Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Pantheon Welcomes Another

Does it seem slightly skewed in a world where children are blown up by landmines and die of AIDS to mourn the passing of a 94-year old man? Perhaps, but I confess to reading of Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz's death today with profound sadness. Another personal god of mine has left this world to join my pantheon of much-loved & departed writers.

Children of Gebelawi (or Children of the Alley) (1959), one of Mahfouz's best known works, has been banned in Egypt for alleged blasphemy over its allegorical portrayal of God and the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity & Islam. In 1989, after the fatwa for apostasy against Salman Rushdie, a blind Egyptian theologian, Omar Abdul-Rahman (Osama Bin Laden's pal ~ CinR), told a journalist that if Mahfouz had been punished for writing this novel, Rushdie would not have dared publish his. Sheikh Omar has always maintained that this was not a fatwa, but in 1994 Islamic extremists, believing that it had been one, attempted to assassinate the 82-year-old novelist, stabbing him in the neck outside his Cairo home. He survived and lived afterward under constant bodyguard protection.

Mahfouz was the first Arab writer to receive the Noble laureate in Literature and, until today, was its oldest living recipient. A prolific writer (over 30 titles to his name), he wrote of stark poverty and ignorance, the place of the supernatural and spiritual in a traditional Muslim society, and the hopes and dreams of heroes and anti-heroes alike - set before the backdrop of Cairo's overcrowded alleys with their attendant sights and sounds and smells. *Sigh* At least he'll have good company among those literary gods who preceded him.

Pitching a Tent an Idea

Like most malcontents, my dream is to be independently wealthy, but until my ship comes in, I may turn to that oft maligned Ship of the Desert to jumpstart my millions ...

Is camel milk the Viagra of the desert? It appears so in the arid Indian state of Rajasthan, where thousands of men have been clamouring to get their hands on the milk after
an 88-year-old man who fathered a child several weeks ago attributed his virility to the drink, the Times of India newspaper reported Tuesday.

Wow - how simple! And how hard can it be to milk a camel?
Consider how auspicious the signs are:

) I love camels (second only to cats and just slightly ahead of donkeys),
2) I love the idea of ineffable wealth,
3) Morocco is chockful of men obsessed with their netherbits,
4) Morocco is
chockful of camels.

Really, it's a simple mathematical equation: camels + crotch-grabbing men = early retirement for me.
All I have to do is draft a business plan and present it to the broadminded & free-thinking folks at the Société Générale Morocaine de Banques. With less than 24 hours before my return to Morocco, I don't have too much time. But then again, if Paul McCartney can "receive" the melody for the most covered song in music history in a dream, with my razor-sharp business acumen, I should have few worries indeed. So instead of hiding my untouched Royal Air Maroc vegetarian dinner (a.k.a. the pea-a-palooza/mystery veg mélange) in my paper dinner napkin, I'll jot down (assuming I can bring my gel pen on board the plane) a few thoughts concerning:

1) Competitive Analysis
Well, there is no competition. I’d be #1. I’d be the Starbucks of camel milk but a whole lot less insidious and evil. And a small camel milk would be called "small", not "grande". See? - I'm less evil already.

2) Budget
How much can a few thousand camels cost? Over the years, Mr. Cat in Rabat has be
en offered hundreds upon hundreds of camels for me, and I have lots & lots of female friends & cousins so no, financing should not be a problem.

3) A Marketing Plan
Hmmmm … how do I bring together millions of Moroccan men eager to display their virility and an indigenous resource flowing with the milk of human hardness? - easy! I'll tell one solitary man in any given café on Follow the Leader and,
by nightfall, word will have spread throughout the city. The rest of the country will be lining up by week's end. Besides, it's not like I don't already see spent packages of Viagra littered on the streets of Rabat. Gosh, I have a built-in target demographic.

According to a very reliable source, Viagra was developed in Morocco - more than a coincidence? I think not! Yup, just pitch my plans and, with the help of Cat in Rabat's All Natural Virility Serum with 100% Camel Extracts, erectily-challenged Moroccan men will be pitching tents from desert to city to seacoast. And think of the filthy heaps of cash I'll rake in!

One vendor, Samran Singh, told the paper he now charges 40 rupees (eight cents US) a litre, up from 20 rupees (four cents) a few weeks ago.

Now I'm told (thanks Squindia) that 40 rupees is actually 80 US cents, so that's like ten whole dirhams a litre. In no time, my dear friends in Fez
will be selling me one of their jaw-droppingly gorgeous restored riads. In fact, I'll be so famous that they'll be giving a riad to me just for the free publicity. If prices of camel juice continue to rise, at this rate, one litre will soon fetch 20 dirhams! That’s like 1/4 of a cup of coffee! Did I mention that camels can produce 5 litres of milk a day? Ca-ching!

I am giddy with anticipation. I mean, if this isn't a sign From Above
I don't know what is; its timely appearance a reminder that my Aladdin's cave of camel milk & cash is awaiting my imminent return. But first I have to focus & pull up my sleeves; no doubt, competition will be soon become stiff - but with a little hard work, I should be able to rise to the occasion.

Addendum: I have just been advised by Squindia (and being in Bangalore, she should know these things) that

40 rupees is actually 80 US cents so you see, I'm richer already. I haven't even done anything yet! This just keeps getting bigger & bigger!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Dumping Grounds

They say that the true measure of any given society is how it treats its women, prisoners & animals. Having said that, if any of my dear readers aren't already regular voyeurs of The View from Fez, I strongly urge you to check out today's offering: Women Dumped in Morocco. I'm going to go sit in a corner now and quietly thank the Universe over & over & over again for the parents and husband it bequeathed me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Begging Your Pardon

I believe that if you seated the world's population in front of a Sony Flat Screen tv & gave each person their own remote control, they would quickly divide themselves into 2 groups: those who watch medical dramas & those who watch crime/law/prison programmes. In this completely insupportable & skewed theorem of mine, the medical-types denote the more optimistic feel-good sector of society, whereas the legal eagle wannabes represent smarmy vindictive snarks, hoping to show off their deductive skills or catch a glimpse of an old-fashioned prison rape scene. There's a doctoral thesis buried in there, mark my words.

I place myself in the latter group.

My zodiacal proclivities suggest that I should have gone into some aspect of law enforcement but alas, not satisfied with disappointing my parents, I chose to thumb my nose at the cosmos as well. Go big or go home. My first date with Mr. Cat in Rabat was a front row seat at the trial of one of Canada's most loathesome & notorious murderers. So it should come as no surprise that I'm hooked on crime & legal dramas; it dosn't matter that I know by heart every episode of Law & Order, I'm glued to the television set. Home for the last 3 weeks, I've discovered several new prison reality shows that will only serve to heighten my separation anxiety when I return to Morocco next week. *Sigh*

So it was with some interest that I noted that this week King Mohammed VI pardoned almost 900 inmates in honour of "King and People's Revolution Day".

Some 209 people will benefit from a pardon for the remaining period of their sentence. Twenty others benefited from a total pardon while 44 from an imprisonment pardon but their fines were maintained. Up to 16 prisoners condemned to life saw their sentences reduced to a limited prison term.

The remaining inmates received sentence reductions - sort of like winning a free lottery ticket for next week's draw when everyone else won the jackpot - or had their fines squashed. In fact, this month alone, a total of 1556 prisoners were on the receiving end of M6's largesse. Royal pardons are normally granted to prisoners to mark historical events, various celebrations and religious days. Last summer, 10,000 individuals received full or partial pardons on the anniversary of the return of M6's father's from exile and Independence Day, while over 7,000 inmates were pardoned on the occasion of his infant son's circumcision (finally, getting the short end of the stick pays off).

Personally, I wouldn't like to spend much time in a Moroccan prison. Although there are ongoing attempts to modernize prisons, they are an estimated 30-40% overcrowded (a more cynical person that I might suggest that M6's pardons are merely a mechanism to alleviate overcrowding), violent, diseased, and manned by corrupt staff. The sexual abuse of children as young as 12 has been documented, although, legally, no one less than 16 years of age should be in prison at all. Prisoners awaiting trial or serving their first offence are housed with seasoned offenders. Prisoners' only acess to food is that supplied to them by their families - after their families have bribed a phalanx of prison guards.

Besides the run-of-the-mill offences, you can be tossed into a Moroccan prison for a variety of creative reasons. Journalists can face a five-year prison sentence for press offences which include publications deemed prejudicial to Islam, the monarchy, territorial integrity or public order. The editor of the weekly paper 'Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ', was sentenced to 6 months in prison for 'defamation', i.e., for publishing an article detailing the alleged homosexual acts of a Moroccan Minister. In a country where Arabic-language bibles are prohibited, proselytizing (by non-Muslims) can land one in prison. Then of course, there are Morocco's political prisoners:

Amnesty International has other longstanding concerns in Morocco. Hundreds of Sahrawis and Moroccans who have "disappeared" after arrest are unaccounted for and are believed to be held in secret centres. Prolonged incommunicado detention and torture are still practised in Western Sahara.

Well at least this week, there are 877 shiny happy Moroccans (and their families) & I'd like to think that each & every one of them deserved their pardons. But it saddens me that I have yet to find any season of HBO's Oz in the medina. Maybe it's the full frontal male nudity, the somewhat salty language, or the almost commonplace scenes of graphic gay sexuality and violence - who knows? But I have seen complete sets of Full House and the A-Team, and if that's not obscene, I don't know what is.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Support Our Babouches

Having just returned from a junket to the US, where there is, I believe, an unofficial contest to see whose car can boast the most red, white & blue or yellow or pink magnetic ribbons bearing such pithy exhortations as:

*Support Our Troops Our Firefighters
*POW/MIA - You Are Not Forgotten
*Keep Daddy/Mommy/My Son/My Daughter Safe
*911 Never Forget
*Freedom Isn't Free
*Autism Awareness (whose bespeckled multi-coloured ribbon I erroneously assumed was Support Our Smarties)

... I was struck (as always) with the unbelievable cheapness of food, alcoholic beverages, clothes, and more importantly, footwear in that country. Indeed, Mr. Cat in Rabat & I bagged 4 pairs of shoes for under $35.00 which, for me, is a personal best.

I like shoes.

At the risk of self-stylizing myself as the Imelda Marcos of Morocco, I will confess that I have more than my fair share of shoes ferretted away in my closet & under my bed. But to be fair, the vast majority of my footwear is a variation on a theme: the undervalued and oft-maligned flip-flop, my footwear of choice since rather excuciating painful foot surgery last summer, in spite of the fact that there is now no physical reason why I cannnot squeeze my pared down feet into a real pair of shoes. Except a psychological one. But that's another story.

And while I share my shoe fetish with a large-ish number of Moroccan women, the similarity ends there. Whereas I schlep around Rabat in my sequined flipflops, most Moroccan women walk the streets in one of two basic styles of foorwear: the babouche or the fuck-me shoe (FMS). The babouche is a soft leather (or silk or rattan) mule-like slipper available in a wide selection of colours, while the FMS is a tight pointy-toed shoe whose vertiginous heel is responsible for the majority of nose-bleeds, sprained ankles & conceptions in Morocco. One might assume that the babouche is favoured by the more conservative element of Moroccan women and the FMS by the converse - but this would be incorrect. Confirming yet again my belief that there is a deep-seated schizophrenia at play in Morocco's more urbane centres, kaftanned women can be seen in FMS's (albeit with a pair of socks) and bare-midriffed pretty young things often opt for a pair of flat mules. Go figure.

Both styles of shoe set my teeth on edge but it is the babouche which really drives me to distraction. This innocuous and seemingly sensible slipper brings out the worst in its wearer (and possibly in me). Why? - the babouche renders its wearer unable to walk without shuffling/scuffling his or her feet and scuffing up the sidewalk; indeed, he or she can be heard slap slap slapping at least a hundred meters away, and I find myself stopping dead in my tracks and shrieking (at least in my head) pick up your goddamn feet when you walk!

The more insightful reader will quickly understand that the benign little babouche has become my bête noir not because of its attendant foot-dragging but because it is incontestable proof that I have turned into my parents. When did this happen? And what's next? - will I begin stopping Rabatians at random to remind them to turn out the lights when they leave a room? Not to run with scissors? To wear clean underwear in case they get into an accident? Not to go outside with a wet head? Not to cross their eyes lest they stay that way?

O the horror.

This is clearly something I have to get over but between my mother's voice playing like a loop inside my head and the unnerving sh-sh-shuffling I hear everywhere I go, I frankly see little hope. It would serve me right if "Support Our Babouches" ribbons begin to appear on the trunks of Rabat's ubiquitous Citroëns and Fiats. Sigh.

Footnote: "Morocco will take part in the 39th MIDEC International Shoe Exhibition scheduled on Sept. 2-4 in Paris ... Morocco, which takes part since 1995 in the MIDEC, at a rate of two editions per year, exported in 2005 more than MAD 1.67 billion shoes towards its principal customers: France (40%), Spain (31%), Germany (13%) and Italy (9%)."

*Sigh* .... the slap-slap-slap heard around the world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pride & Prejudice Redux

(with apologies to Jane Austen)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single (or married) Moroccan man in possession of a pulse, must be in want of an American wife."

Within my inner circle of ex-pat friends, it is has been an ongoing joke ('joke' being the operative word) that Moroccan men, from childhood, are equipped with the most recent edition of the timeless & bestselling manual "How to Bag a Foreign Visa". From the government's perspective, it behoves every red-blooded Moroccan male (and to a lesser degree female, because unlike her male counterpart, she must marry a Muslim or a convert to Islam) to score said visa. As an MRE (Moroccan Living Abroad), he will become one of many like-minded matrimonial & work-visa jackpot winners who divert rivers of hard currency (over 2 billion Euros last year alone) back into Morocco every year. From the community's perspective (and our bachelor's), he can get the hell out of Dodge (leaving behind a life of hardship, real or perceived) where the grass is always greener.

Now, this Manual (akin to the guidebook that mothers the world-over possess, replete with axioms like 'don't come running to me when you break your legs') pretty much covers everything that the Moroccan male needs to know in order to secure himself a western visa bride. "How to Bag a Foreign Visa" is the great democratizer in what is a class-conscious country; even the lowliest of the low can win the jackpot if he follows the Manual carefully. But if our bachelor is bereft of any redeeming physical qualities, failed in Charm School, and is having difficulties in scoring, he can always resort to the recently-added chapter "How to Bag an Old Bag" and aim for someone a little longer in the tooth. Alas, advanced age is neither an impediment to love nor a harbinger of wisdom. I am sorry dumbfounded to say that I have played recent witness to such victories against two university-educated female colleagues whom one would otherwise deem intelligent, sentient and not-unattractive. Neither of the men in question has high school diplomas and is a minimum of 16 years his fiancée's junior. Ain't love grand? When such engagements become official, I can't help but see in my eye's mind, our victorious bachelor hollering a kick-ass whoop and pumping the air with his fist, all the while making a mental note to pass on his Holy-Grail of a Manual to his younger brother.

Bagging a bride visa is a highly complex waltz of seduction (usually) aimed at women of low self-esteem, carefully choreographed to ensure that she feels like she's in control and that her western feminist sensibilities are not being compromised. The Manual is a thing of cunning genius. It includes detailed chapters instructing our bachelors:

1) how to identify their prey (women of a "certain age" or low self-esteem are the most vulnerable)
2) how to attract them ("you are so beautiful, you make me crazy ...")
3) how to lure them in, and ("I've never met anyone like you, you are so different from Moroccan women, I want to start a family with you")
4) how to keep them dangling on the line (usually effected by not returning telephone calls & text messages for a week or so)
4) how to reel them in ("well, I never thought of leaving Morocco but if you really want to return to the States ...")

... and includes several appendices of handy tips, time-tested pick-up lines, and testimonials. Now although success is not guaranteed on the first foray, with time, perserverance, luck, and strict adherence to the Manual, our bachelor may yet strike gold. There is a sense of "if at first you don't succeed", and our bachelors are nothing if not single-minded and they all have a neighbour, cousin or friend-of-a-friend who bagged himself a bride visa.

Now what got me thinking of this? It seems that in Kansas City,

A Moroccan couple has pleaded guilty to entering into sham marriages with Moroccan citizens in an attempt to gain permanent resident status in the United States, according to a media report ... In their plea agreements, Mohamed Elouerrassi, 54, Gourche, 52, and their 24-year-old daughter admitted that their marriages were fraudulent and that they lied when they claimed to be living with their spouses. They could get five years in federal prison when they are sentenced, and could also be deported.

Tsk-tsk ... even our hallowed avatar of Islam, Ask-the-Iman raises an eyebrow at such practices: "A fake marriage is deception and lies which is expressly prohibited by Shari'ah (and Allah Ta'ala knows best, Mufti Ebrahim Desai"). Although not expressly referred to on his website, I'm certain that he would espouse usage of the Manual.

Surely this could have been avoided if they had just stuck to the Manual. I can only hope that these 3 Moroccans will serve as a cautionary tale to their visa-hunting compatriots back home who may, in a fit of inflated hubris, seek to forego the Manual and attempt to alter history with their own hands.

Note: "How to Bag a Foreign Visa" is not sold in stores.

The Silence of the Lambs

(with apologies to Hannibal Lecter)

... still on hiatus, still in denial about having to soon leave the land of courteous motorists, dvd-rentals, poppyseed bagels & non-abrasive toilet paper, still hoping that I can bag a jackpot on this weekend's lottery but have just realised that I can avoid one of Islam's great shames - the ritual & mindnumbingly wasteful slaughter of gazillions of sheep (over 6 million killed last January in Morocco alone) -this winter. And when I say avoid, I mean not be there. That almost (repeat: almost; nope, repeat it again: almost) makes me want to go back. Or at the very least, it takes the sting out. Or more accurately, it takes one of the stings out.

Yes, just moments ago, Mr. Cat in Rabat sent me the dates for Ramadan 2006 because like any sentient ex-pat living in Morocco, we must make cunning plans for our liquor haul & consumption. An alumna from the School of Once Bitten Twice Shy, I will not, will not, will not repeat last year's mistake of "hoarding" 1 feeble bottle of Rosé and half a dozen beer for the entire month. What in god's name had I been thinking? Besides, this time I will have Mr. Cat in Rabat with me, whose beer consumption alone rivals his capacity to inhale oxygen. So having just been apprised that Ramadan will be over by the 3rd week of October, the tiny hamster-generated apparatus in my head started a-whirrrrring & I have calculated that Eid El Kebir (or Eid ul-Adha as its more commonly referred to in Morocco, or The Day of Reckoning as it's more commonly referred to by our ovine friends) will fall around New Year's. O joy! O bliss!

Now, why do I care? - or more importantly, why should you care? Indeed, why is this snippet of calendrical prognostication even blogworthy?

For no other reason than you, dear reader, will likely be spared another diatribe in the same vein as last year's general freak-out when a sheep was butchered beneath my bedroom window. Since this year's Silence of the Lambs will coincide with the Christmas holidays (aka, the Silence of the Turkeys), I will have hied myself to a sheep-friendly country where I won't have to listen to the screams of frenzied lambs, smell the roasting of their skulls & offal, or watch pairs of gruesome itinerant butchers, clad in bloodied aprons and rubber boots, walk the deserted streets of Rabat brandishing their knives. If I thought that I wouldn't spill my coffee, I'd tippy-tap a happy dance.

In fact, in honour of "avoiding" this year's Silence of the Lambs Eid El Kebir, I might even celebrate with a light supper of fava beans and a nice Chianti.