Mar 31, 2006

End Games

On days like this with blooms roaring, you wonder why you would ever want to leave. Where will you ever find such a blue sky, such clear air, and a sunset even memory cannot enhance, not to mention a large house with a bristling garden. And the bleating of sheep, and the dog stretched out on hot bricks, the call of the muezzin, all the developing part of this world out of feel and touch. All the possibilities still to come. Not to mention a measure of security.

Earlier in the day I went to try to finish registering the car. It has taken days to get this far. I should have done it a year ago, but I thought somehow it had happened, that by transfering ownership and sending off papers to God knows where I had put the matter in other hands that would hand me back what I needed. Meanwhile, the papers sat in the trunk which at times was filled with snow and slush. Now the signatures and stamps have washed away. There are 31 pages of documents but now they're useless. When I realized the mistake I had forgotten what was involved, how many offices you need to go to, to collect all the documents and then each must be legalized and copied and the copies legalized. The last step was to legalize a copy of my carte de sejour, which has taken four months to renew.

The legalizers work in the old Hotel Bellvue, a colonial Hotel Marienbab, with long narrow corridors and what once must have been a lavish entry. Now, the walls are cracked, the paint has flaked, nothing works, the radiators are unhooked, the rooms which must have seemed grand in the 1930s now seem like former interrogatoires. The garden is dry and dry and dead. Occasionally, a light bulb hangs ominously. You'd think the interior was designed by torturers. The floors are swept but the dirt is so old, so enameled in the walls and floors and ceilings that nothing could get it out. In fact, it is no longer something to get out. It is the place itself.

In the tiny office of the legalizers three men sit in no particular place. And never in the same place. One is always quiet. The other two are always quibbling. There is a small L-shaped counter. On the left, along a short wall there is an old cupboard filled with records. The records are canvass binders marked by month and number. Inside, each page holds thirty entries, with the name of a person, a description of a transaction, the date, and a stamp.

But today the legalizers are gone. And not just here, in Azrou as well. Throughout the province they're on strike. To protest the lack of heat last winter. The strike is a week old. They're coming back on Monday because there is no strike fund. Ironically, the termperature now is in the 80s. The teachers did the same thing. Every Friday they would not show up. There is no heat in the schools. Teachers are rarely paid. They go for months unpaid. And you wonder, how can that be? This is a developing country — and my students do not like to hear of it described as a 'less developed' country — education is a solution as well as a promise. Everyone mentions that education is no. 1.

Some days B. wants to stay. Today, for example. But other days she would rather teach in her own country. It's her Midwestern nationalism at work. If this country doesn't want it, and as there is no heat in the public schools, there are corresponding lacks in the private schools, then let it all go. Let the sights and sounds of Africa go. Be done with it. It's one revelation of living in the Arab Middle East. If people ask you for help, in some minor way, then do it. Otherwise, go away. Let them sort it out themselves. It's like a woman in child birth. At a certain point you can't do anything. You can swab her brow, you can encourage, you can just sit there, be present, but in the end you have to give up to nature and let it take its course.

Mar 16, 2006

But Not The King...

And so we had the debate over Darwin's theory of evolution. Be it resolved that: Man did not descend from apes. Those arguing for the proposition narrowly won, largely because the lead off debater arguing against the proposition was very stressed and had to be prompted several times to continue her argument. Immediately after the debate she threw on her designer sun glasses and fled. I was judge and audience. I suggested that we do this again to sharpen their skills and offered the topic BIRT: Morocco should not have a king. That drew wails of protest. "We will be arrested," said a business major. "We can't do it." I reassured them that les annees noires are behind them. They were not to be reassured. "We cannot mention these topics," another girl noted. "We are forbidden."

The reaction is ironic when you consider that these are the children of those, certainly some of them, who loyally and joyfully carried out the will of Hassan II. Incidentally, in recent years, Hassan has apparently has acquired renewed awe. Such is the trick of memory here. The good son is forgotten against the backdrop of his pragmatic father, the charmistic cold war king who once noted that sometimes it was necessary, if you are king, to do away with human rights.... for the good of the people. And there are times when I am ashamed to say, I've come to agree.

My friend, M, an Iraqi, is forever telling me that Iraq is lost, that the best they can hope for is a benevolent dictator. It has come to that there. But this is perhaps a truth that extends through this culture. I should not say.

Mar 8, 2006


Time is running down. Already, memories are under review. I realize now I can only take a few back. The rest are for burning. Meanwhile, I go see Rachid in Azrou. He's become my metaphysician. He doesn't speak French or English; I don't speak Arabic. He's 24, a Bottisatva, my size, runs a two-bay garage in a back alley down the hill from the bus station. Outside, the street is littered with car bones. Inside, he's eating tagine set out on the slanted end of an ancient gear box. His hands are black, his uniform is black. He looks like a coal miner. His face is round and muscled, from solid stock.

He makes me remember the names of his mechanics. Omar, the quiet. Hicham, the unsmiling. Sallal, the tall lanky electrician who frankly should be in some other profession. Mohammed, the foreman. Mohammed speaks French, runs the runners, turns away the beggars that happen by. He's first violin, the go-to guy and kidder. Sometimes, I ride with him to pick up parts in this demi monde of lower Azrou. Everything is on a slant. Even the uphill legs of dogs seem shorter. In this part of town there are few connections. Buildings are not built side by side. Your building, a space and then mine. No windows except front and rear. No light from the side. Vines grow out of thick cement. There are no public spaces. The mountains hang over all.

Rachid gives me a stool to sit on. He places it next to the bay. Lately, this nitch is in the sun. He always brings me tea. I have a book of dharma poems and stories that I read and then find some spec of glass in the dust to meditate on. I'm finally getting the mind to slow down. It's like a badly tuned engine. Les bougis sont mal. Everything here is a metaphor.

Rachid is just back from Meknes, just on his way to Fez. He's got a long line of customers. Nobody is more easy going. You look at him and you say, 'this is a kind man.' You watch him work and you think, this is somebody that knows what he's doing. He's in no hurry. He enjoys the puzzle. He likes to look at the magazine pages taped to the wall, with the newest Audi or the newest Ferrari. He's been running this shop since he was 14. It's all he ever wanted to do. He found a new engine for the 405 after I tore it up and put it in for less than $100 in labor. It works like a charm.

Meanwhile, Rachid never stops working. He's forever torquing, adjusting, unscrewing, tightening, he talks to me with his head down in somebody's engine. Or with his smiling eyes. I like to read when he's working. I like to be around that place. Things are getting fixed, repairs are under way.

Mar 3, 2006


We have decided to leave Lucy behind. There is no point taking her to a city so full of animal advocates and yet so resistant to dogs. But what is the alternative. Who will take her? How will she manage? How much is sentimentality at issue? She become accustomed to this life. We will now betray her, but what does that mean? Mohammed has offered to get her a job with his father on the other side of the volcano, minding sheep. She's on emotional welfare now, how will that be? Sleeping outside. Becoming an animal again. We've sanded that down. She's gotten used to her chair, to attention, to easy refuge. On the other hand she disappeared for two months, and only came back because Mohammed found her wandering. Don't think about it so much, I'm thinking. And then I wonder how this will work.

Mar 1, 2006

Natual, not monkey, selection

Five of six students in a public speaking class raised their hand in response to the question, how many do not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. One student, the brightest and an economics major, raised her hand to half staff, then brought it down. A suppression more than a conviction. And so began a discussion. Why not? I asked. Well, because it is not in the Koran. Which lead to an alley chat on the difference between Koranic pragmatism, a book authored by someone with no education they were quick to point out, and western science, the scientific method. Platonism. Reason, which has many corrollaires in Islamic philosophy. Many. But why? I asked again. In the end it came to monkeys. My students refuse to be associated with monkeys, no matter how distantly, no matter how benignly. "It is disgusting," one student said. "I don't even want to think about it." But what then, if not monkeys.... Slime is better they said. Out of bacteria, but not monkeys.

And why is that? In no small part, I'm told, it has to do with the way in which children are criticized often by parents and as being like monkeys. There is no worse ridicule.