Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Princess & The Pea Petite Taxi

I am quite certain that in my many postings, I have presented myself as a bit of a princess. I don't think I am but who am I to judge? - that's what we have family for. So although I don't routinely wake up black & blue from an excrutiating night's sleep atop my pea, I have complained and grumbled and whined and pointed the odd paw menacingly at things that irritate me. For about 7 months now. Why anyone bothers to read this blog still eludes me. In fact, my theory is that eventually, I will run out of things to say. Surely these petty pea-like pains-in-the-butt that plague my days are finite in number? Right? When that time comes, I'll have to haul my princess-ass off to another country and start griping afresh.

But I am still here and summer is now upon us. As such, I am reminded of a curious practice that has been gnawing away at me for months but which I had put on the back shelf during the winter. I mentioned many posts ago that Morocco's petite taxis can be numbered among the things I like best about Rabat. These miniscule blue Fiats (they are colour-coded for each city - they are red in Casa) dart about town, taking up to 3 passengers pretty much anywhere within city limits. In spite of the fact that I will probably meet my end (or at least Life # 2), squished in the back seat of one, I make tremendous use of them because they are cheap and ubiquitous. And for the most part, their meters even work - at least in Rabat - although sometimes you may have to "remind" the odd driver to turn it on.

But summer is here. It is hot, but not as hot as the mercury would lead you to believe. Morocco has no concept of the humidex - that clever innovation created by Canadians (we invent things too Mr. N) and used in the Great White North for some 40 years now. In a nutshell the humidex:

... was devised by Canadian meteorologists to describe how hot, humid weather feels to the average person. The humidex combines the temperature and humidity into one number to reflect the perceived temperature. Because it takes into account the two most important factors that affect summer comfort, it can be a better measure of how stifling the air feels than either temperature or humidity alone.

Now, speaking strictly as an amateur, I would hazard an educated guess and raise Rabat's temperatures by about 10 degrees celcius - at least for the past few weeks. I know heat and, I am sorry to say, I know humidity and there's no way that 22-25 degrees accurately reflects the conditions here.

So having said all of this, I must ask why the freaking cab drivers in Rabat practically hermetically seal their cabs? In 99.9% of taxis I have ridden in, not only were the back windows closed but the handles removed. I feel like a hostage each time I crawl into the back of a taxi - the only things missing are the electrical tape & the blindfold. Imagine zipping about town - or worse still, sitting in traffic - in the dizzying (humidex-adjusted) temperatures of a stifling, airless cab? In the summer? In many cases, the front passenger's & driver's windows are themselves only a quarter-way open, and sometimes, god help us all, they are closed. Oh, I can feel the mindnumbingly enervating inertia undulate throughout my body as I type ... I am swooning .... succumbing to Morocco's spin on auto erotic asphyxiation ...

Sometimes the driver will you give you the window crank if you ask nicely - and you have the French to accommodate your request. As he narrowly avoids colliding with another vehicle, he will pass it back for you to screw in. Other times, he won't have it (or says as much). Enjoy the slow death - I wonder if dying of heat prostration is like dying of hypothermia. Note to self: don't fall asleep in the back of a Rabatian Taxi.

So why? Why do drivers seek to deprive their passengers of much needed oxygen under the sweltering skies of Morocco? Perhaps there is a belief that in our oxygen-reduced states, we will tip better. I have heard that there is a pervasive belief that djins and other evil spirits travel on the wind and that our drivers are, in fact, protecting us from harm. Are djins able to enter my body when it is prostrate and lifeless in the back seat of a taxi? Is there a lesser of two evils here?

With the sultry dog days of summer wagging their tails around the corner, I am mindful of two things:

1) that if we are considerate/humane/caring enough to leave car windows partially open for dogs, then perhaps we can do the same for nice paying passengers (it's not like I'm asking for a bowl of fresh water too); and

2) I am walking everywhere until early November.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nightmare on Elm Street Atlas

This will probably go down in Cat in Rabat history as my lamest blog ever and will only serve to confirm the gravity of and long term & far-reaching effects of my recent head injury.

I was woken up this morning at 4:38. Now, I seldom sleep through the night: my catnaps are routinely interrupted by the clumsy sounds of coupling neighbours, as well as barking dogs, rutting cats, the odd persistent mosquito and/or the muezzin's call to prayer (which I have, on occasion, mistaken for the drone of a mosquito). But this morning it was different. In fact, I woke up with a start, thinking that I had had a nightmare. But I hadn't. It was a sound. A very different sound. I laid in bed for what seemed like eons, hovering in a suspended animation of angst-ridden trepidation, trying to identify the source. I eliminated everything from the above list in about 10 seconds.

It sounded human. In an undead kind of way.

To the best of my ability, it sounded like a man's voice saying the word "kerchief". It was a deep and sonorous voice and it repeated "kerchief" over and over again, carefully ennunciating the word but drawing out the last syllable so it almost sounded like a hiss.

It scared the piss out of me.

As I lay there, I began to invent possible rational explanations for this ephemeral voice but the best I could come up with was a malfunctioning call to prayer tape. But the call to prayer had long since passed. I contemplated hauling my cowardly ass out of bed and taking a shufti out the window but I was actually fearful of what I might see; in fact (and I'm embarassed to admit this), the only sound to compete with this otherworldly intonation was the thumping of my heart, pounding in my chest. The voice was unnerving me beyond belief, but I finally padded into the living room (rather than having to roll up my bedroom shutters ~ I may have been frightened, but slothfulness always takes precedence) to put a face to my tormentor.

I approached the window and took a deep breath, steeling myself against - against what? I was fully prepared to see the Grim Reaper standing in the middle of the deserted street, chanting his sibilant (I know that the "f" in kerchief is not a sibilant but my phantom made it such) mantra and pointing ominously at my window. Surely, the Ghost of Ramadan Yet to Come was waiting for me. Instead, I looked below upon an eerily empty street enshrouded in an early morning mist. But, I could still hear the voice; oddly, it was softer here than in my bedroom where the shutters were drawn.

I returned to bed and willed every cursed sound that normally interrupts my sleep to shake off the night and drown out this abberant droning. Kerchief, kerchief, kerchief!

Eventually, I gave away to sleep. Can't wait to go to bed tonight.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sense(lessness) & (In)sensibility: a Dilemma

... fast on the tracks of the heinous banning of Piglet in Turkey and the role that tolerance & possible free will plays in our lives, I offer this little anecdote:

Last night I was invited out to dinner by an American colleague to meet some visiting family members. In total there were 10 of us, half of whom were Western, half Moroccan. I heard through the grapevine that one of her Muslim guests had specifically requested that the hostess ask all guests to abstain from ordering (and presumably drinking) alcohol. Reluctantly (I believe - or I at least hope), she agreed, and advised all but two of us.
Now, I was aware of her guest's sensibilities but technically, his views had not been conveyed to me by the hostess. In my mind, this was a loophole of sorts.

I would add that not only is Morocco not a dry country (apart from the desert) but that the restaurant where we dined was licensed. Were my rights not being trampled? Although I am a guest in his country, he was a guest at her table. Why was the wish of one individual given precedence over the rights of the majority - especially when our collective wish to have a cocktail or glass of wine was a legal act in a country which produces some fine wines (Morocco has its own Appellation Controllée system patterned on the French model and 2005 saw volume sales of wine rise to almost 38 million litres, a 4% from the previous year).

So dear reader, I ask you: what would you have done?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Porcine Ruminations

I confess that there are 2 pigs whom I have long held in high esteem: Babe, the indomitable sheep-pig, and Piglet the taoist companion of Winnie the Pooh. Both pigs proved to be big things in small packages, possessing great power & virtue although, admittedly, Piglet suffers from a constant fear of the dark and is rather anxious about most things. But that just makes him a 3-dimensional porker. They are truly princes among pigs.

So it was with much raising-of-the-eyebrow-whisker that I learned that the Winnie the Pooh cartoon was recently and unceremoniously yanked off the airwaves in Turkey - at least on Turkey's public broadcasting station. The TRT took exception to Pooh's porcine sidekick for the simple reason that the presence of an albeit animated and fictional pig would offend Muslim sensibilities. This is indeed a sad fact, considering that on the echelon of haraam animals, pigs feature higher than dogs (see yesterday's post). I wonder how Scooby-Doo and Goofy feel about this.

The TRT had qualms about removing Pooh altogether ... initially considered scissoring the scenes showing Piglet, but abandoned the idea because the small pink-skinned character, one of Winnie the Pooh's closest friends, appeared too often, Cumhuriyet and the mass-circulation Sabah newspaper said.

Well, when in doubt, just cut the whole thing - at least, that's what I learned in my Censorship 101 class. You can never be too vigilant against those deceivingly innocuous & insidious children's fictional characters. Such cases of swinophobia are not unique, as evidenced this past year in Britain:

Novelty pig calendars and toys have been banned from a council office — in case they offend Muslim staff. Workers in the benefits department at Dudley Council, West Midlands, were told to remove or cover up all pig-related items, including toys, porcelain figures, calendars and even a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet ... Councillor Mahbubur Rahman, a practising Muslim, backed the ban. He said: “It’s a tolerance of people’s beliefs.”

Tolerance? Hmmmmm ... not the word I would have used. What's next: will the Powder Puff girls have to wear burkas? Will the Velveteen Rabbit have to grow a beard? I wonder ~ if I were an intelligent sentient Muslim, how would I feel about the media taking such great pains to "protect" my sensibilities. I'd like to think that I would resent any assumption that I am unable to think rationally and make my own decisions, or that I would want to eat a haraam cartoon animal. If I want to watch Winnie the Pooh cartoons, surely that's my business. I mean, the world's Jewish population seems to be doing just fine.

As far as I'm concerned, censoring Piglet should be automatic grounds for not allowing Turkey to join the European Union.

That'll do pig.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Other Cats of Rabat

For an unabashed and rather enthusiastic cat person, Rabat is a difficult city to live in. The gazillion cats who wander the street and alleys, nap under & on cars, hang out in the Andalucian gardens of the Kasbah des Oudaïas, and patrol the butchers, fishmongers and poulterers in the medina, pretty much break my heart on a daily basis and that is no mean feat. I am a bit of a tough cookie. These feral Rabatians come in every size, shape and colour, with a variety of bits missing: appendages, eyes and ears, and I daresay, the odd tail. How they survive is beyond me, and of course, many of them don't. Every few months, a new batch of kittens greets the world (preceded a few weeks earlier by the midnight concert of cats in heat), only to disappear a few weeks later. This nocturnal round-up is distressing and macabre.

As a cat person, I want, if not to adopt them all, at least neuter them all. Alas, my salary will not allow for it so instead, I am on the fast track to becoming one of those dotty not-so-old biddies (they even have a support group) who carry cat food with me - cat food, I would add, that comes in a peel-back-the-foil container. Batty but resourceful - because using a can-opener would be crazy. So when I see an especially scrawny & pathetic cat, I plop a tin of giblets on the pavement. I don't care who sees me. Fuck 'em. Let them look.

I know that cats are kept as pets here; the very existence of prepared cat food and kitty litter confirms it. I suspect though that most housecats are kept indoors as I seldom see them out & about. Instead, I see people promenading with their dogs. The breed most favoured in Rabat is the little yappy beribboned froo-froo lapdog that looks like it should be a Kleenex dispenser. I'm certain that my grandmother had one on her toilet tank. But I digress.

Islam allows for the keeping of pets which gives it a point in my books. I must however rescind the point for the fact it is necessary for it to even address the issue. I was compelled to further deduct another point (attention dog lovers) after I came across this little gem from the Islamic Invitation Centre:

Q: Does Islam allow dogs as pets?

A: It is forbidden (haraam) to keep a dog unless it is for the purposes for which Islam permits keeping dogs. Whoever keeps a dog except a dog for hunting or farming, his reward will decrease each day by one or two qeeraats.

The word qeeraat refers to a large amount of reward; if a person’s reward decreases by one qeeraat, that means that he is sinning, for losing reward is like earning sin, both indicate that something is haraam because of the consequences it leads to. The impurity of dogs is the greatest of animal impurities (I might have guessed that the rat would be high up there ~ CinR). The impurity of a dog can only be removed by washing seven times, one of which should be with earth (that makes for a clean bath ~ CinR). Even pigs, which the Qur’aan states are haraam and describes as an abomination are not impure to such an extent.

Wow, I guess all of the shitzhu-owners I see about town but go through shower gel and mud like there's no tomorrow. But apart from dogs, we have:

Q: Does Islam allow other pets?

A: Yes, apart from pigs (duhhhh ~ CinR).

Well that's good. In fact, I do recall that cats are imbued with a sort of special animal status, historically protected and respected. There is an oft-told legend that Mohammed's cat Muezza had fallen asleep on the sleeve of his robe and instead of waking up the sleeping cat when he had to leave, the Prophet cut off the sleeve. Well who wouldn't? Cats get mighty pissy when disturbed.

So when I see an act of charity performed for a cat, I am moved. I often head up to the gardens of the
Kasbah des Oudaïas to watch the cats get fed and watered. I have yet to find out if the man who services this tribe of cats does so as an act of goodwill or is employed to do so. I would be content with either answer. Last week when I was in the medina, I watched as the human equivalent to a scruffy one-eyed cat spread out a feast of french fries (that I suspect he can ill afford to share) for about two dozen eager-looking cats. Undoubtedly the cats of the medina fare better than their more urban counterparts. They are better fed and have more meat on their bones. But this is not to suggest that the more citified cat has no champion: the other day, outside the marché municipale, a tub of prawn shells was tossed onto the pavement for a handful of awaiting cats. I suspect this is not a one-time event. Happily, my tins of cat food were relegated to another day.

So why all the metaphorically spilled ink on
Rabat's cats? - because when I saw that a new cat reality show would be hitting the airways in the U.S., bile rose in my throat. I was livid. I saw red. I was pissed.

Ten cats in search of owners will spend the next 10 days in a New York store window, their every move caught on camera for a reality TV show on which they will compete for best sleeper and mouse-catcher.The show is the creation of a petfood company and will be shown on cable channel Animal Planet, as well as on the Web site www.MeowMixHouse.com where viewers will be asked to vote off one feline contestant each day.

Cat in Rabat shakes her head in bewilderment. Thinking of the thousands of feral cats in Rabat that routinely starve or get "picked up", never to return, I mourn a world that anthropomorphizes its animals while forgetting or neglecting their basic needs. Globally, there are some 600 million cats, and a similar number of dogs, of which an estimated 80% are strays or unwanted. Perhaps the cat food company would better serve the feline community by using its investment dollars to spay and neuter strays, rather than flogging more cat food.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Best Delay

"Your reclaim will be proceed in the best delay ..."

...... such was the reassuring message that I received from the Royal Air Maroc website today when I updated my address for their files. Apart from the glaring grammatical mistakes, I was a tad bewildered by the "best delay". Is there such a thing as the "worst delay"? "Mediocre delay"? "Fair-to-middling delay"? Being a pretty impatient person, I can safely say that there is no such thing as a "best delay" in Cat in Rabat world; any and all delays irritate me beyond reason. While puzzling over the semantics of "the best delay" (a not too distant cousin to the "good penalty" & the "necessary evil"), I cannot but ask myself why Morocco's national airline can't hire someone who passed a level beyond Elementary English to translate their site? Not only would it be a good investment but it would prevent people like me from taking potshots at it. That alone should be an incentive for them.

Now, why was I updating my particulars for RAM?

Well, back in July as I was preparing to leave Canada, I thought it a prudent thing to acquire a Royal Air Maroc flyer card. True, I had never flown RAM and, truer still, I have yet to fly with them - but it seemed a good idea at the time. And truth be told, sometimes it's nice to receive a piece of mail that doesn't include a "payment due" date on it. From the accompanying letter I received, I can see that my card was processed on April 24th 2006, while I actually received it last week. So it's pretty safe to say that it took 11 months for a piece of plastic to be issued and mailed to me. And for once it's not Poste Maroc's fault. Not entirely.

"With nearly 50 years of experience, Royal Air Maroc has built its reputation on the professionalism and competency of the Company staff".

Now that I actually possess a RAM ticket (purchased 2 months before receiving my points-dispensing card), I am feeling less than confident about their "professionalism" and "competency". If it takes a year to mail out a loyalty card, how long will the flight be? Perhaps I should have checked out the flight plan - is the flight to Montreal via Jakarta or Mumbai - before booking? Or worse still, how long will I be sitting in the boarding area, or on the tarmac? Should I bring extra batteries for my mP3 player? Gads, this is shades of SudanAir (a.k.a. In sh'allah Air) all over again. I can only hope that Allah wills my flight home in as swift a manner as possible, with only the "best delay". Because you know, if I'm on that flight, there will be a delay.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Close But No Cigar

Imagine my surprise when, walking down Follow the Leader the other day, I came across a brand spanking new set of traffic lights across from the mosque. At least, I think they’re a brand spanking new set of traffic lights. Judging from the fact that I watched several cars plough right through the red light and half a dozen more screech to an eardrum-piercing halt (all within 20 minutes), I'm pretty certain they're new.

There is a dearth of traffic lights on Follow the Leader, so I, for one, applauded the new light. Notice the tense I used? Intrigued? You see, my applause was abruptly arrested (imagine me stranding on FTL clapping with one hand) when I realised that the city must have hired recent graduates from the What-the-Fuck-Were-They-Thinking Institute of Engineering as civic planners. Why? Well, imagine you are walking northbound on FTD and wish to cross over to the mosque-side of the street. Perhaps you’ve espied your favourite beggar & you’re feeling generous, or maybe you just want to avoid the cretins who hang out at the park on the corner of FTL and Rue Baht. Or, I don’t know, perchance the sidewalk with the missing tiles and exposed rebar and wires is deterring you for some reason. Either way, you want to cross. First of all, remember that in Rabat, traffic lights are normally positioned about 3 meters away from any corner and because there is a marked absence of pedestrian crossing lights, as a biped, you cannot see what colour the light is. In other words, you have to rely on whether traffic is moving or beeping to gauge traffic flow. Okay, standing on the corner, you realise that the light must be red (allowing for the ignorami who haven’t clued into the humongous piece of flashing metal suspended over the street and drive on through).

Feeling rather confident, you foolishly cross.

Ahhhh, nothing is easy in Rabat and there is a problem. Imagine! The problem is that the oncoming southbound cars are not yielding to you. No, in fact, they’re honking their horns in exasperation (or glee) because they will be forced to hit you. If they are to hit you, it is Allah’s will which makes them instruments of god (hence the glee). Halfway through the intersection, you realise that those bearing down on you have a green light and you must run for your life. Scurrying across the street you look back and, yes, the northbound drivers are still waiting impatiently for their light to turn from red. Half the street is standing, half the street is moving.

Jesus H. Christ, it’s bad enough that crossing a street here makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from The Fast & The Furious, but installing a traffic light that taunts you with its façade of safety and, dare I say, civilisation, is just plain cruel. And mean. And dangerous. To think that I used to get annoyed when, back home, lights within several city blocks weren’t synchronized – now I have to contend with the same set of freaking lights. Serves me right for being a princess. So yeaaaaaaaaah! to the city for installing a much-needed traffic light but booooooooo! to the retards who skipped the class on traffic light synchronization. Hope they didn’t ditch elevator class too.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Pot, Kettle. Kettle, Pot.

Back in 70's, my father stuck a bright red poster up on our fridge for my mother in honour of the International Year of Women (1975). That poster stayed there for quite some time, only to be replaced by a Hang in There Baby poster; it was less politically charged but pleased our Siamese cat a great deal. My mother was a pretty cool role model for my girlfriends and me: she was a working mother who juggled her many roles every day, somehow managing to keep all of her balls in the air. She also successfully brought a sexual discrimination complaint against her employers and after she won, she told them to sod off and she left for greener pastures. It was the closest I came to having Mary Tyler Moore as a mother.

So, some 30 years later, it aggrieves me to come across this article in the Morocco Times. Yes, I know that polls mean nothing - that pollsters can pretty much obtain any result they want, but even if the results are inaccurate, this publication of this survey lends it legitimacy. Among 8,000 Muslim women who were surveyed from the Middle East

The majority ... including Moroccans, regard western culture as morally corrupt and obsessed with sex and drugs.

Yikes! Among their complaints is the way women are treated in the west and (they) dislike the sexual "promiscuity, pornography and public indecency." I find this statement particularly curious since I have only experienced sexual harrassment while travelling through Islamic countries. Of course, any unwanted attention I receive is my fault because my culture and I invite it. I first came in contact with such harrassment to lesser degree in Egypt & Sudan - but deal with it daily in Morocco. This in spite of the fact that if I wanted to dress any more conservatively, I'd be wearing a kaftan & headscarf. Truth be told, when I read that Muslim women resent "the disrespect of women by men" in the West, I want to spit. Spit long and hard. It seems to me that the tarring of western values as immoral is just as dangerous, obscene and unjust as painting Islam as violent and oppressive, as portraying Muslim women as victims.

So what are these women concerned with?

Inequality between sexes did not seem to be among their worries. Only 2% of women in Egypt and Morocco said it was a problem. Their main concerns were, according to the poll, the right to vote, work outside the home and hold high ranking government positions.

Personally, I cannot imagine a world in which the right to vote and work is not predicated on equality with bearers of the y-chromosome. In my facile little worldview, I thought they went hand in hand, otherwise, all we're doing in the workplace is making coffee and ordering flowers for the wife and/or mistress. The women surveyed admired their society's adherence to Islamic values, pointing out that ‘Sharia' (Islamic law) should be the source of political legislation. Wow, can't wait to see honour killing codified.

If advances in the rights of women are to be developed and ratified within the context of Sharia, then Muslim feminists have their work cut out for them. I wish them all the luck in the world. In the meantime, perhaps our respective pots & kettles can keep their comments to themselves.

Friday, June 9, 2006

You Must Have the Couscous ...

It's Friday, and restaurants and homes countrywide are serving up plates of couscous ... a meal that in the collective unconscious of Moroccans is greater than the sum of its parts. If Morocco were a meal, it would be couscous. Now, I am not a huge couscous fan. Even in my meat-eating days, I found the appeal of couscous mindboggling; it is, after all, just steamed semolina grains topped with shanks of meat, chickpeas and root vegetables. The meat is invariably a cheap gnarled cut while the vegetables are cooked to the consistency of pap. Haute cuisine, it isn't. It is mush served on a bed of mush.

Travel anywhere in Morocco and you will be asked whether or not you have tried couscous. You will then be asked if you were not completely blown away with the overall quality of Moroccan cuisine. Regardless of your answer, you will be admonished to try the couscous, to try the tajine (the Miss Congeniality in this Mahgrebian Pillsbury Bake-off). Only the incredibly insensitive or crass visitor (like myself) will admit a distaste for either dish. Generally my comments are ignored, which confirms in my mind that no one is really interested in what I have to say, and that I am nothing but an opportunity to promote Morocco's touristic & culinary delights. Ooohh look, there's a tourist! Don't forget to mention the couscous! Wherever I go, I am admonished to return quickly because X's mother/wife/sister will make a "traditional" couscous. It matters little that I have said that I don't like it, or that I am a vegetarian - you must have the couscous.

I have only had one plate of couscous since I moved to Rabat last fall - it so happened that couscous à sept legumes (the vegetarian version) was the only item on the menu that I could, in good conscience, eat. Aside from dessert. I normally eschew this dish because it truly is not vegetarian: the couscous is steamed in meat broth. But I was with my mother and wanted to be a good little doobie while I was showing her the delights of Rabat so I essentially paid for the pleasure of pushing turnip and cabbage about my plate for 80 dirhams. It was tasteless. I should have listened to my gut and just ordered dessert.

Now it is easy for me to point a disparaging paw, because I cannot think of The Great Canadian Dish and therefore cannot open myself up to more than my usual amount of criticism. Although a few regional dishes come to mind, I am stymied to come up with one dish that encapsulates the Canadian identity or around which my homeland rallies in times of war, jubilation or Friday lunch. Does beer count?

I wonder if there is a secret underground of Moroccans who dislike couscous - I did manage to ferret out a few who admitted to disliking lamb - this after Morocco sacrificed some 6 million sheep at Eid el Kebir last winter (not that it stopped these few from slicing a fluffy throat or two). I'm sure they're out there but they'll never admit to it. It is a thought crime. Perhaps they don't even know that they don't like it, these closet couscous-haters. For truly, disliking couscous is tantamount to committing treason. Admitting it - out loud - is folly. Posting a blog about it - on Couscous Friday, of all days- will consign one (me) to the fires of hell. My father once said that he wouldn't mind going to hell because the company there would be infinitely preferable to that in heaven. I agree. I suspect that the food there is better too.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

The 9 Lives of Cat in Rabat: Life the First

It was only a matter of time: I finally had my first accident this weekend. As I broke the news to my brother, his initial reaction was, "did a taxi finally hit you?" Amazingly enough, I have yet to be clipped by a cab, or a car for that matter; he seemed oddly disappointed. In short, I cracked open my head.

Injuries to the head can be caused by traffic accidents, sports injuries, falls, workplace accidents, assaults, or bullets.

Assaults! Bullets! Such drama ..... but my accident was self-induced and involved the insalubrious meeting of my head with the very sharp corner of a marble table. If it sounds lame, it's because it was; in fact, I was sorely tempted to embellish the details, introducing a pack of thugs, a crowbar, and a rottweiler (the dog was just for effect - I haven't actually seen a rottweiler in Rabat yet). Alas, it is what it is: I hit my head on the kitchen table. A complete spaz by nature, I am wont to injure myself with sharp and blunt objects. Stairs yield a special challenge to me.

(Note to reader: I am the first person to concede that this isn't a terribly interesting subject matter for a blog, but for now we'll chock it up to my post-traumatic brain injury).

So, head met table and bloody mayhem ensued. Much blood. Much mayhem. Head wounds produce an inordinate amount of blood - I knew this, but I wasn't thinking terribly straight. - it may have been the blood coursing down my face. My kitchen looked like the-discovery-of-the-body scene in any Law & Order episode. There was blood on the walls, blood on the fridge, blood on the table, blood on me. My clothes were drenched. My head sprayed blood along the hallway, as I ran down to fetch the towels.

Head wounds must be treated with particular care, since there is
always the possibility of brain

I ran to the bathroom and grabbed towels - all of which I have since thrown away. I feared the reaction of the attendant at the laundromat. One look at my towels and she would have called the police. I wrapped my head in a towel, made a perfunctory attempt at sopping up blood and laid down. I was feeling a bit weak - possible because 2 pints of my blood had just been scattered throughout the apartment. It has been suggested that I should have gone to the hospital - contact Rabat's 911 equivalent - or grab a taxi. It didn't really occur to me. One thinks rationally when other people are injured and are dismissive (at least I am) when it's oneself. I could have called my supervisor, Mr. N., who severely chastised me after the fact for not doing so. I kept thinking of his brand new car and how my head would have stained the upholstery and irreparably adulterated that "new car" smell. He later assured me that he would have wrapped my head up in a big plastic bag first. I was touched. Nonetheless, I have seen the insides of one of Rabat's hospitals. It seemed to me, even in my irrational state, that there was less chance of contracting a staff infection in my own home than in the hospital.

After a head injury, there may be a period of impaired consciousness followed by a period of confusion and impaired memory with disorientation and a breakdown in the ability to store and retrieve new information.

So, in the spirit of "impaired consciousness", words like "skull fracture", "intracranial hemorrhaging", "blood clotting", "concussion, "permanent brain damage" held no particular meaning for me; instead, I went to sleep. I have since learned that going to sleep was the one activity I should never have engaged in. Had I had a concussion, the results could have been disastrous. Oh well, live and learn. Woke up the next morning with a bloodsoaked towel around my head, a bloody pillow and sheets, and little memory of what happened.

As the patient recovers, memory slowly returns. Post-traumatic amnesia refers to loss of memory for events during and after the accident.

When I walked into the kitchen & saw the blood that I had missed cleaning up the night before, I checked the apartment for another body. In a somewhat confused state, I sat down & tried to piece the events together. Then I went to the bathroom and tried to piece my cranium back together - which is a bit of an exaggeration since the congealed blood seemed to be holding my scalp in place. Did I require stitches? Probably. Did I eventually go to the hospital or to a doctor? Nope. Thanks to the unique child-raising efforts of my parents, I abhor doctors and only visit them when a limb goes astray; rather, I attempted to wash the dried blood out of my hair but gave up when tears of pain impeded my vision; instead, I squeezed an antibiotic ointment into the continental divide traversing my head. By the next day, I could finally see the 4 inch gash. Frankly, it was better when I couldn't see it.

It's been 5 days now, and I think I'm healing rather well. In fact, I was able to wash my hair this morning without having to quell a rolling wave of nausea: a good sign!

Recovery from a severe head injury can be very slow, and it may take five years or longer to heal completely.

I add this last comment to explain away any dull postings that may pop up in the next few weeks. If I've lost my spark, we'll blame the kitchen table. By way of compensation, I do hope that I'll have a fabulous scar to show for all of this - if it's as jaggedy and sinister as I think it will be, I'll add a couple of bolts to the side of my neck to complete the effect.

One life down, eight to go!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Portrait of a King

The other day, as I approached Agdal's main drag, I couldn't help but see a gentleman standing in the middle of the road. This in and of itself is not abnormal: people stand in the middle of the road all time here - it's how we cross a street. I should add though that he was wearing a bright red construction hat. For a moment I thought that there might be construction going on and he was directing traffic, but no - on closer inspection, his "hard" hat would have broken every safety violation known to mankind (it actually looked like a kid's Tonka plaything) and - wait - what's he holding? - a photograph. Ahhhh, I now see that he's standing in the middle of Follow the Leader, wearing a bright red children's play hat and he's holding up a framed photo of the king like he was Norma Rae. Curious, no?

So thought the taxi driver who had pulled over to give me a lift. I asked him what Bob Abdul the Builder was up to, and my driver had no clue. He added that Abdul the Builder's position, being kitty-corner to and in direct view of the police station on Al Atlas, suggested that he was a brick short of that celebrated load. But as my taxi sped away downtown, I couldn't get that image of Abdul the Builder holding the photograph of the Mohammed VI out of my head. Perhaps he was demonstrating. Perhaps he was begging. Perhaps he was nuts. Perhaps he was showing the world yet another awful photo of the king.

Before moving to Rabat last fall, Mr. Cat in Rabat & I had visited five years earlier, just weeks after Mohammed VI (M6) had been crowned. We couldn't help but notice the gazillion photos of the king which were tacked, taped and stapled to the walls of just about every establishment we entered, from hanoots to bus stations. Perhaps because of his age and youthfulness (he will probably look like a teenager when he's 80), images of the then wild & crazy bachelor king astride his jetski - a little trop, no? - were ubiquitous, earning him a few unpleasant sobriquets (majetski comes to mind). At least he wasn't wearing a Speedo. Now in his 40's, married and a father, his more recent photos hint at the grim dual realities of middle-age spread and a receding hairline. Okay - my point in all of this? - I am appalled that M6 not only takes such lousy photos (even those by his official photographers) but that they and the more candid (& horrifically bad) shots of him enjoy such widespread popularity. He takes crappy photos and they are everywhere. Everywhere. I'm sure he's a very nice man, a loving husband & a doting father, but photogenic he isn't.

He's been king now for almost 6 years and in every posed photograph he looks as stiff and uncomfortable as a 17 year old at his shotgun wedding. Looking slightly off-camera, he normally purses his lips or affects a smile that suggests that a nervous laugh is emitting from the royal mouth as the photographer cries cheese. It is not that I am without sympathy. I recoil from cameras. I will seldom allow my photo to be taken because I too suffer the lot of the unphotogenic. But, given enough money, even the most lens-cracking subject can find a competent enough airbrush artist photographer. So what gives M6? I live from paycheque to paycheque - what's your excuse?

I must confess that the candid ones make me howl. Sometimes he's walking into the wind with his face all scrunched up and his jacket flapping into the wind - it's not very attractive but I've seen dozens of these photos. Or, he's gussied up in religious garb so that he looks like a cross between the Pillsbury Doughboy and a woodland pixie. His administration should just ban cameras from any and all of his public engagements and, while they're at it, they can poke around for a new royal photographer. On the off chance that His Majesty deigns to take my advice, I'll have to act quickly & pick up one of his postcard-size photos before the good ones disappear. I could tape it to my wall. It seems like the thing to do. Next time I'm downtown, I'll stop by one of the sidewalk sellers and browse through his collection. If I can find one of M6 on his jetski then I'll buy it. Those have become rather scarce these days - perhaps, they are deemed undignified - although the two 3-meter high images of M6 which flank a flatscreen plasma TV in the new Goldstar store on Follow the Leader aren't particularly. I can't imagine finding larger-than-life effigies of Queen Elizabeth on display in electronics stores throughout London. Go figure.

In any case, I did see a jetski photo a few weeks back here in Agdal. If I need my M6-as-playboy fix, I know where to find it.