Archive for the 'Morocco' Category

Digital Camera Charger Has Arrived! Thanks, Mom!

Posted by sue on 20th November 2006

We received it on Friday, and took pictures in Rabat on our weekend trip there, some of which will be posted shortly. Receiving mail from the U.S. seems to take about 10-12 days.

The quick take on Rabat– a lot nicer place to live, we think, than Fes. So far Fes strikes us as one of those places which is good to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. However, we’ve decided to start trying harder to find things to like about Fes in the time we’re here. We might move to Rabat at the end of January, depending on how my language study at ALIF goes in early January.

Posted in Morocco | 2 Comments »

Moroccan Food

Posted by sue on 15th November 2006

In response to heavy demand (okay, Jeanene asked), a word about eating in Morocco.

The food, in theory, is very good, and very similar to the food we had at Moroccan restaurants in L.A. The main dish here is tagine, a kind of stew/casserole dish made in a clay dish with a conical lid (called a tagine). It can have different ingredients– we most commonly see chicken or beef with vegetables, but it could be just about anything. And of course there’s couscous, usually prepared with meat and vegetables and sauce. Both tagine and couscous are typically eaten with your fingers (right hand only!) with pieces of bread to scoop out the food. And finally, one of our favorite things is pastilla, which is usually sweet chicken with cinnamon inside a pastry.

However, the delicious potential of Moroccan cooking is sadly not met in most of the restaurants we’ve eaten in. They just don’t have much of a restaurant culture here, so most people cook their big meals at home, so your best bet is “home cooking.” The best tagine I’ve had in Fez was at a group dinner at the student residence prepared by a very nice Moroccan woman named Leila, and the tagine prepared in caves (no joke!) by Berber women we had by the river on our field trip was also quite good. We do hear that there are some more expensive places in the medina with good food, but we’re trying to economize. We will have to splurge at some point.

Somewhat oddly, the best pastilla we’ve had was in a restaurant just around the corner from ALIF, which is an Italian place run by a nice Australian woman named Juliet.

By this point, I’ve had so much ho-hum restaurant food that I’m just not that excited to eat out, so Len and I make simple food at home. It is cheaper and healthier, but it’s funny that now that we’re actually cooking at home as much as we can, we don’t have our nice Calphalon pans or pile of utensils. We have a couple of cheapie pans, 4 forks, 3 spoons, 3 knives, 2 plates and 2 bowls. If we ever invite anyone over, we’ll have to buy more.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 5 Comments »

Monday Morning Optimism

Posted by sue on 13th November 2006

We went on a lovely group excursion with fellow ALIF folk on Saturday to a waterfall picnic area a couple of hours by van from Fez, and then to the town of Khenifra where there was a Berber carpet auction.

The good part was how beautiful and various the scenery was on the drive there. Olive orchards and apple orchards and small villages for miles and miles. Then hills with cedar forests and a troupe of Barbary macaques (also known as Barbary apes, though they are monkeys, not apes) along the road, just hanging out. Then the shaded picnic area along a river just down from a waterfall, with delicious tagine and mint tea provided by Berber women.

The bad part was the Berber carpet auction, not because it wasn’t an interesting scene, which it was, but because there we found out just how much we overpaid for a couple of rugs we bought in Meknes last weekend! We have thing or two to learn about bargaining for local goods in Morocco. We think the place to start is to offer ridiculously lowball counteroffers to the asking prices and get thrown out of a few stores before even really trying to buy anything, just to find out what the bottom is. I think if you don’t do that, it’s easy to get drawn in to the sales pitch and pay too much, especially for nicey-nicey shoppers like Len and me.

Then on Sunday we slept in, found a nice cafe to hang out and study in for a while, then came home and cleaned up the place and washed clothes in the bucket and studied some more. So today I feel pretty rested and ready for a hard week o’ learnin’, and then on Friday we’re planning to travel the three hours by train to Rabat to check it out. We hear Rabat is more cosmopolitan a city than Fez, and perhaps more liveable for a Westerner. They have Arabic training there too, and possibly more job prospects for us, so we’re open to moving there after the current term if it looks good.

Posted in Morocco | 4 Comments »

Small Victories in Language Learning

Posted by sue on 9th November 2006

One of the funny things about living in Morocco, as a native English speaker, is how familiar and comforting French is, and I don’t even speak French. Even if you know some formal Arabic, as I do, Moroccan Arabic is very different and unless you put in some effort to study Moroccan Arabic as such, it’s hard to communicate with people around town. However, Moroccans also speak French, and they automatically speak French to white folk, so I just roll with it, ordering “cafe creme” instead of “qehwa belhleeb,” for instance, because it’s just easier.

For this reason, Morocco strikes me as an excellent place to learn French (and many of my fellow students at ALIF–mostly Americans–do speak French also), but not quite as good for learning Arabic. I have to force myself to read the Arabic on street signs and ads and grocery items rather than the familiar Roman letters of the French that are also on most things. Even though I know practically no French, there are so many cognates that it’s not that hard to figure things out when you see them in print (understanding the spoken language is a whole other thing, of course).

I am making progress, however, because my Arabic knowledge is overtaking my limited knowledge of French, and more and more often I use my knowledge of Arabic to figure out the French, rather than the other way around. Words in print are almost always Modern Standard Arabic, so that’s where my particular knowledge comes in handy. I may just learn this language yet.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 6 Comments »

In Search Of: Hashish

Posted by len on 8th November 2006

One of the pieces of lore that got into my head before coming over to Morocco was that everyone smoked hashish nearly all the time and that like it or not I was going to be stoned out of my skull nearly every night as a result of my innocent and chaste cultural curiosity. I even think some of my friends back in LA still believe this to be true, with articles like the one you’re now reading being produced in the few cracks of time each day that I’m not dragging on an ornate iron pipe and smiling like the Chesire cat.
Well, this article is to serve as the definitive statement that hashish is so elusive that it has entered into the ‘in search of’ category here in Fez, Morocco. The following is a succinct account of our exposure thus far to what Moroccans call Kif.
Hookah, the Big Lie: Perhaps we just chose the wrong city but Fez appears to have virtually outlawed the hookah pipe. You see them in stores here and there but I’ve only seen one in use, once, deep in the medina, and it certainly smelled like the fruity light tobacco we remember from California. According to a guy in Meknes, a nearby city, restaurants need to get some kind of registration to allow hookah pipe smoking. Perhaps Morocco is experiencing a sort of cultural backlash from a hedonistic hookah-smoking era that ended a few days before we arrived.
The Smokescreen: Though positive sighting of hashish is rare, Moroccans smoke a lot. This could be part of the difficulty with my observational strategy. Just before dusk, men start filling the thousands of chairs spilling onto the sidewalks and corners all around the city. Most of them are smoking and drinking a cafe noire (straight espresso with sugar). Close by every cafe are one or two people peddling cigarettes, by the smoke, out of cases labeled Marlboro or Winston. I’ve strained to confirm that the cigarettes cradled between men’s fingers are in fact legal tobacco cigarettes. So far I have only seen what appears to be the tell-tale white-to-tan transition colors of typical cigs.
1st Sighting: The first actual positive sighting of hashish was about a week ago. We needed to telephone Sue’s parents so we walked down the street to a pay phone along the road (sad, huh?). Just a bit away from the road next to a cafe was a quieter area with a phone. While Sue gets her parents on the line I peek into the cafe to see what it’s like. A group of four men, most older than me by a large margin, notices me and makes the rare outreach and calls me over with “bon soire!”. I think the next bit, in English, was something like: “Hi. Join us. Have a smoke. Cannabis!” He hands me the cigarette he’s holding, which does look a lot like a typical manufactured cigarette though not that different than what I’ve heard marijuana cigarettes look like back home. [I hand it back to him and thank him for showing it to me]. We chat some and he even buys me a mint tea (a very typical Moroccan cafe item). Note: descriptions in brackets [ ] may or may not have actually occurred exactly as presented.
2nd Sighting: Just this past weekend found us on a train to Meknes, a city about a 50 minute train ride west of Fez. We were in a first class cabin with one other person, a rather lanky 20 something Moroccan man. Nearing the end of the trip he pulls something out of his luggage from the storage area above our heads. He then opens the door to the main corridor, where the conductor wanders, and with one furtive eye on the corridor starts measuring out dried plant matter onto some papers on his lap. Keep in mind that as this is happening we’re just glancing over wondering what the heck this guy is up to. After a few minutes he disappears, presumably to the bathroom or one of the standing sections between cars ( the only places you can go besides the corridor). Shortly after he leaves we notice a perfume-like scent wafting through our cabin that he just left. It was then that the whole picture came together, finishing with his trying to cover his tracks.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 9 Comments »

Always in the Bad Part of Town

Posted by len on 8th November 2006

If you live in Los Angeles, or any large city for that matter, perhaps you’ve had this experience: You’re traveling somewhere in town, a ways from home, not sure exactly where you’re at, and the need arises to stop at a post office, or KFC for a bite, or perhaps Del Taco. No Problem. You can find one by sight as you pass the countless strip malls. Even though you don’t know this area, familiar signs and brands soothe the slight discomfort you feel being in a new part of town. You park the car and walk up to order your Gordita Meal Deal and see 2-inch-thick bullet-proof plexi-glass separating the workers from you, and everyone else standing next to you. “Hmm, that’s interesting,” you think to yourself. Over the next few seconds the experience begins to congeal with other semi-conscious observations you made shortly before: Pawn shops and bail bond signs that caught your eye as you passed in the car, a pile of garbage accumulating in a nearby gutter, a bizarre, unearthly absence of Starbucks. Some kind of calculation is happening in your brain which leads inevitably to the next thought: “Oh. I think I’m in the bad part of town.”
Luckily, this understanding tends to creep up relatively slowly. This is important since I’ve decided it’s absolutely crucial, once one has this realization, to play it cool. Otherwise you might find yourself sweating and gaping at the steel bars separating you from your KFC family bucket mumbling “Holy shit!” over and over.
If this experience is at all familiar to you then you have already experienced an aspect of what it has been like to live in Morocco these past three weeks. The cities are places from which there is no escape from the bad part of town.
However, this is only partially true, for some interesting reasons. Most importantly has to do with the feeling of threat. The bulletproof glass in a Del Taco in LA doesn’t create unease because of anything to do with your relationship with those behind the barrier but rather by its suggestion that the guy in line behind you could have a gun in his belt. In Fez, as well as other big cities in Morocco, though I’ve never seen either bulletproof glass or security bars in restaurants, there is a persistent, inescapable feeling of neglect: street renovation projects in a state of serious upheaval, sidewalks that are mostly broken concrete, buildings that look dilapidated and abandoned but aren’t. In LA and elsewhere I’ve lived in the U.S. these are the alert signs that heighten my personal surveillance and transform everyone around me, especially if I’m on foot at night, into a potential threat. I’ve found that in Morocco this rule needs to be softened or even abandoned. Most significantly, the people that surround us are difficult to realistically perceive as a threat. Just the other night, in a city called Meknes, Sue and I were walking home to our hotel in the old part of town. We took a shortcut that took us through a dark, seedy, enclosed alley. The dark sillouettes of some men loitering near the far end made me afraid, if just a bit. When we came to them, they were a familiar Moroccan sight: some mostly goofy-looking old men in tarbouches (similar to Fez hats) chit-chatting. And of course, everyone loiters in Morocco! That’s pretty much the national pastime once the sun goes down (which is shockingly early these days). Another aspect of our relationship with Moroccans is that everyone likes to look at us, especially Sue. Face after face passes us and quickly studies us with inscrutable expressions. I don’t know what they’re thinking but so far the few that we’ve started conversations with are very friendly and excited about our American-ness (There are so many French here, I think we’re a refreshing change for them). Ironically, it feels more comforting to have people overtly look at us than spying on us from around a corner, potentially planning something sinister. And of course, it allows me freedom to imagine what’s going through their minds; something like, “Wow! Americans. My god what a beautiful people.”

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 3 Comments »

First Look – Video!

Posted by len on 27th October 2006


Click on the image to see some video shot on the train trip from Casablanca to Fez, Morocco. These were the first things we saw in our new home. Note the Atlantic coast in the distance! Way cool!

Posted in Morocco, video | 5 Comments »

We Made It

Posted by len on 22nd October 2006

We have video and photos on the way but we wanted to say that we are now living in Fes, Morocco! We are sitting in a “cyber cafe”, the roof of which is only about 5 feet, 10 inches. Luckily I can connect my laptop (their keyboards are all wrong!) and internet only cost about $1 per hour.
Check back soon for photos of donkeys carrying coke and more craziness.

Posted in Morocco | 13 Comments »