Jun 20, 2006

Like Black Magic

I woke up at 5 a.m. I have not been able to sleep in weeks. At 6, I casually checked the airline schedule only to find out that the flight home was leaving Monday night, not Tuesday. And so for the next 11 hours we scurried to get out. It was an emotional day to be sure, not least having to take Lucy away. Still struggling, having gotten 'fixed' last Friday, she had been curled up on her chair for 3 days and now she sensed how this was all unfolding.

She will remain at the residence, with one of the guardiens. In the meantime, I took her to be with S, who teaches in the Communications Dept and who, being an 'animal person' in a place with little tolerance for domestic animals, pledged to take Lucy back to Fez to get her stitches out.

i carried Lucy out to the car. She chose to sit in the passenger seat, facing me, looking like a matron being taken out of a sanitorium for a breath of fresh air. She seemed indifferent, distracted. I spoke to her, mumbling about what a remarkable time it had been, how just a year earlier we'd been running on this very road and she had found the villa, and then how she had disappeared for more than a month. That was always a mystery and I was forever asking where she'd gone and why.... She would not say. I told her about this and that. I encouraged her, the way people do when they give into sentimentality. I hoped that she might acknowledge me somehow but she didn't, which became proof that she knew better, she understood. And so she remained enigmatic and distant. She had gone back to herself. She felt she was being betrayed and there was no way to persuade her otherwise.

I took her to Sandra's and left her off. Sandra has another dog, small and noisey. Lucy made her way inside, saw a couch and got up on it. The other dog danced around like a marionette. And then I left, just like that.

Jun 17, 2006

Last Rights

We went to M's for dinner. Just in the door, he pulled me aside. "Bad news," he said. He'd just gotten word from his family in Baghdad. They live in the mixed, well to do neighborhood of Mansour. They had received a threatening note. Apparently, someone had jumped over the wall and left it in their garden. When, was not clear, but in the last day or so. The writing was elementary, barely legible. Perhaps, it was a child, I said. "Maybe a fight in school. Maybe, it's not what you think."

"That's what I thought," said M, "a child from school." But then he shook his head. "It doesn't matter. We can't take a chance."

The note said the family needed to leave their house within 24 hours or one by one they would be 'destroyed.' After two generations in the house they had a few hours to leave. His brother who lives in the house, is an engineer who owns a small shoe factory. Maybe a grudge, I thought. Maybe it's not Shiites.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

What will become of the house, I asked.

"They will take it, like they take everything else. You see, they are after us," he went on. He lives in a famous family, there are hundreds of members. Now he has to get them out. "I told you the whole country is a mess. It's not going to change. This is the end of it."


We had dinner and M fell into a conversation about the university, about how badly they've treated him, how they never honored the three books he's written, the numerous articles over the last five years. He recounted how badly mismanaged the place is, how no one could call the city to get snowplows because that call needed to come from the president and no wanted to call the president. So there were no snowplows to clear the roads and few professors could get to class.

He told about how the university hired "friends" to accompany the prince when he left class. Three students, one from each social class. The prince graduated last year. I saw him a few times, a weird smiley kid in an oversized Audi. He looked like a joker, like a playboy, like someone who had been spoiled as a child.

M also told disturbiing stories about how the university had spied on him and run a policy of splitting and dividing split the faculty.

He told me about other scandals in the administration, how glad they were to be getting out. How even had the university offered better terms they would never have stayed indefinitly.

"I told you, Mark", he said. "We are 500 years behind here. It's a mess."

I asked if he would recommend faculty come to the university. "No, not Americans and certainly not Moroccans. They treat them very badly. Did you know that? It's embarassing what they do." He added, "It's a 'meanwhile place'. It would be alright if you are single and looking for a place to be for a year or two but no longer...."

What if you are a student?

"If you are serious you are not going to be here... This is for rich kids who want the appearance of an education. Nothing more"

Jun 10, 2006


The game was played down by the Source Vitelle, in back of a bordello owned by the father of one of Dash's classmates, Salim. The father also owns a hotel downtown, with a full bar, frequented by students and riff raff from the Middle Atlas. So I'm told; regrettably, I never went to it.

The soccer 'field' was no bigger than a oversized basketball court, with long grass and much of the field under water, from a nearby stream. As for the bordello, it appeared to be an old fashionned hotel, with archways under a red tile roof, an empty swimming pool, with a foul look to it, men on horseback, trash in the stream that runs past, and expensive black skinned cars parked out of sight.

Meanwhile, the game backfired. Dash rejected all last minute appeals that he play for ASI and went with his regular team from Asrou. In the huddle before the game the ASI players urged each other to 'squish Dash.' He didn't play until the second half. The Azrou coach put in all his second team who end the half with a one all tie. Dash was sure the second half would be an easy victory, but strange things happened. First, the ref, a 10th grader, is the brother of one of the ASI players and called it close to home. For his part, Dash played well, although not as aggressively as he needed to. Then late in the second half a bullet head standing on the sideline, and another brother of an ASI player told the Azrou coach, who is a distinguished man, a former AUI coach and a player national player years ago, that his mother was goat shit. Or something close to that.

Without a word the coach called all his players off the field and headed for the parking lot. But Nizar's father, Karim, a defense attorney who I've written about persuaded the coach to put his anger aside and let the game continue. It did, to a 2-all tie. Which lead to a shootout. Four players from each side. Dash got his, along with a teammate, but one boy missed and Azrou's last chance to tie the shootout fell to the coach's son, who is twice as tall as any other player and a year older and allowed to play because there was an older player on the ASI team. HIs name Ayoub and normally he lazers the ball in and no one ever sees it. But today he gave a perfunctory kick right to the goalie who falls on his knees like Brandy Chastain and takes off his jersey part way to reveal the Michelain man's belly. I turned away. It was all too awful. Then the son of the property owner made some snide remarks. I felt a strong case of child abuse coming on and went quickly to the car....

Next day, sure enough, Dash took even more hits because his team had won without their best player and as far as they're concerned Dash can't go back to America soon enough.

It might all have been different if Violetta had come. I invited her, but Dash said absolutely not. It would have all been too embarassing....

Jun 6, 2006

Things Coming Apart

Scenes from Act V. The other day I., a 12th grade student, presented his senior project on Sufism, and in particular an evangelistic sect he found in Fez. The sect is headquartered in Senegal and follows the inspiration of a charismatic who has made quite a name for himself in parts of the Middle East and Europe. The student talked to cult members and took part in some activities, including meditation. Afterwards, he seemed drawn to Sufism, its extastatic nature and its 'direct line' to God.

Mr. A was invited to hear the presentation, in part because he teaches Arabic and in part because he is the school's resident authority on Islam. I hired him myself at one point to explore certain topics in the Koran. At the conclusion of the presentation Mr. A asked the student what he thought of his experience. His tone suggested a certain answer.

The student understood and looking a little sheepish, replied that clearly Sufism is not mentioned in the Koran and by extension this is all off the Islamic mark.

"Very good," replied Mr. A. nodding his head. "Yes, exactly right." And in the silence that followed the notion was clear that "Let's remember that the truth is not with such beliefs."

It was remiscent of the Orwell incident I described so many months ago. That suggested fear of political freedom; this suggests religious intolerance. But the key is fear and regimentation, the desire for following in lockstep, for not questioning authority or presumption. As someone said to me the other day, "From the beginning we are taught to fear. Everyone is telling you stories about what will happen when you are a small child, particularly if you are a woman. Stories of being beaten as wives. Or worse. And then perhaps your father may teach you to fear him and by extension you fear teachers and police and anyone in the government. Everything is about fear."

Another scene for the denouement. Last week in class a 10th grade boy kicked a girl in his class in the stomach. This boy is very special, a great athelete, unusually personable and articulate, a model student in many ways. I wrote a strong letter of recommendation so that he could attend a soccer camp this summer in Boston and told his mother, who owns a very upscale restaurant in Fez, that I would do whatever I could to help get him into a good college in the US, if he wanted that.

But then last week he showed another side. For some reason he was in a bad mood before this class and he had particular revulsion for a classmate, an American girl, L. who is his polar opposite in all respects. She is the outsider, and would be even if she were in America. Apparently, he called her a 'cunt' in Arabic, she didn't know the word but got a rough translation, and told him to fuck off. He threw something at her; she flipped him the bird and then while she was sitting he came over to her and kicked her in the stomach. This was in Barabara's class. Then uproar, B calling for help out in the hallway, visits to Mrs. Watkin's office, rumors that the boy would be expelled, which lead to more pandemonium, tears, and enormous hostility toward the victim.... Finally, the boy was suspended for two days and then on Monday both had to stand up in front of the school and apologize to each other. She for inciting him; he for kicking her. His apology included a smirk and knowing glances from friends. Never mind that had he done this to a Muslim girl her brother would have killed him. Or her parents would have paid a doctor to find extraordinary injuries, even if there weren't any, and he would have been in court and perhaps imprisoned.... Not unlike in America. But Ms. Watkins, for whatever reason, missed an opportunity and had no understanding of local custom. She was apparently taken in by persuasive students.

Afterwards, a Moroccan American whose mother is an administrator at the university, a girl, offered some comforting words to the victim, "It's alright. We all had to go through this.'

And finally Dash... Last night, Tuesday, he explained over dinner, and tears, that he would not play in today's soccer match between his school and Azrou. He plays on both teams but was going to play today for his school. He is by far the best player in the middle school at ASI. As a boy said the other day when asked in an ESL class to describe how to score a goal in soccer, an exercise in describing process, he replied, "we pass to Dash."

But there is something else. Dash has fallen in love and a girl with him. Violetta. She is the jewel girl at ASI. Spanish, as beautiful at girl at 12 as you've ever seen, and after being here for just six months, living with her brother and a Moroccan housekeeper, while her parents occasionally visit from Spain (which is its own story), unable to speak English then, she has now mastered the language, become a top student, a top athelete and absolutely stole the talent show with an MTV like dance number she did with three other girls. She has won the hearts of faculty and students alike and then fell in love with Dash and writes him endless notes, which he has left around for us to notice. But when asked about them he took the long planned opportunity to made it quite clear that he needed "space" and didn't want us going through his mail, and otherwise we should realize that's things have changed.

Pas de problem. Except that this relationship has been discovered at school, where his classmates now tease him. Now he takes hits on several fronts because in Moroccan terms he got, as John D. MacDonald put it, "The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything."

We discussed this over dinner and I argued that whatever he did tomorrow was fine, play or not, but that he not submit to this rabble so filled with resentment and jealousy, and ever unable to understand the dynamics of a team or a group of any kind, save perhaps sitting around with immediate family.... "You decide, don't let them decide. Lead, don't follow. Act don't react."

And all these silly things parents say to kids.

Dinner ended, conversation subsided, Dash returned to his headphones, filled with Violetta's favorite song, Avril Lavigne's hit, Complicated.