Morocco’s Modern Life (January 10, 2012)

If I could fully comprehend the dimension of time, I would be seasick right now. The past week and a half (really? wow.) has felt seismic and slight, rapid and sluggish, insurmountable and breezy. Not all at the same time. But by now, all of these emotions and sensations feel like an amateurish watercolor painting to me and I have set my sails forward, not barring more disorientation as I cross both political and personal borders over the next four months.

Since you last left your hero, I was at my desk, as I am now, sending you a dispatch on day three. Now it is day ten.
Danny arrived in the evening last week, and we went to Café Jarhawa, where I have been enjoying daily breakfasts. This café is a block away from my villa, and every morning after a hot (if I am lucky) shower, I suit up and go straight there for the 18 dirham petit déjuner grillé, consisting of three pieces of grilled toast with butter and jam, a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and a mug of espresso and cream. 18 dirham is bargain. If you apply the magical moroccan mathematical formula, by dividing the total in dirham by eight, you have your price in American dollars. For me, this has perhaps been the most exciting part of living in a country half way across the world. Dividing prices by eight. This lunch is 40 dirham? That is very expensive in comparison to normal Moroccan meals. Still, it is just five American dollars. Okay, I will eat it. This fashionable Berber pullover is 200 Dirham? Oh, you mean 25 dollars? I will take it my good man, after I bargain it down to 180 Dirham.
That last one was a dramatization of one of my experiences this weekend in the medina of Fes, where I spent the end of the morning, and the whole afternoon touring the two main markets: the saghir, ‘the small one,’ and the kabir, ‘the big one.’ Both of these markets are long roads that lead into various shopping clusters, such as the spice district, the shoe district and the fabric district. These long roads are connected by tiny arteriole roads on which donkies and children wrestle and urinate. Elevated above the streets are shawqaat, or apartments, in which families of around six live in small, cramped quarters. The streets themselves, even the busiest ones, are very thin and are covered by awnings of markets and the shadows of the stone and clay buildings. To picture the aswaaq, or markets, picture Chinatown storefronts, except much closer together, whose shopkeepers are much more aggressive, masogynistic and without boundaries. Down the large veins of commerce, the saghir and kabir, new neighborhoods are defined by mosaic fountains. They are not running at this time of year, but this makes more apparent their beautiful designs: spiral and star patterns of blue and yellow porcelain. New neighborhoods are also signified by hamaams, or bathhouses, where locals all congregate in sauna-esque rooms and bathe themselves in boiling water. I want to go to one of these, but not here.
We took lunch at Restaurant el-Sekaya in the heart of the medina. Our ascent of five flights of steep stairs (Morocco seems to be full of these), brought us to a rooftop dining area, with a panoramic view of metropolitan Fes. The all-encompassing perspective from our perch imbued my experience here with a sense of realness. At once, the skyline provided me with an omniscience that I had been seeking for days.
We feasted on tagine, fresh bread, coca-cola (which are made with pure sugar here), Moroccan mint tea, and cooked meats on the roof, and gazed across the horizon to where the alabaster city trails into the arid mountains and these brown hills meet the big blue sky.
That evening, I was exhausted. After a full day of guarding my own wallet, feigning marriage to several of my friends to safeguard them from sexually forward men, walking and internalizing, I prepared a heap of spaghetti and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

The day before, I visited Marjane, the Moroccan Wal-Mart, to pick up various toiletries, linens and household products. The commoditization of Moroccan culture is amazing, and closely resembles American culture. Thus, the most western part of Fes that I’ve seen so far has been the inside of this department store. It is a Best Buy, food retailer, alcohol store (these are few and far between in Morocco), outlet, Italian restaurant and meateria in one. Here, I found things more American that American products themselves: Nesquik cereal, Bic Shaving Cream, and Colgate Freedom Toothpaste. On the way home, we had a talkative cab driver who divulged to us his long history of drinking, recovery, and love with a Scottish girl that he did not know how to speak to. I understood how this Scottish girl must have felt, as he translated his monologue into Spanish for us, though none of us speak Spanish. We didn’t have the heart, nor the opportunity to explain our slim comprehension. This Friday I will return to pick up a hibachi (splitting it, Mom and Dad!), so that we can have an American Rag-Tag Hootin-Hollerin’ Celebration on our roof (a conspicuous one, Mom and Dad!).

Otherwise, class is good. Rapid and thorough. It was previously only me in the classroom, however a 700-Level student has realized that she would rather have an A than A-lot of improvement, so I am no longer a lone ranger blazing the trails of Arabic 500. One of my professors, Ustadth Abdelhafid, is a wonderful teacher. Another, Ustadth Souqat, is a teacher.

My Mom and Robert come in about a week and a half. Then, we will embark on a tour of Fes, Marrakech, and the desert. Until then, I will enjoy riding Fez-waves. I hope all of you get to see this city one day. It is absolutely absurd.

PW

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