Monday, May 29, 2006


Sometimes, a simple 'no' will suffice. Maybe even a 'thanks, but no thanks'. Or a 'thanks for asking'. An 'appreciate your efforts' is always nice. But, really, there's no need to overreact and start issuing fatwas:

"The High Council of Oulama has issued a fatwa affirming that women are not eligible to lead prayers, and have never been in charge of that mission throughout the history of Morocco ... The fatwa was issued on the request of the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs which demanded a clarification on the position of Islam concerning the issue of women's Imama (leading prayers).

This is is in reaction to a group of Morshidat (female preachers) who recently graduated and about whom there has been much media speculation. It has been suggested that these 50 women might assume more dynamic roles within Islam, something beyond their current mandate of organising discussions, lectures & lessons about "moderate" values (but not on Fridays), and being general resource people on religious issues. The ugly truth of it is that there has been a rumour running amok in Morocco that they might serve as imams in mosques! Imagine: women wishing to serve god & their communities as they wish. Oh the horror! The shame! The sacrilege! Next thing you know, they'll be asking for a paradise replete with 70 of their own perpetually youthful male houris.

Ahhh, but there is a very good reason for not allowing female imams. Like noisome children, women must be seen but not heard:

The council noted that assigning women this role would go against the general rules of prayer, explaining that Islam stipulate that women should perform their prayers silently, while the imam is supposed to pray loudly.

Now, I take umbrage with being told what I can and cannot do. Furthermore, it sets my teeth on edge to be told what to by a man. Needless to say, my teeth grind down to stubs when I am told what to do in the name of an ideology (which includes religion). I would have made a really lousy communist. In fact, I would have been the first to go during Purge #1. So I started wondering what other fatwas might be lurking out there in the dogmatic mists, when I chanced upon Ask-The-Imam, an "Islamic Q & A Online with Mufti Ebrahim Desai". This website is a self-stylized "Online Fatwa Resource", so off I went in pursuit of those nagging questions like,

Q: Is it permissible for a man to look at his wife’s private parts including below the navel and vice versa, during intimacy? I've heard one can become blind.
A: It is permissible but undesirable for the spouses’ to look at each other’s private parts during intimacy.

Q: Is it permissible for a woman to pluck her eyebrows?
A: If the eyebrows have become so dense that it is unseemly for a woman and incites abhorrence in her husband, it is permissible to trim it to a more appropriate and normal size.

Q: Are a husband and a wife allowed to talk during penetration?
A: It is Makrooh (odious) for the wife and husband to engage in any sought (sic) of discussions while having intercourse.

Q: Is it permissible for a woman to work. Not in times of difficulty but to teach a subject in school.
A: Allah ta’ala states, ‘And stay within your homes.’ (Ahzaab 33). Considering the above, if there is no necessity, it will not be permissible.

Q: Are husband and wife allowed to dance with each other alone in their room?
A: Dancing is prohibited.

Q: Is it haraam for women to wear a brassiere?
A: Women may were a brassiere. It is not Haraam. However, when (there) is the presence of any male besides the husband they should ensure that
the shape of their bodies is not exposed.

All answers are written or checked by Mufti Desai with a reminder to each response that Allah Knows Best. This website will provide your family & friends with hours & hours of enjoyment (the category on marriage is especially juicy), not so much for the answers but rather for the questions. It is as if a planet populated with naive and/or indoctrinated individuals, deprived of the faculty to think critically and to act independently were suddenly given an e-mail account & a laptop. Trivial Pursuit will gather dust on your shelves. For me, it was a reminder why I am an atheist.

Addendum: I hope this posting will dispell any rumours of my kidnapping and having been replaced by a kinder, gentler heavily sedated Cat in Rabat ... nor are there pods in the basement!

Friday, May 26, 2006

15 Things I Like About Rabat

It has been suggested (are you reading this Knarf in the City?) that, in my blog, I have espoused a decidedly negative attitude towards Morocco in general, and Rabat specifically. This was not my intention when I began this blog; rather, I was seeking a forum or a sounding board to vent my frustrations (as a Western catfish out of water) and to voice my, albeit, snarky observations. So, in an effort to offer a more balanced view, I decided to make a list of what I actually like about Rabat. There may be those among you who will be surprised to learn that there are things that I actually like about my adopted city. In random order, they are:

1) The Kasbah de Oudaias
Ahhh, the Kasbah. I confess that I was disappointed to see that both faux guides and henna whores have moved into the Kasbah, providing a less than salubrious addition to this oasis of tranquillity. Sitting precariously on the city’s edge peering over the Atlantic, this former fortified town is now home to Andalusian Gardens and a rat warren of white & blue homes (see Cat in Rabat’s photo above), many of which were built by Jews fleeing a re-Christianized Spain in the 16th century. The gardens are home to a gazillion well-fed cats, and if you time your visit right, you can watch the Cat Man feed and water them. Works for me.

2) Les Pains au Chocolate
Soft melty chocolate embedded in a warm flakey pastry. Oh yum! Moroccan pastries are the happy culinary bastard of France’s colonialism and the Moroccan penchant to not watch their waistlines. To be consumed in vast quantities with even vaster quantities of …

3) Coffee
France’s legacy at its finest. Whether you order a café crème or a café nuss-nuss (half & half), Moroccan coffee is so good that it is often almost possible to block out the Not Nice Men who are trying hard to grab your attention from a nearby table. Not Nice Men? – what Not Nice Men? …. Sluuuuuuuuurrp. A cup or glass of coffee will set you back anywhere between 5-10 dirhams. Many cafés offer a petite dejeuner, which, for around 15 dirhams, you can bag a coffee, a pastry of your choice, and a tall glass of freshly, squeezed orange juice. Fruit Loops pale in comparison.

4) The Petit taxis

In spite of the fact that taxis (i.e., their drivers) offer their own challenges (your safety being a prime example), they are cheap and (generally) efficient. A trip from my flat to the train station in Centre Ville costs about 7 dirhams (less than a buck). Most cabbies are rather garrulous and are not easily shaken by your lack of language skills. If you’re lucky, the driver will put on, at deafening volume, a copy of a copy of a copy of a Koranic tape, but if you’re really lucky, he’ll play nothing at all and not speak a word the entire trip.

5) Strawberries
Omigod: it’s amazing that I haven’t turned into a giant strawberry à la Veruca Salt (who turned into a giant blueberry). I cannot stop eating them (and at 50 cents a quart, you can see why). These freaks of nature are often bigger than walnuts but retain their juiciness and flavour. In fact, I would have to say that the fruits & vegetables found here are both delicious and unsettlingly cheap – how will I ever be able to pay more that 50 cents for a kilo of tomatoes again?

6) The Medina
I have an acquaintance who refuses to go to the medina alone. I used to find this puzzling because Rabat’s medina is, to say the least, benign and laidback, but then I just gave up trying to figure her out. The medina is home to everything (from girdles to live turtles – neither of which I have bought) at cutthroat prices. Generally, a specific item will arrive during any given week, and everyone will carry it. Merchandise comes in waves (like pirate ships do). The medina is comprised of various souks, so if you need fish, you go to the fish souk, fabric, the fabric souk, etc. You get the idea. There is a modest tourist souk that offers the usual items, including a few King Tut statues for the geographically-impaired tourist. The dealers are pretty low-key and once they get to know you, the hassle-o-meter drops as do the prices. It is a sad fact that I cannot walk past my jewellery guy without buying something, but this is one of the pitfalls of being a reincarnated magpie.

7) The Train
Moroccan trains are probably the best in all of Africa (bearing in mind that the bar is set pretty low) but I do like the ONCF rail system. Fares are frighteningly low and there are always several, if not many, trains a day to your destination. The trains are generally very clean (okay, I do travel 1st class a lot, but will do 2nd if push comes to shove) but I do try to ‘hold it in’ as long as possible and not use their toilets (memories of the Mount Vesuvius erupting toilet on the overnight train to Tangier still haunt my dreams). ONCF has a great website and I find that the personnel (both in the stations and on the trains) are exceedingly helpful. What can I say? – I like trains.

8) The Concierges
Most apartments have concierges who act as doormen and jacks-of-all-trades for the buildings. For a few dirham, my concierge pays my bills for me (well, I do give him the money), saving me hours of waiting in line (literally). If I need anything, he will do it. I rather like that. I wonder if he’d consider poisoning all of our neighbourhood dogs for me? On the advice of a colleague, I make it a point to greet the concierges in my neighbourhood regularly as a safety precaution of sorts. I figure that if I disappear, the police can retrace my steps by interrogating the concierges.

9) Pirates (Arrrrrrrrhh Me Bucko!)
Yes, I support the black market – I spend my honestly earned salary on illegal products. I’ve said it. But (at the risk of sounding a tad defensive), I have no other option. I can’t walk into the HMV on Follow-the-Leader and buy licensed products because neither exists. Besides, this week I scored with 8 films (many of which are not available yet in Canada on dvd) and the complete season of a television series, all for about $14. I would like to add that the Da Vinci Code – which opened this week worldwide – is already available on dvd (although I’m sure it was filmed in the theatre with a handheld camera).

10) Flowers
No, I am not turning into my mother, but I confess that I often find myself staring out my livingroom window and fixating on the jacaranda tree across the street (in full purple blooms), or the ubiquitous bougainvillea flowers cascading over the city’s walls. I still marvel at the Bird of Paradise plants I see planted about the city – they have forever ruined tulips and daffodils for me. It’s a riot of colour that nonetheless provides a calming zen-like quality in an un-calm & un-zen-like city. Of course, the earplugs help. And the booze.

11) The Hanoots
I frequent 2 hanoots, or corner stores: one the size of a telephone booth, the other the size of 3 telephone booths but with 37 times the merchandise. Both proprietors are friendly and are genuinely kind men; indeed, hanootiers (yes, I made that word up) will often provide credit to their clients. See if your 7-11 back home will let you keep a tab. Hanoots are fabulous holes-in-the-wall where you can buy everything from apricots to skin bleaching cream. I have yet to have a bad hanoot experience (although, I know that they exist – see how positive I am by not giving details?), although I do find it curious that prices can fluctuate hourly.

12) The Fried Bread Thingy
God, what are these things called? – someone tell me! provide me with a pronunciation guide! allow me to move beyond pointing at the damn things! I am told that these thingies aren’t considered bread per se, but rather a snack. Large squares of artery-clogging flakey bread are fried on a grill and eaten hot. Prices range from 1-3 dirhams. Sometimes you can get them filled with fried onions and green peppers and olives. I slather cream cheese and chopped cucumbers & tomatoes on them and eat them in 4 bites. I am salivating as I type this.

13) The Weather
It’s 29 °c today!! How can I make disparaging comments about a weather system that allowed me to wear flip-flops in January; indeed, the only time I wore socks this winter was when it rained. And no tsunamis! Enough said.

14) The Cult of the Repeat Customer
At first glance – or rather on first encounter – many shop attendants in Rabat can be a tad surly, having missed all of their customer service seminars. But return once or twice, and the balance tips in your favour. You will be treated as a conquering hero, with kisses, chattiness, and improved service. The clerks I haven’t been able to thaw out are the cows at Ursine Direct, the china store I always sometimes frequent – but I’m working on them. Those cows will smile at me goddamnit. The waiters at the cafés I patronise don’t bother taking my order because they know what to bring, and the same is true for the few restaurants where I am a regular. Of course, I always order the same thing. Still, it’s a rather nice – and dare I say ‘warm & fuzzy’ – feeling.

15) It’s Not Casablanca
This one is pretty much self-explanatory. Casa is icky: it is loud & polluted, while Rabat is less-loud & less-polluted. There is a dearth of green things in Casa (i.e., plants not aliens), whereas Rabat is flowery and has wide grassy boulevards and parks. I wish Rabat & Casa could switch names because Casablanca is infinitely cooler sounding & Rabat sounds like the noise a frog makes. But it is what it is: an urban cesspool brimming with monkey poo (figuratively, I believe). No thanks. I’ll stay in Rabat.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cat (in Rabat) Has Gone to the Dogs

First of all, let me make 2 disclaimers:

1) I am a cat person (duhhh)
2) I like dogs, and ...

Okay, let me make 3 disclaimers:

1) I am a cat person (duhhh)
2) I like dogs
3) I like my apartment

Now having said all of that, I fear that I am slowly slipping over that slippery precipice of sanity into that deep black abyss of strait jackets and electric shock therapy. Why? The dogs in my neighbourhood won't shut up. At all. Woof woof woof. Bark bark bark. One starts. They all chime in. Woof woof woof. Bark bark bark. My frenzied cries, "Oh for the love of God, stop!" have no effect on them. To compound the problem, I live near several embassies so my theory is that these chatty canines are guard dogs, and have little to do but while away the hours having a good gab deep into the night. This is the only reason that I can account for the fact that their owners haven't throttled them by now - their owners live several continents away.

As an animal rights activist and a vegetarian, I now have more insight into why people leave poisoned kibble out for animals.

So I am in a quandary. I am actually considering moving from my nice little flat (which has, by the way, free heat in the winter!) in this nice little neighbourhood because of a pack of dogs. Am I not made of stronger stuff than this? Apparently not. My karma is to move from one home to another; my mantra (thanks to musician Joe Jackson) is,"When the going gets tough, we relocate". It is quite possible that I have moved more than any other single living being on the planet. If my life were the novel 1984, my Room 101 would have empty cardboard boxes and suitcases to fill.

To dispell these gloomy forebodings and to acquire a more profound understanding of dogs (and why they bark into the wee hours), I wondered: 'if I were a dog', what would I be? An elegant Irish Setter? A faithful Labrador Retriever? Sadly, my thoughts ran to the most annoying dog known to mankind, the Jack Russell Terrier but no! - instead - as seen below, I turn out to be a Miniature Poodle. Now I don't believe that I resemble this scaled-down topiary garden of a dog , although I believe that my mother did sometime between 1967 and 1974; indeed, her bouffants achieved mammoth proportions. According to Gone to the Dogs (with their NASA-like Canine Algorithmic Transfer System) my personality is aptly reflected in this café au lait sipping pooch who is "intelligent and fun-loving (you'd have to be, looking like that) ... obedient & sporting, despite its camp looks." Well. Perhaps I'll just stay as I am: a cat person.

If you care to learn more about this most fascinating creature (and a shameless movie promotion), click the green play button below. If you don't give a rat's ass about me, you can check here (click My Dog on the right, then What Dog Are You?) to find out which Spot is your soul-mate.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Doomesday Book (the 2006 Moroccan Edition)

(or gnarly wave dude ...)

Well, this just in ...

"... a Tsunami could hit the Atlantic Ocean after the fall of fragments of a comet that would pass close to earth on May 25, MAP news agency reported." This tsunami "would affect several countries, including Morocco."

On first glance, I confess that I raised my eyebrows at this. After all, one doesn't take chances after Boxing Day 2004 and tomorrow is the 25th of May! This mother of all tsunamis will be ..."brought about by the impact of a comet fragment which will provoke the eruption of under-sea volcanoes."

What to do, what to do? With about 700 dirhams to my name until payday, negating the possibility of flying anywhere except Marrakech, I'm thinking that I should just sit this one out, dispense my worldly belongings, and hum a few bars of Peter Gabriel's Here Comes the Flood (any of the 5 versions that he's recorded - Chrisso will correct me if I've miscounted). Truth is that I still haven't made out a will, so feel free to e-mail me (cat_in_rabat' with any requests. Note: my estate is rather pathetic & crappy. My jewellery is accounted for (Heather has been monitoring my health for years with a magpie's eye on my earrings) and there's still my camel collection - the largest private collection, I believe, in Eastern Canada. And of course Donna, my stuffed Phentex wool donkey? - she's a bit long in the tooth but very huggable.

This mother of all tsunamis will be ..."brought about by the impact of a comet fragment which will provoke the eruption of under-sea volcanoes." Oh, but wait! - it's been pooh poohed ...

"This denial [made on Monday by the The Moroccan Meteorological office] comes after the Ufological Research Center warned on its website of a Tsunami danger that would affect several countries, including Morocco. Eric Julien, author of La Science Des Extraterrestres made an alert in his website about Tsunami."

The Ufological Research Center? Ufo - logical?!! Bwahahahahahahahaha!!!! Apparently, M. Julien "claims that he has received information psychically". And for a moment I actually thought that Morocco was in possession of the world's most advanced tsunami detection system. I had no idea that numbered among the world's most imminent metereological prognosticators, was Marvin the Martian. Well, in keeping with my Looney Tunes theme, to quote Bugs Bunny, it is to laugh.

But perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to ridicule dismiss the possibility of Other Worldly sources for the big curl. After the 2004 tsunami, the newspaper of Morocco's Islamic party, PJD, stated that the disaster showed God's displeasure with South-East Asia's sex tourism industry. It was, they said, "an act of divine retribution". Ouch! In Rabat alone, some 5,000 people demonstrated in support of the newspaper. The little green men may be equally capricious in meting out natural disasters as Allah, but hopefully they're less vindictive.

This morning I heard that in spite of broadcasts categorically denying any factual basis to this news release, there are some gullible souls who passed a sleepless night last evening in anticipation of the Big One. It's the War of the Worlds all over again but instead of Orson Welles, we have Erich von Daniken.

Dude, I bet the surfers at Essaouria are bummed. The camels, who ply the beach there, are no doubt relieved.

Addendum: and yes, I know that the Doomesday Book had nothing to do with catastrophic events but I couldn't think of another title, so no need to correct me.

Monday, May 22, 2006

To Market, To Market

Got a rejection letter today from an editor so I'm not feeling terribly inspired (least of all confident in my epistulary skills) so I'll offer a snapshot of my relatively prosaic afternoon as a mean recompense for my usual wit.

... just took a walk down to the grocery store & back, and felt compelled to share the sites and sounds of my little trek.

The Walk Down:

1) The Not Nice Men. Well, that goes without saying because I stupidly began my walk along the café side of the street to avoid the beggars. Clearly, I was asking for it.

2) Death (okay, two near death experiences) both involving black Peugots. Well, that goes without saying because I stupidly decided to exercise my right as a pedestrian and cross a street where there were cars. For such hubris, I deserve to be punished.

3) The Beggars. Well, that goes without saying because I stupidly walked along the mosque side of the street after having risked death by crossing said-street, only to avoid the Not Nice Men who frequent the cafes on the other side of Follow the Leader - so really, that was my fault. Seeking alms in front of god's house is a prime real estate opportunity for our mendicant brothers and sisters, but there seemed to be more than the usual number out today, although the regulars were there: the mother with the hydrocephalic child, the blind man (ooops, visually challenged) in his crisp white jellaba, the assorted old crones who look like extras from Macbeth ...

The Grocery Store: For the curious, this is the Label Vie on Follow-the-Leader, the less salubrious instalment of a chain of minsicule grocery stores. Indeed, it has been nicknamed by a friend as 'the Dirty Label Vie' to distinguish it from its sparkling, wide-aisled brethern. All in all, it was a fairly benign (or at least, not a malign experience) today. True, I had to wait 5 minutes for my fruits & vegetables to be weighed, I was hipchecked & poked in the ribs by half a dozen people who just had to pass me (without excusing or announcing themselves) in aisles that are about 2 1/2 feet wide, a kamakaze kid with a kiddie-size shopping cart ran over me foot, and the woman behind the cheese counter sniggered at my French but they did have pretzels which weren't cooked in beef tallow and the check-out girl was abnormally generous in dispensing the plastic grocery bags - so who am I to complain?

The Walk Back:

1) The Dead kitten. Well that was just plain nasty. No one needs to nearly walk on top of anything dead (unless it's an ex) but dead kittens are particularly heart-wrenching. At least for me - I confess that I do have a colleague at work who refers to them as city-rats. All of R
abat's female cats that survived the last Stalinistic purge (remarkably, all of our neighbourhood cats disappeared one night) went into heat about 3 months ago and now a gazillion kittens are running amok. Evenings in Agdal are punctuated by the mewling of starving kittens - a questionable improvement on their mothers caterwauling in heat a few months back. I confess that I routinely carry cat food in my purse and am generally watched with incredulity by many a concierge as I dump turkey & giblets underneath parked cars and on sidewalks. *Sob* this little one was cute ...

2) The Beggar by the Boulangerie. Well, that goes without saying because I stupidly wended my way back so that I had to pass the bakery and she's a regular. I knew she would be there so I am either stupid, or subconsciously I wanted to see her. The last time I passed her by, I gave her my doggie bag of eyes-too-big-for-my-stomach pizza from that afternoon's luncheon, so I figured that my karmic debt (
vis-à-vis her) has been paid in advance until 2007. She was cramming a baguette into her mouth as she accosted me, so I didn't feel terribly guilty. That'll teach her to speak with your mouth full.

3) The Rooster. What can I say? - I could hear a rooster crowing from some backyard or apartment roof or balcony, as I walked the rest of the way home. In Agdal. Go figure.

4) Urinating child. Well that was just plain nasty. No one needs to nearly walk into anything urinating. Squatting in the middle of the sidewalk, she was doubled over watching her prodigious stream of pee splash the sidewalk, mesmerized as if she were watching the cascading majesty of
Niagara Falls. I guess a sidewalk is as good a place as any to defecate - especially when you're five years old. I mean, it's there and you have to go, and you're not wearing knickers anyway so it's pretty convenient ... as it turns out, she was the child of The Beggar by the Boulangerie. Next time I pass by, I'll toss some underthings her way instead of my pizza box.

5) The Rooster. Did I mention the rooster?

... that's about it. So glad the day was uneventful.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Girls Night In

Back when Cat in Rabat was ready to leave the family litter and enter the hallowed halls of academia, her parents felt it a sound option to send her into residence. The dormitory life would act as a natural transitional period between leaving the nest and building her own (I'm mixing up animal metaphors here, I know) - minimising the endless nights that the parental units would have to stay up late, gnawing at their claws, in fear of what she might be up to.

So off to residence I went & I enjoyed it enough to stay in various dorms over 3 years. I "socialised", (maybe even caroused a bit), drank myself into staggering stupours, and passed countless margarita-enduced nights during which my girlfriends and I jumped up and down on our beds, engaging in pillow fights wearing only frilly panties and flowery bras and pink bunny slippers. Wait - no - that's my husband's phantasy (sorry honey: we really did have them!) Anyway, it was a great deal of fun, and I even managed to learn a few things along the way.

So, I must confess that my job smacked the floor when this e-mail, drawn from the front page of the Assabah, was read to me; I reproduce it here (italics & pretty colours are mine) for your reading horror pleasure:

Amongst the wonders of this wonderful Morocco is that at a time when the Kingdom of Morocco was elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, one of the basic rights of humans was being trampled in Rabat. I mean the right to sleep. What happened on Tuesday night in Souissi University Campus is really disgusting. Girls were sleeping safely in their rooms when all of a sudden the horror forces - because they do not deserve to be called security forces - raided the rooms ...

Ahhh, surely this is a panty raid? Harmless co-ed fun, no?

... and started to indiscriminately kick innocent students. They broke the arm of one girl. Others suffered injuries in all parts of their bodies. Girls were expelled out of the dormitory in their pyjamas. Others were sexually harassed in bathrooms. Their mobile phones and digital cameras were stolen. A girl lost her PC that had her post-graduate research paper on engineering. One student was thrown out of the window and she is now in the intensive care unit in a hospital. They destroyed everything they found on their way like vandals. This is (the) Morocco that has been elected member to the UN Human Rights Council.

Wow. Makes my frosh week pale in comparison. Climbing back into my time machine, I can safely say that there were no incidents of violence, sexual harassment, theft, or - for lack of a better word - terrorizing behaviour. Visits to the hospital tended to coincide with slightly dangerous levels of alcohol. But liquor can't be blamed - this is a nice respectable Muslim university where parents send their daughters to be educated and to be safe - not to be paraded out of doors in their nighties, or to be thrown out of windows. By campus security.

I think back fondly to my old beau, Crazy Scott (I believe I've mentioned him elsewhere in my blog) who himself was a campus security officer. To the best of my knowledge, Crazy Scott (who didn't become crazy & institutionalised until we broke up) never laid a hand on anyone (male or female) unless excessive amounts of alcohol were involved in conjunction with the singing of any or all verses of Stairway to Heaven. Even so, he was never violent. He broke no bones. He had a commanding presence but was as gentle as a lamb. But these cretins, these subhumans, should be expelled and criminally charged. Odds are they'll graduate with honours and enter Morocco's secret police force. Grrrrrrrrrr ... I am swallowing a potent cocktail of particularly nasty expletives (lots of f's and c's and mf's) as I tippity-type this posting; nice words cannot express how furious I was reading this - how furious I still am "sharing" it with you.

So what happened that night - or rather, why did it happen? I don't know. I invite anyone who has more information to post here. I can only speculate that perhaps the campus gestapo unit (clearly Not Nice Men in training) of sexually-repressed misogynistic
Untermenschen raided the dorm on suspicion of male visitors or alcohol - who the hell knows - and not finding anything, went beserk. I have no clue. Worse yet - and even I'm not willing to entertain the thought - maybe it was planned thus from the beginning.

All I know is that if I were a parent of one of these girls, I'd be hauling them out of residence, sending them to a shrink, calling my lawyer, and speaking to every journalist that I could lay my hands on. Funny thing is, I'm having problems finding anything written about it in the English or French press. Go figure, eh?

I think I'm having a week-long Bad Morocco Day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Halal & Back: the Sequel

I was thrilled to bits to come across the piece from Arab News (via Myrtus' blog) which acts as a sequel of sorts to my posting from February.

These rather ominous-looking Muslim women (they do look like a triumvirate of grim reapers) demonstrated outside the Australian Embassy in Washington to protest the mistreatment of animals exported from Australia to Egypt & the Middle East for slaughter. It's one of the first images I've seen of Muslim activism that seeks to address issues outside of Islam (although, admittedly, these animals are targetted for halal abattoirs).

The protesters said that the horrific abuse of these sheep and cattle is in direct violation of halal slaughter laws as well as against the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who taught that one must minimize the suffering of animals being prepared for slaughter.

Bina Ahmed, a Muslim American and an attorney for PETA added:

"I’ve lived and worked in the Middle East, and I have seen firsthand the abuse of animals for food there. As a Muslim, a woman, and a human being, I am very disheartened that we allow such abuses to take place."

Right on sister! She continues:

“It is un-Islamic to drag these animals off the transport ships by their ears, kick them in the face, and stab them in the eyes, and then slit their throats several times and let them slowly bleed to death in front of other sheep, which is also against halal rules.”

Oh thank god for a voice of reason! Even the Council of American Islamic Relations agrees. This affirms my faith in the world (at least for this micro-second). Cat in Rabat offers her kudos to the the women pictured above, but admits that she would be doubly thrilled to see protests pop up outside of North America ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Navel Gazing

This past Monday was a particularly Good Morocco Day for me. Good Morocco Days are things of joy and can be made manifest in a myriad of ways. For me, on this Monday past, I was able to successfully ignore the Not Nice Men who spewed come-ons at me, I didn't have to wait for a taxi at Super Marjane (nor battle a 200-pound matron for one), I wasn't nearly squashed by any vehicles, and, to top it off, the weather was sunny and breezy - I even caught myself smiling and thinking - wow! this isn't so bad. Then yesterday, everything returned to normal as a car brushed my skirt while I was attempting to cross a street. As a colleague said to me (insert tone of incredulity in her voice): "you expected 2 good days in a row?" Silly, silly me.

This is my convoluted way of introducing the fact that this blog might be interpreted as culturally insensitive & chockful of gross generalisations, but really, I'm just giving voice to my Crappy Morocco Day (or Days - 2 days running now). And my Crappy Morocco Day voice hates navel gazing - unless the view is quite astounding, and a world apart from something flabby and hairy.

So ... currently, in Casablanca, an exhibition is being held entitled “When the Sciences Spoke Arabic”. And that got me thinking (or at least my Crappy Morocco Day voice) because the show highlights the technological advances made by Arabs during their "Golden Age", from the 8-15th centuries.

So setting our time machine to the Medæival world, we find Arabs leading other nations/city states in their pursuit of knowledge by leaps & bounds - much of which these intellectual pioneers discovered independently or translated & synthesized from the cultures of others (e.g.. the Greeks, Persians, Indian, & Chinese). Ultimately, they transmitted this arcana (for example Aristotle's philosophy, Ptolemy's geography, Hippocrates' medicine) to Spain and eventually, to the entire Western world. While Western Europe was still firmly ensconced in the muck and mire of ignorance and poor sanitation, Islamic universities were popping up like mushrooms about the umma, or Muslim world.

This bit of reflection has made me rather sad. How would I feel if my culture had been on a scientific hiatus for some 600 years, that it had reached its zenith before the birth of Shakespeare - before the birth of the cotton gin (and probably - and more importantly - the gin & tonic)? I'd rather feel like a has-been.

And what's been going on since Islam's Golden Age? What yardsticks can we use to measure a nation's progress? Well, in 2001, Iran registered only one patent, whereas in the U.S., over 100,000 were granted. Notably, over 16,000 patents were registered in Iran before the Shah got out of Dodge. More than a coincidence? Over the last five years, Indonesia has issued 30. This is rather perplexing given that, in regards to meeting the criteria for a patent, the bar is set much lower outside the Western world (where phrases like 'substantive examination' are bandied about). For example, in Morocco, one reads:

The Patent Office examines applications with regard to form only and not with regard to novelty or merit. The particulars of the application are published in the Official Gazette. No opposition procedure is provided, patents issued are valid for twenty years.

Hmmmm. And the Nobel Prize? - of the 776 prizes which have been awarded since 1901, 7 have gone to Muslims, although less than half were for the sciences (& one went to a dead terrorist). Interestingly, of the world's 12 million or so Jews, 169 have been awarded Nobel Prizes. Must be the Zionist Conspiracy. With Muslims outnumbering Jews worldwide at an estimated 117:1, the Muslim brainiacs are lagging behind. In case you've forgotten who the Select Seven are, we have:

Abdul Salam (Physics 1979) was Director of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Although he was a devout Muslim, he had to leave Pakistan because he was unable to do theoretical physics research there.

Ferid Murad (Medicine 1998), American born & raised, he was brought up in a Catholic community although his father was Muslim. As an adult, he became an Episcopalian.

Ahmed Zewail (Chemistry 1999) has been at Caltech for 30 years, although is Egyptian.

Naguib Mahfouz (Literature 1988) was stabbed in the back (rendering him partially paralyzed) by Egyptian fundamentalists in 1997 because he supported the Peace Process between Palestinians and Israelis.

Md. Anwar Sadat (Peace 1978), was assassinated by militant nationalist religious extremists.

Yasser Arafat (Peace 1994) - no comment.

For the most part, these individuals have (or had) distanced themselves from mainstream Islam or what's now referred to as Islamicism. This makes me wonder whether there is a connection between modern Islam and the development (or lack thereof) of innovative technology (apart from defence technology, that is). Does technological and scientific advancement constitute a perceived threat to some Islamic nations or groups therein? I offer this little snippet from the Al-Haramain Foundation (the Islamic charity):

One of the hallmarks of Islam is its complete harmony with science. A Muslim considers conflict between scientific facts and religion to be impossible ... It is impossible for one to contradict the other ... There has never been a scientific fact or a valid scientific theory that contradicted the teachings of Islam ... In the early days of Islam, when people adhered to its beliefs and practices, there was a flowering of science, culture, trade and technology. The teachings of Islam brought about this scientific awareness, which eventually ignited and propelled the European Renaissance. It was only after (c in r's italics) people began deviating from the original Islamic principles and religious beliefs that the advancements and scientific achievements of the Muslim world began to cease and fall into obscurity.

... as long as they have someone to blame.

So, is the problem Islam itself, or is it the teaching methods embraced in this corner of the world (which just happens to be Islamic) - methods which insist upon learning by rote? Memorization discourages independent thought, and downright frowns upon the development of an inquisitive mind. Ask no questions. Or are Islam and academic regurgitation tied at the hip? Am I hair-splitting or is it a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Or more accurately, am I drowning in a sea of mixed metaphors?

The more astute reader will have grasped that I'm really just babbling on rather incoherently today (or rather my Crappy Morocco Day voice is), tossing out questions and providing no answers. But it appears to me that the Islamic world is resting on its technological laurels (notwithstanding the fact that Viagra was invented in Morocco and the first sex-change operation was performed here - thanks for those tidbits Mr. N!). And I'm not suggesting that the exhibition in Casa is a bad thing per se - maybe it will inspire some latent Omar Khayyam to actually do something creative & innovative. In the meantime, it smacks of institutionalised navel gazing which, as we all know, has the very real capacity to promote & entrench a perspective that is both stagnant and backward-looking. The Medæival Islamic educational system (for lack of a better phrase) of 6 centuries ago promoted the spirit of scientific inquiry, whereas today - well, you do the math.

Wow ... all this because one too many men sucked their teeth at me today.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Pirates of the Barbary Coast Revisited

In yesterday's post, I indicated that approximately 75% of all cds and dvds circulating in Morocco were pirated. I confess that at the time, I thought the number rather low and those fortunate few who know my true identity have expressed equal disbelief. In my defence, the information came from Communication Minister Nabil Ben Abdellah - so really, my only sin is gullibility. Shame on me.

My colleagues and I are of the opinion that this number was low-balled by the Minister in order to save face and, after considerable deliberation, feel that a more true representation of the situation in Morocco is thus:

94.8% of all cds are pirated
100% of all dvds are pirated.

Pace Mr. Ben Abdellah.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Pirate Songs & Shanties: My Own Secret Shame

"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum ..."

Well, not exactly.

When I arrived in Morocco, I had to abandon several things: all hopes of enjoying a gin & tonic on an outdoor public terrace, a laisser-faire attitude about my gastro-intestinal system, and any scruples I once had about acquiring and using illegal merchandise. Mr. Cat in Rabat worked in the music industry for many, many years, and there were some things that just weren't done in the Cat in Rabat Household; namely, the downloading of music-sharing tunes or the purchasing of bootlegs (an otherwise unavailable audio or video recording distributed without the artist's consent) or worse yet, pirated copies (an unauthorised duplicate of material already commercially available, sold illegally for significantly less than the standard retail price). In spite of the fact that he married me, he has some standards.

Truth be told, it's easy to retain your scruples when you not only have viable (i.e., legal) options, but you're totally clueless as how to acquire pirated merchandise in the first place. But drop Miss High & Mighty into the Land of Virtually No Licenced Reproductions (approximately 75% of the total CD's available here are pirated) and wham! - off to the medina she goes on a treasure hunt for music, movies, and television programmes.

Cat in Rabat hangs her head in shame (but is secretly thrilled that she picked up the complete 2nd season of Six Feet Under for a a few dirhams a disc).

According to recent figures, piracy and counterfeit that affect the sectors of software, cinema and music cost the Moroccan economy about MAD two billion. Nearly MAD 200 million are lost because of CD and audio tape piracy. According to the symposium's organisers, some “powerful organised crime groups” are behind 70% of the total fraudulent deeds. These groups act by continuously changing their corporate name, and have a production capacity of 400,000 audio tapes and 600,000 CD's per week.

Barbary pirates are still plying the seas (or souqs) of Morocco with relative with impunity.

While you can find in the local piracy market all kinds of software, programmes, Hollywood or Bollywood movies you may think of, there is absolutely no sign of Moroccan productions ... although no one would admit it, there are some unspoken rules in the market of piracy. Those who transgressed these rules and dared to sell pirated CD's of Moroccan movies have seen their shops confiscated and heavy fines and imprisonment imposed on them.

*Sigh* What to do? These pirates aren't bandana-wearing, gold-hooped, peg-legged, hook-handed, cutlass-brandishing, eye-patched, sporting a parrot-on-the-shoulder scruffy types who growl arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh – for the most part, they're unemployed university graduates. They no longer capture Christian slaves from Western Europe but make abysmal (captured with a handheld video camera) to decent copies of film & music. Annoyingly, they often fail to copy the movie extras on dvds; infuriatingly, they sometimes mix up movie and jacket (my F. Scott Fitzgerald film turned out to be one of the worst Canadian films ever made – and the bar is set pretty high on that score). But in a country where unemployment is rife and the jobless periodically set fire to themselves, making a few hundred copies of Season 3 of The A Team seems rather benign (and puzzling, franky). Perhaps we should think of them more as privateers rather than pirates. Has a more respectable resonance, no?

Just a street away from my apartment is a junkatorium of crap, a deceivingly large store with a tiny innocuous storefront, packed to the rafters with a wide selection of cheap goods (dvds, cds, clothes, jewellry, make-up, lingerie, clocks and bric-a-brac). If its choice in merchandise defies logic, it's because it sells whatever has fallen into its lap (or rather off the back of a truck) that day. It is our own Agdal Grey Market. Many of its cds are homemade compilations, repackaged for the local market. Neither musical taste nor spelling is a prerequisite in cranking out these little gems. On the same cd, you can enjoy an offering from Dolly Parton and the Scorpions. Only it'll be Doly Patron and the Scorpios. Or Henny Rogers and the Eggles. Or my favourite, Whitey Huston.

Much to my delight (because at heart I am a vain but impoverished girlie-girl), The Agdal Grey Market carries a decent selection of western cosmetics and skin care products at humungusly reduced prices. In some cases, these items are discontinued or produced exclusively for the East Borneo market. A case in point is the Olay Exfoliating Gel I recently purchased. Bought it, brought it home, tried it: no problems. Then I looked closer at the box and saw that my gel is multi-talented:

Wow! Won't my husband – who's presently 5,000 kilometers away – be greatly relieved? Sure as hell beats a chastity belt.

Now, off I go to watch Season 1 of Law & Order (head still hung in shame) ...


p.s. September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Mark your calendars now!

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Stop the Press!

On what must have been the slowest newsday in the history of print this breaking story is featured in the Morocco Times. Our intrepid newspaper finally puts the rumours to rest, dispelling all of those marital myths, namely that:

Moroccans are in favour of marriage!

Wow! In a country where people ask your marital status before your zodiac sign who knew? And I'm sure that it has nothing to do with the fact that premarital sex is a bit of a no-no. Islam frowns on such antics. So I would be out of line to suggest that the headline should have read:

Moroccans are in favour of legal sex!

Yes, with startling scientific precision, a recent survey (money well spent, no?) points out - rather unequivocably - that marriage is "highly valued" by Moroccans. Jeez, I'm gobsmacked. This insightful and timely report goes on to say that the ground-breaking survey, conducted by researchers for the Hassan II University of Mohammedia, found that:

... more than 90% of Moroccans, men and women, favour marriage. Eighty five percent of them say it is preferable to marry before 25 (c-i-r's italics).

Yikes! Marrying before 25??! Is getting laid really worth it? Just this morning I shared in a discussion about the pitfalls of marrying young. Had I married any of the tom cats with whom this cat kept company in my 20's, I'd be divorced or in prison for 1st degree murder by now. Or probably possibly both. My first long-term relationship ended as it should - in tears; the other party checked into a mental institution shortly thereafter earning him the endearing moniker, "Crazy Scott". Had I married Crazy Scott, he probably would have sprinkled rat poison on his (or my) corn flakes long before the honeymoon was over, or taken a very long one-way walk into the woods. I waited well into my 30's before I decided that Mr. Cat in Rabat was the one for me and I still turned his hair prematurely grey (as my mother is wont to remind me). Marriage is not for the feint of heart.

It is also not for the young & stupid. And if you're under 25, odds are that you're stupid.

They found that both men and women felt that the most desirable quality in the spouse is the “Maâqoul” (seriousness) and obedience counts a lot in marital relations.

Ahhhh. Seriousness and obedience. Seriousness is something that I highly prize in a mate. God knows, a sense of humour didn't place on my Top 20 Characteristics of a Potential Good Spouse list. And obedience? - bwahahahaha ... let's just say that, for good reason, it's a word that's been removed from wedding rites in more enlightened many other parts of the world. I can't even bring myself to comment on it. Obedience is a word I associate with very small children and dogs. Enough said.

Earlier this year, Minister of Justice Mohamed Bouzoubaâ said that (the) marriage rate increased by 3.48% between 2004 and 2005.

That would suggest that 99.4% of last year's eligible Moroccans got
legally laid married rather than 95.92% the previous year. Nice to see the numbers climbing. Let's shoot for 100% in 2007! And in probably the most surprising twist of all, researchers found that

Marriage is ... very much associated with procreation, so that marriage without children is almost unthinkable.

Ya think? If I had the Vienna Boys Choir standing before me as I tippity-type this post, I wouldn't have enough fingers and toes on which to count the number of times I've been asked if I'm married (yes) which leads to how many children I have (zippo). Not do you have children but how many. This is the dreaded Getting to Know You Conversation - and it simply cannot be avoided - try as you might to sidestep or deflect the trajectory of your conversation, it always boomerangs back to marriage and kids. When I answer none (none being deemed more polite than zippo), a comment is then made that suggests that (if Allah wills it) the stork's arrival with my bundle of joy will be imminent. My co-conversationalist always sides on the odds of Allah willing it. Then, rather unnecessarily, I usually go one step further and voluntarily advise my co-conversationalist (who has, by the way, on several occasions been a taxi driver) that my husband and I do not plan on bringing forth life from our loins.


Now the more cerebral Moroccan will raise an eyebrow, ask why, dismiss my response, and try to persuade me of the neccesity of having children. This second phase of the
Getting to Know You Conversation is really unpleasant. Usually the reasons they espouse for procreating are the very reasons why I've shunned it. I'm pretty confident that I don't want anything I've given birth to or raised taking care of me in my dotage. The less sophisticated simply gape in astonishment - then launch into a less polished version of the previous diatribe, usually punctuated with several quotations from the Qu'ran. I never win these arguments because I cannot. In truth, I don't even try. A better person than I would invent a few kids. Maybe even a dog. Or suggest that there is a medical reason underlying the lack of little ones in my life. I could lower my misting eyes and whisper, we've been trying, there have been tests .... but I'd rather not. I like to think of the truth as a penalty for asking a question that's none of one's business. I'd rather unsettle my co-conversationist. I usually succeed.

Maybe I am a nasty person. Maybe, dear reader, you're thinking, good thing she doesn't have children - what a bitch! But not too long ago, I was having The
Getting to Know You Conversation with a group of female doctors, all in their 30's and early 40's. When I said that I didn't have children and had no plans on having any, one doctor shook her head and sighed rather too wistfully, "you're so lucky."