I’ve been busy lately with teaching at the ALC, organizing the film club, and learning how to use my new semi-automatic washing machine correctly. It’s basically a bucket that agitates and then I empty the dirty water, replace with fresh water, and repeat. Then I wring out the clothes by hand and hang them in my parlor. It’s similar to my semi automatic shower in which I heat water in a kettle, pour it into my solar shower bag, and then hang it in the wet room for a hot shower. Both empty on the floor and make me happy I have a big squeegee to push the water to the open drains.
All of that aside though, Hanane and I have managed to have a few adventures. In the hills of Sefrou the forest is being mowed down to build big mudbrick villas for the rich. Sefrou used to be an area of fruit trees, gardens, and agriculture. Not so much anymore. One day we took a walk in a forest that was set to probably be removed after a few days and while sitting there I found some broken pieces of a big pot. Some of them fit together. In two trips we found about 40 pieces and using super glue I managed to reconstruct most of the pot. All the pieces fit. We couldn’t find the rest, but I think it looks pretty cool. I’ve had to repair it (haha) twice when the superglue didn’t hold and when I kicked the table it was on and broke off the top.
Check it out.
Another adventure was to a top secret village near Sefrou where a number of Moroccan saints are buries. Moroccan Islam is filled with all kinds of saints and if you look around you find their tombs on hilltops, in beautiful spots, and really all over the place. This particular place was incredible. Small medinas on hilltops with gushing streams forced through where the local women do their laundry. Of course the men are just sitting around watching.
In this particular place, the kids all ran away when Hanane would offer them candy, we’ve never seen that before. The view though was stupendous and most of the people were nice though they looked at us like we were from another planet. It’s possible that we will live there someday. I think it’s probably like Sefrou used to be in terms of nature and agriculture.
Hanane took this one. Beautiful shot, huh?
In a few weeks I’ll be going to Agadir for the first time for a teacher conference and I’ll try to get lots of pictures, though on the last trip we took, I sat on my camera and broke the screen so now I can’t use any of the features like zoom or anything else. Sometimes I’m an idiot.
Today was a different kind of day. My habibi loves to sing and she found out that there was a competition in Sefrou today which I’ve been calling in my head ‘Sefrou Idol’, for obvious reasons. Hopefully you will forgive my crappy photography as you may remember that I broke the LCD on my camera and so now I can’t use any of the features such as zoom, focus, or flash since it was all displayed on the LCD. It’s a point, shoot, and hope for the best situation.
The competition was slated to take place in the morning but when we got to the Sefrou Conservatory we found that it had been postponed until 3 pm. So we went and had lunch. Then we came back. We arrived at about 3 pm and found a handful of people but then at around 3:45 they all started to arrive. Moroccan time. Similar to Hawaiian time only with no rhyme or reason to it what so ever.
The first round showed just how hot the talent here in Sefrou is. Singers picked two songs and the judges kept their eyes from rolling or popping out as they listened to the good, the bad, and the ugly. My sweetie wowed them with two difficult Arab tunes…the judges had no words for her except, “We’ll see you in the next round.”
Still we were both nervous and crossing our fingers as they read off the list of those moving on to the next round and then (sigh of relief) they called her name. We figured that we would have to come back but in Moroccan style they decided to give everyone ten minutes to pick a new song and then go on. I suggested that Hanane sing a traditional song since that is where her voice truly shines, but the judges didn’t want something old like that. It’s a shame. Instead, she picked another difficult contemporary Arab tune and kicked it’s ass.
At this point the competition was the best of the best. I was feeling incredibly proud that she was singing with these vocalists since she hasn’t practiced and doesn’t have a voice coach or take voice lessons as many of the competitors do. That may have been the deciding factor though, because when they read the next list, we didn’t get to hear her name called.
Doesn’t matter though. She’s still my Sefrou Idol and I’m happy to know that I’ll get to hear her sing those old traditional songs that I love so much for a long time to come.
As many of you know, I read Tarot cards. In fact, I read Tarot and I read an old deck of Hawaii playing cards that I carry around with me. In other words, I’m tuned into cards. I can even do a few card tricks.
I’ll often pick up playing cards I find in the street and read meaning from them. One of the things I noticed here in Morocco was that the cards here are pretty different than the cards I’ve seen elsewhere.
In fact, the playing cards look a whole lot more like Tarot cards than like the standard 52 card deck that most of us know. The suits are tarot suits coins, cups, swords, and wands. I saw this and then I decided to get a deck and check them out.
Unlike Tarot or poker cards, these cards are missing the 8’s and 9’s. The cards go 1-7 and then they jump to the face cards numbered 10-13. The facecards are a jack, a knight, and a king. So that adds up to only 40 cards.
In addition there are strange gaps in the lines that frame the cards. they are obviously by intent, but I don’t yet know what they are for. I’m working to figure out all the meanings of the cards now so I can read them. A quick internet search turned up that the decks have a Spanish origin and are called Baraja.
The earliest literary references to playing cards in Europe refer to the game having been introduced by a ‘Saracen’, and also to Moorish and Damascene varieties of playing card. We do not know for sure what these fourteenth century cards looked like… but for an idea click here.
The occupation of enclaves in North Africa was one of the objectives most actively pursued by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella after the conquest of Granada. This expansionist policy was curtailed shortly afterwards when Spain turned its efforts to the recently discovered West Indies. It might be logical to assume that North Africa has always been supplied with Spanish suited cards, and that these came primarily from France or Spain.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries playing cards were imported into Morocco and Algeria from Spain and France by manufacturers such as Camoin, La Ducale, B.P. Grimaud and others. These were of the Spanish National pattern, based on the Félix Solesio designs produced by the Real Fábrica de Madrid at Macharaviaya (1776-1815).
The Camoin firm closed down in 1971, but many clones of Camoin’s cards have been, and still are being produced by a succession of Moroccan manufacturers, usually from Casablanca. These include:
Imprimerie de L’Entente
Imprimerie Litho-Type Marocaine
…and other anonymous brands such as Cartes Lion, L’Elephant, L’Aigle or Sindibad. Morocco is now one of the last remaining countries to use the old Spanish National pattern.
Of course, with only 40 cards there aren’t any major arcana either, but they appear in other ways. I’m certain that these cards are used by Moroccan soothsayers and fortune tellers. There really isn’t any way they couldn’t be. They are beautiful cards.
I haven’t learned any games yet either…but I will.
Last weekend, we decided to take a daytrip to Meknes since neither Hanane nor I had been there before. We got a later start than we intended but figured it would be no problem since Meknes is only an hours train ride from Fez and Fez is only a 40 minute taxi ride from Sefrou.
The taxi was a simple thing since that is a part of my normal commute, 10 dirhams each in a grand taxi and then a petit taxi to the beautiful new train station in Fez. 23 dirhams to get us there and then another 20 dirhams each got us on the train in second class seats which I find to be not too much different from the first class seats anyway.
Arriving in Meknes we weren’t sure which station to get out at so we got out out the first “Gare De Meknes’. Immediately we both noticed that Meknes has a very different vibe than Fez, much more laid back and slightly more cosmopolitan. People didn’t pay any attention to us and we strolled the broad avenues until we found a nice little cafe to sit and sip an espresso in. Even the cafes seemed less imposing than those in Fes since we saw a fair number of women in each that we passed. This was both of our first trip to Meknes and since we didn’t have as much time as we had hoped we would, we decided to simply call it an exploratory mission where we would get the general vibe of the place and figure out what we wanted to do the next time.
We decided that we’d like to see the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis but upon inquiring where we should find a taxi we were told that it was late in the day and we would most likely not find a taxi back if we were to go. Keep in mind it was only about 2 pm. Most people we talked to said that we should catch a taxi to Moulay Idriss and from there another taxi to Volubulis. As usual, we were traveling with no guide books so we wandered over to where the taxis to Moulay Idriss were queing up.
Along the way we passed some sort of exhibition, quite a nice movie theatre, and a restaurant that made Hanane’s eyes light up with possibilities “The Chicken Palace”. It was filled with Moroccan business people and smelled great.
At the taxi stand we encountered our only tout of the day who offered to take us to Volubulis for 300 dirham, an incredibly excessive price. We didn’t even bother arguing but walked away and got in a taxi to Moulay Idriss for another 10 dirhams each. At this point, Hanane’s energy was flagging a bit and she told me that she would rather just go to Moulay Idriss, have a look around, and then come back and eat at the Chicken Palace. I tried to argue a bit but it was pointless as the point of the day was for us to both enjoy ourselves and arguing seemed counterproductive to that end.
The drive to Moulay Idriss was beautiful with vineyards, orchards, and stark landscape that is starting to turn green with spring spread out in every direction. Approaching the city was like coming upon a citadel on a remote plain as the city sat high on the hillsides above. I counted at least five Saint’s tombs or monuments along the way.I’m sure there were more and we could both feel the baraka pulsating in the place as we stepped out of the taxi into the narrow twisted streets of Moulay Idriss.
My initial inclination is to always go straight to the high point and so with Hanane shuffling unhappily beside me we climbed to the top of the town. I admit that I felt a bit of regret at being so close to Volubulis and not seeing it and perhaps that is why when she suggested we take the low road, I insisted on the high. Sometimes I’m a bastard that way and I know it.
It wasn’t a terribly clean town and the men all had big asses, that is there were a plethora of donkeys loaded with goods, a usual site in Fez but not one we see a lot in Sefrou.
Sometimes it seems like Moroccans are obsessed with shoes….
It was the souk day and most of the merchants were packing up and heading home. There is a beautiful fountain near the top in a nice little park but sadly it contains no water only dried and brown leaves.
We journeyed downwards then into the heart of the Medina and found ourselves in a stunning little square surrounded by small hanuts and food stalls on all sides except that containing the tomb of Moulay Idriss I, the founder of both Fez and Moulay Idriss.
Going inside there was a lot of conversation around us as people tried to figure out if I were Moroccan or Muslim. Finally a young guy said “He can’t go in there, he’s not a Muslim” and Hanane laid into him telling him that I am and that as such I have the right to see the tomb. Yes indeed, I paid my 300 dirham conversion fee.
Inside we found pilgrims praying and soaking up the baraka of the place. We dropped some coins in the slot and touched the tomb thus moving some of the baraka into our own bodies, sat for a while, and then made our way back to the taxi stand but not before buying a little earthenware bottle and cup covered in the creosote like tar that Moroccans believe assists in maintaining good health. It smells like smoke and is certainly some sort of pitch, but I’m not sure exactly what kind of wood it is, it’s possible it is creosote. The jar and cup were a whopping 10 dirhams more plus another 10 for some figs to munch on our way to the chicken palace.
The drive back was no less beautiful and then we walked to the chicken palace which was indeed delicious with a sort of ginger sauce on the roasted chicken, fries, a nice salad, and a couple of sodas. This set us back a whopping 90 dirhams. After this, we decided to check out the exhibition and then perhaps see a movie before heading home but this plan was scrapped when I realized it was a circus. Hanane had never seen a circus. It was a tired little French circus with 3rd class seats for 45 dirhams each. Once inside there was no enforcement of seating but we liked our seats.
It was fun but not very good. The three tigers were sort of fierce and the cirque du soleil-esque spinning woman amamzed me as she spun around while hanging from her neck butthe balancing act fell off his balance, the elephant was old and miserable and when a bratty little French kid made it lie down and then danced on it wearing his white sneakers I wanted to go down and smash him. The clowns were annoying, the plate spinner broke as many as he spun, and the tigers quickly faded from my memory. Hanane’s favorite moment was when the plates began to break, she decided to start counting loudly to see how long they took to fall off. I’m not sure what her thought process on how long was success was, but she laughed loudly. She also enjoyed the cotton candy. I liked watching the trained horses run in circles. No photos allowed but I snuck one of Hanane with the elephant behind her since it was the first time she has seen elephants or tigers. Of course my camera still has no display so it is point, shoot, and hope for the best.
We left a bit early but the train was delayed and so we ended up sitting at the second train station Gare de Meknes Soltan for about two hours. She got tired, I got grumpy, a crazy beggar begged for a fig, and a crazy old man told us how he had lost his memory after he retired.
We got back to Fes about midnight and I dragged us away from the petit taxi sharks outside the station, finally we caught a taxi to Atlas where we cuaght an illegal taxi to Sefrou. He wanted to wait for another person but finally I just paid for the extra seat to get us on the way 45 dirham total, more than the train to Meknes! The train had been another 20 each, the petit taxi another 8, and the strain of waiting in the dirty little Soltan station, wandering the streets of Fez at midnight, and finally wandering through my Casbah at 1 am (waty later than I am comfortable with) took a lot of the enjoyment out of the day.
All told about 400 dirhams for a pretty good day. It would have been better if we could have stayed the night but since we still don’t have marriage papers, that wasn’t really an option for us yet. I look forward to seeing more of Meknes, finally seeing Volubulis, and I probably won’t go back to any more Moroccan circuses….
As a new teacher at the ALC in Fez, it’s sort of hard to get to know your colleagues. Everyone is always waiting to use the computers or copy machine, on the way to class, grading, or just not there. That’s the reason it was such a nice treat to go to the Annual American Language Center teachers conference.
This year it was held in Agadir, a strangely western beach town where you don’t hear the call to prayer and you are more likely to see fat German tourists drinking beer than to see Moroccans praying. I didn’t know what to expect but am pleased with what went on there.
Since we were leaving at 4 am, I stayed the night in the house of a teaching colleague and her roommates in the Fez medina.It was pretty nice to arrive at their place and find everyone speaking English and a steady cast of young foreigners coming in and out all the time. Najma , my colleague, made a delicious curry for dinner and I met all of her roommates and we all had lots of discussions I don’t usually get the chance to have.
These were one of the coolest kids toys I’ve ever seen. They were three wheeled pedal buggies with fake horses on the front and steered with reigns. Essentally, pedal horse and carts.
Early the next morning, we walked to Batha where we caught a bus, joined the other teachers, caught a plane, and then arrived at the big conference in Agadir. The conference itself was really not what I had expected or hoped. The presentations were somewhat soft though some were pretty informative.
There wasn’t really a time built in to explore the place. It was however a good time to get to know colleagues from the Fez ALC and the other centers. It’s a pleasant thing given the frequency with which we see one another and don’t have the time to interact.
One major bonus was being able to have some incredible intellectual discussions with Eric, a linguist colleague who wrote his thesis under the tutelage of Noam Chomsky.
There was more than a little bit of drinking of booze in Agadir and while I didn’t get the chance to surf or swim in the ocean, there were a couple of swims in the pool and some sunbathing on the last day. It was nice to drink some beers, eat some decent western food, and share some conversation that went beyond weather, family, and gossip.
The last day there was only a half session day and so we had a bit of a chance to explore. One notable find was a sort of free animal park near the beach that housed the cutest little antelope, deer, a wallaby, and lots and lots of birds. Food wise, I ate some delicious fish dishes, a salmon ceasar salad, and a couple of scoops of delicious ice cream.
The ALC was pretty generous in putting us up in a four star hotel and feeding us. Even when meals weren’t provided, we were still able to expense 300 dirhams of food.
Overall, I can’t say that I found Agadir to be a place I want to return to, but then, I didn’t get the chance to leave the zone touristic so I”m not being entirely fair.
Agadir struck me as a bizarre mixture of the things I like least about Hawaii and Morocco tourism. The weather was great, it was nice to have a chance to eat western cuisine, certainly I enjoyed the pool, but overall the Morocco-Tiki culture doesn’t work for me here just like the Tiki-Morocco culture of Waikiki doesn’t work for me. The ocean and beach however, are timelessly perfect even if the water is red and the wind is cold.
The best thing about this trip was the chance to get to know colleagues, the chance to learn some activities and techniques that were new to me, and the chance to see and eat in a place with very little out of pocket expenses.
The return to Fez was far too late and long. Najma again said I could crash on her couch and since I had to teach the next day and was already exhausted, this was an offer that made life easier…at least until the guys showed up to start busting the tile at 7am. Four hours sleep and a very groggy Vago wandered out into the Medina and prepared the film discussion class, not an overly strenuous task given that we were seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, but you might be surprised to know what a thick text this simple film actually is. Maybe I’ll write about it soon.
I’ve been running the film club at the ALC Fez for a few months now and I thought I would write a little bit about the films that we’ve shown and the reaction to them from the Moroccan students who attended. The first film as previously discussed was Casablanca.
For the next one, I chose another classic film.
I wanted to show The Grapes of Wrath, the epic Depression era film about the Joad family migrating from the Dust Bowl to California in search of a new life. The film itself is beautiful and Henry Ford as Tom Joad conveys every bit of the desperation and resolve that the ‘Okies’ encountered as they tried to build a life from one that had literally been bulldozed under by ‘progress’. I felt that this film would offer a certain understanding of the current economic ‘depression’ from an American historical standpoint for the students and would also provide an interesting contrast for students learning English as they learned about American dialects.
The students were rapt with attention throughout the film. I ran the film with English subtitles since the dialect is often incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t been previously exposed to it. In the discussion that followed, the students expressed surprise that it was so recently that the United States was in a very similar situation to what Morocco is currently in. When you consider that it was only a few years ago that slums in Casablanca were bulldozed to make way for the Hassan II mosque, that many families still don’t have running water or washing machines, and that police brutality is still very much a present circumstance in Morocco, it’s not surprising to see why the film resonated so strongly with them. The discussion ran through the gamut of these thoughts and topics.
Of course, the ending of the movie is far different than that of the book where a starving man breastfeeds after Rose of Sharon’s child is stillborn.
Below is the information I provided to the students:
Movie Title : The Grapes of Wrath
Directed by: John Ford
Year Produced: 1940
Henry Fonda – Tom Joad
Jane Darwell – Ma Joad
John Carradine – Casey
The U.S. state of Oklahoma in the Thirties is a dustbowl and dispossessed farmers migrate westward to California. After terrible trials en route they become little more than slave labor. Among the throng are the Joads who refuse to knuckle under. In the film Tom Joad returns to his home after a jail sentence to find his family kicked out of their farm due to forecloseure. He catches up with them on his uncles farm, and joins them the next day as they head for California and a new life… Hopefully. Based on the John Steinbeck novel.
Dustbowl – The Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940)
The Great Depression – the economic crisis beginning with the stock market crash in 1929 and continuing through the 1930s
Okies – Okie is a term, dating from as early as 1907, originally denoting a resident or native of Oklahoma. It is derived from the name of the state
Foreclosure – the legal proceedings initiated by a creditor to repossess the collateral for loan that is in default
Things to think and talk about:
-How did the Great Depression shape the mentality of Americans?
-Rates of foreclosure in the United States are at the highest level since the Great Depression. Is the current situation similar to that the Joads faced?
-Who are some groups in Morocco that face similar problems as the ‘Okies’?
-Compare and contrast these two quotes from the film:
Ma Joad: Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.
Gasoline Attendant: You and me got sense. Them Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. Human being wouldn’t live the way they do. Human being couldn’t stand to be so miserable.
Henry Fonday kept the hat he wore in the movie for the rest of his life, until before he passed away in 1982 he gave it to his old friend Jane Withers.Apparently he and Withers, when she was an 8 year old girl and he a young man, did a play together before Fonda made movies. Fonda was so nervous to go onstage that little Jane took his hand, said a little prayer to ease his nerves, and the two of them became good friends for life.
Saturday Morning, Hanane and I woke up and grabbed our overnight bags to set out for a further exploration of Moulay Idriss, Volubulis, and Meknes. Since our previous expedition (http://www.vagobond.com/2010/02/vagobond-in-meknes-and-moulay-idriss/) had been so incredibly enjoyable, I decided to surprise her with a weekend trip so that we could really dig into this incredible region.
After scouring the web and various guide books, I decided that the best place to stay would be Dar Zerhoune in Moulay Idriss. While all the guest houses looked good, there was an indefinable magic about Dar Zerhoune that led me to contact them. I am incredibly glad that I did.
Just in case you don’t believe me, I took a picture of the guestbook so you can read what others had to say!
To book with Dar Zerhoune you can either call Fayssal at 0535544371 or 0665141590 or you can email at
email@example.com Their website is
I sent an email off to the owner, Rose on Thursday and had a fast reply and confirmation complete with a map, directions, and information on how to contact the manager Fayssal.
Armed with that information we set out from Sefrou for the approximately two hour journey to Moulay Idriss. 40 dirhams each got us to the taxi stand in Moulay Idriss and then Rose’s easy to follow map and directions got us to the door of Dar Zerhoune taking us throught the main square, past the mausoleum, and then through a friendly and scenic Medina. Fayssal met us at the door.
It turns out we were fortunate since Dar Zerhoune has been fairly busy since last March when they opened. Happily for us, no one else had thought to book a Valentines getaway and so we had this entire beautiful Dar to ourselves.
The Dar itself is gorgeous, the product of three years of intensive renovation and decorating. Hot showers, gorgeous lighting, and a feeling of warmth and home that I often find missing from top end guesthouses, Dars, Riads, and hotels. A rooftop terrace offers a stunning view of Moulay Idriss and Volubulis. The salon was well stocked with comfy chairs and sofas and plenty of English language reading material, including books and up to date copies of Newsweek and Time. There is also free wifi throughout the house, I however had decided to leave my laptop at home since I knew if I had it, I would feel compelled to work. Dar Zerhoune has single, double, and triple ensuite roooms plus a dormitory for backpackers who are looking for some intense luxury without an intense cost. Rates are far less than you would find in any of Morocco’s bigger cities with the triple ensuite going for only 600 dirhams per night.
Don’t think you are getting less though because this place has it all. The kitchen is available for personal use or if you want to have delicious meals cooked by Fayssal’s mom, you can do that too. In short, awesome experience and awesome value.
Fayssal took us for a guided walk through the Medina, sharing with us the history, festivals, and traditions of Moulay Idriss. In addition to knowing virtually everything about his town, he is also a mountain guide and offers treks to lesser known Roman ruins, scenic views, beautiful cascades, and even horseback trips. Inchallah, Hanane and I will return when we have even more time and explore some of these places with him.
As it was, he showed us the only round minaret in Morocco, explored some of the history of Moulay Idriss, showed us where to get sandwiches for a picnic lunch, and set us off on a back route to Volubulis where we saw beautiful nature, pastoral scenes, and epic views of the Roman ruins as we approached.
I’ll write about our hike in part II.
After exploring the ruins, we returned to Dar Zerhoune and sat on the patio drinking hot chocolate and chatting with Fayssal until it was time to go to bed. One of the great things about travel in Morocco is the sense of family and friendship that grows if you let it. By the end of the evening, Fayssal was no longer solely our host, but also our friend.
We slept soundly in Dar Zerhoune. The beds were comfortable and the heater in our room kept us toasty and warm. In the morning we went upstairs for coffee and found a beautiful Moroccan breakfast waiting for us. Fresh coffee, extraordinary tea (not your usual mint tea but including fresh herbs from the surrounding countryside!) breads, pastries, fresh butter straight from the cow, and the most delicious goat cheese I’ve ever tasted.
Our time in Moulay Idriss was wonderful in no small part thanks to Fayssal and Dar Zerhoune. On this trip we didn’t get the chance to trek to Paragliders point or take a thermal dip in the ancient Roman baths of Mount Zerhoune, but as we said goodbye to Fayssal and his mom, we knew that we would be back to enjoy more of what this wonderful place has to offer.
Since coming to Morocco a year ago, I’ve wanted to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubulis. Each time I’ve planned to go, something has kept me from it, until now.
It turns out that Hanane had also never gone there. As a young girl, she was supposed to go there on a school trip, but had been unable to. So, because we had the time and the desire, we vacated the loveliness of Dar Zerhoune to trek to this amazing historical site.
First, I should give you a bit of historical background via wikipedia:
Volubilis (Arabic: ?????? Walili) is an archaeological site in Morocco situated near Meknes between Fez and Rabat along the N13 road. The nearest town is Moulay Idriss. Volubilis features the best preserved ruins in this part of northern Africa. In 1997 the site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In antiquity, Volubilis was an important Roman town situated near the westernmost border of Roman conquests. It was built on the site of a previous Carthaginian settlement from (at the latest) the third century BC, but that settlement overlies an earlier neolithic habitation.
Volubilis was the administrative center of the province in Roman Africa called Mauretania Tingitana. The fertile lands of the province produced many commodities such as grain and olive oil, which were exported to Rome, contributing to the province’s wealth and prosperity. Archaeology has documented the presence of a Jewish community in the Roman period.
The Romans evacuated most of Morocco at the end of the 3rd century AD but, unlike some other Roman cities, Volubilis was not abandoned. However, it appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century AD. It was reoccupied in the sixth century, when a small group of tombstones written in Latin shows the existence of a community that still dated its foundation by the year of the Roman province. Coins show that it was occupied under the Abbasids: a number of these simply bear the name Walila.
The texts referring to the arrival of Idris I in 788 show that the town was at that point in the control of the Awraba tribe, who welcomed the descendant of Ali, and declared him imam shortly thereafter. Within three years he had consolidated his hold on much of the area, founded the first settlement at Fez , and started minting coins. He died in 791, leaving a pregnant Awraba wife, Kenza, and his faithful slave, Rashid, who acted as regent until the majority of Idris II. At this point the court departed for Fez, leaving the Awraba in control of the town.
Volubilis’ structures were damaged by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, while in the 18th century part of the marble was taken for constructions in nearby Meknes.
In 1915, archaeological excavation was begun there by the French and it continued through into the 1920s. Extensive remains of the Roman town have been uncovered. From 2000 excavations carried out by University College London and the Moroccan Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine under the direction of Elizabeth Fentress, Gaetano Palumbo and Hassan Limane revealed what should probably be interpreted as the headquarters of Idris I just below the walls of the Roman town to the west. Excavations within the walls also revealed a section of the early medieval town. Today, a high percentage of artifacts found at Volubilis are on display in the Rabat Archaeological Museum.
Our trek took us along a rural mountain road where we encountered fascinating rock structures, caves, and numerous sheep and shepherds.
Coming down from the mountain, we were pleased to find that because the day was advanced to about 3 pm, there were not many tourists there. Though there was a bus full of Chinese tourists. Whenever Hanane hears Chinese language she goes into a fit of giggles but I don’t think they knew it was the reason.
The ruins themselves are remarkable. Amazing that after 2000 years they should still be so well preserved. The excavated mosaics floors looked like they were no more than 20 years old. As you can see from the photos, numerous columns, arches, and walls are still standing.
As we wandered amongst the ruins we tried to imagine what life had been like for those who had lived there.
There was no security other than the occasional rope blocking access to those who wished to walk on the mosaic floors which didn’t deter those who wanted to in the least. It’s amazing to me that such an important site should be so laxly guarded. If we had wanted to we could have pulled up an entire mosaic and left with it. I wonder how many times that has happened. Outside the ancient city, local vendors sell artifacts to those who wish to buy them. Again, we didn’t partake. I’m sure some of them are real and equally sure that many of them are fakes.
We wandered through the ruins until dark, the entrance fee was only 10 dirhams each. As the light of the sunset bathed the ruins, we both had an eerie sense that we were somehow transported back to those ancient times. But then we realized that we had a long walk back since any taxis that had been there, had long since vanished.
In Part 3 I will write about our trip to the Ancient Moroccan Imperial City of Meknes and the wonders we found there.
In the first two parts of this short series I wrote about our time in Moulay Idriss and at Volubulis, the ancient Roman city. Part 3 – Imperial Meknes will be the final chapter of this short odyssey.
We were having a great time all weekend in Moulay Idriss and Volubulis but one subject had come up again and again since our last visit to Meknes. The Chicken Palace. Hanane absolutely loved the place the first time we visited and she told me on Saturday evening that she was thinking of not eating until the next day when we had lunch there so she could eat more. Sadly, this time I suggested that we sit inside and the waiter was a bit of an asshole when we said that we didn’t want to sit next to the toilet. We got up and moved out of his section, but the truth is, his rude comments ruined the meal for us and even though the food was still good, we won’t be going back.
The rest of our time in Meknes was wonderful though. We arrived at about noon and immediately took a taxi to the Medina Kadima (ancient Medina) so that we could have a wander around and compare it with the Medina’s of Fez, Sefrou, and other cities we’ve visited.
Before I get into that though, I should give those who aren’t familiar with Meknes and its history a bit of background (via wikipedia of course!)
The original community from which Meknes can be traced was an 8th century Kasbah. A Berber tribe called the Miknasa settled there in the 9th century, and a town consequently grew around the previous borough.
The Almoravids founded here a fortress in the 9th century. It resisted to the Almohads rise, and was thus destroyed by them, only to be rebuilt in larger size with mosques and large fortifications. Under the Merinids it received further madrasas, kasbahs and mosques in the early 14th century, and continued to thrive under the Wattasid dynasty. Meknes saw its golden age as the imperial capital of Moulay Ismail following his accession to the Sultanate of Morocco (1672-1727). He installed under the old city a large prison to house Christian sailors captured on the sea, and also constructed numerous edifices, gardens, monumental gates, mosques (whence the city’s nickname of “City of the Hundred Minarets”) and the large line of wall, having a length of 40 km.
The taxi dropped us off in the Place Hedim which reminded me a lot of Jmma el Fna in Marrakesh but without the circus atmosphere or the touts. There were the usual merchants selling hats, fake adidas, djellabas, blankets, and trinkets. The square itself is beautiful and we were approached by exactly zero touts!
From there we wandered into the Dar Jamai museum. This old riad has seen a lot of history and now houses a beautiful collection of Moroccan handicrafts. The architecture, gardens, and displays were beautiful, but sadly it looked as if some of the restoration work was done by second rate apprentices. concrete patches slapped on beautiful zellij and mosaic floors unevenly retiled. Hopefully in the future, all of this will be restored to the quality of work it deserves.
Leaving the museum I informed Hanane that it was time for us to get lost in the Medina. She didn’t like the idea but when I explained that we could catch a taxi from wherever we ended up back to the train station so that it really didn’t matter, she willingly set our with me. Entering the medina we saw a French family being told by a shop keeper that what they were looking for was closed today at which point they started to shop. Leaving them behind, we ten minutes later found what they had been looking for, the Mederasa Bou Ininia…and it was open. Nice shop keeper trick, that one!
I was a beautiful Quranic school once but now is a sight to see. I’m sure there are young men who are very thankful they aren’t being locked in the tiny cubicles each day so taht they could memorize surras. The locks on the outside of the doors tell the story clearly.
From the roof of the school we had great views of the medina and the mosque of the medina.
From there we took this turn and that turn and encountered lots of daily Moroccan medina activity. Donkeys, woodworking, and my favorite, an entire rummage sale street souk.
After a good long wander we just about where we had entered the medina. When Hanane expressed her surprise about not being lost, I winked at her. I was starting to feel hungry but we hadn’t worked up our appetites enough yet so I suggested that we take a carriage ride through Imperial Meknes to see the sights. It was Valentines Day and I figured my princess deserved the treatment.
Our first stop was the tomb of Moulay Ismail. it was filled with Chinese tourists who certainly didn’t understand why Hanane giggled every time they spoke. Funny to be laughing in a tomb. Moulay Ismail was the father of today’s Morocco and had 500 wives, a thousand children, 60,000 slaves, and 20,000 horses. Suffice to say that he is probably represented in the genes of nearly every living Moroccan…if the kids were actually his.
All of that aside, the tomb was beautiful, of course.
Back to the carriage and our next stop was the granaries and stables of Moulay Ismail.
Heri es-Souani was big, grand, impressive, and despite the funny stories and picture taking of the guide who assigned himself to us, it was boring.
To me anyway…a big stone barn.
From the barn the carriage took us past the slave quarters, the very beautiful Agdal Basin, past the Mellah, or Jewish quarter of Meknes where our guide pointed to an old woman and said, “Look, she is a real Jew!” and back to the very impressive (and built with part of Volubulis) Bab Mansour, the main gate across from the entrance to the old Medina.
After this we visited the Chicken Palace then we went to the Ice Cream Palace and then we got to the train station just in time to catch the train, then the taxi, and arrive safely back in the Casbah.
As you can see and probably read, it was a lovely Valentines.
As most of you know, I love couchsurfing! So what does couchsurfing have to do with Bruce Lee being in Morocco? Well, it’s simple. My last couchsurfer was a Canadian named Bruce Lee.
Bruce contacted me through couchsurfing.com about a month ago and told me he would be taking a journey through Europe and North Africa. Aside from his name, there was something that immediately told me Bruce was the kind of couch surfer I enjoy hosting: he had actually read my couchsurfing profile, knew that I was in Sefrou and not in Fez, and kindly offered to scour some used book stores in Canada for a couple of books I had been wanting to read since in my profile, I state that English language books are sometimes hard to come by in Morocco. Don’t get me wrong, you can find books in English, but if you are looking for specific titles, you are looking for a needle in a French and Arabic haystack.
Bruce arrived during a week when I was particularly busy with consulting projects, teaching, and life in general. To top things off, the taxis were striking so I had been couchsurfing with teaching colleagues in Fez all week since the grand taxis to Sefrou were not running. As luck would have it though, the strike ended when he arrived.
We met up at Cafe Clock in the Fez Medina where I had been doing some web design work and then set off to the ALC where Bruce waited while I taught my classes. Bruce is one of those guys who immediately sets you at ease and I wasn’t surprised to come out of class and find that he had already made friends with several people while he waited. By the way, he followed through on his offer and brought me two thick tombs, Plexus by Henry Miller and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.
He was glad to get the extra weight out of his bag and I was glad to get two books I’ve been wanting to read for a while.
We set off for Sefrou, giving Bruce his first experience being crammed into a grand taxi with six other people and arrived in the Casbah a little after dark. We rustled together a vegetable stew and some sub-standard tea in my place and sat up talking for the next few hours.
In the morning we treked up to the Souidi house and dragged Hanane and Zahira out of bed to take a hike through the mountains near Sefrou. It was our usual route to the monument, past the cascade, up to the water source and then back to the Medina. I had to go back to Fez to host the Friday movie and Bruce joined the Souidis for Friday Couscous.
When I returned I found Bruce relaxing in the Casbah. Of course he was stoked to have enjoyed Mama Khadija’s world class couscous. My neighbor Jess and friend Marion, a Peace Corps volunteer then called and invited us over for dinner next door.
We had a very nice time. Hanane joined us and we all sat up shooting the shit until too late. In that process we found that Bruce’s next host was Hanane and my friend Hassan down in the Sahara and that Bruce had met up with a girl Hanane had couchsurfed with in Tangier a few days before.
Also Bruce told the following funny story. It seems when he was walking in the Fes Medina, a shop keeper noticed he was Chinese and asked him if his name was Jackie Chan…Bruce cooly answered him “Dude, you have no idea!”
Once again, I’ve made a great friend through Couchsurfing and it just goes to show that even though I get dozens of requests from people who don’t bother to read that I am in Sefrou and sometimes a surfer isn’t great, it’s one of the best programs going.
In the morning we all set off our seperate ways, but I’m sure that we’ll meet again Bruce Lee.
A few weeks ago, I decided to show an absolutely terrible movie to the students at the ALC Fez. The movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka is a parody of the black exploitation films of the 1970s. From the get go, this film had no chance to be good. There is something compelling about the black exploitation films themselves, but to make a parody of them? Not a chance. Add to that that the writer and director, Keenan Wayans, decided to cast himself as the star, and also decided to make the film campy…and what you have is a disaster. In fact, it’s more than a disaster, it’s offensive.
However, the film does have a few redeeming qualites. One of them is the scene where Chris Rock quibbles to buy one rib and a sip of soda in a soul food joint and then asks the proprietor if he has change for a hundred dollar bill. Rock is a genius. The other is that racism is presented in such an over the top overt way that sensitive issues can be talked about without needing to resort to the type of coded language that Americans in particular usually use. For example, when neighborhood olympics take place one of the events is a race where the boys and girls carry televisions while running from dogs. Frankly, what this is saying is that white Americans have a perspective that all young black men who live in the ghetto are thieves, criminals, and worse. So, in a sense, this film opens up a discussion.
And that was the point of showing it at the ALC. I wanted to get Moroccan students discussing racism in Morocco. One unexpected comment came up right after the film when a female student said,
“I don’t think this film is fair to black people.” She was under the impression that the film had been made by a white director and missed the idea that it was a spoof. Most of the other students understood this, but it spawned a discussion about ways to broach sensitive topics.
Shortly after this, the discussion took on the focus I had hoped it would. The students were polarized into two groups: those who claimed racism does not exist in Morocco and those who asserted that it does.
It was interesting to see that it was the more affluent students who claimed that racism doesn’t exist. Their argument was essentially that since all Moroccans are Muslims, there can be no racism because the Quran says that all Muslims should be treated the same.
The other camp pointed out that African immigrants from Senegal are discriminated against, that those who live in the Sahara and are darker find it harder to get work when they leave the desert areas, and that in Morocco, light skin is considered a sign of beauty and affluence.
They didn’t come to any definitive conclusions, but essentially they almost all finally agreed that racism is not as severe in Morocco as in the United States, that Islam forbids racism but that humans are flawed and still practice it, and that in Morocco, discrimination tends more towards linguistic discrimination with language being a major focus of class and privilege in roughly the following order from those with the most privilige to the least: French and English, Arabic, Amazigh languages, and finally African tribal tongues.
Racism and blacksploitation.
The movies I showed at the American Language Center in Fez during the last two weeks were far different than my first round of classic Academy Award Winners. I decided that since I was looking to spawn great conversations but that my audience was primarily Moroccan teens, I decided to address two issues that are prevalent in Moroccan society: Piracy (of goods) and Magic. To get at these subjects, I showed Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter.
Morocco has a long history of piracy, both the swashbuckling kind which used to take place from the Barbary Priate lairs in Sale to the modern kind where you see Moroccan kids walking around in pirated Diesel, Dolce and Gabbana, and other high end labels.
The students weren’t too interested in talking about piracy on the ocean though they did enjoy the film, however, they did want to talk about pirated goods. I asked how they could recognize if goods were real or pirated and the answer was the price. If it was expensive, it was real, if not, it was not. I tried to argue that maybe the pirates simply made some more expensive but they were sure that there was no difference in the quality. If it has a tag and is expensive, it is real, they assured me. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. We talked about DVDs and the fact that you can find the latest movies in Morocco for only a Euro each (10 dirhams) and they didn’t seem bothered by the piracy, in fact, they like it. I admit, that I do too.
For Harry Potter we had a large turnout. To my surprise though, the students weren’t too impressed by the film or the story. One of the big complaints was that it wasn’t very realistic. This is a strange complaint that I have heard from Moroccans quite a bit in the past when watching films that require a suspension of disbelief. In general, the Moroccan’s I’ve spoken with about films tend to like things that fit into their worldview. To that end, I started the discussion about magic in Morocco.
This was a great discussion. Morocco is a place steeped in magic and mystery. From worries about the evil eye to stories of Djinn and demons to neighborhood witches who dole out expensive potions to those who are seeking love or fortune.
When I asked about magic such as that in the film, some of the students pointed out that there was no mention of God in the film and thus there really couldn’t be any magic by ‘good guys’. They pointed out that the kind of magic Harry and his friends do is considered black magic and in Morocco is usually associated with those who have ‘sold their souls’ or are working with Djinn. Only one student among 20 said that he didn’t believe in magic and the rest laid into him mercilessly over the fact that magic is mentioned in the Quran. One student pointed out that the miracles of Moses were magic, but another said that since the miracles came from God this was not possible, i.e. magic is bad and God is good.
When I asked what a wizard or magician is most of the students said that today it is usually a man who charges women money to fix their relationship problems, inwardly I giggled as I thought that it sounds like a psychologist or shrink to me.
The amazing part to me, as always, in Morocco is that a people can be so incredibly pragmatic and realistic (that film was too fake) and at the same time so superstitious and ruled by supernatural belief (the lady down the street gave me the evil eye, there’s a Djinn in your drain, Aisha Kondeisha possesses him, don’t whistle indoors because it draws Djinn, and don’t imitate donkey sounds …)
Overall, they liked the film, but they just wished it would have been more realistic. I’m sure if Harry and his friends had simply been shown praying or reciting suraa, it would have made a very different impact.
Lately, I’ve been encouraging students in my conversation classes to take a stab at telling their favorite Moroccan jokes in English.
To my surprise, the most popular jokes are all about the people who live in the city of Berkane! They are called Berkany Jokes or Brekna jokes.
The jokes are all at the expense of the Berkane people, in my childhood there were lots of people in the small town I lived in that used to tell jokes about Polish people in the same way. It’s not fair, but it’s part of the culture apparently.
The funny thing is that Berkane looks like a perfectly lovely place. It is considered the orange capital of Morocco and is situated near the Algerian border and the Mediterranean Ocean.
To be fair, I’ve never met a Berkane person, and no one can tell me why they are the butt of so many jokes in Morocco. That’s my disclaimer, because of course, I’m about to tell a Berkany Joke related by one of my students.
The Berkany People find a nuclear bomb in their city and are understandably upset and so they call the government. The government comes and confirms that it is indeed a nuclear bomb but that the people need not worry because the government will take it out into the sea and blow it up.
The City fathers confer and after a short time they protest to the government.
“The bomb was found in our city and it should be blown up in our city!”
Gladly, this hasn’t happened. Hopefully, someday I will have the chance to travel to Berkane and give an actual report of what the city is like.
A few months ago I started looking at all the garbage piled up in various places and seeing that I had about a thousand plastic grocery bags lying around. YOu get plastic bags with everything in Morocco and then they go to the garbage and then they blow all over the place and then, well, a beautiful country starts to look like a multicolored plastic garbage dump.
So I decided to start playing with plastic bags. I braided them into some pretty good cordage, I started weaving with them and then I figured, what the hell, I’ll weave a rug out of them. I cobbled together a loom from some broken wood, bought some twine to thread it with, and started experimenting with weaving a rug. My loom was about 2×3 feet. I ran 20 piece of twine up and down it and I started crumbling bags, tearing bags into strips, and just doing whatever I could think to do to see what works.
The aim was to figure out a way to turn trash into treasure and to clear the landscape of the plastic bags. I figured if people could make useful things from garbage, then it would cease being garbage, it would get collected,and nature would start to look natural again.
I finally finished my first try. Certainly I’m not a weaver and I have no training or knowledge of how to do this, I just did it, as I do most things.
The result, I now proudly present, is without a doubt the ugliest rug to ever be made in Morocco. My skills and technique improved as I went, but still check out this monstrosity.
None the less, I call it success. The next one will be better. I might even ask someone to tell me how it is really done instead of just bumbling through it as I did with this one.
The term ended Wednesday night for me and it was with surprise that I realized that I only had a few days to get all the marriage paperwork I needed so that we can finally get the pashas, viziers,and petty sultans that work in the Moroccan bureaucracy to let us finally be married.
I’d planned on getting all the paperwork done during the term but since I was teaching one class each day, there was no chance to take the necessary trips to Casablanca and Rabat to get what we needed.
A ton of unexpected blockages have kept us from getting married thus far:
-the Alaska job hiring someone else when I was on the way
-the unexpected firing and evicting from my father for no apparent reason
-not having a valid ID card
-and even though I was working only 10 hours a week, the fact that I had to work every day
I’ve been feeling like a bum for continually telling my sweetheart and her family that we would do it soon, later, after, etc.
So, even though the break was only a few days between terms, I was determined we would get all the documents.
For those who don’t know, the list of documents I needed in order to marry Hanane is (approximately because no one can say for sure)
-U.S. certified copy of passport
-U.S. certified capacity to marry
-U.S. certified birth certificate
-Declaration of Employment
-Copy of Work Contract
-certified copy of rental contract
-American Police Record
-Moroccan Police Record
-Notarized statement of my conversion to Islam
-resume indicating my intent to marry
-an unidentified number of passport photos
Plus certified copies of everything in French and Arabic.
Keep in mind, these documents aren’t free. Everyone gets something with the U.S. Consulate taking the lions share charging $30 per copy for certified copies of passport, $30 per copy for a sheet that says I’ve never married, etc. Hawaii charged $15 for a police record which may or may not be accepted because it has no stamps on it and Moroccan officials love stamps.
So, since Friday is a holy day, the weekends are weekends, and class assignments will happen Tuesday, that didn’t leave much time.
I’d been slowly making copies and certifying things through the term.
I needed the capacity to marry, certified copy of my passport, and notarization through the ministry of foreigners (in French by the way, Bureau of Strangers- I’m a stranger…stranger than most, probably)
So, Wednesday night I graded final exams and handed them off to my friend Jess who promised to deliver them for me the next day, then Hanane and I woke at 3 am to catch a 4am bus to Casablanca which got us there at about 10 am.
We went to the U.S. consulate and were told to come back at 1:30 even though the website said 10 am and the guy I called (who answered with a simple “Hello”) said 2:30. So we napped in a park in polluted Casa, looked at the amazing disparity or wealth, and drank expensive orange juice with hair in it (no lie!) at a cafe near the consulate.
At the consulate, I filled out the form, then paid the fee with an inflated dollar to dirham rate (8.7 to 1 vs 7.4 to 1) and then we caught the train to Rabat to get my U.S. certified documents certified by Moroccan officials. We got there twenty minutes too late so we booked into the Hostelling International Hostel and (I think) caught bedbugs while all the hostellers went out drinking. We ate a terrible dinner, but both fell in love with Rabat and it’s cosmopolitan airs. Later we were both awakened by the drunk travelers, but hey, isn’t that what hostels are about?
The next day we went to the Bureau of Strangers, they took my documents and told us to come back at noon, so we went to the Chellah and enjoyed all the plants and old beautiful stuff there.
But actually, first we went to the Ministry of Stamping Papers and waded past about 30 guys who offered to do us big services that we refused but once we were inside we found that a sign said the Ministry of stamping papers had signs that said they werent’ responsible for people that were ripped off by the guys outside, since they were all crooks. Of course, I ignore everyone who offers anything until they sit behind a desk, so no problem.
Getting our papers stamped was 20 dirhams for each, though the guys outside were offering to help for just a few hundred…good racket I guess.
But back to the Roman Necropolis they call Chellah. Just as lovely as I remembered it and Hanane enjoyed it too. Plus, as a bonus, Friday is free for Moroccans! So it was half price for us.
From there back to the Bureau of Strangers ( I can’t say that enough) where they had my paperwork, thankfully we arrived just before everyone leaves for couscous.
And with that, we had all the necessary papers (we think, because no one knows for sure) and so we caught the train back to Fes, but not before eating some pizza and salad at Cafe Italia. Delicious. There aren’t really restaurants in Sefrou, we also ate a couple of ice cream cones while in Rabat and I have to admit that Hanane eating pink ice cream while wearing pink shoes, a pink sweatshirt, and pink earrings, was more than a little bit cute. There aren’t ice cream parlors in Sefrou either, so this was a nice treat, both seeing the cuteness and eating the ice cream.
On the train we met an Italian guy who looked just like every man in my family. He told me I look like every other person in Northern Italy and seeing him, I have to think that maybe I really am Italian by descent, if not by nature, although I probably am that too.
And then we got to Fes, caught the 45 minute taxi to Sefrou, and basked in the glory of having all our papers.
Translation. The translator was closed today, so we go Monday. After that, the family court where they usually tell people to go get other papers from some distant place, after that, the aldul who will certify that we are married Muslim people, and after that, well, we’ll see…won’t we?
While there are many things I love about Morocco, the bureaucracy is not one of them. As an oft cited example, the process of getting married.
In 2009, when Hanane and I first became engaged, we looked at the list of requirements and literally cried because of the seeming impossibility. The initial list we were given consisted of about thirty-five documents of which I had zero.
The list was roughly:
Identity card – my Hawaii drivers license had expired several months earlier
Passport and most recent entry visa – okay I had this
Proof of income – I had no job
Original Certified birth certificate less than 90 days old
Attestation de travail – proof of a job
Work contract – more proof of a job
police record less than 90 days old from state most recently resided in
police record from the Ministry of strangers in Rabat
proof of residence – I had no residence
rental contract signed and notarized – again, I had no residence
9 passport photos
Medical certificate by Sefrou doctor
Affidavit of eligibility to marry- consul certified
Affidavit of nationality – consul certified
Consul certified copy of passport
Police check and validation by Sefrou police
Conversion to Islam, signed, stamped, and paid.
medical certificate proving virginity
Sworn affidavit of consent and eligibility to marry by two adult male family members
Police check and validation by Sefrou police
Character reference from local constabulry
All of these documents would need to be certified by the local and national government, stamped, sealed, and delivered. Anything not in Arabic would need to be translated by an official government translator, stamped and sealed. In addition, approval would have to be granted by a family court judge, reviewed by the District Attorney (Aldul), and then approved by the judge a second time. We would need five seperate certified dossiers and would need to pay all fees.
When I realized what I had gotten into, I actually considered calling the whole thing off. The problem is that in Morocco, you can’t just live together. There isn’t any boyfriend and girlfriend situations. You can be single. You can be engaged in which case you are allowed to see each other and you can be married in which case you are allowed the rights of marriage such as travel, staying in the same house or hotel, and not being judged. Otherwise, a woman in Morocco is considered nearly universally to be loose if she is spending time with a ‘boyfriend’. It’s a fucked up, judgmental, and ignorant viewpoint which pervades nearly the entire society.
Frankly, at first, I was rather pleased to have this huge list ahead of us as I wanted us to have time to be sure of our decision. Or as sure as we could be anyway. Over the next year, I accumulated my list of documents and she accumulated hers. In the process of getting the documents I was required more than once to stretch the truth, throw tantrums, beg, and plead. Finally, as I wrote several weeks ago, we had managed to get the entire list of documents.
This involved a trip to the United States, trips to Rabat, Casablanca, and multiple trips to Fez to visit the translator. We finally presented our papers to the family court judge. He pointed out that the translator had transliterated my family name into Arabic differently than the Aldul who I paid to make me Muslim had, so we rushed back to see the translator. Next, the judge told me that since Hawaii uses electronic validation rather than using a good old fashioned ink stamp, that my Hawaii criminal record check was unacceptable, after begging and explaining, he told us he would accept it but we had to go get it translated again. All of this process involved no less than spending the bulk of three days sitting at the courthouse and waiting for a moment to see the judge. Time spent with the judge about 15 minutes total, time spent waiting at least 30 hours of sitting and then trying to cram into his office past all the other people waiting to see him.
The translations each cost about $20 each and required several hours of waiting in the office and usually 24 hours of waiting for the translations to be delivered. The local certifications cost on average three hours of waiting for each batch.
We returned to the judge and waited four hours to see him again and then he read the translation and said it wouldn’t work after all. Hanane begged and he told us to wait four more hours, finally he came back and said, okay, he’d accept it. With a signature we were able to submit the papers to the clerk who told us to wait another day, after this day we submitted the file to a separate clerk who wrote sealed letters to the constabulary and the police. We delivered these to the officials with again about 7 hours of waiting and were told the papers would be ready the next day, four days later the papers were delivered with us spending about 3 hours each day waiting to be told they weren’t ready yet.
With these papers we could finally go back to the family court and deliver them to another clerk. The process should be about done, except that the alduls had gone on strike so we had to wait four more days for their strike to end so that they could give us the certified folder to deliver to the judge again. Lots of waiting in the court house and the aldul’s office to make this process work and finally the fuckers came off strike and we got the folder, took it to the court waited 3 hours to pay 565 dirhams for a necessary receipt, then waited for the judge to sign off on the papers, the judge came after about two hours and told us to wait. Finally we got impatient and went to his office and he told us that we would need to come back the next day since by the time he had gotten around to our file, everyone in the courthouse had gone home. That was yesterday….
Now we go and see him again….and I wonder what sort of hell he will provide for us now. The stress of all of this has caused us to fight, caused us to cuss, caused us to sometimes talk about just giving up….but we haven’t….I still wonder if they will approve this at all….and I think to myself that if ever there was a system that deserves to be destroyed, it is this one. Over a year of preparation and since gathering all the necessary papers, nearly three weeks of waiting, my nerves are destroyed, my hope is nearly gone, and I think of all the people who have probably just given up on love and marriage in Morocco because of how fucked up the system is. Some people I know just gave up, some who had the resources went to other countries to be married, some relationships died under the pressure, and some…well, this one at least, we keep trying and keep going, and keep moving forward.
My thoughts on it are this, I’m not going to let bureaucracy keep me from the life that I want to have.
At 12:12 PM, today, April 6th, Hanane and I were pronounced married! The process was a bummer, but today, we went to the court, asked the clerk about the file, he told us the judge had signed it, so we went to the registrar and got the file and permission slip.
After this we went to her parents house, gathered up her father from the fields where he was tending the sheep and then a taxi ride to the aldul where he filled out the forms, asked us if we had any conditions (Hanane’s was that we remain Muslim and mine was that she be nice, she asked if that included not killing me and I pointed out that nice people don’t kill! – she sort of agreed, but hesitantly….) It’s okay, I can’t think of a better way to die than that anyway.
He filled out the forms and at 12:12 he pronounced us husband and wife. At this point, since her father was there and it is hasuma (shame) to see affection of your children or parents in Morocco, there was no, “You may now kiss the bride”, instead, I kissed her father on the hand and both cheeks and then we went to the family house to celebrate with a lunch of chicken and potatoes.
I’m sure we will do something else, but this is the administrative bits anyway….now we wait for a few days for the marriage certificate, then go back to the translator, then file it with the court…so the nightmare of bureaucracy isn’t over yet…but the good news is we’re married!
I have to admit, I don’t quite know what to think or feel yet, but rest assured, I did make sure to kiss the bride once we were out of view of anyone.
My friend Erich and I were discussing yesterday a peculiarity of Moroccan culture, the fact that Moroccans often lie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t trust anything a Moroccan tells you, we all often lie, but the difference is that in American culture, we often admit our lies, but to a Moroccan, admitting a lie is hshuma (shame) of a huge degree. It is far less shameful to insist that a discovered lie is still true than to admit to the lie. In effect, there is no shame in lying, but only in admitting the lie or in having the fact of the lie presented….it’s a complex piece of cultural fabric and slightly hard to understand, which brought Erich to the rather genius comparison of the Moroccan conception of the truth being similar to Schrodinger’s Cat, the classic quantum physics example of how a particle can exist in two places at the same time, but actually exists in neither until the observer measures it. In a nutshell, it goes like this…electrons never stand still and in a way are never in a specific place until we measure them and at that point, they tend to be where we look for them even if we look in two places at the same time. This is all subatomic and impossible to see, but the cat theory says that if you put a cat in a box and arrange it so that if the electron is in the box a poison gas is emitted that kills the cat and if it is not, then the gas is not released and the cat lives. This forces us to think of this in concrete visible terms….and, in effect, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time. Erich proposed that the Moroccan perspective of the truth is something similar, as long as the truth isn’t forced, both realities exist at the same time. Interesting. And that brings me to the interesting story I found this morning while browsing the news:
Look past the details of a wonky discovery by a group of California scientists — that a quantum state is now observable with the human eye — and consider its implications: Time travel may be feasible. Doc Brown would be proud.
The strange discovery by quantum physicists at the University of California Santa Barbara means that an object you can see in front of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe — a multi-state condition that has scientists theorizing that traveling through time may be much more than just the plaything of science fiction writers.
And it’s all because of a tiny bit of metal — a “paddle” about the width of a human hair, an item that is incredibly small but still something you can see with the naked eye.
They put a paddle in a refrigerator, dimmed the lights and, under a special bell jar, sucked out all the air to eliminate vibrations. He then plucked it like a tuning fork and noted that it moved and stood still at the same time.
That sounds contradictory, and it’s nearly impossible to understand if your last name isn’t Einstein. But it actually happened. It’s a freaky fact that’s at the heart of quantum mechanics.
A UC Santa Barbara physicist has found a way to move this tiny metal paddle into two states simultaneously, such that it both vibrates and holds still.
How Is That Possible?
To even try to understand it, you have to think really, really small. Smaller than an atom. Electrons, which circle the nucleus of an atom, are swirling around in multiple states at the same time — they’re hard to pin down. It’s only when we measure the position of an electron that we force it to have a specific location. Cleland’s breakthrough lies in taking that hard-to-grasp yet true fact about the atomic particle and applying it to something visible with the naked eye.
What does it all mean? Let’s say you’re in Oklahoma visiting your aunt. But in another universe, where your atomic particles just can’t keep up, you’re actually at home watching “The Simpsons.” That may sound far-fetched, but it’s based on real science.
“When you observe something in one state, one theory is it split the universe into two parts,” Cleland told FoxNews.com, trying to explain how there can be multiple universes and we can see only one of them.
The multi-verse theory says the entire universe “freezes” during observation, and we see only one reality. You see a soccer ball flying through the air, but maybe in a second universe the ball has dropped already. Or you were looking the other way. Or they don’t even play soccer over there.
Sean Carroll, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology and a popular author, accepts the scientific basis for the multi-verse — even if it cannot be proven.
“Unless you can imagine some super-advanced alien civilization that has figured this out, we aren’t affected by the possible existence of other universes,” Carroll said. But he does think “someone could devise a machine that lets one universe communicate with another.”
It all comes down to how we understand time.
Carroll suggests that we don’t exactly feel time — we perceive its passing. For example, time moves fast on a rollercoaster and very slowly during a dull college lecture. It races when you’re late for work . . . but the last few minutes before quitting time seem like hours.
Back to the Future
“Time seems to be a one-way street that runs from the past to the present,” says Fred Alan Wolf, a.k.a. Dr. Quantum, a physicist and author. “But take into consideration theories that look at the level of quantum fields … particles that travel both forward and backward in time. If we leave out the forward-and-backwards-in-time part, we miss out on some of the physics.”
Wolf says that time — at least in quantum mechanics — doesn’t move straight like an arrow. It zig-zags, and he thinks it may be possible to build a machine that lets you bend time.
Consider Sergei Krikalev, the Russian astronaut who flew six space missions. Richard Gott, a physicist at Princeton University, says Krikalev aged 1/48th of a second less than the rest of us because he orbited at very high speeds. And to age less than someone means you’ve jumped into the future — you did not experience the same present. In a sense, he says, Krikalev time-traveled to the future — and back again!
“Newton said all time is universal and all clocks tick the same way,” Gott says. “Now with Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity we know that travel into the future is possible. With Einstein’s theory of gravity, the laws of physics as we understand them today suggest that even time travel to the past is possible in principle. But to see whether time travel to the past can actually be realized we may have to learn new laws of physics that step in at the quantum level.”
And for that, you start with a very tiny paddle in a bell jar.
Cleland has proved that quantum mechanics scale to slightly larger sizes. The next challenge is to learn how to control quantum mechanics and use it for even larger objects. Do so — and we might be able to warp to parallel universes just by manipulating a few electrons.
“Our concepts of cause and effect will fly out the window,” says Ben Bova, the science fiction author. “People will — for various reasons — try to fix the past or escape into the future. But we may never notice these effects, if the universe actually diverges. Maybe somebody already has invented a time machine and our history is being constantly altered, but we don’t notice the kinks in our path through time.”
I have to say, it’s still a little odd to think “I’m married” or Hanane is my wife! It’s been 10 days now and I don’t know exactly what I expected from this thing called marriage, but what I’ve found is certainly better than whatever it was I thought marriage might be. It’s a little hard to describe, but there isn’t really a big change, our relationship is the same, our friendship is the same. I haven’t changed the way I dress, I didn’t get taller, and my hair didn’t suddenly all turn grey. No big earth shaking things.
But maybe it is earth shaking after all. Maybe it is life changing. Maybe things actually are completely different. I just know that it’s nice to wake up and have her there. It’s nice to know that no one can say that she can’t be. It’s nice to let people judge and not worry about them being right or wrong. It’s nice to find myself being a bit more patient as I come to realize that Hanane really is my wife and inchallah we’ll spend a long long time together.
It’s odd to suddenly need to think of someone else to include in my almost constant escape plans from wherever I might be (luckily she is tiny and almost fits in my pocket), it’s odd to need to think about providing food and shelter for someone else (but she is tiny and doesn’t eat much or need a big house), and it’s odd to think of being responsible for the material, emotional, and overall happiness of someone else ( but she does the same for me and that really makes it worth it.)
It’s all so odd and yet, it’s comforting, it’s good. It feels so much better than I’ve felt in such a long time. When I see her tiny flower covered shoes, it makes me happy. When she giggles and laughs, it makes me happy. When she holds up a big fucking knife and threatens to kill me, it makes me happy.
Yup, I’ve found the right girl for me. We both got lucky….
It’s been suggested that I am a bit of a selfish prick for not appreciating the traditional wedding customs of my beautiful Moroccan bride.
Perhaps, you are right, maybe I am being selfish. After all, one has to honor the community that one lives in right, and one needs to respect and honor the customs that have been handed down through the ages right?
I suppose it would be selfish of me to not insist upon the following customs:
1) I should encourage Hanane to work her ass off for every female relative or friend who gets married and spend days making herself exhausted and miserable and then tell her to shut up about it when she complains to me about it, that’s the traditional way a Moroccan husband would deal with it.
2) I should force her to wear the veil again since she is a married woman now and showing any sort of skin or hair is just encouragement to her being harassed and pestered, besides it will bring shame upon me, according to tradition and custom. In fact, custom and tradition demand that if I catch her looking at, talking to, or god forbid touching a man who is not her brother or father, I should beat her and possibly publicly humiliate her.
3) Speaking of beating, a Moroccan friend of mine told me that according to custom I should really give her a good beating on our wedding night just to set things straight about how our life will be together. Sounds like a good idea, right? I mean, if I don’t follow the custom, she might not think that I love her enough.
4) And, also on the wedding night, we mustn’t ignore the time honred tradition of my mother and uncle waiting outside the nuptual chambers for me to finish ‘deflowering her’, I’ll be sure to give the rag with her virginal blood on it to my mother so that she can parade it around amongst the relatives and show what a stallion her son is. Of course, if there’s no blood than the marriage will be null and void according to custom and she and her family will have to endure a lifetime of shame and disdain from the loving community that wouldn’t want them to feel that they were being left out of all the fun.
5) Since the wedding is women’s work, I will be sure to just sit back as my new brother in law did and watch as all the women work themselves into exhaustion. As he so nicely put it “It’s women’s work, so no problem. For me, it’s easy.” Also I appreciate the fact that he made his bride foot most of the bill for the wedding too and since it was all her show he didn’t bother to bring any friends or family with him.
6) Speaking of expenses, since we are a multi-cultural family now, I suppose I can insist that my father in law pay for all of the expenses of the wedding as happens in the west, sure, he’s a shepherd and as a teacher, I make a decent living, but it’s his responsibility as a person to honor the customs of my country.
7) So, in keeping with that, we’ll be sure to have plenty of booze in the Western tradition so that all the guests can get good and liquored up, those who choose to honor Islam can abstain.
8) Since it’s shameful to display any sort of affection there will be no kissing the bride (this is truly the custom, what a shame if someone were to see you expressing love with a kiss in public!)
9) Also, I realize that by not honoring the time honored tradition of having a blaring stereo or having our wedding reception in a warehouse with garbage in the corners, I will be depriving my bride of a sense of community she desires. Also we will be sure to have the customary kif smokers and to have all the leeching family from 300 miles come and make demands upon her mother’s hospitality. They deserve it after all. Truly, when guests come to visit in Morocco, they don’t bring gifts, they don’t contribute to the household, and they don’t help out, they just sit around making demands for the most part. Ask any Moroccan and they will tell you and it’s a time honored tradition that everyone looks forward to reciprocating (of course there are exceptions, but not many).
10) We’ll be sure to invite all the people in the neighborhood and who I’ve heard so many nasty things about since coming here, to not invite them would be shameful and of course they will bring their relatives too. Seriously, if you don’t invite everyone you know to the wedding, it’s a public shame for the entire family.
Sounds great right? Why don’t we re-institute the time tested tradition of female circumcision while we are at it! What a bunch of horse crap.
Every woman and every man should be able to feel special on their wedding day. For me, I’ve always dreamed of going alone into the woods with my bride, laying down a broomstick and jumping over it while holding hands. No guests, no priest, no cake, no $1000 wedding gowns, no tuxedos, no guest list, no gift index, no nothing but me and my sweety.
Hanane has always dreamed of something more than that and she’s going to get it.
Marriage is a constant state of compromise I think and multi-cultural marriage is even more so. I want my lady to feel like she is the most special person in the world. I want her to remember the moments of our wedding as some of the most joyful of our life. Note, I said our life. That means me too, the selfish guy. The selfish guy that’s paying, the selfish guy that’s planning, the selfish guy that’s trying to find the sweetest compromise that adds up to something more than the utterly common, the selfish guy that hates to see his mother in law exhausted, the selfish guy that listens to his wife complain about things that she shouldn’t have to complain about but is forced to because of custom, the selfish guy that encouraged his wife to take off the veil, the selfish guy that doesn’t want to take away her father’s cigarette money, the selfish guy who is working his ass off each day so that we can have a special wedding, take a trip to Turkey, and have a standard of living that is far beyond what my bride expects or has ever had. Yes, poor fucking me, the selfish bastard that has been lying, jumping through hoops, traveling during every free moment, and paying to get all the necessary papers for marriage for the past year. Yes, poor fucking me that didn’t even get to find out that the small dinner to announce the engagement was a full on party, who paid a dowry, who put on a big marriage papers are signed lunch party, who constantly deals with living in a culture that is still so foreign that it seems at times to be completely retarded. Although, maybe I understand it well enough now to know that it really is.
Every Moroccan bride looks miserable at her wedding, or so I’ve been told. From my observations of the other night, I can see why. Every Moroccan groom looks pretty miserable too, I’m sure. In fact, if you are shuffled into the men’s section at a Moroccan wedding or engagement party, you will find that all the male guests are pretty miserable and that’s why everyone but the young kif smokers disappears promptly after the food is served.
So, I want to thank those of you that let me know what a jerk I am. You’re right. It’s no secret. My wife knows, you know, and I know. I’m a big fucking jerk.
And, as a big fucking jerk, I’m going to make sure that Hanane and I have a beautiful, magical, and utterly romantic and wonderful wedding. It’s my right as a selfish jerk. Thanks for reaffirming that…as to the customs….fuck those fucking customs.
I’ve never liked weddings. I skipped my best friend’s wedding, I tried to get out of going to my sister’s wedding, I’ve avoided weddings nearly as much as I’ve avoided funerals. I just hate them. I don’t like the music, I don’t like the food, I don’t like most of the people at them, and I don’t like the expense, the expectation of gifts, or the non-personal nature of them in general.
I can say without a doubt, that the only thing I hate more than weddings are Moroccan weddings. This presents a slight problem as I’ve just recently become married to a Moroccan. We’re working through that, as I will explain in a second, but first let me give an example of a Moroccan wedding, since I’ve just attended one and it reaffirmed everything for me.
Hanane’s sister just had her wedding.
The Moroccan wedding is a painfully drawn out affair of at least three days or more. In this case, in the weeks before the wedding there was a flurry of activity as parents and siblings prepared thousands of cookies and sweets, bought dresses, and did all the rest. Thankfully, I was able to shield my bride from becoming a kitchen slave thanks to our own recent marriage. Her sisters and mother were upset with her over it, but she was relieved to be able to escape from it. So, that’s all the attention I will give to that particular aspect of hell. Except to say that on Thursday night we stayed with her parents so that she could work with everyone else and help prepare for the wedding. This was actually okay as I am fond of her parents and the siblings that live at their house, although, coming straight from an hour long cramped Grand Taxi ride (seven people is standard in these sedans) and then catching another taxi to their house, having a late dinner after no lunch, and being tired from work and sleeping in an uncomfortable wool stuffed bed instead of our own was just the start of this infernal weekend.
In the morning I had to go to Fes and so I woke up and headed to the Grand Taxi again with no change of clothes and the usual no shower but without the benefit of my usual couple of hours of waking and adjusting with coffee, a morning shit, and not having to talk to anyone but my sweety. I’m a grumpy fucker without some time to let my bowels relax and not jibber jabber uselessly with people in the constant salaam a leycum, leycum a salaam, la bas, la bas la basalikc, hamdilah, hnya shweeya, blah blah jibber jabber that is utterly pointless and only serves to interupt every conversation, project, or bit of work you attempt to do here.
That night I came back and repeated the big taxi ride followed by the small taxi accompanied by edgy hunger as we were staying at the parental house again because it was the henna night for the women. Again with a very late (midnight dinner), no chance to grade my papers, and more exhaustion. Not only is there the application of henna but also the stereo is expected to be turned up to level 197 so that the sounds are distorted. As with an engagement, the bride is immobilized and everyone else dances and has fun. It’s for the women, but since I’m a member of the family and a foreigner, I got to be there and dance and have fun too. This part was actually the most fun part. I loved dancing with her mom, dad, and all the kids that were there, though the music started to really hurt my head, I was incredibly hungry, and I knew that I had to wake up early for my 12 hour hell day and a new commute to Fez by cramped grand taxi. Since some cousins and her brother and his wife had all come to visit, we slept in the salon where we got to hear her brother and his wife all night, their baby crying, and the usual yelling from neighbors, loud demands that Hanane help find things (after we’ve gone to sleep, mind you), and more, total sleep time for me….about an hour.
Back to the cramped grand taxi and back to Fez where I had a fairly fun time teaching my classes. After 12 hours, a small taxi to a big taxi to a small taxi to Sefrou where I arrived at about 9:30 hoping I had missed most of the wedding. No such luck. The bride hadn’t even returned from the beauty salon yet. I was hungry and starting to feel really tired and incredibly grumpy too. Most of the guests were sitting in the olive press warehouse next door, but even so I tried to find a place to take a catnap and each time I started to doze a relative or new guest would wander in and wake me up in order to salaam a leykum and ask me questions I either didn’t understand or pretended not to understand. Hanane was in full slave mode making candy sachets, doing every woman’s makeup, and in general getting treated like a scullery maid in addition to getting called every time her sister’s new step daughter would run amuk.
Three hours after this hellish waiting period, the bride finally arrived and after a short time we were all told to go to the warehouse for dinner, but a problem developed, in that the requisite bride kaftan dress rentals never showed up since they were booked for another wedding and were running late. Let me explain.
The party requires a few things, a huge dinner hall, rented plastic tables and chairs, rented decorations, a big pair of thrones, blaring music, gargantuan amounts of food, and secondary to all of this are the bride and groom. The bride changes into four different kaftans through the evening, most families rent the dresses so along with the hall, the tables, chairs, table covers, chair covers, thrones, wall coverings, sound equipment, and ornaments, the dress rental and renter are required. This particular event took place in a big concrete olive press warehouse that is something straight out of a slasher movie or a Russian soviet torture drama. They did do a nice job of sprucing it up though with all the same materials that every Sefroui wedding uses. During the time I was trying to nap, the guests, mostly old women in their nicest kaftans who had been invited by other old women that were in turn actually invited by the bride, sat at tables as the music blared too loud for anyone to talk. The dress renter wasn’t answering her phone and the bride was freaking out. Meanwhile, half the people at the tables got to eat, while those of us on the other side sat and thought about running across the room to snatch a chicken to gnaw on. Finally around 12:30 the food appeared but as is usual with mass produced dinners, it wasn’t the most delicious versions of olive roast chicken or prune roasted mutton I’ve had in Morocco. It’s hard to make things perfect when you are making a hundred of them.
Almost right after eating, the dresses showed up and I admit, the entrance of the bride was pretty spectacular. Certainly the most beautiful part of the whole day. She arrived in a car and six guys in big white cloaks surrounded the car and opened their capes so no one could see her. She got out and got into a palanquin which four of the guys carried while they did an amazing amount of dancing at the same time. A band with six foot bugles and awesome percussion followed the procession. Poor F. was trying to look serene and beautiful as a princess (which she did pretty well considering that the guys carrying her were doing this amazing dance) and everyone crowded around. From the crown to the palanquin to the escort to the music, she was a princess. This wonderful and really spectacular part lasted about ten minutes and then they lowered her so she and her Belgian man could ascend the big throne set up overlooking the olive press warehouse.
From this point on, the bride and groom were forced to sit wtih stony faces and observe everyone else have fun dancing and getting pictures with them. For four hours the only movement was of F. getting down once in a while to change kaftans. Meanwhile everyone else danced (or really, mostly they sat on the sides watching the dancers) while the sound system blared all the contemporary Moroccan music at mega decibel volume, groups of young men smoked kif outside, women stared and resented each other for beauty, husbands, or what have you, and I got more and more and more tired of having my ears forced to ring more than they do naturally.
Young guys brought cookies, the special daughter kept getting into mischief and dragging my bride (the only person there who speaks English, i might add, other than me) away to help her, and finally after trying to get Hanane to escape with me for hours, I dragged her away just before dawn so that we could get at least a moment’s sleep. The house was crowded with people, many of them were having loud conversations, and Hanane’s brother had the nerve to demand that she wash his babies dirty diapers while his wife stood right next to him. She’s a married woman now and doesn’t have to be anyone’s slave…thank God she knows it.
Through the night, I expressed how horrid the entire wedding process is to Hanane, pointing out that the bride and groom don’t get to have a good time and I got her to dream with me about a fantasy wedding in the Sahara with just a few people and where we would get to enjoy it too….of course every old woman there demanded that we invite them to our wedding and protested when she told them that we were thinking of going to Turkey or elsewhere, they all love the party and want the next girl to suffer being the bride.
As I said though, the bride did get her ten minutes. i want Hanane to get that too, except I want her to enjoy the rest of the night too. I’ve refused to go to another olive warehouse party even if it is our wedding and I think Hanane is growing on the idea of the Sahara, Amazigh tents, and moonlight kisses while the camels groan and grunt.
Really, I don’t want to hate my own wedding. I don’t want to remember it as a day of hell. I’ll keep you posted.
(Thanks to Nick for creating this incredibly lifelike graphic)
Maybe I should start a dry cleaning business and start calling Hanane Weezy…
I’ve really enjoyed living in the Casbah of Sefrou. I love that I live in the heart of the oldest part of the medina, that I know all my neighbors, that the vegetable souk is nearby, and that the Oued Aggai (Aggai River) flows right outside my window and I wake to the sounds of birds and water.
What I haven’t enjoyed is the roughly two hours I spend each day crammed into a grand taxi and the fact that Hanane sometimes gets harassed by young men as she walks to our little house. I’ve missed having hot water, a real shower, and being convenient to all of the things that you don’t find in a small town in Morocco.
To top it off, when Hanane moved in after we got married, her mother came for a visit and was totally terrified of our neighbors and neighborhood. She won’t come visit us again. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like our neighbors and neighborhood. The people are poor, many of the women are prostitutes, there is a fair amount of kif smoking, kids running amuk, gambling in the narrow ways, and more, but it’s been good for me. It’s not a place for Hanane though. Moroccan society is so incredibly stratified, the harrassment of women in poor areas is atrocious, and all of this adds to a certain ‘hshuma’ or shame for her family.
So, with all of that, we decided to see if we could find a place to live in a decent neighborhood in Fez. I posted a notice that we were looking for a place in the teachers lounge of the American Language Center and several teachers offered me tips, phone numbers, the chance to rent their big apartments, and helpful advice. The problem was that most of the places we looked at were way out of our price range. Moroccans don’t typically tell you the price until they know if you like it or not and in Fez, it seemed that we would be lucky to find something for between 3000-5000 dirhams a month (about $400-$700) if we wanted to live near the ALC or in a decent place. That’s a big jump from the 700 dirhams we pay in Sefrou.
Yesterday, we had called a lady the ALC told us had apartments and she had agreed to show us a couple of them. When we arrived in Fez and met her, she told us that she had rented them out. Of course she knew this before and only wanted the chance to show us around and try to charge us a small fee for her efforts. She introduced us to a couple of landlords who assured us that we would find nothing for 3000 in Fez. Then she tried to get us to give her some money. I refused but Hanane has a soft heart and gave the lady 10 dirhams. I was annoyed that she had wasted our time.
I called my friend Omar-Sam from the ALC. He told us that a man who owned a bakery near his house had some apartments for rent. Hanane was frustrated and tired but we went and met up with Sam. It turns out he lives in the same neighborhood where big mustached coffee drinking landlords had just told us that we would find nothing under 4000 dirhams.
We went to the bakery and they showed us some very nice apartments. The owner, called The Hajj, met with us later. He was an incredibly nice man. Turns out he owns most of the block. He told us we could have the apartment we had looked at for just 2000 dirhams! Then he suggested that we look at the apartment on the top floor. It had a beautiful view, a nice balcony, and everything we were looking for. Plus it’s across the street from our friends Omar-Sam and Sarah and is near a fresh vegetable market. The elevator works, the building is secure, everything was beautiful. I expected that since he was showing us an upgrade apartment, the price would also go up.
It didn’t! In fact, he even told us that he was going to fix a couple of things before we move in. When we asked about the deposit, he told us that since we are friends of Sam-Omar and Sarah that we wouldn’t need to pay a deposit. Because his bakery is below us, the smell of fresh bread wafts into the kitchen. We agreed, of course. We hadn’t expected to find anything so quickly and we had decided to look at a bunch of places first, but this was like a gift from God.
The Hajj told us that he would give us the keys the next day, not charge us to move in for the remaining days of this month, and suggested we move right away so that I wouldn’t have to commute any longer.
It feels like we must be doing something right.
So, we’re moving on up. I suppose I’ll have to change the tagline of this blog once we move from the Casbah….any suggestions?http://www.jailguide.com/images/TheVagobonds.jpg
I suppose this was a kind of honeymoon. May 1st is the national labor holiday in Morocco and as a result, Hanane and I found ourselves with a three day weekend. I suggested we take a trip to the beach and Hanane agreed. Since her sister was going to Tetuan to see her friend Hicham, we decided to all go together.
Tetuan is a city near the beach in the former Spanish territories. As such the town has a very Spanish flavor and all the Moroccan touts say Hola Amigo rather than Bonjour Monsieur as they do in Fez. Here is a little blurb on Tetuan from wikipedia:
Tétouan (from the Berber language “Tarifit” meaning springs / Arabic: ????? / Spanish: Tetuán), also spelled Tetuan, sometimes Tettawen or Tettawin, is a city in northern Morocco. It is the only open port of Morocco on the Mediterranean Sea, a few miles south of the Strait of Gibraltar, and about 40 mi (60 km) E.S.E. of Tangier. In 2004 the city had 320,539 inhabitants (census figure).
he city is situated about 60 km east of the city of Tangier and 40 km south of the Spanish exclave of Ceuta (Sebta) and the Strait of Gibraltar. It is in the far north of the Rif Mountains. To the south and west of the city there are mountains. Tetuan is situated in the middle of a belt of orchards that contain orange, almond, pomegranate and cypress trees. The Rif Mountains are nearby, as the city is located in the Martil Valley. It is picturesquely situated on the northern slope of a fertile valley down which flows the Martil river, with the harbour of Tetouan, Martil, at its mouth. Behind rise rugged masses of rock, the southern wall of the Anjera country, once practically closed to Europeans, and across the valley are the hills which form the northern limit of the still more impenetrable Rif.
The streets are fairly wide and straight, and many of the houses belonging to aristocratic families, descendants of those expelled from Al-Andalus by the Spanish “Reconquista”, possess marble fountains and have groves planted with orange trees. Within the houses the ceilings are often exquisitely carved and painted in hispano-moresque designs, such as are found in the Alhambra of Granada, and the tile-work for which Tetuan is known may be seen on floors, pillars and dados. The traditional industries are tilework, inlaying with silver wire, and the manufacture of thick-soled yellow slippers, much-esteemed flintlocks, and artistic towels used as cape and skirt by Arabic girls in rural areas. The Jews lived in a mellah, separated from the rest of the town by gates which were closed at night. The harbour of Tetuan was obstructed by a bar, over which only small vessels can pass, and the roadstead, sheltered to the North, N.W. and South, is exposed to the East, and is at times unsafe in consequence of the strong Levanter.
The city was founded in the 3rd century BC. Artifacts from both the Roman and the Phoenician era have been found in the site of Tamuda.
Around 1305 a city was built here by the Marinid king Abu Thabit. It served as a base for attacks on Ceuta. Around 1400 it was destroyed by the Castilians, because pirates used it for their attacks. By the end of the 15th century it was rebuilt by refugees from the Reconquista (reconquest of Spain, completed by the fall of Granada in 1492), when the Andalusian Moors first reared the walls and then filled the enclosure with houses. It had a reputation for piracy at various times in its history. It was taken on 4 February 1860 by the Spaniards under Leopoldo O’Donnell, (a descendant of an old Irish royal family, O’Donnell of Tyrconnell, who was made hereditary Duke of Tetuan, and later Prime Minister of Spain; the Dukedom is currently held by his descendant S.E. Don Hugo O’Donnell, Duke of Tetuan, Grandee of Spain and Count of Lucena) and almost transformed by them into a European city before its evacuation on 2 May 1862, but so hateful were the changes to the Moors that they completely destroyed all vestiges of alteration and reduced the city to its former state.
The city is situated in the area of Morocco which was formerly ruled by Spain. In 1913 it became the capital of the part of Morocco under Spanish protectorate which was governed by the Jalifa (Moroccan prince, serving as Viceroy for the Sultan, and the Spanish “Alto Comisario” accredited to him). When Si Ahmed Belbachir Haskouri appeared in the political scene, as the Chief of the Khalifien cabinet, he enforced the delegated powers of the caliph and, at the same time, caused the power of the Spanish Commissioner to be diminished by political manouvers. Teuan remained the capital of Spanish Morocco until 1956. Many people in the city still speak Spanish. On road signs often names are written both in Spanish and in Arabic, though many signs are in Arabic and French, the second language of modern Morocco. Tétouan became part of the independent state of Morocco when it was founded out of French Morocco and most of Spanish Morocco in 1956.
Tétouan has also been home to an important Sephardi Jewish community, which immigrated from Spain after the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition. This Jewish Sephardi community spoke a form of Judaeo-Spanish known as Haketia. Some of them emigrated later to Oran (in Algeria), to South America and much later to Israel, France and Canada. There are very few Jews left in Tétouan nowadays.
All of that aside, it turns out we didn’t see a whole lot of Tetuan. Our bus left Fes at 9 am, it was 90 dirhams each by CTM to Tetuan. For those who haven’t traveled by bus in Morocco, CTM is slightly more expensive than the other lines, but infinitely more enjoyable. CTM makes only scheduled stops and doesn’t allow touts and vendors onboard at those stops. Riding the other buses, is like taking an extended city bus trip with stops every few miles, constantly changing passengers, and beggars and vendors pushing themselves on you while you try to take a nap. As it was, the trip was about 7 hours to Tetuan. Along the way we made one small stop where we bought kifta sandwiches (essentially lamb-burgers). You buy the meat from the butcher at the bus stop, then you take it to the guys at the big outdoor grill to cook it and put it in bread for you.
Arriving in Tetuan, Hicham met us with a big water bottle filled with fresh peach nectar. Mmmmm! He and Zahira took us to their favorite chicken and fries restaurant just up the hill from the CTM station and then we piled into a grand taxi to go to the hotel Hicham had arranged. It was outside of Tetuan, isolated between the cities of M’Diq, Martil, and Tetuan.
Hanane and I had a top floor suite with a small salon done all in pink and a big balcony looking out over the surrounding cities, the Rif mountains, and the Mediterranean in the distance. A beautiful room for 250 dirhams a night (about $35 per night). Hanane and I immediately went to the pool and I remembered as we got there that she didn’t know how to swim. There was a regualr pool and a kiddie pool and since both were pretty cold, we were the only ones using them. With a little coaxing, I got her into the kiddie pool and we started her swimming lessons.
I never imagined that someday I would teach my wife how to swim, but I have to admit, it is a beautiful thing. She was a little scared at first but gradually, her fearlessness came out and after about 20 minutes of learning how to kick (a little), how to doggie paddle (a little), and how to do a basic breast stroke (a little), she suddenly said, “Okay, now let’s go jump in the deep pool and see how I do!”
I was more terrified than her! I calmed her down a bit and we moved to the deeper water where we continued to work on the basics. Before too long, she was swimming 20 or 30 feet to me and only once did I have to make it to her quickly when she began to sink. I can’t express how great it was to see the big smil on her face as she would reach my waiting hands each time.
After this, she was exhausted and took a nap while I read on the balcony. I was a little bothered by coming all the way to the coast just to take a nap, since I’m a let’s go do this, let’s go do that, let’s see this, let’s see that kind of traveler, but I’d decided to just go with what happened Moroccan style on this trip…but it wasn’t easy for me, I wanted to just leave and get a taxi and go to the beach or to see the city, but figured that would make things worse than me being a little bit bored.
Finally, her sister called and said to get up and get ready, we were going to go to M’Diq and wander around in the streets, get food, and walk along the shore. It was evening by this time. 7 dirhams each got us there in a passing grand taxi.
In M’Diq (called Rincon in Spanish) we wandered through the Medina. It’s an amazingly clean place especially when one has gotten used to seeing garbage on the streets as we have in Fez and Sefrou. We had snails from a street vendor for 5 dirhams each, some very spicy chick peas, and then we headed over to the port where we ate fresh sardines, shrimp, and a wax bean soup. Delicious and cheap. 15 dirhams for a plate of grilled sardines, 50 dirhams for a plate of shrimp (okay, that’s pretty expensive for the shrimp but they were delicious) .
After this we strolled along the clean and well lit boardwalk for a while before catching a taxi back to the hotel.
The next day Zahira and Hicham wanted to go to a nearby mountain to enjoy the views but I insisted that since it was really our only day at the coast that Hanane and I go to the beach. Lucky for me, Hanane agreed with me, she wanted to try swimming in the ocean now!
We had a light breakfast in M’Diq then went to the lonely beach at Cabo Negro located between Martil and M’Diq. It was a beautiful beach. No waves and shallow, but wonderful sand and perfect for continuing our swimming lessons. We set up a makeshift shelter with my sarong and enjoyed the sun, water,and the big group of Moroccan kids that had come to play soccer in the sand. The swim lessons went well and Hanane then had me bury her in the sand.
Back to the port for more sardines and shrimp and then we went back to the hotel for a little siesta. In the evening we thought to go to Tetuan but since every taxi in that direction was full, we went to M’Diq again. Hanane looked like a pop star and everyone stared at her, she liked it and hated it at the same time. We had a big ice cream sundae for dinner at a beach side restaurant, strolled along the boardwalk and then called it an evening.
In the morning, we all piled in a passing bus and went back to the CTM station. We repeated the 7 hour trip through the Rif Mountains. Chefchauen was a brief stop but reminded me how much I enjoyed that place on my last visit. Hanane and I will definitely take a trip back there again. Another stop for kifta and then back to Fes where we came back to our lovely new apartment and Zahira headed on back to Sefrou. I can’t tell you how nice it is to not have to make the extra trip back to Sefrou.
This morning I woke and gave myself a terrible haircut which Hanane will no doubt kill me for when she wakes…but I feel relaxed and good and ready to go back to work this afternoon. It was a very nice trip. Total cost, about 1500 dirhams with transport, food, fun, a beautiful room, and lots of fun.
I have to admit one of the things I miss the most about the United States is the U.S. Postal Service. The efficiency, ease, and cheapness of using priority flat rate mailers seems like a long ago dream or a story that someone made up about a perfect world. Since coming to Morocco, I have refused to use the post for anything. I just look in the post office and I know that whatever I encounter will be a nightmare.
US postal to Morocco
Confirming this are the few packages that have managed to find their way to Hanane or me here. When I needed paperwork for work, my mother was kind enough to send them, it took several weeks and cost considerably more than it would have for me to get them forged here in Fez. And mind you, that is coming INTO Morocco using the USPS as a starting point….the other way…brutal nightmare, I’m sure.
Last summer, I sent Hanane a laptop from the U.S. I made sure to not put a value or insurance on it because I had the feeling that customs might rape us when it arrived. Postage by good old priority mail via the USPS was around $50. When it arrived, Hanane had to pay a whopping 1200 Moroccan dirhams to get the package out of hostage at the post office. That was about $180 at the time. To put that in perspective, the netbook I bought at the time in the U.S. was $290, so the shipping alone was just $60 shy of buying a new netbook.
Now we’ve got a new postal nightmare unfolding. Hanane wanted an American wedding dress and even though I still think weddings are a big waste of time and money, I want her to be happy. I mentioned the idea to my mom and she generously offered to shop around to find the right dress for Hanane. A flurry of emails between the two of them, lots of pictures, descriptions, and finally they narrowed it to two dresses. My mom also got shoes, veils, and all this other stuff and even threw in some Maple Syrup for me along with a big bag of skittles. She bought both dresses and boxed them up. Before I was able to warn her about the customs trap, she had sent them witha declared value of nearly $1000, extra insurance in case something happened along the way, and then very considerately forwarded the receipts for insurance etc to us.
Well, you can guess what happened….the boxes arrived and the post office sent a tarif/duty due receipt for nearly $400 in order to claim the boxes. Shit.
At the moment, we just moved into a new apartment in Fez, just got back from our little Tetuan holiday, just got married with all the paperwork (and payment) that was required, and frankly, we just don’t have $400 to give to the post office officials. In the life we lead, that is A LOT of money.
So the boxes are sitting there as we try to figure out what to do. Not sure if we can send them back, not sure if the insurance can be claimed if they don’t return, just sort of limbo…and meanwhile my mom and my wife are both emotionally distraught.
My sister offered to pay part of the duty instead of giving us a wedding present which was really kind of her, but frankly, I feel like that sort of ends up being a situation where the post office just cheated us out of a second wedding present in order to give us the first which is really just two dresses that we could have bought cheaper here than the $160 my mother already spent to send them here.
Good one, right?
Yup. I sure do miss the US Postal Service.
Well, alls well that ends well I suppose. I want to thank and apologize to all of you my mother harangued into sending money so that we could pull the packages she sent out of hostage by Moroccan customs. We got them. Thank you.
going postal in Morocco
All it took was a bloody fist, a broken door, about a months rent, four hours arguing with the customs agents in which I told them that in this case I was like a Palestinian and they were like Israeli Jews charging me more than packages were actually worth because they had me trapped. I knew that Hanane would never forgive me if I told them to send the packages back and so I had to pay the ransom. Add to that the arguments that the stress of being forced back into government offices brought out in Hanane and I, fighting with the post office in Sefrou because they wouldn’t let us in because we arrived a minute after they barred the doors (incidentally, this argument we won because I stood outside of the post masters office yelling at him in my awful Arabic until a crowd gathered around me and it seemed as if a riot might happen- they let us in finally, which I never thought would happen in a million years, but after fighting with customs and insulting all the Muslims in the customs office in my bad Derrija, finding a taxi and forcing him to work against his will, and then commuting to Sefrou only to miss the post office by such a short time, I didn’t care if I got arrested and thrown in jail, besides, my hand was still bleeding from smashing the door.) and what you have is a disaster waiting to happen, that at least today didn’t.
Hanane told me that the insults I was throwing at armed customs agents and fat bureaucrats were enough to get me killed if I were a Moroccan. Probably inciting a riot would of earned me a beating if I weren’t so obviously a foreigner.
And after all that we returned home with the used wedding garments and wal-mart candies my Mom had decided to declare at the maximum possible value in case they got lost in the mail. The customs agent summed it up when he said, ‘Americans don’t lie about the value of their packages’…haha. And they don’t lie about their taxes either.
The moral of the story….don’t bother to send anything to Morocco and if you do, declare it worth no more than $10. Ultimately, we ended up paying more money for the boxes than the contents cost or would have cost us here, but we got them. Thanks to all of you that helped make that possible.
Now I’ve got to go bandage up my hand and see if Hanane ate all the Skittles yet.
1) If you buy a computer or refrigerator (or any other high ticket item) make sure that the insides match the outsides. This also applies to things like sealed cameras in boxes and cellphones…the sim card or memory card will likely be gone and the quality parts will be switched for cheap Chinese ones. All shopping is at your own risk.
2) If it seems like people are swerving their cars at you or swerving towards you as they walk towards you, they are. Same goes for shopping carts if you go to a supermarket. I haven’t figured this one out yet, but it’s not my imagination. My guess is that it has something to do with living in crowded houses.
3) If you are an obvious foreigner, meeting anyone’s eyes or smiling at them is the same as saying “Hey, why don’t you try to sell me something or at least ask me for money.” Those who don’t have anything to sell or need to beg will just look confused and start to speak to you in whatever they think your native language is until they figure out some way to profit from your foolishness at meeting someone’s eyes or smiling or just trying to be nice.
4) Cues (lines) in Morocco should be shaped like a funnel because the straight line cue never ever and positively never works. Even if someone with a good head on their shoulders arranges people into a line, the next person to come in simply walks forward to fill the empty space. Every single time. You either crowd and press forward or you get nowhere…this sort of explains the swerving I mentioned above.
5) Moroccan students study nearly continuously six days a week and manage to learn little because of the way classes are taught and because no one ever takes the time to teach them the value of good study habits. If a Moroccan student asks you to help with their homework, they are really asking you to do it for them. Cheating is considered acceptable, plagarism is unknown as a concept, and critical thinking is discouraged. Being creative and thinking outside the box are not focused upon. There are no art classes, music classes, or drama clubs in schools. In fact, there aren’t even athletics or home economics. They do however speak English, French, and Arabic nearly fluently and manage to figure out how to chat on MSN or do anything on Facebook.
6) Because of everything in number 5, there are not really any hobbies. When I ask my students their hobbies they say either studying, football (soccer) with friends, or watching TV. Many of them also list sleeping as a hobby.
7) People in Morocco generally don’t read very much except religious books, newspapers, and small cookbooks.
8) Men are often in a hurry to get someplace in Morocco. That place is the cafe where they sit for seven hours having one cup of coffee and watching football on the TV.
9) From about 1 hour after dark until about the time the sun rises, it’s not safe for women to be out alone because all those young guys with no hobbies and no money to spend their day getting tired in the cafes are wandering around looking for women to harrass, that is, it seems, the number one hobby of young men in Morocco.
10) People in Morocco don’t wait for other people to finish speaking before they start to talk, it’s a volume culture. If you talk louder than the other person or people than it’s your turn. As such whispering in Morocco isn’t something you hear much of, as such it makes going to the movies, a play, a concert or a performance of any kind incredibly annoying.
11) Since the cafes are filled with men who don’t do anything but sit there and the streets are filled with young men who are looking for women to harass and since no one reads or has hobbies and people can’t wait in lines properly always swerve towards you with cars, carts, and big fat cow bodies and every performance is ruined by loud voices and polite exchange of ideas is not really possible…I am sitting here writing these random tips and observations about Morocco.
Traveling to the Sahara can be difficult, bringing your wedding party is even more so
For those of you who want to skip my arduous descriptions (but you are only cheating yourself), you can find our virtual wedding album here.If you want to book your own Sahara adventure, here are the guys to talk to: MoroccoSahara.com
First of all, I would like to thank all of you that have sent us your wishes and love. I would also like to offer my apologies for not being able to invite everyone we would have loved to see to our wedding. Given the incredible troubles we had with the legalities, the uncertainty of my schedule at the American Language Center in Fes in terms of when we would have time to get married, and the problems we had planning anything because of cultural influences, the time we had between planning and execution was minimal. We thought of sending announcements through Facebook, but because logistically we needed to have a small wedding, we limited guests to Hanane’s necessary family and a few friends here in Fez. Again, thank you all for your warm wishes and congratulations! We look forward to spending time with all of you in the future…inchallah.
Once upon a time…
It’s two months since we were legally married now and we’ve finally had our wedding. A wedding in Turkey, a wedding in the Sahara, a wedding in Fes, anywhere where we wouldn’t have to see those same Sefoui drunk boys ogling my bride.
I was able to convince Hanane that she deserved something more and better and altogether more exquisite, but I didn’t reckon on the power of her family over her. What the fairy tales don’t tell you is that Cinderella had spent her life defending her family.
She was convinced that her step mother only loved her and that was why she always came to her to do the chores. She always tried to think of them first…and of course, that’s the problem. This turned out to be a battle over control of Hanane with me fighting on one side and her family on the other. Through the course of this relationship it has been such and I think this might explain a lot of the times I get angry with Hanane, I find myself fighting her entire family to liberate her and I find her fighting against me on their side sometimes, and yet, when she is away from them, she realizes what she wants and it’s not to be under their control.
So, our wedding was a battle from start to finish. First there was the battle of the bureaucracy. Next came the post office skirmish (see Going Postal in Morocco), finally came the wedding war. Hanane wanted a wedding. I told her she could have one anyplace other than Sefrou. She told me that it was for her family more than anything. I caved and said okay. We were happy. I sensed that suddenly Hanane wasn’t planning her wedding anymore but instead an expensive party for her mom, family, and neighbors.
I asked her questions, I asked her to close her eyes and visualize her wedding, who was there, what did it look like, what had she dreamed of? The answer I got was the beach and no one there, then the sea and no one there (except me of course), and finally, she said in a tent near her families house was what she had dreamed of as a little girl. Not a lot of people, delicious food, a band, dancing, and beautiful clothes. In short, not really what her family was pressuring her to have. They wanted us to have something for them that neither of us wanted. It was clear.
We spent the morning talking and we decided that we would get a big tent and have the wedding on the roof of her parents house. We would invite a maximum of 30 people. Her family and the neighbors that she likes and some of my friends and colleagues from the American Language Center in Fes. My one solid demand was that we have live music instead of Mohammad and his stereo. Suddenly we were both happy and excited about our wedding again.
Of course her family rejected it. He mom said it was hshuma to not invite every person within a mile and allow them all to bring their friends. She said the neighbors would throw rocks at us. She refused. She told Hanane that if Hanane wanted to have that kind of a wedding than she would just be a guest. All of this happened in Sefrou, where I try not to go at all these days, not because I hate Sefrou but because I don’t like the family drama. So, I wasn’t there. We had previously decided to go ahead and have our wedding in the Sahara and her aunts and family had mocked her. That was when I had relented and we had decided on the tent plan. Now they rejected that plan too.
Hanane came back to Fes a messed up bundle of tears and emotions. She was convinced that we had to have the wedding their way or to have no wedding at all and she was crying and pissed about it. It was at this point that I realized what I had to do.
“I’m through with this bullshit. We’re having our wedding in the Sahara. I will pay for your parents, your sister, and your brother to come and if anyone else wants to come, they are welcome if you want them to, but they have to pay their own way.”
She was an emotional wreck and told me that she would do nothing, she was done. Like her mom had. I said that was fine and I set about calling our nomad friends Hassan and Assou to make arrangements. They offered to arrange food, accommodation, a camel trek, and the wedding with live music for a price I couldn’t refuse. I agreed and I told Hanane that we were doing it. It needed to be my decision.
She told me her parents would refuse and so I told her to get her things and we went to Sefrou where I told them all what we were doing. She was half right, her father refused because he doesn’t like to leave his sheep, but her mom agreed. Somehow during the week before we went the guest list who I was responsible for changed from her brother into her sister-in-law and her two sweet sons. Her younger brother made everyone mad by being a teen age boy and declaring his independence and was told he couldn’t go by his mom. So, I was responsible for seven of us- food, drink, transport, and fun. Me, Hanane, her mom, Samira and her two boys, and her sister, Zahira. I also invited my friends Sam-Omar and Sarah. Zahira at the last minute (literally when we were on the way to the overnight bus) invited one of her friends. That was fine, but I made it clear he had to pay for himself as Sam-Omar and Sarah had. Of course, I already knew that wouldn’t happen.
Coming in a few days will be part two – The Trip to the Sahara
If you want to book your own Sahara adventure, here are the guys to talk to: MoroccoSahara.com
On Tuesday, the Sefrouias came down from Sefrou and invaded our house for a few hours and then we met up with Zahira’s friend at the bus station at around 8:30 for our 9 PM bus. Zahira disappeared just about the time the bus started boarding and when I asked where they had gone, I was told they went to get chicken for the trip. Zahira is a great girl and while I like her, she drives me nuts by always being the last one on the bus and disappearing when it’s time to go.. Since I had her ticket, Hanane and I couldn’t board the bus. Everyone on the bus was forced to wait while I held the bus from leaving. Eventually, they came back and the rest of us got on the bus but since I hadn’t been there to explain that there were assigned seats on the nicer buses, everyone had just sat where they wanted to and this of course left me and Hanane sitting in seats that weren’t ours and sort of dreading that we would have to argue with whomever got on the bus at the next stop and held the tickets for our seats. Since the friend had joined us at the last minute, we had an uneven number of people and one seat was separate from the rest (because Taha is still just a baby and shares his mother’s seat). Of course, Zahira was going to sit next to her friend no matter what, so that added another bit of stress since our seats were all in the front and his assigned one was in the back. It made me wonder who she thought should have to sit by themselves? Probably me and Hanane.
There was some arguing over seats with the rightful owners at the next stop but we managed to work it all out and we arrived in al-Rissani at about 7 am. Slimane, the Berber, arrived and led us to the taxis.
In any event we got the the desert hotel of Assou’s family and we were welcomed with warmth and generosity. We sat in the shade of his mother’s yard drinking camel milk and eating dates.
The house we were staying in was a beautiful mud and straw brick house filled with Berber rugs, cushions, and the all the amenities we could desire.
We relaxed, had tea, and all went to our respective rooms to have a small rest after the 10 hour overnight bus ride and the oppressive heat of the desert. All of the rooms were nice, but we had the nicest, as we should have.
Sam-Omar and I took a small walk in the desert and ended up befriending a couple of Berber boys, looking at the fossils all boys carry and try to sell to tourists, and drinking water from a desert well. Then we played soccer for about 10 minutes against the boys. There was no score, but I would say the Moroccan kids defeated the American men.
In the afternoon, Slimane offered to take us to a souvenir shop in the village.
Coming Soon Our Sahara Nomad Wedding -Part 3 – Berber Wedding
Sahara Nomad weddings are something I always wondered about. I never knew I would actually be the groom in one!
In the evening Assou’s sisters came with the traditional Nomad wedding garments and they dressed Hanane and I. Hanane’s garb was a white gown with heavy jewelry that could easily be used to kill.
Her hair and makeup were done with care. A final touch was a Berber woven cloth bag which they placed over her entire head and tied with a ribbon. Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 1Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 2
Sahara Nomad Wedding Virtual Wedding Album
As for me, I fared better, I was wrapped up in Djellaba and turban so that only my eyes were still showing. We were led outside to the courtyard where we sat on comfortable cushions while Berber musicians played desert music for our pleasure.
In a traditional Berber wedding, the bride has her head covered for three days and the bride and groom sit in desert tents during this time while there is Henna, music, dancing, and feasting.
Thankfully, our bagged time was reduced to about 45 minutes at which point Hanane had the bag removed from her head, I was un-wrapped, and then we danced and sang. My bride was beautiful under the bag and I was glad to be able to see her again.
The music and dancing were spectacular and all the Berber’s treated us as their own family.
When we moved inside and were set behind a table lit with candles, Hanane and I had bought the cookies which are usually made and distributed by the family in both Arab and Berber weddings and we distributed tea and cookies to all the guests. Sam-Omar offered to distribute the tea and I told him that as the groom it was my responsibility.
The music and dancing were blissfully limited to about an hour and then Hanane and I retired to our room. We’d had the first part of our wedding and it was beautiful and wonderful, exotic and exciting….
In our room, we had that moment when the bride and groom realize that they are happiest to be together without anyone else. After all, we didn’t marry our families…even if it seems like we did sometimes.
Coming Soon Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 4 – Gnawas and Rug Merchants
If you want to book your own Sahara adventure, here are the guys to talk to: MoroccoSahara.com
In the morning, Assou offered to take us to a Gnawa village to enjoy Gnawa music and dancing. Since his car would only carry five at a time, he took the Souidi family first and then returned to get Sam-Omar, Sarah, Hanane, and myself. Along the way we saw Berber boys with their pet foxes standing beside the road and holding the foxes up for tourists to stop and take pictures of.
Hanane was in love with the foxes and wanted one to take home, but I suspected and Assou confirmed that they make lousy pets. None the less it was nice to stop and take pictures and pet the beautiful little things.
When we arrived at the Gnawa village, the Souidis were already looking bored but thanks to the beautiful music and great rhythms, we managed to get them all to get up and dance with us.
The Gnawa are the descendants of black African slaves who brought their own traditions with them and evolved their music into that for which Morocco is most famous. It is the original trance music and often used for ecstatic ritual and dance because of it’s heavy bass and rhythm.
Assou then took the Souidis to al-Rissani to see the medina, wander the souks, and have lunch. It was a forty minute drive from the Gnawa village so Sam-Omar, Sarah, Hanane, and I waited in the Gnawa house while he shuttled between for about an hour and a half. We played the instruments, rested on the cushions, and in all enjoyed just relaxing.
When Assou returned, he asked that I drive. I was glad to speed through the desert. I miss driving sometimes. Hanane wanted to buy some silver jewelry and I had given her about some money to shop with so Assou took us to a tourist shop called Maison Taureg. The owner, named Mohammad of course, asked Hanane if she wanted to see carpets. She said no, but of course, she had just come in with three Americans so he insisted. She said she would see one, he said he would show three, she agreed and he proceeded to show us about fifty. Being ex-pat Americans, the three of us knew that we needed to show no interest, Hanane had not yet learned that by company she is going to be treated as a stupid American tourist and as she heard the ridiculous prices she became angrier and angrier. The rug merchant wouldn’t stop of course and finally when I saw that she had had enough, I pulled out the best tool in my tool box and began grilling the rug merchant with every question I could think of about himself, his family, life in the desert, where he has traveled, music, and more. He tried to continue selling, but of course, my training as a stock broker and a journalist has made me unstoppable and I know for certain that as long as I am asking someone questions, I am in control. Soon he gave up and suggested we look at the jewelry.
Assou showed up with Hanane’s family arrived, they were all hungry I asked Assou to please take them back to the hotel and feed them, he understood. We started to walk to al-Rissani and a taxi showed up and told us Assou had called him and asked him to take us. I love Assou, he saved us once again.
Coming Soon – Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 5 – Camels and Caravans
Erg Chabbi is a beautiful Sahara spot.
If you want to book your own Sahara adventure, here are the guys to talk to: MoroccoSahara.com
Back at the hotel, we ate. I asked Assou about henna for Hanane and he told me his sisters would come and make henna for her in the afternoon and then in the late afternoon we would mount camels and ride to the oasis for the night. For a number of reasons, they got started later than expected and by the time we were on the camels it was approaching dark.
At the oasis, I found Hanane I can relate to the Berber’s who simply want the quiet of the desert unless it is replaced with the music they make themselves.
As we sat drinking tea, at this point we began to enjoy the stars, the tajines the nomad guides made for us, and the serenity of being away from civilization.
I woke before anyone and left the camp to enjoy some solitude with the sunrise. Upon climbing the nearest dune I saw that there were a number of bivouac camps scattered around, presumably all filled with tourists. I saw two large dunes and knew that they were the best places to see the sunrise. Since I’d already spotted the other tourist camps, I chose the smaller of the two dunes knowing that the tourists would all come out and flock up the biggest dune. At this point there was no one stirring except me and a solitary figure who had just begun climbing the biggest dune. I felt sympathy that his solitude would soon be destroyed and prayed that my own would not.
Sure enough, soon there were about twenty figures from the other camps who came out, pissed, stretched, looked around, and set off for the biggest dune.
I now had a great vantage point for the sunrise and I could see the Sahara stretching for miles all around me. I watched my solitary companion on the bigger dune be overtaken, surrounded, and distracted from the moment of the sun’s birth. I chanted and meditated and prayed. I heard nothing but the wind and the sand. My sarong was wrapped around my face to protect it from the sand. I let all the pieces of my emotion fall into their proper places. I watched as the sun shyly placed it’s fingers on the tops of the distant dunes and then slowly pulled her head into the day. The sun to me is female, I don’t know exactly why. Shadows began to form and the desert came alive.
As I began down, I saw Hanane emerge from the tent. I called to her. She wanted to go to the biggest dune, but I had already found my place and so we went back up to my retreat and kissed as the warmth of the morning replaced the cool of the night in preparation for the heat of the day.
We ran down the dunes with my sarong flying between us like a banner and laughed like children while looking at each other with love.
Back in the camp we ignored the others and put on our final set of wedding clothes. A white western wedding gown my mother had sent for her and a black and grey striped Djellaba and slippers that Hanane had bought for me.
Sam-Omar and Sarah agreed once again to be our photographers and we posed in the desert. It was like a dream of seeing my Arab bride in her snow white gown sitting astride a camel and surrounded by the majesty of the dunes. My Princess.
We quietly exchanged vows in the sand dunes, smiled into each others eyes and kissed in front of the world.
Our marriage was now complete.
Hanane threw her bouquet and the friend, like a linebacker going for a fumble barrelled through the Souidi women to make sure he got it.
We changed into our trekking clothes for the caravan back.
The ride back was beautiful as the dunes awoke and the desert life prepared for the scorching hot temperatures that would soon arrive.
It was wonderful to turn and share smiles with the love of my life as we rode sure footed camels through the sands of the Sahara led by our trusted nomad friends.
Coming Soon – Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 6 – The Return Home.
Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 1
Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 2
Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 3
Our Sahara Nomad Wedding -Part 4
Our Sahara Nomad Wedding – Part 5
Sahara Nomad Wedding Virtual Wedding Album
If you want to book your own Sahara adventure, here are the guys to talk to: MoroccoSahara.com
A Nomad Traffic Jam
Back at the hotel I made arrangements for transport back to al-Rissani. I made it clear to everyone that we needed to be ready at 6 pm. Most of the day was spent in our respective rooms. Since it was Friday, our friends had prepared couscous for us. Hanane’s mom and Samira went to have a therapeutic treatment where they were buried in the sand. When they returned they both looked ready to die from heat stroke.
The truck I had ordered for transport arrived and we managed to have everyone on board 15 minutes later.
Samira had forgotten her babies slippers and sipper cup and demanded that we call Assou and have him drive 60 miles to bring them to her, Hanane refused and gave her the number. I called Assou and apologized to him and not to worry about it, he said no problem and then he actually brought her kid’s slippers.
At the midnight meal stop, Hanane, me, and her Mom shared with Sam-Omar while Sarah slept on the bus.
Arriving in Fes, there were some more congratulations.
Arriving home, Hanane and I kissed, smiled in each other’s eyes and went to sleep. Later in the day, Hanane and I went to Marjane, had lunch with our friends Alice and Ali, and then went to her first concert at the Fes Festival of Sacred Music. It was supposed to be Ben Harper, but instead turned out to be Malian musicians because Ben Harper had dislocated his shoulder skateboarding. The first act was Djelimady String Theory and the lead act was Amadou and Miriam. It was wonderful and fun.
It was a beautiful wedding, a wonderful experience, and something that both of us already are smiling about as we remember it. I feel so incredibly blessed to have found and married this wonderful woman. It has been an epic journey to arrive here, but now we are joined and greater adventures still await us.
And we will live, happily ever after. Inchallah.
One of the oldest festivals in Morocco takes place right next to Hanane’s parents house. The Sefrou Cherry Festival has been around for about a hundred years. Sadly, most of the cherry trees are gone now, cleared out to build new developments and villas for rich Fassi people who want to enjoy the country life a bit.
At this point, Hanane’s families house sits surrounded by luxury developments in various states of completion and the big field that the Cherry Festival gets held in. One would be tempted to think that perhaps the Souidi fortunes have turned, but because the justice system in Morocco is hardly just (and really, where is justice to be found anywhere in the world?) and the nebulous nature of real estate law, the overwhelming power of those who have money and connections versus those who don’t, and really, the corruption that runs rampant in Morocco and you can be sure that nothing is guaranteed.
As an example, Hanane’s father just lost a court battle to save a property he and his family have owned, lived on, and improved for over 40 years. It’s another piece of property that could make him a rich man, but the judge has recently issued the order to give it to people who are already wealthy…and thus, have the ability to sway the courts more than a simple shepherd like Mr. Souidi.
He bought the land over 40 years ago when he first came to Sefrou. At that time, contracts were fairly simple deals and it was more a matter of a handshake and the exchange of cash. Everything was fine until the man he bought the property from died a few years ago. Until that time, the Souidi family lived there. All of the Souidi kids were born there. A few years ago they bought their present property and moved most of the family there leaving Mohammad and Samira on the old homestead to start the next generation with Amine and Taha.
Then when the man the property was purchased from died, his heirs started looking at the property with greedy eyes. They started legal proceedings against the Souidis and made a case that Mr. Souidi had never actually purchased the land. Never mind that they had been living on it for forty years and that in fact, he had purchased it.
You can be sure that the family who is stealing the land has all the advantages of wealth and power with at least one judge, several police officers, and some government officials in their family tree. And of course, all of this happened about the time that land in Sefrou started booming, all the cherry trees were cut down on the surrounding acrage, and the value of the property became something worth stealing.
I’ve only just found out about this family drama recently and I’m told it is too late to do anything. The judge has issued the order that the land be vacated and given to the thieves. Mr. Souidi is appealing that Mohammad and his family be given time to find another place to live, but with luxury developments going up all around the property, it is doubtful whether he will win even that, especially since he is a simple shepherd and he is fighting against a family with wealth and position.
Hanane and I went to Sefrou on Sunday to spend some time with her family and check out the Sefrou Cherry Festival. We found that the actual Festival doesn’t begin until Thursday, June 17 and then runs through Sunday, June 20. The festival promises to be exciting and fun and we will probably head up there next Sunday (my only day off right now) to check out the Fantasia and events. I’m looking forward to it.
What was exciting was the Sefrou Carnival which is in full swing. This was the largest carnival I’ve been to in Morocco with a huge exhibition area which sold everything you usually find in the souks or the Medina but for less money, a fairly big selection of rides, and some other unexpected entertainment.
Getting to Sefrou, we relaxed with her family at her father’s house. Her cousin was visiting along with a family friend from Syria who goes to all the exhibitions in Morocco and sells his wares. There is always someone visiting at the Souidi house.
Since it was still early, I had the pleasure of watching World Cup matches with Hanane’s mom and dad and milking one of the goats. This was sort of like the Thanksgivings I remember where the family would gather around to watch American football matches and milk goats, only better. Hanane’s mom loves football (soccer) and she made me promise that if a big match ever comes to Fes that I will take her to it. I gladly agreed. Hanane smacked me when I told her it would just be me and her mom, of course, I was only kidding.
Later, in the afternoon we headed to the carnival. It was strangely cold in Sefrou (especially for mid June) and I borrowed one of Selim’s jackets.
There is no such thing as lines in Morocco and so this carnival was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Instead of people lining up for their turn to take a ride, it is exactly like waiting for a grand taxi with everyone running up and whoever gets the seats first taking them. No tickets either. The attendants just wait until the fighting for seats is done and then collect 5 dirhams per ride from those who managed to grab seats. If you want to stay on the rides all day and keep paying, you can do that.
All of the rides themselves are familiar but in a much greater state of aging and disrepair than I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. No guard rails, safety equipment at a minimum with only what still survives from when these rides were being used in Europe or the USA, and of course, because it is Morocco, each ride with a stereo blaring out Moroccan pop music.
I kept having visions of our seats flying out from the machine and killing us and all the spectators who crowded around the rides. I have no idea if there are annual fatality reports from Moroccan carnivals, but I suspect there must be.
The funniest ride was the 4th Dimension rocket ride. It was one of those spaceships you get in and then it moves while it shows you a futuristic (at least it was back in 1982) video that simulates movement. Hanane was scared to go on this, but for 5 dirhams, I had to see what it would be.
As we got on, it smelled like an old bus. In fact, except for the lack of windows it could have been an old bus. The carnies are obviously living in it at night and the rear seat was filled with their dirty clothes, another seat was filled with something but covered by a blanket. A strange assortment of old ladies boarded the rocket to experience the ‘4th dimension’.
The viewscreen was cracked and the hydraulics were shot, it was actually bumpier than a ride on an old bus. The program was all in English (which only Hanane and I understood) and was a mission to ancient Egypt to recover a terrorist nuclear bomb in King Tut’s tomb.
It was incredibly fun and we laughed the whole time as our ancient toothless Moroccan pilot navigated us through tombs he probably helped build.
The other rides were not quite so dilapidated as that one, but still I was nervous we would go flying. We rode the octopus and a couple of other similar rides.
Hanane wouldn’t let me pay 5 dirhams to go see the dancing Berber woman in a closed tent, but we paid 5 dirhams to see the motorcycle daredevil. He was amazing.
Essentially, they’ve built a big wooden barrel and everyone goes inside and climbs the stairs to the top about 25 feet or so. Then you look down. The daredevil then comes in and rides his motorcycle around the walls defying gravity. He rode with Moroccan flags covering his face so he couldn’t see, the crowd would hold out dirham notes (okay just one guy) and the daredevil scooped it up as he went by, and he would get the crowd clapping using his throttle to set the rhythm. Of course, one mishap and he could easily have killed a dozen people, so we were all being daredevils too, though I was probably the only one thinking that as I pulled Hanane back from the ledge a bit.
After this Hanane and I shared a bumper car while her brother and his friend shared another. I felt like we were targeted by all the little kids, probably because we were laughing more than anyone else.
And of course, what would a carnival be without food and games. I only played one game, a shooting game where I paid one dirham and then hit the bullseye….when we asked about prizes, we were told that there were none. It explained why no one else was bothering to compete. No prizes were evident at any of the games.
And for the food, we ate a tasty deep friend donut, fresh potato chips, and some ice cream…all for a whopping 1 dirham each. Then we bought some bedsheets at the exhibition area.
Unfortunately, it started raining before we could ride the Ferris Wheel and to my surprise, they shut down all the rides for safety. So we went back to the Souidi house where Hanane made harira soup. It was a very nice day and I highly recommend that you check out the Sefrou Cherry Festival Carnival…all told, we spent about 100 dirhams (about $12.50) and that included the bed sheets.
After not having the Cherry Festival last year in 2009, the City of Sefrou made up for it by having an incredible Festival in 2010. This year celebrated 90 years since the festival was first started in 1920.
The Cherry Festival was not without controversey as the Cherry Queen this year was from Marrakesh and this caused a lot of upset among local trade unions and Sefroui people.
Organizers explained that they want to open up the festival to all of Morocco and by allowing ‘Miss Cherry’ to be from anywhere in Morocco, they were gaining exposure and making the festival more accessible to everyone.
The festival was filled with historical expositions, fantasias (which happened right next door to the Souidi house!), concerts, performances by local tribal musicians, and artisanal exhibits from neighboring villages.
Hanane and I were in the thick of it all. Everywhere we went, people were talking about the beautiful transformation of Sefrou. All of the curbs were painted, buildings were painted, gardens were planted, and beautiful art and historic prints were hung everywhere.
In addition to the carnival, there was the Fantasia villages where the Berber horsemen constantly rode in sorties while firing their ancient black powder muskets.
A human development village outlined all the programs for human health and development that the province has been embracing and engaging. From bee keeping to cleaner water, to public health campaigns, to creating schools for rural girls and boys.
The usually dusty and dirty grand taxi station was transformed into a village of Berber tents with each tent hosted by different Berber tribes from teh surrounding hills. A central stage was constantly occupied by dancers, musicians, and story tellers from these villages.
While the crowning of the Cherry Queen was a VIP only event which we somehow didn’t find our invitation for,
the parades on Saturday and Sunday were packed with thousands upon thousands of people waving and cheering as The Cherry Queen, Cherry themed floats, and marching bands filled the streets with merriment.
There were sports competitions, poetry readings, historic photo exhibits, and really enough to keep anyone occupied for the entire time they were there.
And then there were the cherries! MMMMMMM!
We saw almost no unhappy faces through the weekend…until it was time to go that is. At that point the Grand taxi drivers began playing their usual games. Since they had more people than usual, the prices were inflated by 100% and since they were making more than usual, about half of them called it a day and went home, thus making the crowd more agitated.
Luckily for us, we found an honest taxi man and got back to Fez with no problems.
June was a month full of strange surprises, not the least of which led to me having the month of July to redefine where my income comes from and have some time to play in Morocco. As July started, I found myself working very long hours and discovering that I have all that I need to support my wife and myself as a full time freelance writer. While this situation may or may not be permanent, it is a nice thing to shake off the shackles of wage slavery and find that freedom is indeed possible.
That freedom led us to Playa Blanca, a small beach just outside of Tangier. The entire Tangier area was once known as the Interzone and made famous by William S. Burroughs in both a short story and in the novel, The Naked Lunch. The story of how the interzone came into being is wrapped up in French and Spanish colonialism and the creation of an ‘international zone’ around the city of Tangier where sovereignty was jointly held by French, Spanish, American, and British governments from 1912 until 1956 when Morocco gained its independence. The Interzone was about 373 square kilometers and had about 60,000 residents. That means that Playa Blanca, where we were staying with friends in a kick ass beach house, fell firmly in the zone, eh interzone.
It seems fitting that my first holiday as a re-freed independent writer would be in the same area where writers such as Burroughs, Kerouac, Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and others cavorted and did more than a few questionable things, and I’m happy to say that there was a fair amount of cavorting over the five days we were there, though we kept the questionable things to a minimum. Playa Blanca itself used to be a haven for drug money in the 1980’s when South American drug lords built and bought beach houses there. Prior to that it was a smugglers cove. While it is only a 15 minute drive from Tangier, it is isolated and aside from the houses and one small hanut (food shop) any other purchases require a car or a taxi trip to Tangier which ends up costing about 100 dirham each way.
Here’s the view from our deck:
Yes, that’s the Mediterranean Ocean if front of us. Just steps out the door to the beach and while during the weekend, the crowds on the beach swelled, there was plenty of space on the sand in the mornings and later afternoons. We explored tide pools, had nice dinners each night with our friends, read, watched TV, and since I’m now employed via the internet, we had an enforced break from my work since there is no chance of internet there, no cyber cafes, and even my dongle didn’t work…(get your mind out of the gutter).
We built sandcastles, swam, body surfed, and had fires each night and finally, at the end of it all, we got back on the train from Tangier and left the Interzone to come back to Fes.
Now back to work for me…