May 11, 2005

Quartier des Voleurs

The quartier des voleurs is on the edge of town, along the road to Azrou. It's called that because the absentee landlords are thought to be dons of drugs and prostitution. The streets are undone, potholed and rough. But the houses are new. All have the architectural signature of the town, the sloping red roof, the black rod iron bars on all windows. But already many houses are coming apart. Under sills, along the corners of buildings, around doors, you'll notice the paint is cracking. Here and there a cinderblock has collapsed in a wall under construction. Occasionally, a balcony falls off from an upper story. Or, so I'm told.

The other day I stopped in to see N. who lives in a second story apartment looking out toward the soccer stadium. Her sometime lover is a policeman in the town. Her lover is not educated, and certainly not respected. He has an obscure past, to match his sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. His smile is ghastly; there's no other word. But nobody knows the inside of the town like he does and N demands he tell her everything. They know all the scandals. This is why I visit them. Who is sleeping with whom; who accepts money under the table; the sexual harrassment charges against the vice president at the university. They know which rumors are true and which are false. They can tell you what the cleaning ladies say about the wretched conditions they work in at the local charity, which is supposed to help people like the maids.

"Everything here is fascade," N is always saying. She lectures on business subjects at the university.

When I arrive, she is reading Reading Lolita in Teheran. She lying on the couch. She's wearing shorts and a halter top and no bra. There's a movie on the television playing in the background. What's new? I ask.

Did you know the university is accused of being a hideout and a training ground for evangelicals?

I hadn't heard that.

It's true. There's a newspaper saying the university is a hotbed for evangelicas.


Of course, she says. But now the story is spreading. How hard will it be for them get students now?

Just then her guard arrives. He looks worn and his uniform is dirty. "You're late," N says, watching me closely. "I was expecting you an hour ago."

A. looks at us briefly and takes off his cap, undoes his white holster, which has no gun.

We had to put up a roadblock.

Why, asks N.

No one knows what is it.

Perhaps, the king is coming, N says to me and then to A: Makes us some mint tea, will you? The way you do....

The policeman disappears.

N. has new stories. She tells me about the teacher who has been sexually harrassing one of his students, an exchange student from Italy. "In front of the whole class, he told she should wear hot pants." She loves to tell me these things. I love to hear it. " Another time he asked her what color bras she preferred. You can't imagine all the things he says to her. And listen to this. The other day a boy says, he's in the class, 'oh you should see her tits.' The professor wants more information. He wants to know all about it. In front of another professor he invited the girl over and said, "you see what I was talking about," and looked her up and down as though she were a slave for sale. "

N. lights another cigarette. She shakes her head and opens her mouth and lets the smoke ooze out like steam up out of a grate. " Incidentally, the professor is married to a close friend of the president's wife."

Well, what did you do? I asked, because N has connections on the "task force" created to look into charges like this.

I told them. She said. I even went to the dean. What am I saying? I even, I even went to the vice president for student affairs. And you know what he told me?

N. waited until she was sure I was sufficiently curious. "He said, 'yes, but if we said anything how would that make this man's wife feel?' So she is devalued twice. But that's the way they are here."

Is he still here, I ask.

"Yes, he's still here. Of course. What do you expect?"

The policeman arrives with the tea. Thank you sweety, says N. How was your day with surete?

The man shruggs his shoulders. whatever it's been he doesn't remember it as a good day now.

"I took the dog to the vet but you need to take her outside," N. went on adjusting her breasts. "Just around the block." The policeman looks at her longingly.

The policeman picks up a book on the floor, puts it on the table, and then without a word takes the dog out the door.

Here's another story, N went on, shaking her head as though she is upset.

What's the matter, I ask.

"This whole country is paresseuse.... Have you noticed that?"

I smile. This is her agreement with everyone: information for attention.

"But so," she said, "I've been doing role playing exercises in my class. You'll be interested in this. One of the students explained how a professor had invited her into his office one day and told her that she was an excellent student and even though she had missed some classes and not done terribly well on the quizzes, she was still going to get an A. The student was so thankfull. And then the professor asked if he could take her to dinner. The student replied that it would be better if they waited until the end of the term.

"The student went back to her room and told her roommate what had happened. The roommate, who was in the same class, wondered if the same was possible for her and so she went to the professor, dressed a little provacatively, and asked what grade she was going to get. The professor told her that because she'd missed classses and done poorly on quizzes that she was on the edge and would fail the course unless she did very well on the final exam. The girl was infuriated and told the professor what her roommate had said. Then he went into a rage and told the girl she would fail, there was no question, she was done. And then he threw her out of his office."

N. took a hit on her cigarette and opened her bass like mouth, her rolling.

"Here's the problem," she went on. "The problem is that girls in this culture are taught to seduce and are rewarded when they do. You use all you have. Well, that's true in any culture, but here you have no choice and now it's become nearly genetic. But people who tell you that Islam has served these women, it's not true. You can say, 'well, it's not the religion, it's the people that interpret it.' It's the same in Christianity. No, but there is something else here. There is so much fear already, and then you add the fear of God, and it's too much."

A. returned with the dog. I could hear him in the hall unclasping the leash.

N. turned to me. "You better run along. Your wife will be worried."

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