Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Party like it's 1427!

Ooooooooh, will the new moon be seen? After a week of cloud, rain & fog, I chewed my nails down to the quick trying to predict the day of Muharram, the Islamic New Year's - soley because it meant a midweek holiday for me. A movable date, based on (what else?) the lunar calendar, it had to be called in Morocco by Tuesday night at the latest to conform with the prescribed number of days in the Islamic month. Confused? - don't be. Nonetheless no moon was sighted on Sunday .... ahhh, the suspense!!! I could just picture our jetskiing King Mohammed VI wearing out the palatial Berber carpets as he runs from window to window looking for the elusive moon. But last night, the moon miraculously made its appearance signalling not 6 more weeks of winter but Day 1 of the Islamic year 1427. I can only hope that the "ringing in" of the new year (or more accurately, the sighting of the new moon) will not be accompanied by the wholesale slaughter of ruminants. Thus far, my grass-chomping friends seem to have gotten off lightly as the only buying frenzy that I perceived in our neighbourhood grocery store was for chocolate and potato chips.

So will 1427 be a stellar year for Muslims in Morocco, and world-wide? Was it a crackerjack year for the infidel world when 1427 C.E. (or A.D. for the politically incorrect) rolled by 579 years ago? Let's see.

1427 saw:

* The first witch hunts begin in Switzerland
* English cardinal Henry Beaufort is ordered by the Pope to campaign against heretical Hussites in Germany (Beaufort ultimately fled in the face of battle)
* Thomas á Kempis' Imitation of Christ hits the best seller's list
* The Celestine Order is established in France
* In their rapacious quest for world supremacy, the Portuguese reach the Azores
* Bremen is turfed from the Hanseatic League (not even its instrument-touting animals could help)
* Hundreds of gypsies arrive at the gates of Paris & are summarily sent packing
* Writer Qu You dies (surely you read any one of his 40-volume series The Record of Jiandeng?)
* Lincoln College (at Oxford) is founded

Hmmmmm ... not the best of years. Perhaps it will be a better year for Islam. Perhaps I will actually believe King Mohammed VI when he admonished Moroccans to "uphold the noble ideals of Islam, that go hand in hand with the universal values, through advocating peace, moderation, openness, and decrying extremism, ostracism and terrorism". A new year is about nothing if not hope. Happy Muharram.

Monday, January 30, 2006

It's a Dog's Life Year

Happy Chinese New Year from the country who eats Spot & wears its fur ... yes, it's the Year of the Dog, or year 4703 for those who are counting. Hopefully that doesn't mean that our four-footed friends will appear on menus around the country. People born under the sign of the dog are considered great humanitarians - perhaps under the influence of their eponymous Canine gamma-rays, they'll rise to the challenge in the People's Republic and do something about China's egregious human rights and animal welfare abuses (see "Bear Milking" below 21/01/06) and make it a happy new year for some lucky dog.

Fundamental Thoughts About Fundamentalism

This "open letter to Dr Laura" can readily be found on the internet but it bears to be posted and/or repeated (over and over again). Remember kids: fundamentalists come in all shapes & colours and don't all wear beards and turbans.

Dear Dr Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you however, regarding some of the specific laws and how best to follow them.
a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:&. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev. 15: 19 - 24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev 25: 44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

f) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

g) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev19:27. How should they die?

h) I know from Lev. 11:6 - 8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves.

i) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of threads (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24: 10 - 16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? Lev 20:14.

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.....

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Parking 101

The survivalist's attitude is to find joy wherever one can find it and run with it. What brings me the greatest joy in Morocco thusfar is watching parking attendants & their charges (i.e., Moroccans parking their cars) negotiate the curbs of this country. In a land of atrocious drivers, the epithet is further deservedly driven home by the fact that the art of parking has completely alluded them. I can only surmise that they were never formally taught it. Perhaps the lesson (if any) went something like this,

"Okay, when you want to park your car, look for a spot with a parking attendant. He wears a blue coat and hangs about on sidewalks playing dice with concierges and other attendants when not busy. Make your intention clear by stopping in mid-traffic and blasting your horn. He'll begin to gesticulate and wave his arms in irrational patterns in attempt to steer you into the space. Keep your eyes on the attendant if he is in front of you, your eyes open if he is out of sight; never waste your time on rearview or sideview mirrors. Chances are the latter have already been peeled off by another motorist. Don't worry if the space isn't big enough. Don't worry if you hit either car on either side of you as you ease into the spot. That's why Allah created bumpers. Don't worry if you scrape your axil or park half on the sidewalk; equally, it's fine if you park three feet away from the curb so the driver's door is halfway into a lane of traffic - the important thing is that your're almost done. Now you're in - Allah be praised! Don't forget to give the attendant a couple of dirhams for this stellar service. For a few extra dirhams, he will wash your vehicle."

This parking lesson has been unofficially taught to men and women, young and old alike. It is equally true for pulling into and backing out of a spot. No one but the foolhardy dares to parallel park. Any effort in parallel parking compells me to stop and watch, savouring every delicious moment. Often the problems associated with parking are exacerbated that the driver (in this case female) cannot see because when she turns her head she cannot see through the grill of her burka. Burkas are an unwise choice for drivers in Morocco.

Should I be ashamed that I find joy in watching a frantic parking attendant desperately try to assist a muddled driver trying to drive forwards out from a parking spot, on a deserted one way street, and that it took about 5 minutes to execute and a great deal of wheel turning? Nope. It was great fun.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Addendum to the 'Sheep's Tale'

The sheep's tale has a happier ending (a pyrrhic victory) and I offer this e-mail:

Hi all:
On a happier note to my previous rant I offer this tidbit:Preparing to "sacrifice" his sheep, a Casablanca man was "offed" by his ram on wednesday. Apparently the sheep had decided to take no prisoners and rammed (no pun) his horns into the knife wielder's stomach killing him in front of all to watch.

Revenge is mine saith the sheep!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hawking Chickens

Street vendors are a common site in Rabat - men wander the streets carrying socks, coats, sunglasses and anything & everything made out of plastic, stopping pedestrians and accosting café patrons. Today as I walked back from the grocery store, I saw a man in front of me carrying three chickens tied together at the feet, hanging upside down with surprising forebearance. Watching him, I assumed he was bringing dinner home from the medina; instead I gaped as he started to peddle the birds to people on the sidewalk. I passed him just as he began negotiations with a man at a street café. Morocco is Morocco, I thought to myself. There is a veneer of a cosmopolitan city here in Rabat, but it is just a veneer.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Bear Milking: Traditional Chinese Wisdom?

I was chatting with my brother on MSN the other day when he made a chance remark about bear-milking. I had been talking about my unwillingness to work in China because, among other reasons, its abuses against animal welfare is legion. So I take this opportunity to pull my soapbox out of the closet, blow the dust off, and climb on top:

In China, over 9,000 surgically-altered bears are kept in small metal cages (boxes really) and have metal tubes inserted twice daily so that their bile can be "milked". This distressing, inhumane & painful procedure is carried on in spite of the fact that there are synthetic substitutes available. The harvested bile is used for Chinese herbal teas and medicine. Please check out this page & its links. Don't forget to click on "Take Action" by which you can submit a letter of protest to your country's ambassador. "A three-year investigation by WSPA has proved that bear bile and bear gall bladders are being illegally sold at traditional Chinese medicine shops throughout the world."

Please think twice before you purchase anything smacking of traditional Chinese medicine. And if you have a teddy bear, give it a hug. Sympathetic magic is still magic.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Three Weird Sisters

On the way to work I saw three women sitting on the street, positioned strategically in front of a chi-chi home decorating store. One wore a kaftan of robin's egg blue, the other of yellow, the last orange. Even from a distance I knew them to be beggars. I briefly contemplated changing my path but decided to brave their supplications - never an easy thing to ignore. As I approached, they ceased their conversation and asked me in a mixture of Arabic & French for spare change. Morocco is a hard country for women but more so for those who resort to begging, so I dug into my purse and gave them each a coin. Their faces - all tattooed & wizzened with age and a lifetime of care - beamed with gratitude. As I continued on they fell in among themselves, continuing their chatter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Sheep's Tale

In keeping with my innate laziness and tendencies to procrastinate (I am my brother's sister), I offer this Gnu Year's Message (on January 17th for gawd's sake), shameless stolen from my e-mail of the same name:

Hi everyone,

I was about to prepare a belated New Year's greeting (our computers have been disengaged at work for a few weeks as the computer lab gets renovated) and the next thing I know, we have a few days off for Eid El Kebir: the big kahuna of Islamic holidays. So now, instead of my hopes & wishes to you all for a prosperous new year and repeated I-miss-you-all's (which I do), I must rant ....

So the country has been on holiday for 2 days as it slaughters sheep (commemorating the Abraham/Isaac story in which god allows Abe to kill a sheep rather than his son) in every backyard, beach front, balcony & terrace. In the Spanish enclave of Ceuta (in northern Morocco), where 6000 sheep were slaughtered yesterday, the animals originated primarily from northern Spain. Two farms served as collection points where families picked up their “sacrificial” animal. The cruelty starts during transport; with their legs tied up, the animals are transported in car trunks, in the back of station wagons, in wheelbarrows or on roof racks.

In Rabat, this "sacrifice" translates as keeping up with the Jones in the worst possible way as every family tries to outdo the next in the quality & number of sheep butchered in their backyards. Yesterday, many hawked their jewelry and tv sets on the street in order to buy a sheep rather than share one or buy a haunch. A cheap sheep costs about 1500 dirhams - to put this in perspective, our admin assistance earns 3000 dirhams a month. You can finance a sheep with no money down and pay it off over 2 years at 50 dirhams a month. , balconies & rooftops. Nonetheless, people have been scooping up sheep all week, keeping them in parking garages, on balconies and even in bathrooms. It's been disheartening to see and/or hear these animals bleeting in confusion and distress all week.

Some of the animals (about 20%) are slaughtered in the municipal slaughterhouse by trained personnel; approximately 30% of the animals are killed in mobile slaughterhouses, i.e., in tents with a water supply; but the majority is carried out by amateurs. Needless to say, I opted to stay inside yesterday to avoid the carnage although my building is 99% western (almost no Muslims) so I knew it wouldn't be too too bad. I'm also sick again so I was content to sleep in and hope that my cold medicine blocked out any sounds.

Around 10:30 I heard raised voices outside my bedroom window and thought it was coming from the Italian Consulate which is my backyard neighbour. Curiosity got the best of me so I looked out only to see our one Muslim tenant in the building overseeing an itinerant butcher kill a sheep in the car park just below my window. I looked just as they were flipping it on its side and sliced its throat. I couldn't turn away, and instead decided to honour this animal (yes, I know how flakey that sounds), and watched it as they (and their 3 kids) stepped away to allow it to bleed to death. It thrashed & kicked as blood poured out of its throat. Death was not instantaneous. I cried.

Transfixed, I watched as they finally strung the animal up, cut it open, disembowelled and defleeced it. I went inside and threw up.

My neighbour next door killed 2 in his backyard but I couldn't see anything. Could only hear the sheep scream. Around noon I went for a walk because I felt nauseaus and needed fresh air plus I figured that most of the sheep-killing was over. Which it mercifully was. What I didn't know is that on every street corner men congregate to burn the heads - huge bonfires raged and kids watched as men hooked skulls by the horns and toasted them. Once crispy, they smash the heads with a mallet and save the bits for some "tasty treat" made today. The smell of burnt hair & bone was cloyingly awful, not to mention sheep shit & blood. The streets were deserted except for the bonfire men and pairs of amateur butchers - what looked like father and son teams - who roamed the streets looking for work. The head of the household is supposed to kill the sheep but if he doesn't feel up to the task (or see the necessity to send it to a supervised abbatoir), he can hire these amateurs. It was eery to see these men wander the streets, wearing blood-drenched jellabahs and rubber boots, carrying bared and probably unsuitable butcher knives (which intensifies the pain and suffering of the animals due to repeated cuts). It looked like a scene from a science fiction or horror movie. Then I started to see men pushing handcarts loaded down with dripping sheep pelts matted with urine & feces, calling out as they walked an equivalent - I guess - of 'bring out your dead'. Lord knows what happens to their cargo. Behind closed doors women roasted the offal & viscera - today they cook the meat.

That was my day yesterday. Today, the country is still shut down: only the odd internet cafe (where I am now) & street cafe is open (the men have to do something while the women cook) so I have ventured out to vent my spleen. I apologise for the ranting but even if I were not a vegetarian, this has been a really tough 2 days. I am not trying to superimpose my beliefs on what is for most Muslims a sacred observance but I cannot but wonder if a happy medium cannot be found that lessens the suffering of the sheep and the sheer numbers killed as well as address hygeine issues. The sheep shit and blood has not been fully cleaned from beneath my window.

So that's it ... I suspect that this email has come across as terribly culturally insensitive and, believe it or not, that was not my intention. Turkeys don't have a swell time of it at Christmas & Thanksgiving nor pigs at Easter, and westerners have the double sin of slaughtering their dinners en masse while remaining painlessly as far removed from the killing of their source meat as possible. In other words, this email is not indicting any religion but one practice that I consider outdated, outmoded & cruel. I will now go home and drink myself into a stupour.

Happy New Year ....