Jan 13, 2005

Ballad of a Coco Girl

"He calls us coco girls," she said. She's late 20s, just married, enrapt in Hermes scarves, frankincence and Murr.
What's that mean, I asked.
"Well, you know." She speaks French like a native but her English is patched together. "What you call them? Like call girls."
I was startled.
"They say it. They say we are the president's harem." She shrugged her shoulders. "Can you believe it."
She's smoking furiously.
I can't believe it.
"I told the president I'm leaving, but it's not because they're going to pay me more. I'm leaving because what can I do here? This is... what do you call it? A mad house."
And then she told me many stories from the mad house, about who is the most hypocritical and who is most sexist.

The worst is Dr. X. He came into the communication office one day. A stocky face like a knotted piece of wood. He walked in, hunched over in an overcoat like a character in a Dostoevsky novel. He had an odd bandage on his left nostril. He told one of the cocoa girls that he was in the midst of love making and his "tigress" bit him.

He's in charge of finance. He taught high school chemistry in the Royal school. This is his background in finance. So they say, He came with the president; this is his real background. It is said that he saved the university from financial ruin, which is a trick because under the university's charter the national assembly has the power, and the responsibility, to pay off the university's overages.

Dr. X is well known around campus. He has had a series of affairs with women in the university staff. He is always on the prowl. Several women have considered filing sexual harrassment charges, but they always change their minds. There is just one who may follow through.

Meanwhile, the university is in chaos. Falling enrollment. Teachers stay on average just two semesters. Morale is bad everywhere. The number of students who go on cocaine binges out in the country is rising. Many teachers are teaching outside their area of discipline. The school counsellor seems inept and overwhelmed. Academic pressure is high, expecially for students who are not used to it and who have been pampered. Students write the newspaper regularly complaining about the professors, which could be a reflection either way. Technical people are leaving. Allegations of wasted and misspent monies. The unanimous consensus: very bad management.

Someone told me this is the best university in Africa, which is not true, of course. There are any number of better schools in Egypt and South Africa and probably 3 or 4 other places. But if it is one of the better schools in Morocco, at least, what can one say about higher education? Especially since the graduates of this school are all heading out of the country.

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