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.

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