Sep 30, 2005


It is 9:20 a.m. on pay day. A dozen people are lined up to use the atm machine outside Bank Populaire. The line includes two men in army uniforms; 2 women in veils; a man in a double breasted suit; two tourists; two workers, judging by their torn, paint splattered clothing; a student; and others. It takes each person a long time to withdraw money. It is partly the machine; perhaps it's an old chip. It's partly that people aren't familiar with the screen dialogue. It's partly because people are unaware that others are waiting and because this is a culture in which everyone must wait, then waiting is expected and pardonned. It is partly because time is no matter, yet. But it's coming. The bank hours changed two weeks ago. Now there is no break between Noon and 2. The bank is open straight through now and the day stops at 4.

Yu can tell how long it will take each person to get their money from the machine. If they immediately lean on one leg, then it will be a long time. If they stand on one leg then another, it will take less time. If they stand with equal weight on both legs, it may go quickly. Many come to the machine unprepared. They look at the screen for a long time. The person who takes the longest is the business man who clearly is familiar with the machine. And he doesn't lean on one leg or the other. But when he finished he decides he doesn't enough money so he puts his card in for more.

The line moves. Each person leans against the pilar closest to the machine.

One of the veiled women finishes and stops to talk to the other veiled woman. The first woman drops some change as she goes on her way, but doesn't seems to notice. We look down at the money. I step in her way. She hesitates. I reach down to pick up two coins. I put them in her palm, which is hennaed. The man in the double breasted suit nods to me approvingly, as if to say, thank you for doing what we cannot.

Cannot. Because i's difficult to stand out, to presume, to handle someone else's money, to stoop before a woman, to do such a thing. One of my students said to me — this in the context of domestic violence — that yes he hits his little brother and he will hit his children, just as his father has hit him. Why? I ask. If the prophet were here right now, what would he say? Oh, the student says, but The propht is the prophet, he's perfect. We cannot ever be like him. It's too hard.....

This is the beginning of my revelation. Why is it they cannot? I see it again and again. They cannot. B tells me it's because they are not kind. But then we agree Americans are equally unkind. And the French are equally unkind. But whatever the comparisons and excuses, they cannot.

They cannot because Islam has outstripped its adherents. No way to catch up, or measure up now. Idealization has set in. Human perfection has no meaning. Too many crimes have been committed and now there's no way to close the distance, to go home and so the Prophet has become holy, not human. And so need to even try. All you can do is hope and pray you'll be excused, that you'll be let into paradise inspite of yourself.

Sep 28, 2005

Personal Legend

Mr. K is an attorney in his late 40s, a notably small man, a DeVito of the Middle Atlas who wears fine suits and silk smiles, and drives a Mercedes the color of his ink black ties. If you saw him walking into the courthouse on MacAllister Street, and you for one are sick and tired of these liberal courts, you would say, 'there's one of those federal prosecutors. He's one of us. I hope he gets those snively bastards who want to take away our guns and SUVs.' Or, if you prefer your liberty a little less light, you would think, 'there's one us, I'll bet you he's with the ACLU, going to defend liberty and justice for all presa canarios.'

Mr. K is always on defense and how did he get there? He spent five years in prison, in a small dirty cell in Ifrane, because he took positions against Hassan II, that most intelligent and charming, if also vindictive and ruthless of dictators. Mr. K was released in 1984 and eventually found his way to the legal profession. These days he has a large stable of defendants and so has decided to give up his house on the main road leading into Azrou and move to Ifrane. It's up in altitude and attitude. After all, Ifrane is a university town. It is also a sweatshop of priviledge and patronage. It's where the governor sits, doling out deals, through his son, to cronies who want to cash in on Ifrane's growing tourist business. You see the town and you wonder why anyone might want to come and stay there for more than a latte. People stay because it's on the edge of the forest, it's eye relief from the marble glare down below, in the valley.

But even as they come to see the forest, it's being cut down. You don't notice, because the cutters go the middle of the forest. From the outside everything appears green and lush. But on any afternoon in the fall, if you walk through the forests around Michlieffen, you'll see hooded men driving their little white panel trucks into the forest, coming with their chainsaws, and you'll notice the old growth stacked up. Now winter is coming and nobody can afford to give a damn about the trees.

But how does it happen, when you hear all the penalties you'll bear if you cut down so much as a rose bush. Well, it's the governor. He doesn't care. And the people who buy public land with the intention of selling dead wood, sell the whole lot. Everyone wants his share.

Incidentally, Mr. K lives on the road east out of Azrou, the road that goes up to the plateau and then down to Midelt and Merzouga — and beyond Merzouga in the distance, you can see Algeria and the Sahara. Azrou is an old mountain crossroads, and like all crossroad towns, it's a place where human dust collects. So here you'll find quality wood crafts and prostitutes. And lately the benefits of drug money from the Rif. This a dry cleaner town for rumpled money. The boulangerie has been remodeled and what a wide screen TV it's got. Rif money. And the local bank has gotten very generous lately with home loans. All rif money. Ask the optometrist; she can tell you everything.

Meanwhile, Mr. K is on his way to the local court house to defend a man accused of being converted to Christianity. It is not illegal to beleive in a religion other than Islam, but it is illegal to prosletyze and to be converted as a result of that appeal. He was telling me about his client one day and the conversation turned, as you always hope it will with attorneys, and he told me about his uncle. Now dead. He died of a liver problem nearly 15 years ago. Liver death is common here. So his uncle grew up in Azrou and as a child went to a local school, in which some of the teachers were Catholic. There was a Catholic monastery in those days, off that road east to Midelt, a huge place now abandonned. Gradually, the uncle became intoctrinated. "He fell in love," is the way Mr. K puts it. Fell in love with the holy spirit and then one day in the 1950s, left Morocco, went to France and became a Catholic priest. And a good priest for the next 24 years.

And occasionally, he woudl return home in his white collar and greatly impressed Mr. K. "Now there's someone I'd like to become," Mr. K thought because his uncle was tall and handsome and seemed fearless. Then 24 years after he became a Christian, the uncle returned home. He'd suffered some sort of crise psychologique. So severe, that he converted back to Islam and, to prove, his steadfastness he walked across Africa to Mecca. Up to the Algerian border, to Tunisia, across Lybia and down through Egypt, and hopped a boat to Jeddah. It took him two years.

And then he returned and became, as Mr. k says, "a normal person, who married and had a son." The son is now in his early 30s and lives in Europe. "He's my personal legend," Mr. K says, always with his smile, that smile that betrays nothing, that gives you no sign of his own treks.

Sep 26, 2005


Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Photo prise le 06 Octobre 2000 du bagne de Tazmamart, une ancienne caserne perdue dans l'est du Moyen-Atlas, une soixantaine de kilometres de la ville d'Errachidia, qui est devenue aujourd'hui le symbole des annÈes noires du Maroc tant les conditions de ceux qui y ont ÈtÈ emprisonnes ont ete inhumaines et arbitraires. L'association Forum Verite et Justice qui se bat pour faire la lumiere sur les atteintes aux droits de l'homme durant les annees de plomb qu'a connues le Maroc appelle, une manifestation devant le bagne le 07 Octobre. Photo courtesy of Mourad Borja, director of Agence Internationale de Communication et de Presse.

Sep 25, 2005

Stanford Social Innovation Review

Recent piece about the civil society in Morocco. Go to

Sep 23, 2005

Never Say Allah is Deaf

Perhaps, a line in a solilquy has become a measure of what's in store here. The line is in a play I've written for the drama club. A new faculty member has joined the club with the conviction, I find out, that he is going to take it over. I am told nothing. I find out from the actors.

The play is about a harraq who comes home after two years working in a factory abroad to visit his family. The family is in disarray and his sister is determined to leave the country. At one point she forecasts the life she sees if she doesn't leave. It's a plea by a distraught woman. Here is an excerpt....

" You will marry some man and you will not care about him, not really — in the end, you will marry for security, not love. That’s your master. After all, what silly dream is that? And if you are not submissive enough, you’ll feel your husband’s distance right away. Or, if he’s like one of these nerds, forever in love with their mother, he’ll want you to put on make up and wear forbidden clothes, like the whores he’s always known. Saving your virginity will have been for nothing. All that worry for nothing. For that one, your virginity is merely a reminder of what you can never be and he can never have. But whoever this man is, maybe he is like every other one, if you are not obedient — if you don’t have his lunch ready just the way he likes it, or if you forgot the bread, he will beat you — with his hand or his mind, and after a while it will get worse, he will ignore you, and eventually you’ll give up, you’ll let your body go, and after a few years he will find someone else and divorce you. There wasn’t anything you could have done, but you’ll brood anyway, and all the new laws won’t change a thing. You’ll be left with nothing except your children, and no one will want you, and then you will be just another divorced woman living the years away in a small apartment in one of those broken down buildings on the other side of town. The closest you’ll get to love will be a song on the radio and the masseuse’s hands in the hammam. You will be bitter and survive on gossip and the hope your children will not leave you. But in the end they will. And you will be alone. You’ll become as warm and loving as a stick. And Allah will be deaf to your prayers, because you did nothing to help yourself. All you did was dream and complain. Dream and complain. And you know what? Your whole joy in life will be to go to dinner with your family, most of them you don’t even like, and it will be too painful even to think about what might have been, the other life you might have tasted.... And when the harrags return in August, with their fancy cars and their European girl friends, and their arrogance, you will know it’s all a masque, you’ll resent them, like everyone else, you’ll think, ‘how pathetic, how you dare you come back like this’, but at the same time, you’ll envy them, you’ll look at them secretly, and it will be torture to see it. "

It's the line, "Allah will be deaf to your prayers," that draws the faculty member's ire. This man is a tall, slender man with exceptionally long fingers. He stops the actors as soon as he hears it. Can't be he said. We need to change this line. We can't say this. Why is that? the actors and I ask. He explains that Allah can never have a human vice, a human failing.

Oh what an argument ensued (to be continued...)

Sep 22, 2005

wide right

Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Two Days Ago

The guardien says he saw Lucy two days ago with a pack of dogs around the marche. Yes, the dog with the blue collar, he says. Running with a pack around the marche. Everyone else says she's been snatched and 500 dinars is the right reward.

Sep 18, 2005

No Sign

I called Muhammed and we went off to the mazbalah, along the road east out of town to Michliffen. It's a smelly crow's feast behind a tall cinderblock wall. Bulldozers move the trash around. Donkeys, dogs, goats, sheep, foraging through the plastic. Three boys in rag tag police uniforms, shredded and faded, rescued from the trash, come out of a bunker on a hill. No, they haven't seen any dead dogs, but can you spare some dinars. Muhammed smiles but doesn't give them anything.

The wind redecorates the pit; trash swirls everywhere. Much of it outside this pit. In infact, toward the west, the crap and smell extends for hundreds of acres. A man with a face as lined as an old gardner's glove wants a ride back to town. He hasn't seen any dog like the one we're looking for but he has several puppies. He tries to sell one or some. It's the last thing I want.

Sep 16, 2005

Dog Gone

It's been 48 hours since the bitch left. Last seen with another dog traveling off into the moor, on Wednesday evening about 5 p.m. I would have thought she'd come back by now. Went off to get laid, maybe. It's that time; her mind is full of less chaleurs.

Sep 7, 2005

The vet

She may be pregnant so we go to Meknes, to visit the doctor. She looks dreamy on the way. We get lost in Meknes. We're half an hour late. It's behind Belvie, across from the stadium, next to an internet cafe, up a few steps. The office is a narrow sliver. We wait a long time. Has she eaten today, the doctor asks. I didn't realize the operation would be the same day. I lie a little. She hasn't eaten much in truth, but she has eaten. The doctor is concerned. He thinks it would be better to wait. I agree. Come back in a few hours, he says. I do. The dog stays tied up. When I get back the doctor and I sit down. I want to know about the procedure. He explains. How much is this going to be, I ask. The equivalent of $260. I had no idea. I'd heard half that. I fall back on my anger. He explains. I argue. Can he come down a little? The truth is, I'm running dangerously low on money. Finally, he says well what about shots. Get a shot now and another in the spring. It's a short term solution and you woulnd't want to do this every year. Perfect, I say. So, he says, wait a few weeks, you'll see spots. Call me then and I will give her a shot.

His next patient, a pit bull, is late. He tells me that this business of treating animals badly has no corollary in the Koran. In fact, he explains, once the Prophet was sitting with a cat asleep on his clothing. It was time to pray but the Prophet ever sympathetic to cats cut the cloth around the cat rather than disturb it.

But dogs are another matter. If you touch a cat before prayer, no need to wash. Touch a dog and you must wash 7 times. That's with sand, you understand. Seven times and the Prophet said that there was only 3 reasons to have a dog: to guard sheep, to stand guard at your house, to accompany you on a journey with animals. Guard. But he would have no tolerance for other more sentimental reasons. He didn't see them as companions in that sense. He thought of them as necessary but dirty and, unlike cats, without intelligence or felinity, as it were.

Meanwhile, Lucy is tired of waiting. She bites my hand. The next patient arrives. We leave.

Sep 1, 2005

The Muqaddim

At the top of the stairs of the old Hotel De Ville, through the main entrance, to the left, is the muqaddim's office. There is no name, no plaque, no official signs whatsoever. The muqaddim knows where everyone lives, sometimes without their knowledge. Everyone knows where the muqaddim works. It's a tall office with tall windows, old fluorescent lights, a wood veneer desk and behind it, the muqaddim himself. A small man for such a large room. He's 40, in gray slacks and a sports shirt. An anonymous figure but no banality of evil and not like the intelligence agent he is supposed to be. It is rumored that every Friday, sometimes more often, he funnels the latest reports to Rabat of who is where and doing what.

The phone is always between his cheek cheek and shoulder. He motions you to sit down. He greets you in a whisper. Meanwhile, others come in. They greet each other, whisper, and walk out. People come and go. Eventually, the muqaddim hangs up the phone. What can he do, he asks. You wish to have une letter d'attestation. It's a shame to bother you over such a small matter, I tell him, but Maroc Telecom needs this letter. Of course, he says. I give my carte. He quickly finds the proper form, pick up the ringing phone, gives me the form, with a pen, and motions me to fill it out. And while I am doing that, he reaches over and stamps first one signature, then another, and another.

He hangs up, takes my paper and goes away. Others come in during his absence. They look over his desk looking, like dogs over the dinner table. Everyone has this question on their face, "is it ready?"

The muqaddim's assistant returns along with a woman, carrying the application. There is a problem. She needs to see a letter of attestation from the university, a proof that I work at the university. But the police have that I say, pointing out that that information is on the carte de sejour. Yes, but we don't have it, the woman says. She's modern looking, wearing slacks, makeup, glasses on her head, a big smile. But all I need is to prove to the phone company that I live at this address. Isn't it duplication? I ask. It may be, she replies, but we need it. The police have it and we have it. But you both work for the same government, yes? Yes, but it is important that all the agencies have the same information. But this is just to get phone service. Yes, she says, I know, but this is the way it is. It's always like this. Everyone must be noted, we must fill out these requirements. It's not our doing.

We have no control, she adds. Don't you see?