Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dog's Days & Dogma

The Dog Days ... "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies"* ... have arrived in Rabat, and they're barking in full force. Simply put, it is stinking hot and equally stinking humid. So yesterday, in what would prove to be a futile attempt to combat Rabat's current weather woes and to briefly escape the travails of packing, Mr. Cat in Rabat & I ducked into stinking hot and equally stinking humid café for a beer, gin & tonic, Smirnoff Ice glass of orange juice with our friend and fellow gin & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N.

During one of my many rants, I apparently gesticulated wildly (which I often do) and took the name of Allah - if not in vain - then in some other capacity (which I often do) which had the affect of raising Mr. N's eyebrows. Being passably omniscient, he advised me that, betwixt gesture & declaration, I had effectively converted to Islam. "Now you'll have to choose a Muslim name," he added ever so sagely.

Like many of the world's disgruntled malcontents, I am not terribly partial to my name and would embrace the opportunity of choosing one anew with metaphorical open arms. What name should I choose? The three of us began to deliberate, brainstorming every female name common to Morocco, but it soon became apparent that there weren't too many we all liked, let alone could all agree upon. Quite simply, too many names sounded like an expectoration produced after a long night of pub hopping. Finally we agreed that it might be more entertaining quicker if we just decided on which name we hated the most and a nanosecond later it was a fait accompli.

I am Kautar.

In the quest for the least beautiful Muslim woman's name, Kautar serves 2 purposes: each & every 'Kautar' I have taught has been a conniving weasel and secondly, the name itself is resonant of bovine excrement (ergo, bad name & bad mental association). I briefly considered Rim (which just made all of us giggle) but all of my Rims have been lovely and I was reluctant to sully those memories. So Kautar it is.

Of course, every Kautar needs a mate, so we decided that Mr. CinR needed to be muslimed christened with an appropriately dissonant name and after several helpful suggestions from Mr. N., we dubbed him Bilal. In the quest for the least beautiful Muslim man's name, Bilal serves 2 purposes: each & every 'Bilal' I have taught has been a complete ignoramus and secondly, the name itself is resonant of the act of regurgitation (ergo, bad name & bad auditory association).

So there you have it: Kautar & Bilal. A union a shit names; the stuff of true love stories.

Now I understand that, strictly speaking, I didn't convert to Islam yesterday afternoon because my oaths & adjurations bore little resemblance to the act of witnessing to the supremacy of Allah (and his messenger) which, I believe, Islam normally requires of its proselytes. This flight of fancy was probably just a whim of the weather, of where your mind meanders when your ass is sticking to the polyurethane seats of a stinking hot and equally stinking humid café, producing farting noises whenever you try to reposition yourself.

*from Brady’s Clavis Calendarium

Sunday, July 29, 2007

And Then There Were Three

A rather brief Cat in Rabat Public Service Announcement for Moroccan Oenophiles about which the author raises one conundrum and invites her readership to consider two possible solutions. There will be no references herein to early Genesis albums*

Surely this is a coincidence. In fact, I'd like to think that this is a coincidence in the purest, most literal sense of the word but I can't help but think that all of those slightly snarky comments I've made over the past 2 years about Allah and his un-Christian desire to see me completely deprived of sleep have finally caught up with me. But whatever the reason is - a chronological fluke or a spiteful god - the fact remains that in the last 2 ½ months, a mere handful of weeks before Mr. Cat in Rabat and I take our leave of Le Plus Beau Pays du Monde, three - three! - wine stores have opened in Rabat. Nay, not Rabat but Agdal.

First there was Nicolas which opened on the charmingly derelict Dayat Aoua in upper Agdal. A few weeks later, the slightly less well stocked and somewhat pricier La Cave du Soleil popped up like a wine-kissed mushroom on Michlifen. And now the Jewel in the Crown, Les Vignes de l'Agdal has opened its doors on Rue Sbou (across from the Marché Municipal or for those of you of a less salubrious bent, beside the Barrio Latino).

So in the realm of what the fuck? I have to ask myself, “why the
alcohol-sodden flurry of decidedly un-Islamic activity?”

Is this a desperate clever attempt to convince the Secretariat General of the International Exhibitions Bureau that
Morocco (specifically Tangier) is a worthy host for the 2012 World Expo? That Morocco is urbane, that it is cosmopolitan – even though you couldn’t get a bartender here to make a proper one to save his soul. I might add that Tangier’s official application included the somewhat abstruse theme, "Routes of the world, cultures connecting. For a more united world" ... the grammar and syntax of which completely eludes me. I've already made a mental note not to buy the t-shirt …

Or is this a desperate clever attempt to keep Rabat's streets awash in French wine so as to buffer the blow when Morocco effectively becomes a fundo-nation after the September elections? Perhaps
Rabat's triumvirate of wine stores will – as they said in Casablanca (the film not the city) – "take the sting out of being occupied."

Assuming they’re not closed down for good.

So drink up
Rabat! Revel in your three wine stores! Huzzah! At the very least, everyone here will just be a stone’s throw away from a wine store and will have no excuse not to raise a glass to Mr. CinR & I when we leave Le Plus Beau Pays du Monde.

*a band which effectively became defunct with the departure of Peter Gabriel, in spite of their desperate clever attempt to delude the public into thinking otherwise by releasing "And Then There Were Three".

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Politics of Sex & Some Minor Marrakech-Bashing

"Marrakech will be the target," my student judiciously advised me - this in the wake of Morocco's terror alert having been maxed out again this past weekend. "Why?" I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. "Teacher," my student tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that she thought I was a retard), "Marrakech is the most beautiful city in the world."

Which it isn't.

I have grown weary of being the Ministère du Tourisme du Maroc's Official Apostate but still I persevered. "Perhaps Marrakech will be the target because it is the most visited city in Morocco (which is the most beautiful country in the world) and, at any one time, there are a gazillion tourists - both Moroccan and Western - there."

Nine pairs of eyes blinked at me dumbly. I gave up.

"Alrighty, tell me what the disadvantages of tourism are," I asked in a feeble attempt to regain a modicum of control in the class. Nine pairs of eyes blinked at me dumbly. "There are none," pronounced one student after a disquieting period of silence which, had they actually been ruminating & thoughtfully considering my question - which they weren't - might have been called a pregnant pause. But it wasn't. It was just awkward. In response to my look of unfettered disbelief and exasperation, one of his classmates took pity on me.

"Sex tourism?" he suggested rather than responded. Finally we were getting somewhere! True, I had expected answers like the added stress to the environment, the further overcrowding of trains, or an increase in the price of a bottle of Sidi Ali, but I was grateful for the bone tossed my way. I'd gladly settle for sex tourism.

"So what exactly is sex tourism?"

This clearly made them uncomfortable. "You know," murmured one, fidgeting in his seat. "When Europeans come to Morocco to have sex with women and girls." And men. And boys - although that went unstated. As was the fact that an overwhelmingly large percentage of these sexual predators visitors to Morocco are fellow Muslims from Saudi Arabia who, if caught, are released while the women are slapped with jail sentences. It's almost as if - and forgive my overt cynicism at the suggestion - that the Saudis someone is greasing gendarmes someone's palms. And then there are the Moroccan women lured to Saudi under a panoply of pretences - promises of work or for religious reasons - only to find themselves ensnared in a ring of prostitution.

"And what about the Moroccan guides who prey upon single or divorced Western women - especially, but not restricted to, those 'of a certain age'?" Nine pairs of eyes blinked at me dumbly. "Seriously," I remonstrated, "you know what I'm talking about." Many - many - of these desert Berber-type tour guides are more than happy to lead a gaggle of gormless women out to the dunes of Merzouga for a quick poke under the stars night of "authentic Berber" music & tajine. At best, they view these women as disposable sex toys; at worst they fleece them for anything and everything they can get. The jackpot, of course, is an accepted marriage proposal and a visa out of Ouazarzate Dodge.

Age differences of several decades between newly wedded Moroccan men and Western women are not uncommon. And anyone who has lived here longer than 3 weeks knows at least one - and usually more - woman "of a certain age" who has succumbed to the skilful manipulations of these Grifters in Gondoras, and abandoned what little common sense she once possessed along with vast sums of cash. I once spoke to an arrestingly candid owner of an excursion company who told me that he assigned visiting women to his staff of guides based on their (i.e., the men's) personal proclivities. For example, one guide preferred Dutch women; another, German. He was quick to add that many of their clients are not conned women at all but satisfied (no pun intended) return-customers, who will often request specific guides when they book their subsequent excursions.


"Teacher," my students tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that they thought that I was a retard), "that's different. That's love."

Addendum: I would draw the reader's attention to a news report from this past weekend in which allegations of sexual abuse were made against Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. According to the allegation, these men - from various units that rotated throughout the area over a 3-year period - systematically sexually abused women and girls (the youngest being 13).

... entire contingents had been involved with the young girls passed from unit after unit, resulting in the birth of illegitimate children.

Perhaps, that too was love.

Addendum 2: I just came across this link to a non-profit organization called SOS Morocco which strives to combat sex tourism here - specifically that which targets children. Thanks to Myrtus for posting it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Cat in Meknès

I like Meknès. There, I've said it. Out loud. Liking Meknès isn't a something I share with too many of my colleagues but I like it, so there it is. Its greatest advantage, of course, is the fact that it isn't Rabat. Based on that alone, I could easily move on to the peroration of this posting. Many of you will probably wish that I had.

Last Saturday, Mr. Cat in Rabat and I slipped away to the Alcohol & Murder Capital of Morocco for a weekend getaway - and by weekend, I mean one night. But it was one night in a lovely riad whose only fault lay in the fact that the muezzin from the nearby mosque chose to call the faithful from our bathroom. So except for having to peel me off the ceiling at the first intonation of
Allahu akbar, it was fabby.

Meknès has much to recommend it. It has *relatively* cheap beer, Vache Qui Rit Rouge cheese product (still unavailable in Rabat), motorists who don't gun for you as you dart across their streets, and a gracious host in The Morocco Report's very own Taamarbuuta.

But unlike any other Moroccan city, Meknès is irrevocably associated with the larger-than-life historical megalomaniac figure of Moulay Ismail (1645-17
27). It is nigh impossible to walk the streets of the old city without feeling his noxious evil nefarious weighty presence. Moulay "the Bloodthirsty" Ismail - who was known to kill anyone who looked at him the wrong way - inherited the throne in spite of the some four score other family members who felt that they had a more legitimate right to rule. Consequently, the first 5 years of his reign were awash in blood, during which time the claims of his rivals were effectively quashed. And by claims I mean his rivals. Repairing to Meknès, he devoted himself to building a capital city & palace that would rival that of Versailles (it didn't). The Sultan even went so far as to request the hand of one of Louis XIV's daughters in marriage. The Sun King declined the offer.

To make manifest his vision of a bigger & better imperial city, Moulay Ismail "engaged" the services of tens of thousands of slaves - many of whom were Christian men, women, and children from Western Europe (notably the UK, Spain & Portugal) as well as the Mediterranean rim - who had been captured from ships, plucked from their Sunday church pews
, or snatched from their homes by marauding Corsair pirates (or "Sally Rovers" from the erstwhile infamous Salé, Rabat's twin sister) and then sold to the Sultan. It is estimated that at any one time, there were at least 25,000 slaves labouring in Meknès. Considering that the Sultan cast his shadow on this planet for over 80 years, that makes for a considerably large hive of enslaved disgruntled worker bees over the years.

These slaves suffered grievously, living and working under loathsome and tortuous conditions. To add to their long list of indignities, they were also used as pawns by Moulay Ismail durin
g the on-again/off-again negotiations instigated by those Western leaders and clergy who toiled for their release. Not surprisingly, treaties were seldom honoured by the Sultan and it was not uncommon for slaves not to be released after ransoms were paid. Reneging on his promises with foreign ambassadors appears not to have troubled the Sultan's sleep any.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Sultan treated the 12,000-odd horses in his vast royal stables with greater concern and humanity than he did his workers; in fact, the urine
from those horses which had completed the hajj to Mecca was caught in a special bowl by an awaiting attendant, lest the undeserving earth below sully the sacred stream of piss. During one of my many past incarnations, that was my job.

Nonetheless, Moulay Ismail was a man of unwavering faith and was genuinely and profoundly concerned about the immortal souls of his infidel slaves. Consequently, many Christian slaves endured prolonged tortures - often by bastinado - honeyed with empty promises of better treatment and freedom if they converted to Islam. Often, those who refused to abjure their faith were publicly circumcised with really dull knives anyway; those who did convert were effectively abandoned by their governments as apostates. Their only hope for release was by escape or death.

Western historians consider Moulay Ismail a capricious and monstrous psychopath while many of their counterparts in North Africa revere him as the founder of modern Morocco. In fact, so important a historical figure is he that infidels like me can gain access to his mausoleum (photo, above right). But let me just add that cutting a man in half - vertically, from head to crotch - was a common method of execution under the Sultan, so you be the judge. Although, to be fair, he did consider it more humane to begin cutting from the head rather than from the nether regions.

So there you are.
The Royal City of Meknès, a city steeped in the blood of over 100,000 slaves and moulded by the brutality of one madman: the Alcohol, Murder and now Romance Capital of Morocco. What's there not to like?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Eyewitness to an Unveiling

I have an excellent memory of which I am inordinately proud - it's not photographic but pretty darn close. If it's written in print, then I can easily commit it to memory; however, if it's a facial feature, I'm screwed. This is how the gods have repaid my hubris. In fact, it's safe to say that when I meet someone for the first time, even engage in a lengthy conversation with that person, it's highly unlikely that I'd be able to pick them out of a police line-up three hours later. Undeniably, I would make the world's worst eyewitness.

Now this is not the most coveted quirk to possess if you are a teacher. I realize that students appreciate to be called upon by their names and be recognized in the hallway. By their instructor. And I try - I truly do. I have even developed several non-earth shattering strategies to make me less of a nob in class: I write down abbreviated descriptions next to the names on my enrolment sheets ('glasses', 'bald', 'scarf', 'mind-numbingly stunned'), I try to memorize seating plans (although students are wont to change positions on me, either capriciously or wilfully), I record their names into a portable cassette recorder and play this mantra back during my sleep through headphones. But for the most part, I can - at best - successfully identify by name 40% of my students by the end of term. In my defence, having 4 Fatima Zahra's in the same class at any one time doesn't help. Fortunately, they don't mind being numbered Fatima Zahra 1, Fatima Zahra 2. Fatima Zahra 3, and Fatima Zahra 4.

Let me add that if a student changes his/her hairstyle or forgets to wear his/her eyewear, any progress I've made in learning their name and assigning it to his/her face is completely undone. So this afternoon, it came as little surprise that on the 2nd last day of class I should chance upon a student whom I didn't recognize. This happens frequently. But this was a class that I've had for 3 hours a week for the last 10 months - the scholarship students from the slums of Salé about whom I have already rhapsodized - what the hell was my problem? In a world where my bar of recognition is already set disturbingly low, this was a personal best. And by personal best, I mean a nadir.

Then I put on my glasses realized that it was Fadwa, a wee 15-year old girl and the only veiled student in this particular class. But rather than wearing her usual hijab - Saints preserve us! - she was wearing a diaphanous black veil. I could sort of, kind of see her hair. She was more suitably attired to crawl over broken glass on her knees up the steps of the Our Lady of Lourdes' shrine than pray before Allah five times. I cleverly hid my flustered surprise - I cunningly dropped the handout I was passing her - and went on with the day's lesson. But if my nerves weren't already frayed enough, Fadwa appeared after break sans veil. What fun she and her friends must have had in the bathrooms! She had hair - who knew? Gorgeous hair that she deigned to sluttishly proudly exhibit before me and the testosterone-engorged boys in class. How can she now protect her modesty and discourage unwanted attention from her male counterparts? Had she really thought this through?

Her best friend in class pointed to her and said, "Teacher! We have a new student!" Fadwa giggled licentiously demurely. "And a beautiful new student too," I responded. Not very clever, I know, but it's been a rough week and my brain activity repartee is always the first thing to go.

So I now have a new & improved Fadwa in my class. I am very, very happy because I can't abide headscarves on women. Although I want to be able to say that I support a woman's right to wear whatever she wants on her head - even an armadillo - if she so chooses, I'd have to say that I'd rather she wear a placental mammal than a hijab. Which probably makes me a bit of a hypocrite but at least an honest one. Scarves are not only scraps of politically charged fabric but all too ugly manifestations of sexual and religious oppression. In a word, I hate them.

So I had a pretty good Morocco Day today: all because of a whisp of a girl and a radical decision she made, a decision whose motives I will try to ferret out of her tomorrow. And I can only hope that tomorrow - it being my last class with this group of amazing kids - the new & improved Fadwa returns in all of her Rapunzelean glory. That she doesn't have a change of heart, a lapse of courage. That her father doesn't have a near-stroke and obliterate her sexuality from the world.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Where's the Kaboom?

Fast on the heels of my Friday night adult class telling me that the government should have carte blanche in censoring the media, it was announced this weekend that Morocco's security alert had been raised to maximum. Now for those of you who are a little hazy on the ins & outs of 'maximum', it strongly suggests that some sort of nasty act of terrorism by a radical Islamist sect is on the horizon.

A senior European diplomat said the most widespread speculation among his colleagues was Moroccan authorities feared the possibility of a suicide bomb attack at the peak of the summer tourist season."We have no precise information on that but it is the scenario the most talked about by foreign diplomats here," he said.

Unlike my students, I think the press should have a little bit of elbow room when it comes to reporting the news; in fact, some of that 'precise information' would go a long way right now. With visitors to and denizens of one of the world's 'corrupt Muslim governments' flocking to the country's royal cities, the coastal towns of the North, its beaches & mountains to while away their summer vacations, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to drop a hint or two to the public at large - what exactly are the perceived targets. If I were a parent, I might like to know whether or not my weekend plans will include the possibility of waiting in a triage centre while shrapnel is removed from my child's sternum.

The ministry urged Moroccans to be more vigilant and support the country's efforts against the threat of terrorism, adding more police were being deployed to step up surveillance.

Feel better?

My students are of the learned opinion that Marrakech is the likeliest spot for an act of terrorism.
Almost unanimously, they tell me that Marrakech is the most beautiful city in Morocco - although I have had a grand total of 3 students who assert that Ouarzazate holds that coveted crown (I have tears of laughter in my eyes as I type this) - many have even suggested that Marrakech is the most beautiful city in the world. It is not; I have repeatedly told them this. They also tell me that because Marrakech is the most beautiful city in Morocco - and possibly the most beautiful city in the world (it is not; I have repeatedly told them this), evil-doers want to destroy this perfect of cities.

They are probably right - if I were a
suicide bomber (SB), and not quite as half-baked as the last bunch in Casa, I'd know that I could wreak maximum damage in the Djemaa el-Fna – Marrakech's tourist Mecca extravaganza. But I would also probably target the morally debased Casablanca and its evil Western businesses or perhaps even Rabat, with all of its evil foreign embassies and where the king of this 'corrupt Muslim government' resides. (When he's not in Marrakech, the most beautiful city in Morocco - and possibly the most beautiful city in the world - which it isn't ).

So it's been three days and all is quiet;
thus far, there's been no incident. Touch wood. Nonetheless, I am tempted to quote Marvin the Martian and ask, "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom!" Not that I'm not relieved, but what happened? Perhaps the SBs were rattled. Rattled by this, the "... first time Moroccan authorities have used clear language and precise words about the terrorist threat." Yeesh.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Happy Birthday Canada!

Ninety-nine & nine tenths of my students know absolutely nothing about the country from which I hail (clue on far left) in spite of the fact that more than a hefty handful would give their eye teeth for the opportunity to study or immigrate there. Now this isn't an indictment against Moroccans (see how paranoid hyper-sensitive you've all made me?) but a fact. For the most part, my students don't seem to know a whole lot about any country outside Morocco, let alone the dar al-islam.

Allow me this little digression by way of illustration: last summer, during a summer programme which explored the contributions of several ancient cultures, I had planned a class which discussed, among other things, China's Four Great Inventions: paper, block & movable printing, the magnetic compass, and gunpowder. Teacher, my students tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that they thought I was a retard), Muslims invented all of those things. Suffice to say the class was a resounding flop.

How does Canada fare? I once had to draw a moose on the whiteboard in Mr. Cat in Rabat's classroom because his attempts at miming (hands atop his head as antlers) and explaining what the largest extant member of the deer family was to his students were clearly failing. But a dozen Moroccans can be forgiven for not knowing what a moose is. And when a student tells me that Montreal is the capital of Canada, I am no longer particularly surprised nor in the least way offended. After all, how many Americans could answer the question correctly? Or that French is Canada's official language ... or that the second largest country in the world is the U.S.A. not Canada (Teacher, my students try to reason with me in a tone that clearly indicates that they think I am a retard ...) - well, truth is, that one gets under my skin. I've even brought a globe (albeit an inflatable one) into the classroom and pointed maniacally at it screeching : Look! look how big it is!!

So on the off-chance that any of my students are reading my blog today, let me set the record straight:

* Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world by total area
* Canada is officially bilingual (French & English) although only one province is officially bilingual and that is New Brunswick, not Quebec.
* Canada has a Prime Minister not a president.
* Canada maintains a parliamentary democracy but is also a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state head
* Canada did not send forces to Iraq (this for my students who tell me the contrary)
* Toronto is the country's biggest city, not Montreal.
* It is not -14° celcius year-round.

And finally, July 1st is Canada Day - and today, Canada is 140 years old.
Happy Birthday! Bonne fête!