Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Don't Come With Me to the Casbah

The day before yesterday, Mr. Cat in Rabat & I went on what would prove to be a wild goose chase that led us through the medina and into the Kasbah des Oudaïas. The prize you ask? A postcard. Not just any postcard of course, but a particular one that I had selected to be this year's ersatz Christmas card. Not surprisingly, Christmas cards are as rare as hen's teeth and the only boxed sets I've found are UNICEF cards which cost an arm and a leg. There, now that I've successfully used two incredibly banal expressions in the same sentence, I'll move on.

In truth, I used to be a big fan of the Oudaïas - so big in fact that it earned a place on last spring's coveted 15 Things I like About Rabat list, a list that rivals any Blue List that the Lonely Planet could ever hope to produce. But my visit the other day - in conjunction with another junket this summer - has given me pause to reconsider. Why? Because it's become icky. Because people go there now. Lots of people. And not just any people but tourists. And lots of them. In buses.

The charm of the Oudaïas lay in its solitude - it's almost forgotten-ness. When Mr. CinR and I visited Rabat 6 years ago, we were the only foreigners finding repose in the Andalusian gardens of this fortressed oasis. Egocentric cretins that we are, we revelled in it. Now there are tourist shops, buses line up outside the walls, multilingual guides gambol about with coloured flags and paddles, and the gardens' 200-some cats take cover from the onslaught of pasty legs and sensible shoes. And with tourists come faux guides. Faux guides for an area significantly smaller than a football field and as uncomplicated as a the plot of a Dr. Seuss book. I can't decide if I wish them ill or success.

And with tourists come the henna whores - those syringe-wielding bints who will grab your hand and start decorating it like a Betty Crocker cake before you can say aye ,yes or no. And no isn't a word in their vocabulary. They will follow you, hound you, plead with you, and cast doleful calf eyes at you as the PPD, or copper-oxide or sal ammoniac bubbles nefariously in their syringes.


And with tourists comes urban renewal. The residences - already distinctive for Rabat with their whitewashed walls and blue doors - have experienced an unnecessary sprucing up. Geometric patterns and zigzags that weren't there a few months ago meander across the walls and window frames, perhaps it an effort to out-Chefchaouen Chefchaouen, and it feels ... dare I say ... a little Disney-esque? There is not much that is charming in Rabat, not much to recommend it to visitors (and I dare say, Moroccans), compared to Fez or Marrakech, but I wonder how long it will be before the Oudaïas will have been sold lock, stock & barrel to foreigners in search of the ideal winter home? I guess the touristification & gentrification of the Oudaïas is the price of success.

Bearing in mind the Yogi Berra-ism that, "No one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded", I suspect that it will be quite some time before I return.

Did I mention that we never did find the postcard?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Neighbourhood Haunt Hanoot

If you stand in the middle of any street in Rabat (and evade being squished by a car), close your eyes (and evade being squished by a car) and lob a rock, chances are that you'll hit a teleboutique, a hairdresser, or a hanoot. A hanoot, you say? Do tell ...

In its simplest terms, a hanoot is a convenience store. These ubiquitous Mom & Pop-style closets shops come in a variety of sizes (small, smaller, and smallest), levels of cleanliness (vermin not in plain view, a few cockroaches here & there, and rats a-scurrying), number of staff working at any one time (1 per customer, 2 per customer, and 3 per customer), and levels of custom (packed like sardines, breaking-the-fire-code-crowded, and lined up outside the door and shouting in grocery orders) and are run by a variety of proprietors (Berbers, Berbers, and Berbers). Although I am not 100% certain, I think that there is a by-law in the Moroccan Penal Code that states that if you own a hanoot and you are not a Berber then you must be drawn and quartered at dawn. On a Friday. In front of a mosque.

There are 2 hanoots between my home and my place of employment (separated by a distance of 50 meters or so and a phalanx of beggars), and it is not an exaggeration to say that I pass by one or both daily. I frequent both but for different reasons: 1 is closer to my home and the other is closer to my work place. The latter is a more modest affair but the proprietor (a Berber) carries an excellent stock of Crax sticks (don't ask), Crak cakes (don't ask) and - because I eat far too much chocolate - exceptionally fresh M&M's, Twix bars & KitKats. His is also the only hanoot for a good 100 meter radius to boast a teleboutique, so should you ever want to, you can chow down on a bag of cheese & onion Crunch Chips & call Tiznit at the same time. Although a mere 2 meters by 3 meters in diameter, it is staffed by the proprietor (a Berber), his son (a Berber), and another worker (probably a Berber). My only criticism of this hanoot lies in the fact that when the proprietor (a Berber) prays (which he discreetly does behind the counter beside his stock of Sidi Ali water bottles), he leaves his son in charge, and the boy doesn't know the price of the Coca Light. I keep meaning to have a word with him about this.

The hanoot that eats up most of my dirhams is slightly larger: it has a central display island that is perilously stacked with dry goods & tetrapak juices, around which is a narrow aisle that permits the passage of one slightly anorexic teenager at any one time. Unfortunately, there are normally 27 people in this hanoot at any one time. There are at least 6 staff (including a couple of wizened methuselahs, probably Berbers) on duty everyday who fetch items, thwack the heads of the glue-sniffing boys who careen about the corner, cut slabs of pumpkin, weigh produce, make sandwiches, and affect a mien of cheerful exhaustion, - as well as the proprietor (a Berber). The proprietor (a Berber), Brahim, is a mercantile wizard. He defines multi-tasking. Rather effortlessly, he answers the phone, takes orders, writes up bills using a scrap piece of paper and a calculator, bags the purchases of, and chats to the customers swarming in front of him at the same time.

And swarm they do. As there is no room in a hanoot to form an orderly queue - not that that would ever happen anyway although it's fun to imagine such a Morocco - Brahim's counter (where he holds court) is always a beehive of activity. Customers shamelessly blindside you, butting in line from every direction, including the front door. The little kids & old ladies are the worst; the former because you can't see or hear the little blighters coming, and the latter because old age has given them a sense of entitlement & they just don't give a shit. And they both have doleful expressions and very sharp elbows. The order in which you are served is generally determined by your importance as a human being (as determined by Brahim) or your ability to have exact change in your hand.

Beside him in a glass display window are the fruits of his accounting system: sun-faded receipts, invoices, a warranty or two, and chits (for he accepts credit on exceptionally generous terms) are all crammed in together like tickets in a church raffle. His services, like those of many other hanoot proprietors (all Berbers), include the sale of telephone cards, the preparation of mystery-meat sandwiches, and the delivery of groceries and Butagaz - the lacklustre blue canisters of combustible potentially city-leveling cooking gas that are trollied about the city in little metal prams all day long.

There is no such thing as horror vaccui in a hanoot because there are no empty spaces. Groceries and dry goods gather dust on a series of vertiginous shelves which require ladders and hooks and sometimes small children for retrieval. A quick glance around Brahim's hanoot and you will find: fruit & vegetables in season, dried pasta, fresh olives, sort of fresh bread, Special K cereal, soccer balls, umbrellas, pink powdery confections, toothbrushes, dried apricots, car air fresheners, jam, batteries, olive oil, ramen noodles, toilet paper, some sort of aerosol spray called Yuk, homemade macaroon cookies, plastic brooms, light bulbs, flan powder, skin-bleaching cream, Real Madrid lollipops, mops, Vache Qui Rit cheese, shaving cream, cans of tuna, shampoo, bottles of rose water, crappy children's toys from China, dates, pantyliners (Hey! Abdullatif - get down a package of Lightdays!), insect repellent (spray and plug-in's), flashlights, canned lentils, ketchup, and hair colour. To name but a few.

Of course the true joy of the hanoot lies in the fact that you never know what and when new merchandise may arrive. This week peanut butter appeared for the first time in 14 months. After its meager stock is depleted, it may never reappear. Or reincarnate as something different. Like pantyhose.

There is a theory bandied about by non-Berbers that hanoot proprietors (all Berbers) are tremendously wealthy by virtue of the fact that they rip their customers off blindly. I have no insights into this (although the same was once said about the convenience store owners [not Berber] of my youth & about whom I have equally few insights), but I can say that the dearth of price tags on their merchandise does result in a playfully fluid fluctuation of prices. I have paid 3 different prices for the same item I bought 3 times on the same day - but I like to delude myself think that it evens out in the end. Indeed, in the past year, the level of service I've received has escalated from benign tolerance (made manifest by a nod, being kept waiting in line while others pass me by, and questionable prices) to gracious hospitality (made manifest by effluent greetings, being kept waiting in line while others pass me by, and a more favourably buoyant pricing system).

It is one-stop shopping at its finest. Even with the vermin. Even without the cold beer.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Cat de Sejour: Part the Third

In this - the (hopefully) penultimate instalment of our heroes' quest for legal status in what most Moroccans deem to be 'the most beautiful country in the world' - we join our duo en route to the bank. The applications for their cartes de sejour have been dully filled out & filed with the proper authorities, and 24 hours must elapse before the temporary card will be ready. To the bank! To the bank! cries Cat in Rabat.

To resume:

I am admittedly a little uneasy that I have been relieved of my current carte de sejour by my Pleasant-looking Young Woman but am fair-to-middling confident that my bank card should be sufficient to exchange money. We head to the main downtown branch and approach the Very Nice Man behind the teller's window. I explain the purpose for my visit and, smiling a slightly goofy grin, pass him my bank card.

"Identification?" Very Nice Man asks.
I hand over my passport.
"Identification?" Very Nice Man asks.
I begin to take credit cards out of my wallet.
"Non," he responds (as I knew he would). "Carte de sejour."
I begin to explain that I have forgotten my card at home (a lie) but that as a valid carte de sejour was necessary to open an account at his place of employ (a truth) and that I hold a valid bank card (a half truth: it is a temporary card) to said place of employ, then surely -

None of this really comes as much of a surprise to me but, at the moment, it seemed worth a try. Mr. Cat in Rabat & I briefly consider conferring a new name upon Very Nice Man (which we do) and venturing along Mohammed V to have a shufti at the local independent bankers who line the street (which we don't), for we have had enough for one day; instead, we go in search for refreshments, distilled or brewed.


The clock records the passing of 24 hours and we find ourselves somewhat constricted by a very narrow window in which to grab a taxi, get ourselves downtown, pick up our temp
orary cards, and return to work. In truth, 2 hours (for such is our aperature), would normally be more than enough time but this is a Friday, and Friday afternoons are unlike other days (and not just because of its f,r,& i); it is, for lack of a better word, the day of congregation. Theoretically, all taxi drivers - like every other Moroccan - should be at mosque. Nonetheless, we hie ourselves to a visible and busy corner and await what we hope will be an imminent taxi - after all, what taxi driver with half a brain would give up a fare just because it's Friday? Surely Allah would understand. We certainly do.

Oddly, this particular Friday, all taxi drivers are at mosque. Or have been sucked through an astral vortex to the mothership where they will be whisked off to attend a taxi driver convention in Agadir.

Simply put, there are no taxis. Or, more accurately, very few taxis. Yeah! - there's one! No, it's full. Yeah! - there's one! No, it's empty but he does not stop. Repeat 14 times. We change our position, strategically selecting a yet more visible & if possible, busier corner. There's a taxi! No, it's full. Yeah! - there's one! No, it's empty but he does not stop. Repeat 18 times. It becomes our Friday mantra. Forty-five minutes elapses & all that we've accomplished is attracting other like-minded cab-seekers to our corner (our zero success rate apparently is not a deterent) and becoming a little churlish with each other. We briefly consider walking a few blocks to the petite taxi stand (which is ominously situated across from the mosque where apparently pretty much every cab driver in Rabat is currently cultivating his prayer bump), but with only an hour left in our lunch break, we have had enough for one day; instead, we go in search for refreshments, distilled or brewed.


The following Monday, we set out to replicate our Friday excursion but without all the failure. We successfully lasso the first taxi we see and are downtown within 10 minutes. Our Pleasant-looking Young Women are there and we are showered with greetings. Mr. Cat in Rabat's temporary card is awaiting him in "the Canadian file" (a much-fingered folder buried deep among other nationality-specific folders); mine is misplaced but -huzzah! - found in "the European file". This minor faux pas is clearly reflective of the Moroccan government's acknowledgement that, in a former incarnation, I was a crown head of Europe.

As we step outside, we take a peek at our papers. Hmmmm ... should we be concerned that they
have recorded Mr. Cat in Rabat's year of birth incorrectly? Is it worth going back to advise them of their error? We ruminate on this and decide that we'll take our chances with a slightly longer in the tooth Mr. CinR - any insistence on accuracy might work irrevocably to our disadvantage. But, in spite of the fact that today's experience has been surprisingly effortless, we have had enough for one day; instead, we go in search for refreshments, distilled or brewed.

Our permanent cards will be ready in a few weeks.

In sh'allah.

Yeah, right.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Cat de Sejour: Part the Second

When last we saw our intrepid duo, they were no longer in search of their cartes de sejour (having given up for the day like the half-assed bounders they are) and were off in search of liquor. Alcohol is imbibed, the sun sets, the moon rises, the sun rises, and presumably the moon buggers off somewhere.

To resume our story ...

The next day, again fully confident (there's that C word) that we are in full possession of all the necessary documents, we go downtown to the Préfecture de Police. Since my last visit, the police station had obviously received its Living in a Post 9-11 World brochure, and had installed a metal detector. Mr. CinR and I walk through the gate, setting off all the pretty lights, alarms & whistles, and, just like at Mohammed V Airport, are politely waved through by the 3 guards whose chat we had just interrupted. Perhaps the security zealots, say, at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport, may wish to offer a few seminar courses in comprehensive metal detection.

At the far end of the room - where the new cartes de sejour are processed - sit two Pleasant-looking Young Women. An excellent sign! At the renewal area sits no one. We approach the Pleasant-looking Young Women and indicate the purpose of our visit. One happily assists Mr. CinR while the other helps me with my renewal. This is going so well! My Pleasant-looking Young Woman speaks fair English and is eager to practise her skills to which I have no objection because I am loathe to expose myself as the Franco-Arabic-speaking retard that I am. She looks through the vast pile of paperwork and withdraws 75% of my forms. They are apparently unnecessary since I am only renewing my card. How I wish someone would have told me this beforehand. Then she rustles through them again and asks where the photocopy of my current carte de sejour is. I hadn't been advised of its necessity and briefly panic.

"Authenticated?" I ask with not a little trepidation.
"No, copy only."

Because Mr. CinR's Pleasant-looking Young Woman is barely halfway through his pile - and I am a lazy selfish wife - I toss my card at him along with a few dirhams and, through the office window, direct his gaze to the photocopier's situated across the street. I consider adding a chop! chop! to my request but think better of it. Unbelievably, he obligingly trots off. A few moments later he returns, brandishing the photocopy.

Huzzah! This is going well!


My blood freezes. Mr. CinR's Pleasant-looking Young Woman has encountered a problem. She has found the document that I prepared confirming that Mr. CinR & I are legally wedded and that we reside at the domicile on whose lease only my name appears. I dive over the counter and extricate the copies of our authenticated wedding licence from the stack of papers. I toss in a feverish regardez! regardez! and wave the sheet in her face in as non-aggressive but clearly desperate manner as possible. She confers with my Pleasant-looking Young Woman and they agree that the document is acceptable but my signature must be authenticated.

I blink.

C'est moi! I try (futiley I might add). I show her my passport & my current carte de sejour: 2 rather official government-type documents which are graced with an unbecoming photo of me and my signature. Nope, we have to go back to the police station and have it authenticated. My
Pleasant-looking Young Woman advises me to have one copy prepared for my file as well. Good plan. She also advises us to hurry as they close in an hour.

We pop back to the photocopier's then grab a cab uptown. Within moments we're back in the Land With No French Signs but dutifuly & hopefully return to the photocopie room. Approaching the same Nice Male Employee as last time, I am waved to a new counter, the signature counter where a fight has recently erupted between those waiting "in line" and the one Possibly-Nice Male Employee behind the counter. Peeved, he disappears to have a languorous smoke. When he returns, he is surprised to find that cooler heads have not prevailed and Round 2 begins. He looks at me for support and I smile. One woman storms out. He smiles back. He reaches for my signature much to the displeasure of the others who have stormed the counter. Huzzah! He checks my documents and asks me to sign my name in a massive tome filled with the signatures of every Moroccan who has ever lived. I am given a chit and Mr. CinR and I repair to the pick-up room. Frazzled Woman is still there (and still frazzled) and she grudgingly acknowledges me. Moments later, Definitely-
Nice Male Employee pops into the room to hand-deliver my signature sheets.

We race for the door where, rather auspiciously, a cab awaits. Within minutes we are back in front of our
Pleasant-looking Young Women. Mr. CinR's Pleasant-looking Young Woman is busy processing a national identity card for an individual of rather negroid complexion but when she sees Mr. CinR, she is happy to brush aside her compatriot to assist my husband. Moroccans tell me that there is no racism here. Of course not. As she goes through CinR's wad of papers for the third time, she asks for his Fiche d’Immatriculation cards. Our employer failed to provide us with them but no problem, can we not fill them out here?

She looks under her desk pad, makes a few cursory forays into the drawers of her desk, and announces that she hasn't any. "Can you get some?" I ask. Is this an unreasonable request? This is, after all, the issuing office for the cards in question. She calls over to my
Pleasant-looking Young Woman but she doesn't have any either. A mildly heated exchange ensues (although to be fair, they could have been talking about last night's Star Academy results) at the completion of which Mr. CinR's Pleasant-looking Young Women finally picks up the phone and barks something into the receiver. We sit and smile. We watch the hands of the clock draw closer & closer to closing time.

At this point, the small son of the discarded Moroccan (who has been patiently waiting to have his turn reinstated) charges past the 3 security guards
whose chat he interrupts into the inner sanctum of the Préfecture. There is much laughter & frivolity (Moroccans dote on children) as the boy is finally retrieved from this bureaucratic holy of holies, possibly with state secrets strapped to his stomach. I have no doubt that his father would have been shot on sight.

Ten minutes later, an Unpleasant-looking Young Woman - clearly put out by having to perform some work-related duty - enters the office with the cards. In his haste to complete the tasks at hand, Mr. CinR bayonets himself with the needle nib of my pen, producing a prodigious geyser of blood. I remind him that his tetanus shot is up to date, fish out a grotty grocery store receipt from the bottom of my purse to use as a bandage, and urge him to finish up. Perhaps not surprisingly, nursing was never an attractive career option to me.

One last signature and we are done! Huzzah! Now we must leave our paperwork to the Moroccan God of Bureaucracy (which must be Allah for there is only one god) and hope for the best. We are issued no receipts; in 24 hours, we may return for temporary cards. So efficient is The System here, that Morocco can apparently run on the honour system. Suddenly, I remember to ask for my carte de sejour. My Pleasant-looking Young Woman cannot give it to me - it must remain in my application file. "But you have the photocopy!" I remonstrate. I need my
carte de sejour so that I can pop off to the bank to exchange money.

I leave without my card.

But hope springs eternal - no worries, I have a bank card. After all, you can't even open a bank account in Morocco unless you possess a
carte de sejour. Off we go to the bank. What could possibly go wrong?

Stay tuned for final instalment of "the Cat de Sejour".

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Cat de Sejour: Part the First

My, my - where has the year gone? Is it really time for me to reapply (or in the case of Mr. Cat in Rabat to apply) for the right to legally reside in this country? Must we expose ourselves to what was essentially Kafka's living model for the Castle? – just as Cairo's Mugamma Building (a 20-storeyed nightmare replete with winding corridors & unlabelled doors) was Dante's inspiration for all 7 Circles of Hell?

Time – even Arab time – waits for no one.

Alas, yes: it's time to apply for our cartes de sejour. This will be Mr. CinR's first descent into bureaucratic hell; since (CinR says dismissively) this is a mere renewal for me and to the best of my knowledge there are few changes to last year's Entanglement in Red Tape Follies I am rather confident that:

1) I know what I'm doing; and
2) I can actually do it.

So cocky am I that I intend to further complicate the issue by attempting to exchange money on the very day that I am applying for my card renewal. You see, the only one of the benefits of having a carte de sejour is the milksop ability to change dirhams into Euros - at a staggering maximum of 15,000 dirhams a year (or €1,500).

If this were a Greek myth, I would have been turned into a three-headed she-goat & banished to
Macedonia for my hubris.

In the simplest of terms, the process is two-tiered:

1) the accumulation of authenticated supporting documents at a police station in Agdal; and
2) the completion and submission of the application forms (note my not injudicious usage of the plural) &
authenticated supporting documents to the Préfecture de Police downtown; namely:

* 2 copies of the Demande d'Immatriculation form;
* 2 copies of the Fiche d’Immatriculation card (which our employer failed to provide us with);
* 1 authenticated copy or original (original! bwhahahahahahaha!!!) of your Attestation de Travail (work certificate);
2 authenticated copies of the main photo page of your passport;
2 authenticated copies of the passport page which bears your entry stamp into Morocco;
* 1 authenticated copy of your Contrat de Bail (or rental agreement);
* 9 small recent photos;
* a bulleted c.v. (presumably for use by the secret police);
* 1 60 Dirham stamp;
* the souls of 2 baptised Christian infants.

As I peruse my checklist, a little black cloud appears – any confidence I once had effectively disappears. My rental agreement has on it my name only, nor do I and Mr. CinR share the same surname (not unusual as we are not siblings). To complicate matters, I have no wish to contact my landlord and ask him to rewrite the lease as this will give him a gaping window of opportunity to increase my rent. Nonetheless, Mr. CinR needs to have proof of his domicile. I soon learn that a document from me stating that we are married should be sufficient. As an added bonus, I decide to make a photocopy of our marriage certificate and have it authenticated as well. Confidence, once again, begins to course through my veins.

I would have expected the savvier reader to have arched an eyebrow or two at my liberal use of the word “authenticated”. This is the point where our hydra seemingly simple two-tiered system begins to sprout heads as each is sliced off bifurcate into something decidedly less simple. In order to authenticate your photocopies, you must make a little excursion to the neighbourhood police office where the system of authenticating documents divaricates again:

1) the receipt of photocopied documents, their verification against the originals, and the receipt of 2 dirhams per page by Person A; and
2) the affixation of a pretty green government stamp to each copy by
Person B.

Why the individual who verifies the documents and accepts your dirhams cannot then stick a stamp to the copies is a mystery to me but whose answer probably lays buried deep within Morocco’s bureaucratic morass (a French legacy) and chronic unemployment.

Off we go to Place Ibn Yassine authenticate our paperwork!

The Neighbourhood Police Station

What an interesting building! There is no helpful information desk! There are only doors radiating around a central atrium. Also radiating around the central atrium are lots & lots of people. None of these people look particularly happy. There are no helpful signs in French – Arabic, Arabic everywhere! Currently, my acquisition level of Arabic is 12 letters. What is one to do? But wait! – there is a sign in French which says photocopie – no need for a dictionary! Inwardly we rejoice and outwardly we make a beeline for the photocopying room where there are many many people clutching papers and dirhams.

But something is different. I pause. Ahhh – the room has changed somewhat since my last visit: it is now graced with several professional-looking cordons to encourage the orderly queuing of its clients. I am impressed.

Then I stop laughing and join the throng. Not knowing which employee to approach (again, the signs are only in Arabic), Mr. CinR and I take our cue from Julius Caesar and divide and conquer – we each push towards opposite ends of the high L-shaped desk with our own papers and dirhams in hand. As I am fairly petite and, on a very good day, sort of cute, I am fully confident that one of the Nice Male Employees hoping for my phone number will take pity on me and allow me to jump the pulsing horde of people.

At this point I note that there is an electronic numbering system, its LED display affixed before each employee. Presumably, numbers are called and clients are dealt it priority sequence. The displays are neither turned on, nor is the ticket issuing machine at the front door.

Then I stop laughing and in less than 3 minutes, I am waved to the front by a Nice Male Employee. Mr. CinR passes his share of our paperwork over the mob as surreptitiously as circumstances will allow and retreats to the atrium. I am concerned that his presence might hinder my thus far excellent customer service. A moment later and my dirhams are exchanged for a chit which will be redeemable for the authenticated documents. Because we are dangerously nearing the time for the afternoon siesta, I am concerned that we will have to leave and return. I ask my Nice Male Employee how long I have to wait. In French, he answers,

“The room next door.”

Experience tells me where I have to retrieve my documents but I’m pretty certain that I had initiated my request with the “when” word not the “where” word. Unlike English, in French they bear little resemblance to each other. Bravely, I try again.

“The room next door.”

Hmmm, this is getting a little tiresome. As I prepare for a third attempt (wondering how more pronounced I can make the q in quand), a young girl behind me taps my shoulder and says, “15 minutes”. I thank her, and still somewhat confused at my inability to properly articulate quand, I rejoin Mr. CinR. We join the assembly of people in the atrium; absurdly optimistic, we repair to the pick-up area fifteen minutes later. We sit. We wait. Another 5 minutes go by, then 10. I begin to recognize the faces of those behind me in the photocopying room - they pick up their documents and leave. I approach the Frazzled Woman at the desk - making her my friend will be a challenge. I gently push my chit towards her. She looks it and asks how long I've been waiting. I tell her –truthfully – 25 minutes. She then asks what I am waiting for, and I rhyme off a litany of documents. She looks under her shelf and says that they are not yet ready. Duh. Five minutes later, I re-approach the desk. She looks under her shelf and says that they are not yet ready. Five minutes later, on my third approach, she calls for assistance. A man appears and after a mildly heated exchange, he rummages through a wire basket overflowing with notarized documents. To be fair, he digs about 2 inches into the vesuvian stack of papers and announces, “They’re not there”.

“Could you look through all of them?” I suggest. With a withering stare, he returns the basket to the shelf.

At this point, I should mention that the pick-up room is attached to the drop-off room by an adjoining door; the likelihood of them actually going astray seems, in my mind, not very likely.

Again, I approach the woman. With a huff she disappears and drags my original Nice Male Employee from the other room. It is her belief that he will recognize the documents (as my description and the presence of our names on the documents clearly failed on that score). Nice Male Employee cannot find the documents but he remembers me. He smiles. He returns to his room. Frazzled Woman begins to scream but we think, not at us. Various employees begin to look under piles of paper and scurry from one room to the next. Moments later, Nice Male Employee returns bearing a sheepish expression and our documents, and slips behind a partition. Stamp stamp, stamp – voila! Our documents are ready!

Mr. CinR and I return to the atrium and double-check our folder. In it (along with our documents) is a rather important looking document that does not belong to us. Stupidly, instead of trying to find its owner in the atrium and selling it back to him for a substantial profit, I return it to the Frazzled Woman. She does not thank me. I have failed in making her my friend.

We wonder if that morning's experience would have been any different if I hadn't known what we were doing. We choose not to spend too much time considering this but come to appreciate the merits of not applying for a carte de sejour at all, but rather exiting & re-entering the country every 90 days as a tourist. So, authenticated documents in hand, we briefly consider taking a taxi downtown to submit our applications. But we have had enough for one day; instread, we go in search for refreshments, distilled or brewed.

Stay tuned for next installment of "the Cat de Sejour".

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sorbonne, Shmorbonne

I'm a sucker for a hunger strike. Anyone who is willing to systematically starve themselves to death for anything other than a (sub) zero dress size always gains my respect. Growing up, it never occurred to me that anyone would want to - or even could - just stop eating & die. I guess I thought that it was like holding your breath: eventually you'd just give up or pass out. All that changed for me 25 years ago (I so love dating myself) with Bobby Sand's successful hunger strike while incarcerated in HM Prison Maze.

His demands were rather simple but didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of being adopted; namely the right
1) not to wear a prison uniform;
2) not to engage in prison work;
3) to freely associate with other prisoners;
4) to organise their own educational & recreational facilities;
5) to one weekly visit, letter and parcel.

Although Sands was able to successfully run for public office during the course of his strike, he ultimately died 66 days after he began fasting. Or starving himself. Whatever.

Now as it turns out, there is a group of university instructors in Morocco who are also waging a hunger strike against the government & their own gastrointestinal systems. Their beef? - for the past 2 decades, the Moroccan government has refused to recognize their French doctorates. It would seem that their PhD's aren't worth the parchment that they're printed on. If I were a sheep, I'd be pissed.

"The French doctorate is the intermediary between the diploma of higher education and the state doctorate", said Jalil Bouabid, director of human resources and budgeting at the Higher Education Ministry. "Its scientific value is less than the state diploma," he added.

Interestingly, Morocco recognizes the doctorates of other nations, but as a potential elevator-rider in this country, I would take greater comfort knowing that the engineer who separated me from a 50 meter drop to certain death was educated in Paris rather than in, say, Togo. God almighty, go ahead and exhume Abelard if you must - I don't give a rat's ass that his field was Aristotelian logic - I'd still rather have him build my elevator.

The corollary to this is that Moroccans in possession of these spurious degrees - undoubtedly created on Photoshop by an expat for a litre of argan oil or a jar of preserved lemons - can neither supervise doctoral candidates nor rise above the rank of assistant professor. The government has countered with a "compromise" which will allow these black sheep pedants to engage in competitive examinations to prove their mettle. The government is fully confident that these poseurs will fail since they were probably eating runny cheese, poking a tentative fork at snails, and quaffing bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau when they should have been attending lectures in Data Structures and Numerical Methods. The response has been to sod off. Nor can I blame them.

"The ministry should immediately have converted those concerned to the grade of professor without any other condition, save that of having four years' experience as associate professor, in accordance with the law of 1975."

Ya think?

Fourteen of the strikers have already been hospitalised, while another two have had the unhappy fate of seeing the inside of a Moroccan Emergency Room. Coincidentally (literally, not figuratively) professors in Morocco staged a walk-out on Thursday to demand, among other things, a solution to their lack of scientific equipment. Perhaps our hunger-strikers should rethink their position. Perhaps they don't want to be teaching here. Perhaps they should take their cue from Bobby Sands and run for government while they still can. That way they can change the system from the inside-out: get themselves accredited and buy a few semiconductor optical amplifiers & a pad of Postie notes while they're at it.

Whatever the case, until their situation is resolved, I'll be taking the stairs.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Negative Thoughts

There is a not insignificant segment of the planet who, by virtue of having once held a pen in their hands, has fancied themselves a writer in the rough - a cosmically thwarted individual struggling to reveal their inner bestseller. In the same vein, there are those who have picked up a camera and are instantly metamorphosized into a burgeoning Henri Cartier-Bresson. Without being accused of lobbing sharp little stones from the safety of my glass house, I admit to having no pretentions that anything that I might ever produce will grace the New York Times Best Sellers List, sending anything that Salman Rushdie writes into paroxyms of envy, or spawn a series of calendars, notecards and mousepads with photos from my "Goats of Morocco" series.

So yes, I too enjoy writing from time to time (blogging doesn't count) and I often find myself lurking about with a rather beat-up camera in hand. Possibly because my 3 photog-mentors are my brother (knarf in the city), my father (Heaven), and Mr. Cat in Rabat (currently in the kitchen) - all purists - my expertise hasn't evolved much past their camera of choice, the single reflex lens camera, although their technical skill never seemed to permeate my thick head. If I shoot a decent photo, I consider myself lucky. I eschew digital cameras (and please don't inundate me with comments about their convenience et al.) undoubtedly because of some conceit passed on to me from this triumvirate of men in my life. To further distance myself from the Great Unwashed photo-takers of the world, I also prefer shooting slide film over print because it allows me to manipulate the slides into Polaroid image transfers (see right), and also because, in my mind, nothing compares to the vibrancy in colour that a slide produces. In evolutionary terms, if I were a finch, Darwin would be holding out little hope for me.

So who cares, right? Well no one much except me & Mr. Cat in Rabat. The thing is, you can take the most breathtaking photographs in the world but if you can't find a decent developer, then you're pretty much screwed (again, please withhold comments about shooting digitally). When I moved here last year, I was rather keen to pick the brains of my predecessors and through their collective experience and mine, I learned that:

a) If you deposit black & white film (Mr. CinR's favourite medium) for processing, your prints (assuming that the developer can produce anything on paper) will be the visual equivalent of jibberish and, oft-times, the negatives will be sliced to bits - putting an adolescent cutter to shame. Pay no mind to their claims that they can process black & white. They can't.

b) If you deposit colour film and ask for it on a cd-rom (which is more economical than prints) and in high resolution (which the few publisers of my photos have requested), you will get prints and a disc, or just prints, or just a disc - but the photos will never be in high resolution. I have since purchased a scanner.

c) One hour service is really one Arab hour service which means 'whenever'. Or more likely, 'service while you wait' on your 3rd return visit. The fact that pick-up tickets are not time-stamped, nor are names & phone numbers recorded on the processing envelopes should have been my first clue.

d) Never become too attached to any print that is processed because you may never again be able to replicate it ... which brings us to:

Negatives ...

I confess that I am one of those reviled individuals who stacks loose cd's in Babel-like towers, effectively driving Mr. CinR to distraction. I may also have done the same with vinyl records as a teenager; I really can't recall. But even loathesome creatures such as I have limits, and I do take great care in handling film negatives (but admittedly not prints). Even I know enough not to leave my pawprints on my negs. Apparently this little nugget of film-developing arcana has not yet achieved "tools of the trade" status in Morocco. How so, you ask?

a) Usually, negative strips will not be cocooned lovingly into plastic sheaths but crammed mercilessly into the main photo envelope, free to explore the inner delights of said paper envelope and mingle with other like-minded negatives.

b) If (and that's a pretty big if) the developer decides that day to use negative holders, all of the strips will be shoved into one slot - you can almost hear the negatives scratching against each other as you walk home; or lastly,

c) Surprise! You will receive neither strips nor plastic sheaths but one long coil of negatives creating an excruciatingly nerve wracking fun-for-the-whole-family activity called Cut Your Own Negatives. Or you can just set them aside and use them to decorate your Christmas tree next year along with strings of popcorn and cranberries.

Is there a moral to this rather long-winded harangue tale of photographic woe? Only that I'm sending Mr. Cat in Rabat off to a local art college where he can learn to develop photos himself and build his own dark room. Oh, except there isn't one. Damn.

And you wonder why I've stopped shooting slide film.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

This Week in Iran

I know that I upset the apple cart a bit last month by discussing something mind-shatteringly positive (but as it turned out, reassuringly ephermeral) about the Islamic Republic of Iran so I hope to rectify this error by bringing you:

This Week In Iran.
  • Mohammad Askani, a political prisoner, was publicly hanged in Iran-Shahr;
  • Amir E. and Ali H., 2 Iranian men, were hanged in a prison in Ahwaz for theft & murder;
  • Mohebali Gholamian Moqaddam & A. N. (alias Amir) were hanged in public in northern and south-eastern Iran;
  • More than half a dozen people ("trouble-makers") were hanged in the province of Sistan-va-Baluchestan;
  • Parviz Minaki was hanged in the southern province of Hormozgan.

And there we have it. Forgive my indelicacy, but the number of Iranians executed last week exceeded my bowel movements.

Now, in today's news it was revealed that a convicted sex offender from the States has been ordered to wear a t-shirt that reads, "I am a registered sex offender". The individual will have to wear his scarlet letter(s) for 22 months after he is released from prison. I think that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's Oppressor President, should be forced to wear a similar t-shirt whenever he addresses the UN, or travels to enlightened pockets of civilization abroad. Perhaps one that reads, "I kill my own citizens" or, "I have effectively returned my country to the Dark Ages" or "I hate women (although their reproductive organs are nice)". You choose.

Sunday, November 5, 2006


or, Let Them Eat Cake

The month of October marks the beginning of the Cat in Rabat Birthday Corridor (the CRBC): a consecutive string of birthdays (with Christmas tossed in for good measure) wherein I celebrate birthday after birthday, send card after card, purchase gift after gift, contemplate my impending penury, and ask myself why I didn't go into law school or, at the very least, learn how to macramé plant-holders or create stained glass ornaments. This festive little slalom finally comes to an end in mid-February, just one greeting card shy of debtor's prison. I have always been intrigued by the fact that from childhood into adulthood (and undoubtedly into dotage), the birthdays of all of my friends (and my nuclear family) fall between October and mid-February. It is not willful (unless the stars have something to do with it) but it is nonetheless so. I simply don't associate with anyone who is not a Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn or Aquarius* - or, more precisely, born between February 13th and October 6th. I'm sure the rest of you are all terribly nice people but it's just not going to happen for us. Especially you Virgos. Quite frankly, you frighten me.

When the Corridor approached last year, I went in search of a card shop. Silly Cat in Rabat, you think because you all know the answer, there are no card shops. Well of course you're right but every once in a while I get duped into thinking that, as a capital city, I might find things like greeting cards here. I can buy frilly thongs, soya milk, and web cams (no correlation intended) so why not birthday cards?

Truth be told, there are a couple of stationary shops that sell cards: they are yellowed, faded, dank things with non-adhesive envelopes 3 times too large, and look like they've been mouldering in their drawers for half a century, which is probably fairly accurate. These cards are likely the residual stock from the days when the French were still in power. Invariably embellished with moribund roses and lusterless gardenias, with a sappy French greeting as a finishing touch, they are eerily reminiscent of cards that your great-grandmother might have sent you when you were six (except for the French). Some of them - horror of horrors - are scented (probably fetid lavender) and are an affront to the sinuses and to good taste. Not a terribly cheery lot these - they make our in sympathy cards back home look positively whimsical.

But birthdays aren't a huge affair in Morocco. They are less than huge, barely fair-to-middling. The vast majority of Moroccans have never blown out the candles on a birthday cake let alone celebrated their birthday - with the truly alarming exception of the children's birthday party at McDonald's. If ever there was a reason to quash the upwardly mobile, it's the McAwful birthday party replete with inappropriate adult music played at ear-splitting decibels while screaming brats play musical chairs. Why has no fatwa been issued against that particular offense against decency?

But I digress. No birthdays, you ask? Well, let's ask the Imam ....

"It is not necessary that everything the West does is according to logic. The biggest proof that it is the invention of the west are the song words without which this function is not complete viz. 'Happy birthday to you.' No one says, 'Happy birthday celebration' or 'Happy Blessed birthday' or any other words of this kind."

Hmmm, I never thought of that before; however, I would prefer to defer to any logician or philosopher who might be glancing through this posting. Is this true? Is singing "Happy Birthday" irrefutable proof of our degenerate illogical western society? What about "Jingle Bells"? Any thoughts on "The Wheels on the Bus Go 'Round & 'Round?"

This disease of celebrating birthdays was never prevalent among Muslims before, but since Muslims started living alongside the non-Muslims, they have been influenced by them.

True ... but one might add wiping one's bum with toilet paper and using utensils to that list.

Birthdays are celebrated usually at the end of a year and not at the beginning of the year. For example, if one's birth date is on the 1st of January, then the birthday will be celebrated on the 1st of January and not the 2nd of January.

Huh? Should I grab my slide rule for this?

Now just ponder, what intelligence is there in celebrating and showing happiness when a year has decreased in one's life.

Cake? Champagne? Prezzies?

During a birthday celebration, candles are lit on a cake, amounting to the years of the one's life. He extinguishes these candles by blowing them out and all present clap their hands. Hands are clapped at two occasions only, one at the time of joy for some achievement of his. Secondly, when someone acts foolishly, then to mock at him. Here a person is extinguishing the rays of the years of his life by blowing them out himself. Then this is no happiness, nor is it any achievement. So the clapping of hands is only for mocking at this person's stupidity.

Apparently successfully blowing out the candles on your cake (which for all of us becomes slightly more challenging each year) is an invitation to mock the celebrant. Whatever. Clap clap mock mock I get the slice with the icing roses. Oh to be a member of such a humourless joyless dour society.

Ponder that this is a custom and sign of non-believers. When it is someone's birthday, one year of his life has decreased, and not increased ... [the Imam inserts a long & ponderous allegory of a king & his treasure, the rather esoteric moral of which somehow supports the heaving of all birthday cakes against a wall and the general extinguishing of joy & merriment.]

Another object of the birthday parties is show. Islam encourages simplicity. By this attitude of show, the poor feel inferior and deprived and the rich have a superiority complex.

Show? What show? Like the half billion dollars US that Casa's Hassan II mosque cost? That qualifies as "show" doesn't it? Apparently the Imam has never attended one of my birthday parties. Or at least recently. I haven't had the Chippendale dancers perform in years and last year Mr. Cat in Rabat and I decided to stop flying all of our friends to Mykonos for the weekend.

Also, in these gatherings, music, singing, video filming and the taking of photographs and other un-Islamic and forbidden acts take place.

Alright, I'll grant the Imam that. I confess that there have been forbidden acts at my birthday parties. Often - and I hang my head in shame - I have allowed unveiled female and unrelated male guests to mingle and converse unattended. I look forward to a long eternity assembled among other like-minded infidels toasting my heels in Hell-Fire.

So, in a nutshell, the celebrating of birthdays is the custom of the Kuffaar, the non-believers and is prohibited in Islam. Except for the prophet's birthday of course - then it's okay ('Happy Blessed birthday' to him), although I don't think he gets a cake. I can't help but think that a few cards in the mail and a nice chocolate cake might make my Muslim neighbours a happier lot. As it is, I still can't differentiate the sounds they make when they preach, quarrel, or express joy. Just a thought.

*With the one exception of Cancer, my love sign.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Uncovered Meat & Other Horror Stories

If you've read my recent posting "9 Weird Things About Me", then you may recall that I have a propensity to wander the streets of Agdal with cat food in my purse in order to feed its strays. Little did I know that by doing so - by feeding the city's neglected and hungry felines - I was propagating an "accepted" metaphor that equates cat food with promiscuous women. So what kind of devious misogynistic byzantine awfully clever mind equates a tin of Friskies with a frisky woman?

None other than Egyptian-born Sheikh Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia's most senior Muslim cleric who once said that the 9-11 attacks were "God's work against oppressors". Now, according to the good Sheikh, cat food is pretty much the same things as an unchaste profligate slatternly whorish licentious unveiled woman.

"In a Ramadan sermon in a Sydney mosque, Sheikh al-Hilali suggested that a group of Muslim men recently jailed for many years for gang rapes were not entirely to blame ... If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it..whose fault is it - the cats or the uncovered meat?"

Of course the gang-banging rapists cats aren't to blame. I wonder if the Sheikh knows that we women are given a special manual at birth on how to seduce men, with special appendices on keeping our lipstick fresh, fixing a run in our black fishnet stockings, and casting men into the sulfurous fires of hell for all eternity. My copy is covered in red faux-fur and is much thumbed & extensively annotated. Regrettably, my mother didn't give me the illustrated edition; I believe my brother was her favourite child.

There were women, he said, who 'sway suggestively' and wore make-up and immodest dress "and then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years. But the problem, but the problem all began with who (sic)?" he said
, referring to the women victims.

Yes victims. The women's victims. Oh, the pitfalls of being a man, having to live in a world with oversexed women (such as I) who are nothing more than the devil's agent in his evil quest to accumulate good Muslim (male) souls. In fact, according to the Sheikh, we make up half of his standing army. "Onward Slutty Soldiers, marching off to war ...."

Women, he said, were 'weapons' used by Satan to control men.

My goodness but this makes it difficult to see Islam as a religion of "peace and enlightenment". Especially when you read a translation
of his speech in which he also claims that all Christians and Jews will end up" in hell. And not part-time. For eternity. They are the worst in God's creation." As an atheist and a woman (a double damnation whammy), I assume that I'll be relegated to standing at the Hell's door, holding it open for the other "people of the book".

And what happened
to the Sheikh? Needless to say, his comments didn't go unheard. Although his followers responded with a hearty round of applause as he concluded his sermon, public outcry was thunderous, and Sydney's mosque association suspended him for a whole whopping 3 months. I think parking in a handicapped spot gets you a higher sentence in most countries. He has also apologized but added that he "had only intended to protect women's honour". His apology has been accepted by the Mosque Association.

Many people - including some Muslim leaders - have called for the cleric to be dismissed from office.

Well, there's a thought. Or better yet, give him the same sentence that backwards heads-up-their-asses fundamentalists would give to a "wanton woman": stone him. No no no, I'm above this, I'm a better person in spite of my full-time tenure in hell - perhaps we could just put him on a diet of cat food for the next 6 months. That'll give him something to chew on.

9 Weird Things About Me

I have been tagged by Liosliath over at Morocco Time with the following challenge: to list 9 weird things about myself. In public. For all to see (and mock). I first balked at the idea because 1) I don't think there's anything particularly weird about me and b) if I racked my brain long enough and actually came up with an oddity or two, would I want to share them with my readers?

So I peeked at the gabillion self-revelatory stroke-fests lists of other bloggers and couldn't help but notice that most of them didn't contain weird things at all, but were rather a list of the writer's 'amusing & interesting' experiences, or included such banal & mundane so-called eccentricities as "I drink milk out of the container". Well who doesn't? Now, I have engaged in my fair share of bizarre activities and had not a few curious incidents in my life, but I don't think that makes me - or contributes to my being - particularly weird. No, I must dig deeper or consult a more objective source.

So I asked Mr. Cat in Rabat, and much to my dismay delight, he spouted a disconcertingly lengthy list in no time at all. In fact, I believe his only regret in assisting me was limiting the entries to nine. So with no further ado ...

9 Weird Things About Me

  1. I am incredibly shy. Most people have trouble believing this. I don’t know why.
  1. When something really good happens to me, I don't tend to share it with people, except for Mr. Cat in Rabat but only because he had it written into our wedding vows.
  1. I can write (indeed I am remarkably dexterous) with my toes. Admittedly my "penmanship" was much better before my foot surgery. Please don't email me with requests for samples of my footnotes.
  1. I walk around town with dry cat food in my purse so I can feed the city's strays.
  1. I can’t be in a room where there is an open closet door. I have to close it.
  1. I liked the movie Ishtar.
  1. When I travel, I take a grey flannel stuffed teddy bear named Grey Bear (pictured above) so he might act as a surrogate in photographs. He is accommodating, decidedly unweird & very photogenic. By extension I would mention that while I enjoy taking photographs, I hate having my picture taken. Hence Mr. G. Bear.
  1. I can’t brush my teeth in the bathroom; instead, I wander nomadically throughout my home as I brush brush brush. I have no problems being stationary while I floss.
  1. I still haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to be in life. My father once told me that I was a late bloomer; I am still awaiting my bloom. My 2 fears are that it has passed me by undetected or that I will not recognize it when it comes. Or that it never will come. So 3 fears.
There. If I have missed anything, I'm sure that my friends and family will supply the missing neuroses without delay. So ridicule away. Have a field day.

I double tag Knarf and Byron in return.