself with the best of intentions and then I usually have to break them. One example of this is about to be demonstrated. At some point, I decided that blogging about my emotional life with others was something that I didn’t want to do, I’ve broken this rule before, and usually come back to it, and now I am about to break it again.

Life has suddenly become very beautiful…and complicated. I am in Africa, in Morocco, an Islamic nation, in a small fertile community that was once known as the garden of Morocco, living in a house with a shepherd, his wife, his son, and his three daughters…and it’s quite possible that I am living with the woman of my dreams.

She is beautiful, tiny, graceful, intelligent, pure, devout,filed with a deep imagination that displays itself in fictional stories she makes up and tells me on the spot, and she is quite convinced that she is in love with me. I am also quite convinced that I am in love with her, but I am old enough to know that in the spring when the first blooms appear upon the apricot tree, such as the one in front of me, and a man and woman find one another, that there are chemicals that blossom as well in the brain and heart. In the past, I have learned that the first flush of springtime love is sometimes followed by a brutally hot summer, a barren harvest, and a winter of blistering cold. And I’ve learned about myself that in the bloom of love all traits are found endearing while later on those same traits may evoke feelings which are quite different.

So yes, things are complicated in this brain and heart of mine. There are complications which go beyond my brain second guessing my heart though. For one thing, she is a devout Muslim and in the Koran, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. I am not a Muslim though I find that many of the teachings of Islam resonate well with my beliefs. She tells me that my heart is Muslim and I think she is right, I find profound wisdom in the teachings of the Prophet, but there are also things that I find hard to accept too.

Those of you who know me or have read my words for any length of time know that I have a deep and profound belief in a divine power that is aware of all that takes place in this existence. In fact, I often throw myself to the winds when I feel a suggestion of direction from this power. I attribute my present reality to this very Muslim notion of mine, that is submitting myself to the will of God, and this, for those of you who do not know is what the word Muslim means, “one who submits themselves to the will of God”.

I have often been asked why I studied Arabic and just as often I’ve struggled to come up with an answer. It will be valuable, I love the music, I love the culture…all of these are true, but in fact, the real answer has always been that I don’t know exactly why, I simply have known that it was what I was supposed to do. The same is true when I was once asked why I loved to play the guitar in a way that sounded Arabic, the truth was that the chord structure, the tones, resonated with me.

It’s why I have spent considerable time studying Islam. My girlfriend is often surprised at the knowledge that I have about her faith. I’ve said it now, she is my girlfriend. This has happened quickly and now you know, so I will say more. I am in Morocco and I live with my girlfriend and her family. It’s quite possible that I want to spend the rest of my life with her, but we need time to figure out that these are not just the chemicals of love making us crazy.

To spend the rest of my life with her, I will have to marry her. I love and respect her father, her mother, and all of her family and this is the only way that this can be done. While I would love to run away with her and simply have a life together, this would bring shame to these people, and I will not do this.

In order for a non-Muslim to marry a Muslim woman, the non-Muslim must become Muslim. I have several problems with this. I like dogs a lot. Islam forbids the kind of best friend relationship with dogs that I enjoy. I also like to eat bacon sometimes and probably will despite the strict prohibition on it. These are very minor sounding things, but roughly equivalent to a Hindu eating beef or a Catholic denying the holy trinity. the problem is that I am not a hypocrite, but if I convert, certainly there will be such occasions. Never mind all this, though, these things I will figure out and perhaps my girlfriend will figure all of this out for me when she reads this. I’ve told her that I am going to write about some of my confusions and about our relationship and she has encouraged me to do so. She is an incredibly wise woman and says that sometimes we need the counsel of others who understand us.

Her family is of course wise to our relationship. A Muslim woman must not be deflowered before her marriage and since my girlfriend is and always has been a devout Muslim, this is the case and I respect this. It is not a problem. I have been sleeping in the same bed with her and her sister (this is quite innocent I assure you) and while this is still somewhat scandalous, everyone turns a blind eye to it. If anything the presence of Zahara is a welcome restraint which helps us to keep our passions in check. The fact that we sleep together is an expression of the trust we have for one another and the trust her father has put in me. I confess that each time someone comes in the room, I expect to be beheaded though…okay, not beheaded but at least berated.

The secret language of our eyes is not a secret to those we live with. Before we had said any words to one another, we sat reading a play together. I told her that I was scared of what I was feeling and she told me that I should not be scared of my heart but instead I should listen to it. It was then, shaking like a young boy, that I kissed her. Our first kiss was magical and just as our lips touched, the call to prayer was heard. She told me that when such things happen it is because Allah is smiling on whatever is being done in those moments.

Perhaps you are thinking, as I must confess I considered, that a Moroccan family has captured a foreign man and is slowly reeling him in. Maybe you think that I am being deceived and led to a predetermined conclusion. I don’t blame you for thinking this, I have also considered this. I don’t think this is the case however. I think that these people love me, just as I love them. They are teaching me about their culture and I am teaching them about mine. Last night, several of the women watched a video of my family at the New Year singing karaoke at my brother’s house in Utah. Shortly afterward, a similar scene happened as we danced to Berber music in the living room and laughed and sang together here in Morocco.

And yet, these doubts I have continue to arise. A trip to the Medina to buy me shoes led to looking at wedding rings and I found myself in a near panic. Hanane understood this and has said that we will wipe the words marriage and engagement from our vocabularies. Wedding rings are too much at this point, though each moment I am with her, I consider what a life with her will be like and I find myself liking each imagining.

Perhaps my biggest concern is my own financial status. I left Hawaii without very much and now I have less. My income comes to about $300 per month and soon I will have to start paying back my student loans which will probably be more than the $300. Hanane is not concerned and tells me that we can live in her father’s house, that her income is enough for us (about $100 a month) and that Allah will provide for us. I know that she is right.

She is not a gold digger. I know this. I don’t think her family loves me because they see a rich western man, certainly I am not this, though I think they may think I have more than just enough to last several months here. My laptop and the fact that I travel don’t say that I am a poor man from an expensive place.

Where I sit now on a brightly colored rug spread over a straw mat with gold embroidered pillows on all sides of me, on a throne prepared by my love on her rooftop. I look around me and I see the snow covered Atlas mountains, rugged hillsides covered with olive and almond trees, a small teepee in the dirt lot in front of me where two men who are working on the road are temporarily staying. At the moment they are spreading a blanket so that they can pray together. The town of Sifrou with it’s minarets and ancient Medina lies ahead of me, and to my right, young men play football (soccer) in another field. The house of Selim sits outside of the crowded town in a large field. Palms and pines grow together in all directions and my beautiful woman brings me coffee and water and oranges and pomegranates and tells me that I should write everything that is in my heart and that I should not be worried about my fears. She tells me that those who are not afraid are not taking life seriously, she tells me that those who are afraid are considering the wisdom of their actions.

I think she has told her family to stop talking about marriage and engagement. This is a good thing, though I think the talk will continue.

I am afraid as we walk through the town and she holds my hand or as we kiss on the rooftop, that someone will see and draw the wrong conclusions. I fear for her safety because of her relationship with me. I fear for her reputation. She says that we shouldn’t care about what others think, but I know enough about Islamic culture to know that there are those who would kill her for being a Muslim woman and wearing her hijab while walking hand in hand with a western man. Morocco is certainly different, it is not Saudi Arabia, it is not Afghanistan or Iraq. And yet, there is extremism everywhere. I know this. I offered to buy her a ring that she can wear so that there will be less to gossip about, I made it very clear that this would not be an engagement ring or a wedding ring, but a sweetheart ring, a ring to wear as a form of camouflage and protection. Being a complete romantic, she refused. I understand, but I cannot offer more right now.

We have started the process of getting her a passport. It is difficult for Moroccans to travel to other places, even with a passport, but it is a first step. In the meantime, we will continue to learn about each other, we will make some small trips in Morocco, and only time will tell.

And now, my soul is bared.

2/16/09

I know this may seem odd, but I am on the road again. Don’t worry though, I haven’t abandoned new found love. Instead, this is a practicality. Admittedly, I have wanderlust and Hanane understands this, so while she arranges her passport and completes some English teacher trainings, I am hitting the road. Today I took taxis from her house in Sifrou to Fes and then a train to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. I am astounded by the beauty of this country. Rolling green hills with millions of little orange flowers and lush fields. Its spring, I know. The cactus that stand in the fields reveal the dry conditions of summer, but man oh man. The view from the train was spectacular. I rode first class this time and admit it was worth the extra six dollars. It was nice to be left alone and have no one trying to become my new best friend.

I’ve checked into the youth hostel near the Medina. A nice place. Since I haven’t uploaded any photos, I’ll pull some from the web for you.

So here is the deal.
Chapter 1: The Vagobond leaves all he knows and sets off on a random journey that has no set destination.
Chapter 2: Somehow he ends up in Africa, in Morocco, and he meets a shepherds daughter and they fall in love. In ten days she captures his heart. There are complications, as there always are in love, one of which is his dim prospects as a shepherd.
Chapter 3: He leaves his love to search for fame and fortune telling her he will return for her. She sets about arranging her life and they part with a kiss.


And that is where we find ourselves now. The best part of this story is that it is really happening and if you appreciate being able to watch it unfold, please either use the donate button on the left side of the page to support this real life adventure or at least
click on ‘bookmark’ at the bottom of this post at existensis.com and share this on Digg, Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites.

This is my life and it is extraordinary. Please help me to keep it going. Thanks and now we can all hope for a happily ever after to come in the future.

2/17/09

It’s a grey day in Rabat. That’s okay. I slept like a log last night and this morning met a guy that is bicycling from Geneva to Central Africa. Wow. He encouraged me to go to Senegal but the time is not yet. I walked to the Casbah, explored the Tower of Hassan, rambled through the gardens of the Chellah, and accidentally walked onto the grounds of the Royal Palace where I was escorted out by soldiers with machine guns. I still don’t have a guidebook. I have a bad map of the city from the hostel and played the stupid tourist card by pulling it out and asking if this was where the Grand Mosque was. They showed me the right direction after the escort to the gate.

There are an extraordinary number of midgets and dwarfs in Rabat. I don’ know why this is.

Here is a bit of history of Rabat from Wikipedia:

Rabat’s history began with a settlement, known as Chellah on the banks of the Oued Bou Regreg[1] in the third century BC. In 40 AD, Romans took over Chellah and converted it to the Roman settlement of Sala Colonia. Rome held the colony until 250 AD when they abandoned it to Berber rulers. In 1146, the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu’min turned Rabat’s ribat into a full scale fortress to use as a launching point for attacks on Spain. In 1170, due to its military importance, Rabat acquired the title Ribatu l-Fath, meaning “stronghold of victory,” from which it derives its current name.

Yaqub al-Mansur (known as Moulay Yacoub in Morocco), another Almohad Caliph, moved the capital of his empire to Rabat.[2] He built Rabat’s city walls, the Kasbah of the Udayas and began construction on what would have been the world’s largest mosque. However, Yaqub died and construction stopped. The ruins of the unfinished mosque, along with the Hassan Tower, still stand today.

Yaqub’s death initiated a period of decline. The Almohad empire lost control of its possessions in Spain and much of its African territory, eventually leading to its total collapse. In the 13th century, much of Rabat’s economic power shifted to Fez. In 1515 a Moorish explorer, El Wassan, reported that Rabat had declined so much that only 100 inhabited houses remained. An influx of Moriscos, who had been expelled from Spain, in the early 17th century helped boost Rabat’s growth (principal families: Mouline [Molina], Bargach [Vargas], Balafrej [Palafresa], Moreno, Baena, Olivares [Loubaris],…).

Rabat and neighboring Salé united to form the Republic of Bou Regreg in 1627. The republic was run by Barbary pirates who used the two cities as base ports for launching attacks on shipping. The pirates did not have to contend with any central authority until the Alaouite Dynasty united Morocco in 1666. They attempted to establish control over the pirates, but failed. European and Muslims authorities continued to attempt to control the pirates over many years, but the Republic of Bou Regreg did not collapse until 1818. Even after the republic’s collapse, pirates continued to use the port of Rabat, which led to the shelling of the city by Austria in 1829 after an Austrian ship had been lost to a pirate attack.

The French invaded Morocco in 1912 and established a protectorate. The French administrator of Morocco, General Hubert Lyautey,[3] decided to relocate the country’s capital from Fez to Rabat. Among other factors, rebellious Berbers (native Moroccans) had made Fez an unstable place. Sultan Moulay Youssef followed the decision of the French and moved his residence to Rabat. In 1913, Gen. Lyautey hired Henri Prost who designed the Ville Nouvelle (Rabat’s modern quarter) as an administrative sector. When Morocco achieved independence in 1956, Mohammed V, the then King of Morocco, chose to have the capital remain at Rabat.

2/18/09

I’m in Casablanca attempting to upload some pictures. I found the hostel here without too much problem and like Rabat, people here are much less in your face. Fes, while beautiful and interesting, was a terrible place to begin in Morocco. The touts and thieves and ever present people who want to sucker you into “making a business” or sell you a too expensive something or other are non-stop and I quickly developed an aversion to talking to Moroccans there because it always meant having to say no thank you.

I’m thankful that Hanane and her family provided me respite from this tiresome business and showed me the heart of Morocco. From visiting the Medina with her brother Mohammad and then going to his rather pastoral house to eat what we had just bought with his wife Samina and son Amin to dancing with the family, to walking and trying to talk with Abubab, the family’s hired shepherd (his name is actually Laboub but I misss heard and now he is Abu Bob to everyone, literally father of the door), to eating pizza with Hanane on Valentine’s day (she picked out pizza with no prodding from me- is the girl perfect for me or what?) to laughing with Zahara and Fatima, to throwing stones with Amin, and to faux fighting with Fouad, I learned much about life in Sefrou:and I will be going back. Here is the main reason why:

Rabat was a nice break. As mentioned before, I did some sight seeing, met some interesting people, and even looked at some Australian girls lonely planet. It seems I am doing alright without a guide book, I haven’t missed much and have learned some valuable lessons along the way. For instance: don’t eat or offer money with the left hand unless you want to insult someone and make yourself look gross. I can use squat toilets with the best of them now. And my Arabic is improving by leaps and bounds… I can actually say things now and am able to distinguish words if not understand the meaning of most of them. I visited Hananeùs class one day before I left and was able to make basic conversation with some of her very nice students in Arabic. They speak much better English than I speak Arabic, but I learn shweeah shweeah.

Here are a few pictures from Rabat.


More are here but my camera battery just died…

2/18/09

My hat and I finally made it to Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca.

Here is Olivier and his bike, he is trying to convince me to go to Senegal

With Olivier, the Swiss man I met in Rabat who biked here today while I took the train and with John, a friendly Englishman who arrived here several days ago I journeyed back to the Mosque of Hassan II for the sunset and then we visited a book fair where the books were more expensive than those I’ve seen in shops here or anywhere and then to a dinner of chicken sandwiches for 20 dirham each, and then a visit to Rick’s Cafe, the place made famous by Humphrey Bogart in the movie Casablanca.

I’ve been thinking about all the comments that you guys have made and I appreciate every one of them.

By the way my return flight to the USA from Barcelona left yesterday from Barcelona with my seat empty. There is no going back for me.

In regards to my journey and your thoughts on it, I have to say that one can travel without travelling alone, doing something you’ve never done before certainly can bring you to something you’ve never had, keeping one’s self safe is difficult and keeping two safe can be both easier and harder, and that time reveals all things. Some of them beyond imagination.

For instance, I would bet that none of you have ever seen any toy like this before:

I would also guess that most have never seen a street where men with typewriters sit at outdoor tables and hire out their services like this:


I’m guessing that none of you have ever watched a romance bloom on a journey with no destination between the daughter of a Moroccan shepherd and the son of an American hippie chick and a 1970s rock and roller.

But I’m guessing that you would pay $10 to watch the movie, read the book, or see it on TV. What I’m saying here is that I do this for free, you can certainly continue to read for free, but it would feel good for me and for you if you just click on that donate button and help support this modern day quest for love, beauty, and understanding…not to mention fame and fortune. My gratitude goes out to the one person who has supported me by donating $50 (you rock L.S.!) and to those few of you that have shared my story thus far.

Remember, there is no going back for me and if this road leads to marriage, family, international incidents, or Allah knows what else, you can be a part of it. And if there is a wedding, those who donate are invited for the experience of a lifetime. The dream wedding of the girl I love costs about $2000 and I guarantee you have never seen anything like what she has described. She has told me, if a wedding happens, a cheap one would be okay with her, but of course, I want her to have her dream. In this culture, the father doesn’t foot the bill like my Dad had to do for my sister.

So there it is folks, I know there is a Fantastic Depression, but supporting me and this journey might be the best cure for it.

A self portrait at the Challah in Rabat

Tomorrow I’m going to Marrakesh.

2/19/09
The train ride from Casa Blanca to here was stunning.155 dirham: Orange fields of what I think were poppies, yellow fields of something else, purple fields of something else, green, hills, red rocks, and lots of beauty. I took no pictures.

Arrived here and an unfriendly cab driver tried to overcharge me and then dropped me at the wrong spot. Wandered the Medina for about two hours trying to find the hotel I was looking for. Didn’t find it. Fended off plenty of ‘”Bonjour Monsiuer’s”, checked out a dozen places that all cost 100+ Euros! And finally found one for 150 dirham which my poor arabic and arabic shirt helped to get for 100. A private room for the night is welcome.

Despite the reviews of other travellers and friends, I prefer Rabat and Casablanca to Marrakech. We’ll see though, after all I am tired and a bit hungry.

Rabat
I know this may seem odd, but I am on the road again. Don’t worry though, I haven’t abandoned new found love. Instead, this is a practicality. Admittedly, I have wanderlust and Hanane understands this, so while she arranges her passport and completes some English teacher trainings, I am hitting the road. Today I took taxis from her house in Sifrou to Fes and then a train to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. I am astounded by the beauty of this country. Rolling green hills with millions of little orange flowers and lush fields. Its spring, I know. The cactus that stand in the fields reveal the dry conditions of summer, but man oh man. The view from the train was spectacular. I rode first class this time and admit it was worth the extra six dollars. It was nice to be left alone and have no one trying to become my new best friend.

I’ve checked into the youth hostel near the Medina. A nice place. Since I haven’t uploaded any photos, I’ll pull some from the web for you.

So here is the deal.
Chapter 1: The Vagobond leaves all he knows and sets off on a random journey that has no set destination.
Chapter 2: Somehow he ends up in Africa, in Morocco, and he meets a shepherds daughter and they fall in love. In ten days she captures his heart. There are complications, as there always are in love, one of which is his dim prospects as a shepherd.
Chapter 3: He leaves his love to search for fame and fortune telling her he will return for her. She sets about arranging her life and they part with a kiss.

And that is where we find ourselves now. The best part of this story is that it is really happening and if you appreciate being able to watch it unfold, please either use the donate button on the left side of the page (existensis.com) to support this real life adventure or at least
click on ‘bookmark’ at the bottom of this post at existensis.com and share this on Digg, Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites.

This is my life and it is extraordinary. Please help me to keep it going. Thanks and now we can all hope for a happily ever after to come in the future.

This morning after a sleep beset by a wailing baby and a blaring television, I set off to find a good hostel. I had found one that looked fantastic, the Equity Point Hostel (aka Riad Amazigh) I arranged to check in at 11 and returned to the Hotel al Jazeera to get my bags. One persistant tout followed me and I had to bust out the somewhat rude ‘baddee manh’ and ‘serfa khalic’ , roughly buzz off and get lost. He then followed me for a bit, but I ducked into a bread shop when he couldn’t see me and had some bread and coffee.

Back to Riad Amazigh only to find out that the desk had thought I had a reservation and the only room available was shared for 275 dirham. Zacharia, the desk clerk was apologetic and told me to use the internet there for free and to go upstairs to get some breakfast for free because of the misunderstanding. The place looks remarkable and definitely gets two thumbs up from me, only negative for me is that there is a bar that the mostly American and Europeans are getting trashed in each night. Not what I want.

I may actually have to pay the clown because there are no pictures of the scary guys, just this friendly looking joker

At breakfast I met up with Lynette and Daniel, a Canadian and American travelling together who also needed to find somewhere to stay for the night and we threw our lot together and went out searching. Zacharia let us leave our bags there while we looked for cheap accommodation.

After visiting quite a few places that looked less than great, we checked out the expensive looking Cafe and Hotel France right in the famous Place Jemma el Fna. We opted to split the cost of accomodation for three and it ended up being 250 dirhams total with them having a room and me having a room. Much better location and room than Hotel al Jaweera and only about 83 dirhams each. Very nice.

After this, we visited the Palace el Badhii, ate a very delicious lunch in the Kasbah, and now, we are here. They are fun people to hang out with. Also no guide book for them.

Place Jemma el Fna is filled with snake charmers, jugglers, men with monkeys, and the scariest dirty arab clowns I’ve ever seen. Rather than pay every person for pictures, I’m swiping some of the many from the internet. Same performers, different day, and much cheaper for me with no hassle. (originally posted on 20 FEB 2009)

Of course I’m out of my mind. What kind of a person gives up his stock options to move into a VW bus and discover what it’s like to be homeless in the middle of a Northwest Winter? What kind of anarchist joins the Marine Corps? What kind of person moves to Hawaii with $100 and no plan? What kind of person starts to get his degree at the age of 35? What kind of person buys a round trip ticket with no intention of using the return and no plan of what he will do? What kind of person smokes salvia divinorum dozens of times in an attempt to lose his mind? What kind of a person reads the bible, the koran, the tao te ching, and even the Satanic Bible and finds truth in all of them? What kind of person wants money and fame and yet hates money and fame at the same time?
Vago and Hanane
I will tell you what kind of person. A person that is out of their mind. So for those of you who are worried or concerned, there is no need to be. I am just as out of my mind as I have always been and that is not likely to change.

So here I am in Morocco. I meet a girl that physically, mentally, and spiritually is the woman of my dreams. There are no illusions here, she has issues, I have issues, we both are fundamentally flawed human beings and that is okay. As you no doubt read, I had red flags rising all over the place telling me to run, to wait, to hide, to give up, to continue moving on. So did she. So does her family. So does her community. But you know what? Shit happens. And so does love.

Sometimes you meet someone and you just know. Yes there have been other people I have loved, yes I have attempted to share my life with other women, and yes, I have failed in the past. You know where I have failed? I have failed by listening to those cautions, by listening to those warnings, by allowing my fear to dictate the terms of my life. Why should we wait? Should we wait so that we aren’t completely committed to each other and we can use that and fear as an excuse to drive wedges between us? Should we wait because we don’t know each others flaws well enough? Should we wait because commitment requires time?

No. Love happens. This isn’t a fairy tale, this isn’t a story, this isn’t a movie or a film. This is life. This is my life, it is Hanane’s life, and this is also your life. Some of you reading this are shaking your head and thinking that I am delusional. Maybe, but I will tell you what, you are delusional. You are all going to die, just like me, you are not going to live forever, you are going to die and it could happen in minutes or it could happen in decades. We are all going to die. You won’t be taking those bank accounts with you, you won’t be taking your cars, your houses, your clothes, or anything else. If we are all very lucky, there is an afterlife and we will be able to take some of our loves and passions and experiences on this plane with us, but we cannot know that. We can have faith, but we cannot know.

All we can know is that all of this ends for us at some undetermined time (unless you choose to end it yourself at a predetermined time).

So, why should we wait? Should we wait to tell the people we love that we love them? Should I wait to make certain my love for Hanane is real? How long? Six months? A year? Three years? That is insanity. I’ve seen marriages where they waited and failed and I’ve seen marriages where they didn’t wait and they still succeeded. The reason my past relationships failed was because of fear and because of not being willing to commit.

I fail when I don’t commit. We all do.

So again, thank you all for your concerns. I appreciate and love you. I hope that you all take a moment to consider that death could be waiting in your driveway or kitchen or workplace and commit yourself to living your life right now. The future may never come, but the moment is here, now. Take it because it is all you have.

So here is my recent history in very brief form, the clowns want me to write a book, I think it is a good idea.

I took a week to travel around Morocco and consider whether to commit or not. Trust me a week in a country where no one really speaks your language is like ten months in a place where they do because you get time to think. I traveled alone but made some friends along the way.

I thought and thought and thought and I realized that right now, right here, I have the chance to do something wonderful. I have the chance to commit myself to a woman who has told me that if I don’t want to become Muslim, she will still love me even though her religion frowns on this, a woman who speaks better English than me, who has overcome difficulties that most of you can’t imagine, a woman who knows that I am not secretly rich and who has dreamed of starting a life with her man with nothing so they can build it together. This has also been a dream of mine. She knows that I may not ever want to return to the United States, that I have far more debt than I know how to pay back, and that life with me will be more difficult at times than if she were to marry a man from her own culture.

Her employers and friends are concerned that she has lost her mind. They are warning her that I may be an exploitive foreigner who is only trying to use her body and steal from her. They are as concerned as some of you, perhaps they are more concerned. She is loved by her friends, her family, and her students. And while I have endeavored to not put her on a pedestal, those who know her certainly have.

So I came back to her and upon seeing her, emotions flooded us both. We spent the day talking and working and of course, because this is Morocco, eating with her family. We talked about waiting and we agreed that waiting is sometimes worse than not. For a week I had been writing about my fears, my intentions, my desires, and what it is that I want from life. I want this life with her. I know this. And so, I asked her if she would consider becoming my wife. She cried and she said yes. We talked about the challenges and difficulties (and there are many…believe me) and we both said yes.

This was only the beginning. I wanted to cook dinner for her family that evening so that I could ask her father for permission to marry her. So we shopped, we found her a beautiful ring and I bought ingredients to make pizza. That night, Hanane and I made pizza and thought it was hard to get his attention away from the TV news, I finally managed to ask Selim if I could marry his daughter. He said yes. Not because I am American, not because I am rich, not because of all the negative reasons, though I admit that I am sure these things help, but because I have lived here with this family, they have seen the way we look at one another, the way we talk, and the way we interact. To those who know us or see us, there is no doubt. I hope that in looking at the few pictures I have put up on facebook, that the concerns of my friends and family are also put at ease.
Vago and Hanane
The next day we bought dates and a few essentials and in the evening we hosted a small engagement party for Hanane’s family and neighbors. Not more than fifteen people but an engagement is not an off the cuff thing here. There was ceremony involved where we put the rings on each others hands, fed each other dates, gave each other milk from bowls, and finally where henna was applied to Hanane’s hands and feet and to one of my hands. The whole family danced and sang and took part and we feasted on things that everyone had brought. As you can see from the pictures, Hanane is a Princess and on the day of engagement, a Moroccan woman is a Princess. So maybe this is a fairy tale after all…

And now, we move on with life…there are no guarantees. There are difficulties in each person’s life that no one else can understand…and joys.

As to religion. I am Muslim. And there is no problem at all with the fact that I still find truth in the words of Jesus, the words of Buddha, the words of Krishnamurti, or the teachings of any faith. Why am I Muslim? For one reason only, because I submit myself to the will of God and don’t have any illusions about being in control. Someday, we can discuss the particulars in email or in person and I will be happy to clarify. But publicly here, I make my declaration that I am Muslim.

The Evil Clowns are back from shopping and I have to go now….
Vago (the artist formerly known as Chris)

First of all, let me say thank you for all the congratulations, warm wishes, warnings, and announcements that I am out of my mind.

Of course I’m out of my mind. What kind of a person gives up his stock options to move into a VW bus and discover what it’s like to be homeless in the middle of a Northwest Winter? What kind of anarchist joins the Marine Corps? What kind of person moves to Hawaii with $100 and no plan? What kind of person starts to get his degree at the age of 35? What kind of person buys a round trip ticket with no intention of using the return and no plan of what he will do? What kind of person smokes salvia divinorum dozens of times in an attempt to lose his mind? What kind of a person reads the bible, the koran, the tao te ching, and even the Satanic Bible and finds truth in all of them? What kind of person wants money and fame and yet hates money and fame at the same time?

I will tell you what kind of person. A person that is out of their mind. So for those of you who are worried or concerned, there is no need to be. I am just as out of my mind as I have always been and that is not likely to change.

So here I am in Morocco. I meet a girl that physically, mentally, and spiritually is the woman of my dreams. There are no illusions here, she has issues, I have issues, we both are fundamentally flawed human beings and that is okay. As you no doubt read, I had red flags rising all over the place telling me to run, to wait, to hide, to give up, to continue moving on. So did she. So does her family. So does her community. But you know what? Shit happens. And so does love.

Sometimes you meet someone and you just know. Yes there have been other people I have loved, yes I have attempted to share my life with other women, and yes, I have failed in the past. You know where I have failed? I have failed by listening to those cautions, by listening to those warnings, by allowing my fear to dictate the terms of my life. Why should we wait? Should we wait so that we aren’t completely committed to each other and we can use that and fear as an excuse to drive wedges between us? Should we wait because we don’t know each others flaws well enough? Should we wait because commitment requires time?

No. Love happens. This isn’t a fairy tale, this isn’t a story, this isn’t a movie or a film. This is life. This is my life, it is Hanane’s life, and this is also your life. Some of you reading this are shaking your head and thinking that I am delusional. Maybe, but I will tell you what, you are delusional. You are all going to die, just like me, you are not going to live forever, you are going to die and it could happen in minutes or it could happen in decades. We are all going to die. You won’t be taking those bank accounts with you, you won’t be taking your cars, your houses, your clothes, or anything else. If we are all very lucky, there is an afterlife and we will be able to take some of our loves and passions and experiences on this plane with us, but we cannot know that. We can have faith, but we cannot know.

All we can know is that all of this ends for us at some undetermined time (unless you choose to end it yourself at a predetermined time).

So, why should we wait? Should we wait to tell the people we love that we love them? Should I wait to make certain my love for Hanane is real? How long? Six months? A year? Three years? That is insanity. I’ve seen marriages where they waited and failed and I’ve seen marriages where they didn’t wait and they still succeeded. The reason my past relationships failed was because of fear and because of not being willing to commit.

I fail when I don’t commit. We all do.

So again, thank you all for your concerns. I appreciate and love you. I hope that you all take a moment to consider that death could be waiting in your driveway or kitchen or workplace and commit yourself to living your life right now. The future may never come, but the moment is here, now. Take it because it is all you have.

So, what has been happening?

I took a week to travel around Morocco and consider whether to commit or not. Trust me a week by yourself in a country where no one really speaks your language is like ten months in a place where they do because you get time to think. I traveled alone but made some friends along the way.

I thought and thought and thought and I realized that right now, right here, I have the chance to do something wonderful. I have the chance to commit myself to a woman who has told me that if I don’t officially convert, she will still love me even though her religion and country frown on this, a woman who speaks better English than me, who has overcome difficulties that most of you can’t imagine, a woman who knows that I am not secretly rich and who has dreamed of starting a life with her man with nothing so they can build it together. This has also been a dream of mine. She knows that I may not ever want to return to the United States, that I have far more debt than I know how to pay back, and that life with me will be more difficult at times than if she were to marry a man from her own culture.

Her employers and friends are concerned that she has lost her mind. They are warning her that I may be an exploitive foreigner who is only trying to use her body and steal from her. They are as concerned as some of you, perhaps they are more concerned. She is loved by her friends, her family, and her students. And while I have endeavored to not put her on a pedestal, those who know her certainly have.

So I came back to her and upon seeing her, emotions flooded us both. We spent the day talking and working and of course, because this is Morocco, eating with her family. We talked about waiting and we agreed that waiting is sometimes worse than not. For a week I had been writing about my fears, my intentions, my desires, and what it is that I want from life. I want this life with her. I know this. And so, I asked her if she would consider becoming my wife. She cried and she said yes. We talked about the challenges and difficulties (and there are many…believe me) and we both said yes.

This was only the beginning. I wanted to cook dinner for her family that evening so that I could ask her father for permission to marry her. So we shopped, we found her a beautiful ring and I bought ingredients to make pizza. That night, Hanane and I made pizza and thought it was hard to get his attention away from the TV news, I finally managed to ask Selim if I could marry his daughter. He said yes. Not because I am American, not because I am rich, not because of all the negative reasons, though I admit that I am sure these things help, but because I have lived here with this family, they have seen the way we look at one another, the way we talk, and the way we interact. To those who know us or see us, there is no doubt. I hope that in looking at the few pictures I have put up on facebook, that the concerns of my friends and family are also put at ease.

The next day we bought dates and a few essentials and in the evening we hosted a small engagement party for Hanane’s family and neighbors. Not more than fifteen people but an engagement is not an off the cuff thing here. There was ceremony involved where we put the rings on each others hands, fed each other dates, gave each other milk from bowls, and finally where henna was applied to Hanane’s hands and feet and to one of my hands. The whole family danced and sang and took part and we feasted on things that everyone had brought. As you can see from the pictures, Hanane is a Princess and on the day of engagement, a Moroccan woman is a Princess. So maybe this is a fairy tale after all…

And now, we move on with life…there are no guarantees. There are difficulties in each person’s life that no one else can understand…and joys.

As to religion. I am Muslim. And there is no problem at all with the fact that I still find truth in the words of Jesus, the words of Buddha, the words of Krishnamurti, or the teachings of any faith. Why am I Muslim? For one reason only, because I submit myself to the will of God and don’t have any illusions about being in control. Someday, we can discuss the particulars in email or in person and I will be happy to clarify. But publicly here, I make my declaration that I am Muslim so that I can marry this girl. Religion to a person like me is unimportant, describe me as whatever you want.

3/2/09

Now I get to learn about the complexities of intenational marriage and of course I fell in love with a woman who lives in one of the most bureaucratic but least efficient counties in the world. You should see the list of documents we have to provide and it involves multiple trips all over the country to all the different agencies and at each one if you leave at all then nothing happens and you end up having to come back again and again. I am trying to figure out how to get us out of Morocco, get a recognized marriage and then come back for a Moroccan ceremony. It’s hard though because even getting her a visa to somewhere else is difficult and requires a lot of energy and patience. Plus, she is stubbornly refusing to believe that it is possible to get married anywhere else. She is stubborn as anything and I think it is good for me, but still frustrating.

As for accomplishing anything in Morocco, and I mean anything, it is ten times harder than the Philippines. If you want your shoes repaired you have to sit and harrangue the cobbler for the entire time and if you leave, he will stat ( but never complete) something else. The entire country is filled with projects that are only 3/4 done and Moroccans seem to take a special delight in dragging one away before anything is done. The exception is eating, which is fairly constant and used to stop everything from road work to showering to laundry. Prayer is even hard to make happen for Moroccans since it involves ablution, laying down the prayer rug or going to the mesjid, and actually praying.

It’s funny to be in a country where there are so many available hands, so much skill in craft, and so much that is just falling apart in a state of perpetual incompleteness. My biggest challenge is learning to say no and get it across since everyone here seems unable to accept no for an answer unless you become downright rude about it. It’ hard for me as a polite American foreigner to be so rude, but essential. Even to write this, I had to wake early, shower, write, and send the scary arab clowns to an internet cafe or it would never have happened or would have taken 16 hours and 37 refusals of mint tea, bread, cake, invitations to play football, and offers to wash my clothes. All the invitations and hospitality are sincere and appreciated and that makes it harder to say no, hence my need to escape from the house and wander about Sefrou on my own from time to time.

Life is good though and we are both learning and adjusting. I fear the scary arab clowns will come back soon. Trust me they are in charge not me, they are only trying to confuse you, but they wll tell you it is me trying to confuse you. As for me, I get the tiger and the lady and that is the way it should be.

3/4/09
There are some things it is easy to notice here, like the lack of toilet paper, western showers, fast internet cafes, and restaurants you actually go in, look at a menu with set prices, order, sit, and eat in. But then there are other things it takes just a bit of time to notice.
There are very few garbage cans in public space, so when you produce rubbish you need to either carry it or toss it on the ground. In fact, from what I can see, there isn’t trash pickup at all, I’ve yet to figure out where the rubbish from, the Suidi famly disappears to. And this explains why there is rubbish nearly everywhere…maybe I can start a garbage racket here. But would anyone pay for it?
Mailboxes and postmen. While there are post offices, I don’t think there is home delivery of mail. I havenùt seen a postman, a mailbox, or a mail truck since coming here. It makes me nervous because I need to get my tax forms sent here, a copy of my birth certificate, and a few other things, but will they ever reach me?
Yesterday, Hanane and I took a daytrip to Fes, just the new city. It was a pretty extravagent day of shopping, gifts, breakfast, lunch, taxis, books, and I even bought a small oud. Grand total about $75 for everything.
One thing it is also hard to find here, amazingly, is a copy of the Quran in English that isn’t the size of an encyclopedia. I’m still looking…for the Quran and for where the garbage gets dumped.

3/5/09

I finally allowed my curiousity to get the better of me and asked Hanane what happens to the Souidi families rubbish when the can is full. Here is her answer.

“Well, every year we pay taxes to have the garbage picked up but it never is, so when the can is full, it just goes out to nature.”

Ah ha! But this means I would be in direct competition with a government that doesn’t need to do anything with my garbage racket…that might mean problems!

3/7/09

I admit to being a bit bored in Morocco lately. Sefrou isn’t exactly exciting. But, the surprising thing is that I don’t find myself missing Hawaii even a little bit. I miss my friends of course, but I don’t miss Hawaii or really anywhere else enough to wish I were there…

One of the hardest things about Morocco for me is the complete lack of understanding for the individualistic, go it alone, American attitude. As most of you know, I have lived by myself quite happily and generally when attempting something new or challenging, I prefer to go it alone without anyone else interfering. This is not really a possibility here for most things. A good example are the god damn couscous balls that happen on Fridays here.

The way Moroccans eat couscous is by grabbing a handful and gently letting it form into a ball that you then pop into your mouth and eat. It’s harder than it sounds because the couscous is hot and if you are too sudden in your movements, the couscous crumbles. Well, every friday we eat couscous and every friday, I try to make these damn little balls much to the amusement of Hanane’s family who watch and offer all kinds of advice, so much so that I can’t really think about what I’m doing and my chances of making the balls disappear. Then out of sympathy, her mother and father start making couscous balls in their hands and handing them to me with such rapidity that I no longer have the time required to make them on my own. I finally had to tell them to stop, even though I think it was fairly rude of me, but they still persist. In any event, I’m a temperamental person and sometimes it’s hard not to fling the couscous balls against the wall, but so far, I’ve avoided this. If we were drinking, I’m sure there would be couscous in every direction, luckily, this good Muslim family has nothing to do with the booze and thus, neither do I. Whew!

In any event, since I am bored, I’ve decided to try to take as many pictures of all the food we eat here and create a Moroccan home cooking food porn bit. So here is the first entry:

Bayd an Matisha, I think is the name. They call it B.M. which I find to be pretty funny. It essentially means eggs and tomatos, the quickest and easiest. It is made of olive oil (zeet) with tomato, onion, garlic, and cilantro all fried up and an egg cooked in the center. Then we sit around the pan at the table and eat it with bread. The tea is ubiquitous with every meal and quite probably the reason so many Moroccans are missing teeth. It is black or green tea brewed with a full cup of sugar. Sometimes there is mint thrown in, sometimes not. Sometimes it is poured over mint in a glass, sometimes not. The whole family thinks I’m crazy for drinking black coffee with no sugar or milk, but I bet my brown teeth will last longer than their white ones.

3/8/09

Paul Harvey may be dead, but now you get the rest of the story on my shoes. Yesterday, I returned to the shop of Mohammad the Cobbler where my shoes were in exactly the same state they were in when Hanane and I left two days ago. As soon as we left, the work stopped. Amazingly predictable but still astounding.

I was with Hanane’s brother, also named Mohammad. He speaks some french, but I speak little and so when he and I wander around together we have conversations that are probably about two entirely different things, but he is a good guy and fun to pal around with. One thing to get used to is the affection between people of the same sex here, much different than in the USA. Mohammad who is one year older than I, happily married with a son and another child on the way, likes to hold my hand while we stroll or to stroll arm in arm with me. This is fairly normal in the Arab world, but though I try to deal with it, I just can’t and so I’ve tried to explain the reasons I don’t like holding hands with a man. My best approach has been that it distracts me from seeing stray autos that might run me down or nabbing theives that are trying to pick my pockets.

I should explain here, that while I am sure there is crime aplenty in Morocco, I think the average Moroccan is much more concerned with being stolen from than the odds warrant. Nearly all of the Moroccans I have met (with a few notable exceptions) are more likely to add a few dirhams to your pocket when you aren’t looking than to take them. So it is a people who are always expecting to be robbed, but are not likely to rob you themselves. When I first arrived in Sefrou, the warnings of Hanane and her family made me almost neurotic, but at this point, I am still aware, but not quite as paranoid as they are.

So in any event, Mohammad, my soon to be brother in law, and I visited Mohammad the cobbler, and what I think the cobbler said to me was that he was terrified of Hanane and thought she was a homicidal maniac who would kill him. He was joking of course, but the truth is already today she has said she will kill me five times and we have only been awake for a half hour or so. In an average day she says she will kill me at least 30 times, so no doubt she also told the cobbler that she would kill him. I know she said if my shoes weren’t like new, she would destroy his shop, so he was joking, but yeah, the girl I love is a bit insane…just as she has to be for me to love her.

It took about 15 minutes to finish my shoes. Not perfect, but pretty good and when I asked how much, the cobbler said, whatever you think is best! I offered him 20 dirhams expecting him to ask for more but instead he asked me for less and the grand total was about $2 u.s. He’s a nice guy and didn’t mind when I asked to take his picture. In fact he told me to take a picture of his cobbler’s license.

3/10/09

On Sunday, Hanane and I set out from Sefrou to take a small daytrip to a couple of nice little towns that aren’t too far away. The total for the day with breakfast, lunch, dinner, ice cream, transport, and small gifts for the family was about 287 dirhams, or a little more than $30, about half of that was for the crazy and inefficient ‘grand taxis’ and other transport. (See future post on Moroccan Transport)

The scary arab clowns are letting me write about this since a couple of you have used the donate function at existensis.com and a few more have been kind enough to help promote this site through the buttons at the end of each post. Thank you.

We started the day in Sefrou where we bought a breakfast of Avocado shakes and cake and some kleenex for a total of 20 dirhams. (approximately 8.5 dirhams = $1 U.S.) Here in Morocco, there is no breakfast like I think of breakfast, meaning omelets, french toast, toast, fruit, yogurt, or especially since this is a Muslim country, bacon or ham. Instead, breakfast is usually cake of some sort. In this case I had the peanut cake and Hanane had a chocolate cake. The avocado shakes are just milk, avocado, and sugar blended together. Very nice if you haven’t ever had one.

After this we caught a grand-taxi (24 dh) to the little mountain town of Imouzir. There were plentiful apple and pear orchards and then we began to enter beautiful farm country with cedar lined hillsides. The houses were built into the hillsides and the rustic nature of the countryside surrounding Imouzir was very appealing to me. In addition, it seemed to be incredibly clean. I could imagine myself living quite happily in the countryside here and Imouzir is surrounded by many springs and natural water sources as well. It’s about 25 miles away and sits roughly 4000 feet. The houses in Imouzir are distinctly more western and there are actually rubbish cans here and there.


We took a petit taxi (7 DH)to the spring of Ain Sultan, a very popular water park of the natural variety and drank from the natural springs. It became obvious, if only by the lack of rubbish all over the ground that Imouzir is a place where wealthy people live in Morocco, any doubts were put aside by the big villas as we walked back to town from Ain Sultan. Of course there were some small rustic places too.

Back in Imouzir we ate a lunch of half a chicken, rice, olives, salad, fries, and coke for the princely sum of 47.5 dirhams. We were overcharged because of me being white, but the dollar they overcharged us bothered me much less than Hanane. After this we cuaght another grand taxi to the resort town of Ifrane. The cost was quoted at 18 dirhams but went up to 20 and then Hanane tore into thte driver and it dropped back to 18.



Neither of these towns have old cities as both were, I think founded by the French during their occupation. Ifrane has red tiled roof villas, large gardens, and even a royal chateau that Hassan II used to stay in. Ifrane was founded in 1929, definitely by the French. There are ski resorts, a modern university, and lakes and forests surrounding it. Definitely a nice place.


You could take Ifrane and drop it in Utah and it wouldn’t be too out of place, okay, maybe it would be. Someone should do that. We spent about 100 dirhams on gifts, food, drinks, ice cream, and fun and then we went back to the Grand Taxi station to get a taxi back to Sefrou.

I will devote the next post to the madness that is Moroccan transportation, but suffice to say after a long wait we caught a taxi to Imouzir, a bus to Fex, another taxi to Sefrou, and finally a petit taxi to Hanane’s house. Grand total for return trip: 67 dirham.

I feel like I have traveled around enough in Morocco at this point to write a small piece on how transport works here. In a nutshell, it works, but only in the most loosely defined sense of the word.

In my initial travelling around Morocco, I thought that maybe as a foreigner I just wasn’t getting it and that if I were a local or had the knowledge of a local, I would find how it worked, well, thanks to Hanane, I have discovered how it works andthat as a foreigner with no guide book and no clue, I was doing just as well or better than just about everyone else. The exceptions are those who have private cars.


Airplanes
: I haven’t flown in Morocco yet, but assume it is more organized than other forms of transport. Although I checked online and it seems that flights are actually fairly intermittant and not tightly scheduled at all.

Trains Trains are definitely the best way to travel in Morocco. The only problem is that you can’t go everywhere on trains. In fact, you can go roughly from Tangiers to Rabat to Casablanca to Marrakech to Meknes to Fes and to Tangiers and that is about it. The stops are not often marked clearly, the trains make major stops that last less than 30 seconds at times, and you are often required to change trains in obscure locations without any clear indicator. The conductors are not very helpful. First class is less hectic than second class and not too much more money. the stations are generally clean but still you will be hit up for cash by anyone who recognizes you as a foreigner and is the type of person that hits foreigners up for cash.

BusesThere are local buses that you get a ticket from the guy on the bus on and the more efficient long transport buses. Again, no clearly defined stops, no real help from the drivers, sometimes you have to pay for baggage going underneath, sometimes you don’t. The bus times and schedules are not at all clear, rarely or not posted, and even if you have a seat assigned, you can expect to find someone in it and then you just find another seat. The more local style buses will sell more tickets than seats and while they don’t seat people on the roof, Hanane and I rode on a blanket covered gearbox next to the driver that wasn’t too uncomfortable but required everyone exiting the bus to climb over us. Next to us was a guy on a stool, a guy hanging out the door, and the driver smoking while he blared tinny Moroccan music. This was about an hours ride. Oddly romantic except for the baggy pants kid in the Palestinian scarf who kept flinging unwanted comments towards us. When we got off the bus in Fes, Hanane ripped him a new one and he meekly apologized and went on his way. There is more to this story, but you will have to hear it over coffee with me someday…
Anyway, buses are scheduled badly and few and far between, overcrowded, and pretty fun…watch your bags close and be careful not to miss your stop.

Grand Taxis These are by far the craziest means of transport in Morocco. These are Mercedes sedans that provide the main means of transport between small Moroccan towns. Different colors for different regions. Fares range from 5-20 dirhams and typically this is how they work. The drivers converge with their cars in a station and the people come to go, when there are 6 passengers, the driver gets them all in the car and like sardines you journey to your destination, bit it 10, 20, or 100 miles away. Sometimes, there are more passengers than taxis and when this happens, if a taxi comes in, passengers swarm and chase after it and try to be the first to pull the passengers out so they can take the seat. While I didn’t see anyone get thrown on the ground yet, I am sure it happens, I am also sure that fist fights break out over these. So if you are in a grand taxi and you come into a station and forty people start chasing and swarming your taxi, don’t worry, they just want a lift out of that town. The grand taxi stations are generally dirty mud filled lots with dirty men and dirty little shops surrounding. Not the nicest places but necessary. No schedules, no set times, and sometimes the location of the grand taxi ‘stations’ changes without notice. Very efficient. Usually pretty honest about the set prices, but its best to watch what they charge the locals and then just hand then the correct change.

Petit taxis These are the main means of local transport. I think they are yellow in Sefrou, Red in Fez, Blue in Rabat, Green in Casablanca, and maybe Red in Marrakech…actually, I’m sure I screwed up the colors, but each city has its own color. Short fare should be anywhere between 4 and 15 dirhams but a meter is the best way to go though not available in smaller places. A set fare beforehand is a good idea. If the robbers in Tangiers or Fez get ahold of you expect them to tell you 20-50 dirhams for a short ride and be prepared to tell them to go fuck themselves. Easier is just demand a meter in these places. Drivers are generally good guys though. Typical is for man to get in the front and women in the back, but then other people might get in your taxi, this is supposed to lower your fare, but if you don’t speak Moroccan will only lower theirs.

In summary, you are damn lucky if you manage to get anywhere at all in any amount of time. Enjoy.

Orignally published 3/10/09

3/11/2009

Yesterday was a holiday here in Morocco. Birth of the Prophet, so we ate a big breakfast of cookies and cake and then killed a sheep.

Here are a few pictures. Later we ate the intestines, stomach, heart (stuffed with garlic), forelegs, and other tasty bits. To be honest, while I enjoy eating lamb, mutton is a bit strong for my taste, but I’m doing the best I can with it. Now we are going to eat the brains with eggs, I’m told they are very sweet…






But to balance things out, yesterday one of the sheep gave birth to two lambs, so the flock is actually one stronger today than it was yesterday.

Even though dogs are considered unclean, they still get to enjoy part of the feast and they are also respected, though not loved members of the family. The puppy, I’ve named Kelby (literally ‘my dog’ in Arabic). I think he could be a very good dog, but it’s just not a realistic possibility to train him and make him a guys best friend here…maybe I will though.

The earliest accounts for the observance of Mawlid can be found in eighth-century Mecca, when the house in which Muhammad was born was transformed into a place of prayer by Al-Khayzuran (mother of Harun al-Rashid, the fifth and most famous Abbasid caliph).Public celebrations of the birth of Muhammad did not occur until four centuries after his death. It was originally a festival of the Shia ruling class, not attended by the common people, with the first official Mawlid celebrations occurring in Egypt towards the end of the eleventh century.The Fatimids, who were descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah. The early celebrations included elements of Sufic influence, with animal sacrifices and torchlight processions along with public sermons and a feast.The celebrations occurred during the day, in contrast to modern day observances, with the Fatimid ruler playing a key role in the ceremonies. Emphasis was given to the Ahl al-Bayt with presentation of sermons and recitations of the Qur’an. The event also featured the award of gifts to officials in order to bolster support for the ruling caliph.

The first public celebrations by Sunnis took place in twelfth-century Syria, under the rule of Nur ad-Din. Though there is no firm evidence to indicate the reason for the adoption of the Shi’ite festival by the Sunnis, some theorise the celebrations took hold to counter Christian influence in places such as Spain and Morocco. The practice was briefly halted by the Ayoubides when they came to power, and it became an event confined to family circles It regained status as an official event again in 1207 when it was re-introduced by Muzaffar ad-din, the brother-in-law of Saladin, in Arbil, a town near Mosul, Iraq.

The practice spread throughout the Muslim world, assimilating local customs, to places such as Cairo, where folklore and Sufic practices greatly influenced the celebrations. By 1588 it had spread to the court of Murad III, Sultan of the Ottoman empire.In 1910, it was given official status as a national festival throughout the Ottoman empire. Today it is an official holiday in many parts of the world.

3/15/09 Yesterday was a short day trip to Fez for Hanane and me. It was a really enjoyable day. First of all we went to a giant tent city of used book sellers. this was like a treasure trove for both of us and we ended up spending about two hours and twenty five dollars there which yielded Hanane a new dictionary and a text book for her classes and for me a number of books on Moroccan culture and history for me. Plus, I finally have a guidebook to Morocco since Hanane bought me one! So maybe I will start to figure this country out finally, not that I’ve been doing too bad, I figured out how to get a fiance, I’m certainly eating plenty, and I have a rather large and loving extended family, perhaps with a guidebook none of this would have happened… After the booksellers we had lunch in the new city, our typical half chicken, rice, fries etc. The first place we went (which Hanane is still angry about) the guy charged us 55 dirhams…a blatant case of overcharging the white guy….last week we paid 47.5 dirhams, but this included coke and salad, so it wasn’t too terrible (about a dollar less than the week before), and this week it was 42 dirhams, about 50 cents less than before and much better food and service, so this time Hanane was quite happy with the meal. What a difference $1.50 makes! After this we went to a tourist cafe in the Rex Garden park and met our friend Karima. We had some simple orange juice, coffee, shakes, etc and I was charged nearly double by a greasy waiter. I was puzzled at the fact that I didn’t argue more about the price but realized as we walked away that in the United States, it is considered petty to quibble over a dollar or two and since I was with my fiance and our friend, I didn’t want to ‘lower’ myself by yelling and arguing as has to be done here if you are not to be ripped off. Of course since I realized this afterwards, it was too late to go back and correct my error, because here, you are really lowering yourself by letting some greasy waiter sucker you out of a dollar. Our friend Karima is a great girl and leads to the title of this post. She has a really good blog called Karima in Fez that I found last week. I emailed her and then the three of us met in Sefrou when she came here for a job interview. We were surprised to find out that she is recently married to an American and she has been giving us great advice on how to proceed with our marriage and we are looking into lots of interesting opportunities in Morocco that you may hear about in the future. But back to yesterday. From the Rex Garden we took a cab to the old Medina in Fez. In the old medina I had to follow behind the girls as if I didn’t know them to avoid them being arrested by the tourist police as illegal tour guides. This has happened to Karima before when she walked through the medina with a foreign friend. The laws and police and regulations here can be incredibly difficult to navigate. I didn’t mind though as it reminded me of what it feels like to be Agent 808 and to tail two beautiful Arab women through the souks. I followed them to Cafe Clock, a very hip coffee house in the heart of the medina owned by an Englishman named Mike. There we met a few people, talked and enjoyed the company. After this, we pulled the Agent 808 routine again and left the old medina by taxi. We went back to the new city to a pizza joint near the french embassy that had the best pizza I’ve had since leaving New York. I never did catch the name of the place but I think it was simply Pizzas. This was followed by a walk through the beautifully lit up downtown of Fez and then a taxi ride back to Sefrou. I noticed that there seemed to be less garbage in Fez than the last time I was there and asked Karima about it and she explained it very simply, “The King was here a few days ago!” Of course, things get cleaned up for the royal presence. I wish he would come to Sefrou for a while! (All photos from this post are stolen from Karima’s blog at karimainfez.blogspot.com or from the cafe clock website www.cafeclock.com)

3/18/09

Recently The Rev left my favorite comment of all time. Something like ‘When the going gets weird, the weird go to Morocco and get married’. I’m too lazy to go find it since I am already dealing with typing on a french keyboard set up for Arabs in an internet cafe where the connection speed varies from slow to non-existant, but that was the gist of it.

I haven’t gotten married yet, but we are working on it. Life is certainly strange. I see that the Stock market is making a correction and my guess is that it will level out and then drop to less than 6500…maybe I’m wrong though… in any event, of course I am rooting for as much of a collapse as possible. I have little to nothing and lower stock prices, real estate prices, and the loss of the past few years ridiculous economy of excess, luxury goods, and exorbitant lifestyles are all a good thing to me.

I’ve got 30K in school loans to pay back, no good prospects for work, and am about to get married in a country where the King is also the official head of the religion. Okay, that’s not exactly true, actually we are going to spend all of our combined savings to go to another African country to get married because it is damn near impossible to have a white American man marry a Moroccan woman here. By the time we jumped through the hoops we would have spent it all anyway…

I am running out of money anyway but we need to get married so we can have the semblance of a normal life here. In Muslim countries there is not really any such thing as living together or even dating, and living with her family is drivingt us both nuts even though zwe love them.

Today we are going to start a project where we are going to breed rabbits and sell them. Yes, I am using my college degree to become a rabbit breeder. In additon, I am going to continue spending money like I actually make any from this website. By the way, thanks for the two donations. I’ll use them to buy a rabbit. The other five we need I will use some of what remains of the money we need to get married. This might work. If the damn cats don’t eat all the rabbits.


A few days ago I took a small hike with Hanane’s 14 year old brother Foued and his friends Osama and Yussef. We hiked into the forest, lit a small fire, cooked lunch, played music, and threw rocks like Palestinians in training. In fact, whenever we hit the target I would point at the thrower and say ‘Philistine’. I like hanging out in the woods and making up games, we also played to see who could stack the most rocks into a pile. That’s my game too, though it is more fun than it sounds. Then we made up an Arabic song about farting. In arabic ‘Hazaaka’.

Yesterday after meeting up with an American friend of Hanane’s that she used to teach with, she and I went up to the Cascade of Sefrou…very nice.


All the bread and sugary tea are making me fat and I’ve been sick for a month. I started running again yesterday though and it was nice to run by men on tiny donkeys and shepherds sitting on lonely hillsides.

Herer is a fun fact…we sleep on a mattress that was made right before our eyes. It looks like a normal mattress but in fact is stuffed with wool from the sheep of Hanane’s dad. No springs, just wool. It gets a little lumpy, but it’s definitely the first time I have ever seen a mattress stitched up. It looks just like a sealy posturpedic but isn’t quite as posturpedic.

Oh yeah. The donkeys here are really small. When I was a kid I lived in a place called Big Bear where we had burros that we called donkeys, but they were twice the size of these. I think I want to buy one and ride it around Sefrou.

3/19/09

I love the Moors…They seem to carry all the mystery and dignity of Africa and foreign conquests about them and they are wonderfully made and fine looking and self respecting. The color is very beautiful but the foreign element spoils it at every turn.


This morning Hanane’s mom and I went to the weekly souk for rabbits, turkeys, and chickens while her Dad went to the souk for sheep, donkey’s and camels about three kilometers away. So my plans to buy a small donkey were foiled…for now. In the picture above you can see Khadjia driving a hard bargain with the rabbit seller.

I tried to snap some surreptitious photos while we were there, but my phone camera takes pretty dark pictures and I didn’t want to drive up the price by taking a bunch of photos so I left my normal camera at home.

The market was filled with turkeys, chickens, eggs ready to hatch, rabbits, and lots of people. We thought about buying turkeys too, since they are a pretty good business because they feed themselves, but they have a knack for being absconded with. So we passed on the turkeys for the moment. Incidentally, Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be the official bird of the United States, he said it was more noble than the carrion eating scavenger, the bald eagle. I would say for the last eight years, a turkey would have been fine. The market reminded me of a quote from a book I just read called The Exiles. It was written about Tangier, Morocco by Richard Harding Davis in 1894. In the book he says that Moroccos beauty “lies in so many different things- in the monk like garb of the men and the white muffled figures of the women; in the brilliancy of its sky and the sea dashing upon the rocks and tossing feluccas with their three cornered sails from side to side; and in the green towers of the mosques, and the listless leaves of the royal palms rising from the center of a mass of white roofs; and, above all, in the color and movement of the bazaars and streets. ”

I also liked this quote:

The greatest number of people in the world prefer the most highly civilized places of the world, because they know what sorts of things are going to happen there, and because they also know by experience that those are the sorts of things they like. A very few people prefer barbarous and utterly uncivilized portions of the globe, for the reason that they recieve while there new impressions, and because they like the unexpected better than a routine existence, no matter how pleasant the routine may be. But the most interesting places of all to study are those in which the savage and the cultivated man lie down together and try to live together in unity. This is so because we learn from such places just how far a man of cultivation lapses into barbarism when he associates with savages, and how far the remnants of his former civilization will have influence uon the barbarians among whom he has come to live.

The quote at the top of this post is also from the same book.

So we ended up buying three pregnant females and one male. Thier names are in honor of those who have recently donated to this site, so don’t think that a donation gets you nothing! (Donate at Existensis.com if you are reading this elsewhere!)

So with no further ado, I introduce… Big Guy, Bambi, Candy, and Marshmellow. Those who donate now will give their names to the babies when they come! And if you donate enough, I will name the donkey or maybe some future goats for you!

Once again, life has proven to be stranger than I could have written a story about. I adopted a bunny as my logo and studied arabic but had no idea I would become a rabbit farmer in Morocco.

3/20/09
I asked this question a few months ago and now I have my answer. I am the kind of traveller that is tired of travelling alone. I am the kind of traveller that likes to really dig into a place and experience life there. I am the kind of traveller that wants to understand the people, customs, and religion of a place first hand. I am the kind of traveller that is bored with monuments, wonders, and toursist attractions but still wants to see them. I am the kind of traveller who has very little desire to sit in a hostel lounge and get drunk with strangers in a new place. I am the kind of traveller that wants to be invisible while he observes and yet active in participation.

I am not the kind of guy who rides his bike through Africa or takes a unicycle to Namibia. I don’t float across oceans on rafts of junk or row across seas. I walk, I watch, I talk, I buy things once in a while, and I try to participate and understand.

I still want to go to India, Turkey, Japan, France, Holland, Australia, Senegal, Mali, Australia, and Nepal. It just might take me a while to get there. I am not a spectacle by intent, but an active participant who is also a spectator.

3/24/09
I’ve been feeling a little like a prisoner lately here in Sefrou, but as a prison, it’s a pretty nice place to be. Here is the view from our bedroom window. Errr…the view of the bedroom window.

Hanane and I have been running a bit with our friend Yassine, together, and alone. so more excercise is feeling pretty good.

This is a place that no one seems to know anything about in the hills around Sefrou.

To me it looks like a tomb of some sort. Around it are caves that people used to live in, similar to those in Granada but the government made them all move out recently and bulldozed all the surrounding houses. Recently being about 3 years ago. there are two tourist hotels in Sefrou that were built about halfway and then abandoned. It used to be a military base here, but apparently the king got upset with the town for some reason and closed the base. then they bulldozed the barracks etc.

The hills around here have thousands of springs bubbling up out of them and there are planted forests of pinion pines, but the hills are also filled with concrete and phosphates and so they are being carved away and the pines are being cut down to make room for villas that don’t seem to get completed. Some folks around here are happy about it and others are sad to see the forest and hills disappearing and the hills being taken away to build more ugly block houses.

Hanane and I fall into the latter camp.

There is no shortage of donkeys though.

But as I say, even though it is beautiful, I am feeling a little bit trapped here. At the moment it isn’t bad, because I am taking a TEFL course but after this, I will need to find a job somewhere, in the meantime, the hiking is good.

The view is nice.

The food is good!

And the rabbits are doing fine! We built them a new enclosure yesterday. No births yet, but probably pretty soon.

3/31/09


First of all let me say that Hanane is okay and thanks to all of you who sent your prayers and well wishes. We are back in Sefrou where she has a doctor who sounds like she actually practices good Western medicine, rather than trusting to some guy who might try to bleed her with leeches or cure her with monkey piss in Marrakech. She is going to the doctor today and at the moment seems to be feeling a lot better.

As for me, my head wants to explode. Morocco is making me a bit crazy and while Hanane and her family are fantastic, much of it is beautiful, and I actually love the place, the Rev is right when he says it is like living in the 7th century. The construction, sometimes the transport, and the mentality, particularly of poor, uneducated men and women is straight from the hellish times of yore.

What was supposed to be a pretty nice, cheap, little vacation from Sefrou was actually pretty hellish most of the time, not to mention expensive even though it shouldn’t have been . We made the best of it though and one night sat in a hotel room where the door of the room next door was being beaten down by the staff while the German couple who had lost their key watched from the hallway in horror as hammers with makeshift handles and rude chisels were used to batter the door down, I’m sure they thought that there would be an extra key! In any event, in concrete buildings the sounds echo loudly and we composed a list of 26 things that can ruin a romantic vacation, then we made a list of 27 things that we had enjoyed so far.

I find the list of 26 bad things funnier:
1) drunks fighting in the street as we left to catch the overnight bus to sahara at 10 pm (this is the first time I’ve seen this in Morocco)
2) Waiting for a very late late bus as it got unseasonably cold
3) Suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning in the bus
4) Sulferous belches resulting from the poisoning
5) Two severe cases of diarhea
6) no sleep on the poisonous bus
7) a very cold Sahara
8) Scorpion in the riad room we stayed in
9) flooding in the sahara
10) getting stuck in muddy sand in an algerian van and having to dig it out
11) greedy Berbers trying to charge us twice
12) washed out roads
13) cancelled buses
14) broken doors
15) german accents echoing
16) vomiting in the shower
17) vomiting in the bus
18) leering creeps too numerous for me to punch them all
19) vomiting in a nice little mountain town
20) (for me) having to force Hanane to eat crackers (it worked by the way and she was glad)
21) (for Hanane) being forced to eat crackers
22) bus drivers in training on narrow windy roads with no visibility from fog and huge cliffs beside us
23) being charged for too much for not just one but two crappy rooms
24) throwing up alone in Marrakech
25) not sleeping because Hanane was throwing up alone in Marrakech
26) Greedy, backwards, fake Muslim fuckheads that have no compassion

The list of the good stuff is pretty obvious from the pictures. In any event, here is the lowdown. The Sahara is beautiful and while the rain killed (for the moment) my dream of riding a camel to an oasis and sleeping under the desert stars, just being in the dunes, having time in the Sahara and seeing the caravans going out on the night we arrived was fantastic. Hanane has a network of friends that made the trip to the Sahara interesting and fun. Her friend Assou met us in Rassidea at 5 a.m. after the first busride from hell and walked us to the grand taxi (Mercedes designed by Germans for 5 but utilized throughout Morocco for 7 people .) Then we were met by his friend Said in elrissani with the password ‘Mother Africa’ , the password is necessary to prevent touts from saying “Yes, I am Said” and then taking us somewhere else. Said, walked us through the Medina and then we met up with Hanane’s friend Hassan who took us in another taxi to the middle of the desert where we got out and were met by a berber man on a quad runner, we loaded our bags on the front and he rode us through the sahara for about 20 minutes to an isolated medieval looking castle.

At this point we were sick and exhausted and opted to ride camels to the oasis the next day…but we did manage to enjoy walking in the dunes. The next day though was the rain and so we ended up leaving…frankly I think we should have been charged less because of the lack of oasis and camel time, but Hanane had arranged it with her friends in advance…incidentally, this excursion ended up being the most expensive portion of my entire journey for just 3 days and 4 nights, most of it miserable and unsatisfying…which I am fairly stressed out about, but I’ll be okay…)

So that’s when we left the edge of Algeria and rode in the crazy Algerian Berber van through the wet desert. At one point all fifteen or so people in the van had to get out and push the van out of deep sand while tinny berber music blasted on blown stereo speakers.

Then they tried to charge us twice, then the road was washed out, then we took another taxi, then we caught an alternate bus from an alternate town, then we arrived very late and another of Assou’s friends , Abdul (codeword: Africa Kiss). He led us to a hotel where the desk clerk demanded a marriage certificate but accepted Abdul’s word that we were married, of course this made my Hanane very upset because the clerk had effectively called her a whore, this is when she started to become very sick and puked on my feet while I showered. The door flew open and then there was puke on my feet.

We woke in Ouerzizate, the Moroccan Hollywood and actually had a pretty good day of walking, seeing the Kasbah, and playing in the Cinema Museum, we had a nice lunch of pizza that disagreed with Hanane’s stomach and when she threw up on the side of the road we opted to skip the Atlas Film Studio tour and instead caught another gassy bus to Marrakech where the asshole man charged us for two rooms and denied me the chance to take care of her.

The trip from Ouerzazate to Marrakech was stunningly beautiful. Marrakech, I am still not a huge fan of. The next morning after I left a written curse for the clerk, we caught the train back to Fez and then another grand taxi to Sefrou and a petit taxi to the Soudi house.

I’m going to be leaving Morocco in a few days. I’ll be back but I need to leave this country before my head explodes…besides, this trip cost enough that I can no longer afford to fly Hanane and I to Senegal to get married where it isn’t a retarded amount of legal paperwork….

There’s lots more of course, but you’ll have to buy the book for it later…by the way, the pictures are all taken during the good times…

Right now, I am becoming excited about April in Paris and leaving the 7th century for a while.

I’ve found the small door but I can’t find the cookie that makes me small enough to go through it, I’ll ask my white rabbit when I get back to Sefrou!