Nov 29, 2005

Great Exaggerations

Dear Marina MacNamara,

I am Mr James Okoli , the Auditor General, All Standard Securities Limited. In the course of my auditing, I discovered a floating fund in an account which was opened in 1990 belonging to a dead foreigner Late Mr. Mark MacNamara, a national of your country. I decided to track his last name over the internet to locate any member of his family hence I got in contact with you.

I want to transfer the sum of $18.5M from All Standard Securities Limited in his account overseas. I am therefore writing to ask you that you quietly partner with me and providing an account or set up a new one that will serve the purpose of receiving this fund. Even an empty account can also serve as long as you prove to be honest to me till the end of the deal. I hope you will never let me down.

After going through Late Mark’s records and files, I discovered that:
(1) No one has operated this account since 1993;
(2)He died without a heir; hence the money has been floating.
(3) No other person knows about this account and there was no known beneficiary. And if I do not remit this money urgently, it would be forfeited for nothing.

This money can only be approved to you legally as you have the same LAST NAME as Late Mark. Hence I am contacting you. I will require your urgent reply so that I give you the next step. Kindly forward your telephone and fax numbers. I am ready to give you the sum of $7,500,000 ($7.5M) for your assistance and partnership with me.

I look forward to your prompt reply.

Best Regards,
Mr. James Okoli.

Nov 22, 2005

Woman in charcoal

My friend Allal and I leave the cyber cafe and walk toward the Farrah. I'm thinking I should pay the guardien I yelled at earlier in the morning. Endlessly, it's about money in this city. He wanted something for watching the car. I said, 'look, I don't have anything. I would give it if I had it, but I don't.' Finally, he stands aside and flicks me off. Fuck you, I say.

You're too much like me, I'm thinking. Always, about the money and now I'm in the hell realms of my own obsessions.

We turn on the street where I had parked. Half way down the block we come upon a woman lying on the sidewalk, the top of her right shoulder against a parked car, her head thrown back in the gutter, just behind the front tire. Her left arm is stretched out, resting in a pool of blood. There's a wicked looking cut on her arm. The blood is turning dark in the sun. She looks to be in middle age, dressed in pants and mustard colored Moroccan shoes. There's something European about her. Later, I find out she's Czech.

She's lying outside a bar. A dozen people stand around. This is a poor street, across from the indoor marche on Boulevarde Mohammed V. I ask if somebody has called an ambulance. Heads shake. What about the police? Heads shake.

The woman is alive but breathing with difficulty. A waiter comes out and says she always comes around for a drink but she has no money. He also says she got angry when she couldn't get served, broke a glass and cut herself. She wants to die, he says. Let he be. These are the hell realms of my obsessions and lower self, my anger above all. I grab this man by his shirt, but I'm thinking what I'm doing. I may look out of control, but everything is measured, calculated. Thinking of it now, there was something theatrical underneath. I hold on to his shirt and tell him to call an ambulance. He shruggs his shoulder. I get out my phone and give it to Allal. He calls. I get the woman's head out of the gutter. I stroke her forehead. I'm looking at her upside down. Her eyes flutter. She makes a gasp as though she's going to throw up. I can smell the liquor now.

The blood is beginning to cake. I ask somebody for something to put her head on, a towel, a tablecloth. Shruggs all around. I'm thinking I should take off my coat. I'm thinking of my times with Terence, both of us competing to see who can be the most loving to the loveless. What was that about? I'm remembering the evening outside his election headquarters when I was opening his door, ever the footman, and he tells me instead to go help a man in a wheelchair to get inside his apartment building. I'd seen the man and I was just about to do that, but Terence catches me. This is our game. We're always at this same moment. Were we ever sincere? What are all the games two Irishmen can play with each other?

I take off my coat, fold it, and put it under the woman's head. I bought the coat a few weeks earlier at an outlet in Portland, Maine. It's a Polo, but not expensive. On the other hand, it's the only jacket I have. Everything is considered. But in the end, the coat is there, the woman is resting. She kisses my hand. I stroke her head. She's middle age. Her hair is black but looks dyed. The skin on the left side of her face looks as though it had once been burned. She goes through the dry heaves. She wants water. I ask for water. And then I begin to rant at the people standing around. Move on, I yell at them. Is this prophet's teaching, I yell. She's a drunk someone says, she always does this. So what, I say. We're always doing what we shouldn't do, I'm thinking. Get over it. The woman seems stable. She keeps pointing toward the bar, and in Arabic, insists she was pushed out the door.

Who pushed her, I ask. Heads shake. A few people disappear. I go in the bar. It's black dark. The bartender is the owner. He's the down and out bartender. Cigarette smoking itself in his mouth, sleeves rolled up, a week without a shave. You do this? I ask. He's got a half smile. Over his shoulder there's a patron, with a glass of wine, well to do. You do this? He shakes his head. Who did this? No answer. Are you a practicing muslim?

I ask because after all this is an Islamic country, 99 percent of the people are muslim, according to the interior minister we interviewed last week. Everything is hinged on that in this country. The laws, the monarchy, the whole assumption the country rests on.

I go after him looking for hypocracy. I'm high on self-righteousness. I'm think of Marc Klaas and the male longing in America, not for paradise, but for the moment when you can be angry with authorization. That's all any man wants. Just the stamped authorization to detonate. Could I never have a pure thought, could I never do anything without these filters? Could I never not double think the moment? I cannot. And here I am ranting away, asking them about the prophet. But would the prophet rant and rave?

Actually, he might. So maybe this is my home, after all.

The drama goes on. Act III. I find the security man, the bouncer. He looks like the bartender, only shorter, meaner. The woman on the sidewalk points at him. He's the man that did it. He shakes his head and drags on his cigarette. I tell him he's the insecurity man and if this woman were his mother, sister, wife, whomever... What would he do then? You let her lie in the street, wouldn't you? I say. You would. I know you would. Because you're heartless. Because the truth is, you don't give a damn about anybody.

The lot of you, I'm thinking.

But you're hollow, so calm down, I'm thinking to myself. You're no different. Get off your horse, get down here.

The woman, the drunken European, is dry heaving again. Somebody finds her sweater under the car. We put that under head. I get my coat on. She kisses my hands again and again. As much I suppose because I am touching her. Women aren't touched much in this society. That's why the hammam is so popular. Allal throws water in her face. Allal, I'm thinking, you don't have to do that. I get the water out of her eyes, massage her face for a moment.

When is the ambulance coming, I want to know. It's been 20 minutes. It's coming, somebody says. I see a woman 10 yards away. She's veiled, she smiles at me. We're in league. I have one on my side. Then a man come by holding on to a young girl, maybe 6. The man is toothless on one side. He spent 11 years in America. He's telling me these people are hopeless, this is Morocco. "We all hate each other," he tells me. "It's true, we do. There's nothing to do. We're lost."

I keep looking at my watch. I have to get out of the city. I have to be back in Ifrane in 4 hours. I don't have another moment. I make Allal promise he will stay with this woman until the ambulance arrives. I run off, literally, sprinting away all the way to the Farrah.

Nov 17, 2005

If I were making a film of this city, you would see the decay in time-lapse photography. You would see the buildings shedding paint and plaster. You would see the people's bodies losing hair and skin. The whole city would be dim with debris; everyone moving through it like jinns. And then, at the end, after the man has been executed, and the young girl left to her own devices, sitting blindfolded in a chair in the middle of the forest, her breath visible in the moonlight, sitting there, tied up to her worst fear, the thought of woodsmen and wolves prowling through the night, nameless horrors that she's always known, but also the beautiful memories of this particular part of the forest, when she was with her lover afternoon after afternoon, and now there is nothing. No hope, but clearly she is her own exorcist, and that courage leaves us hope. And then back to the city, and the Hassan II mosque, which would slowly disappear in fast moving clouds of memory and materiel.

Nov 16, 2005


Originally uploaded by macnamband.

These two women are members of the families whose sons were the suicide bombers that struck Casablanca on May 16, 2003. Fourteen bombers emerged from Siddi Moumen, a poor district in the north part of the city, and killed 35 people as well as themselves. This photo was taken as family members went to court later that year. The photo was taken by Mourad Borja, a journalist and photographer, and director of Agence Internationale de Communication et de Presse.

Garys bad day at Volubilis

At 5:30 a.m. we get up and run down to Meknes. Every bad driver is in Meknes today. It's faith based driving at its worst. The Australians are riled. "What the fuck is this?" they want to know.

"Hey, Neville," M. shouts out the window at some hapless fellow in the next car, "stop steering with your dick. Dickhead."

Most conversations with the outside world start with Nevile, Gary or Kevin and end with dickhead. "Gary, get me 'nother Heiniken," they'll say to the hotel waitor, waving empty bottles. "And try to bring it before midnight. Dickhead."

"Hey Kevin, what's your problem?" one of them says to the police officer who stops us at a roadblock. "What's up? Tell 'im we've kissed the king's royal ass and let us outta here. Dickhead."

And then always the side dialogue.

"But you didn't just kiss it."

"Don't tell 'im that. He might get excited."

"Like you were with me last night."

"Hey topper, I 'ouldn't tell whether that was a pimple or your dick? ... Dickhead."

On and on.

Of all the things they hate in Morocco the three Aussieketeers hate how slow T. drives. T. is 23. He the sweetest, nicest kid you ever saw and if he knew what these people were saying, in general and about him in particular, he would just smile and he would have no response. And of course there is no response. No non aussie has a response.

Part of the reason T. drives slowly is because this is his father's truck. It's an old white Mercedes with a roof rack and blue curtains on all the windows. It's used primarily for transporting vegetables from the small farms around Ifrane to the marche.

T drives also slowly because the tires are as bald as frog heads. In fact, one exploded the other day. Also, the van speed limit is lower than for cars, particularly in city limits. And, of course, the cops are everywhere.

But slow anything drives the As nuts, especially when we get on the new autoroute that runs between Casa and Fez.

"Hey, we just passed a dead person."

"How'd you know that Gary?"

"Sure looked dead. No head right? That usually means dead."

"There was a head."

"I didn't see it."

"It didn't see you either."

"Well, that's because you're a dickhead."

"I don't care, that makes two things we've passed in the last 2 hours."

"Tell Neville to try second gear."

"Hey look, aren't those ducks? Look over there."

"Hey, mate, tell 'im to get in the jet stream of that duck."

Most nights T. sleeps in the truck, because he'd rather have the room money than the hotel room. But sometimes I. makes him sleep in a real room anyway.

Then last night they got caught filming kids in a bad part of town. Kids were sniffing glue and started climbing all over the truck. T. panicked and it was all they could do to get him in the van, start it up, and get out there.

By the way all the kids sniff glue here. All ages. They run around holding it to their noses. It's good actually, someone explained to us. They forget everything, hunger, cold, the facts of life, no home, no families, let them feel free. There are 15,000 homeless kids in Casa. About 10,000 actually have homes and families. The other 5,000 have nothing. Many live in the port, in old containers. And everyone of them has the glue to his face.

Nov 12, 2005

A prison cemetary for victims of Les Annees Noires

Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Photo courtesy of Mourad Borja, director of Agence Internationale de Communication et de Presse.

Nov 11, 2005

In the Pax cemetary

In Rabat, the cemetary for foreigners is hidden behind a long tall, white wall. The cemetary is called Pax. The word is hardly visible in the arches above the entrance. Today — in the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month — a rememberance service was held to mark the end of World War I. Representatives from a dozen countries stood in a semi-circle around a modest obalesk inside the north gate. Ambassadors or their wives, or in one case, a beautiful young blonde woman from Bulgaria, with the bemused and confident expression of a famous mistress; they all stood in front of the monument and looked respectful or uncertain or uncomfortable, or lost in some interior dialogue. Wreathes were laid. A military band played. Colonels and generals saluted. A horn player lost his breath. Pigeons took off. Someone sneezed.

I drifted away, leaving the Australians to film.

The cemetary must be nearly 100 acres. Here and there, patches of 3 foot tall, white-washed crosses, these are mostly soldiers, in among the more elaborate offerings, in gray and black marble. Most names were French. Many of the inscriptions were from the early 20th Century.

Here and there the tombs are breaking up, split by a palm tree or a bush. In the poorer districts of the cemetary names and dates are broken or covered over.

Finally, I decided to leave and found myself on the main avenue that runs right to the north gate. I noticed five black women, elaborately dressed. They were happy, half dancing. One had a broom. The women stood outside a particularly elegant masoleum, with carefully polished marble, and inside, photos and sayings from none other than Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga. Otherwise known as "The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake". He was the great Congolese leader who renamed his nation Zaire and took on the appearance of a nationalist. He followed the dictator's arc from promise to betrayal. He amassed a $4 billion fortune, the equal of his country's national debt in the 1980s, and pretended to be a nationalist. Which is why no doubt around his tomb there are trees and elaborate flowers and while the Europeans were memorializing the war to end all wars, here were five ladies, half dancing, one with a broom.

Nov 4, 2005

The Nevilles arrive

The three Australians from ABC TV arrived. ABC is equivalent to PBS. Producer, cameraman, and the talent, also known as 'the meat stick.' The program is called Foreign Correspondent. I sold them on a piece about evangelism in Morocco. The first thing they explained to me was that people who are idiots are Nevilles.

Nov 3, 2005

Outside the Ibis

Outside, in front of the hotel, a young man in dirty trousers, veers this way and that through the fog. An older night lady, in black dress and pearls, leans toward the rear view mirror in an old fiat, doing her make-up. Later, she will enter the hotel and sit discreetly, but proactively in the worn red couch in the lobby. No one will come to her. Meanwhile, the guardian makes change under the light of a street lamp. Ramadan has just ended.

Inside, the middle aged woman who is always in the lobby sits on a stool at the bar. She is the 'regular' and wears narrow rectangular glasses. She looks unmistakably French and sits with a man her age. He speaks German and is spread out, from extended leg to bent elbow, like an old Fokker propeller blade. The woman talks and looks at her empty glass. There is no bar tender. And truth be told, there are no spirits. The Absolut bottle and the Gordons bottle stand behind the bar filled with water. All that's left is a half shot of Schmirnoff.

The overhead lights in the dining room flicker. A man by the window holds his shining bald head in his hands. Through the static overhead you can make out “smooth operator.”

On 2M, the pretty newscaster, with long straight hair and uneven teeth, is telling the story of the Moroccan diplomat and his Moroccan chauffeur captured 10 days ago by Zarqawi’s soldiers. The Moroccans have been threatened with death. How can they not meet the same fate as the Egyptian diplomats? The newscaster leads us to a meeting of diplomats discussing the problem and then to the home of the chauffeur’s family. The brother is sitting on a narrow winding staircase, next to what looks like a dead plant. Another brother, blinded by the klieg lights, is talking about how much he misses the hostage.

The public night is winding down. Donna Summer is singing What’s Love Got to Do with It. The gare around the corner is empty. The waiter is taking up the table cloths. The woman at the bar and her partner have finished dinner. She is talking about gliding as her hand turns and banks. The woman at the desk is counting money in an envelope. The night lady reads the paper. The guardian sits on the low wall that runs along the front of the hotel. The veering man has disappeared. A night train will arrive shortly. A few people will get off. A man will get on. I’m sitting in the last of the dining room, making some notes, watching double sticks in stride.