Apr 29, 2005

Young Mahkzen

They're friends of the prince, the king's cousin, that wiry, little young man always in a baseball cap. You'll see him at the charity runs waving a sign to start the race, and if you didn't know who he was you'd think, 'how cartoon-like that boy is." But the friends of the prince are another matter. They're serious looking, tall, always striding, and supercilious young men. They make fun of everything. And they are always careful to reinsure in your mind their closeness to the palace. Referring to the prince, they'll say, "Hey, did you hear what he told me last night?" and they'll embroider some story he told them or even if he didn't tell them. Or, they'll say so they can be overheard, "Hey, what about the new Audi? 16 cylinders, that baby really hums." As though it were their car. Everyone has seen the creamy white new Audi, it seems like the prince has a new car every week, but it is more like every month, so to hear this is to hear power itself, to feel the weight of the palace, and the king, himself.

Or, you'll hear one of them say, "Yea, he's invited me down to Marrakech for the weekend. I'll probably go, I don't know."

They drift through the campus with the humid air of priviledge. This is not necessarily how they are one on one, but you rarely find them that way; they're ususually in a group, 4 or 5 boys, and a girl or two. The girls are groupies. Not always, but usually. They're drawn in for entertainment, fodder for a lazy afternoon. "Hey, stupid, get me a bottled water," they'll say. "Hurry." Or, "Let's see more of your tits." And if one of the girls steps out of line, they'll be crushed. If one said, "you know you're like little children. You're bullies of no consequence." Or, "You represent everything I hate about this country," which no girl would ever say, but if she had a certain expression that suggested judgment, or if she didn't respond soon enough to one of their jokes, they might treat her as though she had said, "you represent everything about this country I hate."

But look at that one there, with wavy hair, a head too big for his body, there, the swarthy one sitting on the window ledge outside the little cafe. He's the president of the local charity. He's the last one you would ever put in such a position, but his father was an advisor to Hassan II. He's Mahkzen if there ever were. You see him from time to time alone. He looks at you over the top of his dark glasses. He passes me and he doesn't know why I watch him. He lowers his head in subservience. I don't acknowledge him.

He is especially crude, this one. "I'll rape you," he may tell one of the girls with a curly, wicked smile. "I just might. You better watch it. And if you make fun of my friends, I will rape you."

Meanwhile, they walk to and from class, doling out conversation like acolytes with incense. They're in school to get a wall decoration. They will work for their fathers. Pas de problem. They're the second and third generation. On Ibn Khaldun's clock they are at ten to the hour: their families are crumbling even as they become more powerful. But they have no idea. The world is as bright and sure as 'dandy.' After all, their fathers are all part of the mahzen. Not in the narrow sense of security services, but they're from the great old families, the Fazzies, whom you always see at palace gatherings.

If you watch them moving around the campus, from time to time you may notice someone watching them, in between the pillars, someone who has felt their cruelty, someone watching with both detachment and loathing.

Meanwhile, the middle school teachers are on strike for the next two days. Two days out of 15, they strike. It's gone on for three years.

Meanwhile, you wonder how the despair can be so durable. Ask the imame in Azrou who was arrested after "May 16th" and spent a year in jail. What was his crime? Unlawful assembly. He wears a beard and so he looks the part of the fearful Islamicist. But it's nonsense.

Meanwhile, in back of Azrou there are two palaces. Not villas, palaces. One for each side of the royal family. Or so they say. They are staffed all year round and you would think there would be jobs when the royal family arrives. But no. The royal family always arrives loaded down with staff and belongings.

Meanwhile, the teenage boy, whose father is a travel agent in Fez, hit an old man while driving. The old man died. Nothing happened to the boy. It was an accident, except that the boy had no license; he was driving with friends who were drunk. But the notion is that he paid his way to get off any charges. It doesn't matter what the facts were. Perhaps, it really was an accident, but in the silt of stories about corruption, this is another grain. The little truth is irrelevant. The big truth is too great to acknowledge, to big to see its true size.

Apr 25, 2005


We walked up the side of the volcano. The ferns are just coming back. We got almost to the radar station; two dogs came running down the hill, out through the trees. Barking like we were the devils. We scared 'em back up the hill, turned off, and sat on a rock.

He told me again about the makhzen, the system, how it used to work. The bottom dweller was the mokaddam. The sheikh. He was the tracker. He gave up to the Khalifa or the Kayad, who in turn went to the pasha, who went to the governor, who might, if something was up, call a friend in the palace. Everyone new in town, the mokaddam found out who they were, where they were from.

Still now, you go to town to get a housing permit. They tell you to come back while the mokaddam finds out your particulars. He asks the guards at the residence, or at one of the corporate retreat centers. The guards always know. You don't think they're watching. After all, it's a peephole of a window in the guardhouse at the residence, and what do they do all day? They sit in flimsy card table chairs talking about nothing. Sometimes, you'll see them pray. But they're working all the time. they talk to the cabbies, they watch like hawks at night. American girl has indiscriminate taste for Moroccan men, brings the cabbies up for some inshallah. It all goes to the mokaddam. And then you're a dossier down on the second floor of the police station behind the Cookie Cracque. I still can't figure out the name.

He tells me these things and, of course, what to believe. He's just a student. Still, he seems to know. He tells me people still disappear. Yea, but how do you KNOW that, I ask. Because the place is so matthair thick with rumors, I never quite believe. "I can't tell you," he says. "But they took someone in our family."

"I don't believe it," I say.

"Believe it," he says. And just then two kids passed below us carrying stolen firewood. "All I can tell you is that nothing has really changed except the appearance.

Apr 9, 2005

Woman No. 3

It was late. Everyone yawning.

"And left handed people die sooner than right handed people?" she said to make her point. Incidentally, I'm left handed, and she knows that. The conversation was about biological determinism. "We're just like birds," she went on, talking to her colleague, Barry, who believes that all love is construct. She suspects he's gay by the way. And she went into a long description of women looking for the bird-like red feather in a man, and not just any red feather, but the reddest, deepest hue of red. And that color would signify his ability to break into one her 128 eggs.

"A man just has his sperm, which he's willing to splash out wherever he pleases. It's nothing to him. But we have our eggs."

Barry waved Woman No. 3 aside and went on about how everything he'd ever felt was born out of his family's and society's predelections. "No one can convince me otherwise," he said. "Love is what's taught, not what is felt." Recently, his girl friend arrived from Paris. She wants to get married; he doesn't. He wants her, however he wants her, but not the commitment. Not kids, for sure.

Woman No. 3 had something to say about children as well, but I won't belabor it. "Whenever I go back to Canada," she said. "I just want to leave again. It's too much. My husband, my children, I just want to leave."

She brought out some digestive she'd bought in Italy.

Woman No. 2 by the way is also Canadian. Mary. I took her to Volubilis one day. She loves to Curl; she's on a curling team that curls three times a week in that season. She gets respectable scores; she goes 2nd, which is significant. When she's not curling, she's golfing, or traveling. There's hardly a place she's not been to, a cruise she hasn't taken. She was abused by her only husband 20 years ago. She likes to talk about it. At home, the only other living thing she has is a cat. Not even a plant. We had lunch in the square in Meknes. She asked me questions the way you do with guides. She has spent her life with people leading her around. She doens't like to be alone. She certainly doesn't like to travel abroad without someone at her side.

Woman No. 1 asked me in no uncertain terms to take Woman No. 2 on this adventure. Woman No. 2 is an old Grateful Dead fan. She's a chemistry teacher, and also Canadian. Women No. 3 and No. 1 are very close. They were in American schools together in Maylasia and beyond. Woman No. 1 and No. 2 are also close. I don't know why. Woman No. 3 and No. 2 are not close. They despise each other and sometime I'll tell you about their trip to Marrakech and Merzouga.

But as I say, it was late. Four people in a third story one bedroom apartment, in a small livingroom, big enough for four people, with a fire and a white rug; Miles Davis, a wilting plant, proper lithos and les objets personnelles.

Woman No. 3 is smart. She reads people closely. She is particularly tuned to body language. It is part of her notion of biological determinism. Everything is seduction, fight or flight. But mostly seduction or not. Something caught her mind and she went from anthropology the fact that all these teachers here are losers. She didn't use that word, but that was the word in her mind. There are many good examples to support that argument. Many people here who are lost, who have nowhere else to go. She mentioned several. The psychologist for example, from Boston, who I suspect was done in by The Courage to Heal. By that whole scandal with repressed memory. She's the kind who would have taken on clients and gone along with the fad and then one day been sued. Or forgotten. I could go on about her. You've never met a woman with child who had so little business being a mother. "You want to get rid of him now?" she'll say on the phone after her son has spent the night or been with us for an afternoon. "Shall I come and collect the little savage?" But not said the way you or I might, where the words would be a veneer that you could easily see through, to the love inside. No. See, here, there is no love.

And there are so many other examples.

Woman No. 3 went on. She was pissed that one of the college administrators had called her to account for teaching things not in the curriculum. She'd never been called to account before. "But I'm not like all these other people. These are people with nowhere to go; they have no life. But I can go anywhere I want. I can go to a hundred places; I can go pick up with my family any time I want...."

Morocco is full of contradictions. And it seems everyone who comes here. Weren't we among those people? Didn't she mean us as well?"

B. spoke up. "I don't know what you're saying. But I'm not a loser and I don't count myself among these people you're talking about...." She got up, kissed cheeks, and left.

I stayed on.

(to be continued)