Tuesday, December 30, 2008


There is a new pregnant cat living behind the cinema. I thought I heard her wailing so I went out there with a piece of cheese and it turned out to be some other non-pregnant cat being a brat. I secretly let the mommy-to-be in the cinema last night, I hope she is warm and birthing in some corner where the carpet is already red.
The streets were full of protesting children today, mostly boys. I left the house in my uniform for the week, knit pajama-leggings, dirty boots and a coat, and decided I was not in the mood for creating a spectacle of the magnitude that was unavoidably in store, given the pajamas etc (they were green. best wall color ever. not best pajama color ever. they seem to constantly be asking something like “where are her pants?”)
It’s hard to read the news but it has to be done. Everything is getting worse. Why don’t I hear America? I am suddenly perplexed by the Obama pin that Safia so carefully affixed to the ribbon of a soccer trophy belonging to one of her sons and displayed above the television. I even learned how to say “hope, change, and progress” in Arabic. I know he’s not president yet, and I also know it’s naïve to imagine things will change when he is, but seriously, Is this progress? Or were are we only ever talking about ourselves instead of acknowledging how many people die because of the weapons we supply? And continue to supply.

Kashmir has a government- I wonder what will happen. It’s hard to not imagine that my children will never see the parts of the world that existed when I was growing up because they are being destroyed. The maps I force them to embroider into pillows will all be different. Maybe I will embroider them before the borders change and we can feel the changes under our faces when we are sleeping. It will be like a contest.
Omar was telling me how strange it was for him to see his country’s lower third un-shaded in a map on Spanish television, trying to make sense of where that desert went and when it would be back. I’ve been watching BBC but this is different and I know even when I change the channel it’s the same thing maybe less pictures, more correspondents, and interstices of Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby and how much money is being put up for her picture.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Holidays

I feel like an astronaut.

Khadija cut me a break from streetfood with Friday lunch consisting of some unrecognizable animal they insisted should remain a secret and makes a sound I have never heard as imitated.

After we decided the appropriate display areas for Obama paraphernalia we went to Lubna`s salon where the air was saturated with steam and the overwhelming suffocating scent of feminine conceptions of beauty. A wedding party waited quietly but secretly impatiently to slide their hijabs off and have their hair done then promptly readjust their newfound curls into little buns so they fit under the tiny triangles of cloth that somehow never slip to reveal the roots. Mine always do.

Safia and I created seats out of various things around the room and drank cawa and tallked to the baby sitting on the lap of the woman next to me with the sour face even when we cooed at her baby.
Once energized by the cookies Safia bought for me which we shared, the baby started petting my tufts of hair like one might a mangey animal. I felt remotely comforted.

I waited a few hours for beauty to take hold of me before the steam eventually put me to sleep in my chair and the baby played with the candy wrappers and I earned the right to go home without shaming myself.

Qodqm lzanqa, the cinematheque is even more beautiful than before, saturated with goods for sale and delinquent teenagers. I hide in the back by necessity, not choice, and still feel a certain sense of "dyality" even though I don`t use the rooms w m3andi sweret walu. does that count as arabic ebonics? i hope so. That`s how I meant it.

It's a holiday for all of the Godfearing believers. Then Kashmir, then Gaza. My mother thinks the phones are bugged. "America is a caring guy he used to go rescue people but now he changed his policy so Allah changed his policy too." She is Kashmiri and has learned to make sense of anything.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Half a Bowl of Baysar

I woke up screaming this morning. There was something on top of me, pressing its weight on me and holding my shoulders back against the bed.

There was no one there really, I mean, not really. And I've had dreams like that before. I always assumed it was a djinn attack until I heard a story on NPR about a Catholic woman that had similar experiences and later discovered it was a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. So now I think it might be half-hallucination, half-djinn attack. Since this was a creepy-ish alley in the Souk Dhaakl of Tanja, I think it's pretty safe to call it a djinn-attack.

I used Nancy Ajram and Kanye to keep me awake after that, and fled the pension as soon as it was light enough to get letcheen at Tingis, then had my hair done to make me feel better. I look like a cross between Medusa and Miss Piggy and will probably fall asleep halfway through the Cinematheque film tonight, but at least I feel better. All it took was a little baisara. Nus zlafa.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


"Hal hada awwwwal marra f' tanja?" (Is this your first time in Tangier?) Abdslam had the devilish grin that means he is about to tell a joke that spans from Place de France all the way to the Socco. Actually, his hadra is basically all just one long joke.

"La, ana Tanjawiya," I played along.

"W 3lesh ghatskn f l'hotel? 'tina mashi tourist! Jee m3aya f' souani." Basically he was insisting that since I am actually Moroccan, it was ridiculous for me to be staying at a hotel, and wanted to bring me to his samsar to find me an apartment in Souani for a month. O Souani! How I missed your white walls and laundry shadows!

A few others had told me the same thing over the course of the day and I had to explain that my romantic sensibilities convinced me that staying at the Muneria again would be inspiring, in the Anne of Green Gables sense of the word.
Everything was blue just as I'd left it. I got Room 3 where 70% of the view is palm frond. The room is cold but the air is warm and the blankets are warm. The Tangerinn closed early or maybe I arrived late I can't remember. When the maid- the same one who two years ago took my clothes out of my closet without asking to wash them because they were visibly disgusting- came to bang on my door because it was 1:15 and I hadn't checked out. Rabia looked at her watch and made a face then agreed to not charge me extra for taking five minutes to look presentable when I hit the streets.

Staying at the Muneria made me feel like a stranger and I was briefly upset in the moments before I fell asleep on my glasses, but as soon as I was outside again I knew it wasnt Tanja that was rejecting me, I had just miscalculated the difference between shifa circa 2006 minus the shifa 2008 version-faster, more compatible.

The people on the streets updated me on all the gossip- many of the people I used to practice Arabic with had been fired or fled. Muhammed squealed with delight when he saw me, pointed to my face, ballooned his cheeks, and gave me a thumbs up. I expected more people to do it than the four who already have, not always with the thumbs up at the end. So I got fat. Small changes. At least I can illicit squeals of delight.

My cat Bisoux is dead. She was run over by a car. No I don't want to talk about it.

The plan for the coming days is to install some pockets into my nonsensically pocketless coat to ensure I can still use body language that lets everyone know that I am unapproachable. And isn't it ironic that after three months at the pocket-factory-training-center I still need my tailor to do it? I don't really, I just like employing and imploring him.

My hadra is slowly rising from the dead, I get to do a lot of then and now comparisons. And a lot of "smeHli"s because apparently I left without saying goodbye to about half of Tangier and the anger felt towards me when I left was much stronger than I even imagined, and even what I imagined was pretty bad. At least I have this month to make up for it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


When I spent my first night at the Hotel Muneria I didn’t know that it was where William Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch and I didn’t know anything else about Tangier either. I didn’t know that I would leave the city shaped in the mold of the image I would have read if I had read anything about Tangier before I got there. Idealizing the nostalgia and inescapable feeling of being a history-making subject, longing for the empty corner at an old man’s café where I would be inspired and interested in every detail of the action and non-action taking place, creating space for itself in an abandoned corner of the city where we could all be left alone.

I could also achieve this in the streets, in the way Manhattan is now imposing it on me, but back then it seemed like a talent -like I was performing something unnatural. But it was practically the only thing that could have happened to me there, and it was typical. Now I feel like I can draw the constellation by connecting the little holes that the silverfish burrow in the old blue comforter that I keep draped over my head to trap in the heat. It’s not exactly that vision is 20/20 in hindsight, but the pictures are developed. Which is why I opt for polaroids.

The Muneria is situated on a hill, you can see the Mediterranean and a slightly drooping palm tree dividing the view into a neat set of thirds. With all that blue everywhere, going to Marrakesh feels like wearing pink tinted sunglasses. I wore those glasses once for real while driving through the Middle Atlas. I looked just like Um Kultoum. It made everything look more orange and fertile. I need to remember to be her for Halloween some year.

I chose the Muneria over Ibn Battuta because it was twenty-dirhams cheaper per night. I was coming from the Hotel Mhrsa across the city beach, which uses ancient room keys that made me half expect that Room 8 would actually lead me to Narnia. In fact it led me to a huge square room with no visable insects, three king sized beds pushed together, and two single beds at the foot of the larger beds. I imagined it could comfortably house a large Somalian family, and later learned it was probably housing African refugees, as Tangier is in many ways a large blue house of people trying to get to Spain. But Hotel Mhrsa has mint green walls and deep brown wooden doors and no hot shower but the walls won me over. Situated across from a vacant, steep hill of grass which I believe has been converted into a parking lot, the vision of two twin girls at the end of the long hallway telling me to come play with them was enough to send me to the Muneria, a comforting name, the feminine version of my brother’s name.

It may have actually been December 13th, 2006 that I spent my first night in that icy room. Maybe I was aware of this, maybe that’s why I started writing about it last night. I can not always tell what is historical, part of the story in general, how it unfolded and refolded and how I even framed it folded. With certain creases in certain places, to keep track of bad decisions- always a practical move. And it was, on the whole, a practical move. Good things came of it. Blue, historically situated things.

The person I’m referring to when I talk about that night at the Hotel is also situated in something. It would after all be narcissistic to only talk about myself.

I can still say that I did not know what was going to happen to me in Tangier. It could have happened some other way and I could have done something different from what everyone does in Tangier. I could have read it in a book and not even had to make the move. Or written the book without experiencing it instead of experiencing it and not bothering to write the book. Writing it in the second person could be equally as historical and trapped in a certain way of describing and hanging on my wall with the rest of the polaroids I collected from each situation where I needed to see what the picture would look like, so I could picture myself in it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


There is a ghost in my room.
I know it now.
In my dream Sunday night I was here, both physically and in the dream.
In the dream I was a much more ambitious artist than in real life and my walls were saturated with framed photographs, whereas I’ve actually only managed to fill six frames. So in the dream everything was falling off the walls like a tornado was whipping through, and in the morning I woke up to the sound of a fallen frame (none of the other stuff was real so none of that was there). I saw it slouched behind the back left corner of the couch and left it there because I was too lazy to bend over and extend my arm. This kept up for days.
I soon started to like the look of the gap in the frame pattern, and the passed-out drunken Polaroid behind the couch and decided to leave it there.
So today I get home and it’s back on the wall. Sure I have roommates, but not the type that would reassemble a photo collage on my west wall. Not the type to even spot a stranded polaroid behind the blue couch that came with the room because I would never buy a blue couch of my own volition.
So what kind of ghost is this exactly?
I would start by saying she likes to take mouse-form. This way, I can equally distribute my fear of the ghost and fear of the mouse over both entities, fifty-fifty.
Second, it’s probably a girl ghost. Because she hasn’t bothered me in my bed at all. This is just me being logical (kashmiri logic).
The third thing I can say is that she is invisible, because I can’t see her yet.

I’m getting back to basics. This is the reality of the thing. These are the things I can feel and I don’t have to see them because I know them. And inshaAllah in two weeks I will be back to all there is to see and will be seeing them and won’t even think to decide if they are really being there.
Tangier is like that. Once you get past the stories and the windows and the gloomy December port, what you see is what you get. And once you make your bed you lie in it because you only get one bed. And one blanket. And the windows at Hotel Muneria don’t stay shut so you should bring an extra. And if it is raining you should bring a poncho and sleep in it. And you may end up wishing for a boy ghost to keep you warm in your bed. Not the William Burroughs kind, if you can help it. Anyway, they boarded up the Naked Lunch Room 9 of the Muneria Hotel . Room 7 has a radiator but no heat and a view of the sea and other blue things. Blue almost entirely fills the frame and even the room is painted blue, and both of your blankets will be blue. Blue fills up all six of the frames and even the ghost is see-through.
So first you see, and then you see-through, then ask for Room 7 and set up your spaceheater in the bathroom and pray for hot water.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ana huma, huma hunaaka.

I'm not the type to ask but I asked. "OMG Wheeerrree did you get your bag?"
It was a one-strap Kashmiri embroidered tote, identical to the ones I collect each time I go back, and apparently hailing from the Austin City Limits Music festival circa 2006 where it sells for 10 times what it costs in Lal Chok. The woman was dressed entirely in black leather.
"You know it's funny because I wasn't even going to wear it today it totally clashes with my outfit."
"Yeah I know, it does. It's pretty though. It looks Spanish." I'm not sure why I said any of those things.

At the terminal I struggled to load facebook and stream The Office and eat a bagel at the same time. If I don't publish my mood to all my old friends from high school how can I be sure I'm really feeling it?

"[random russian gibberish from man nearby]"
He looked remotely desperate and I thought maybe he was asking for my bagel.
-Oh, no, I'm not Russian.
"Aremenian?" -No
"Turkish?" -No
"Greek?" -No, I get that a lot though. I mean, when I'm in Greece. I mean, when I was in Greece that one time.
"You really really look Greek."
-Then why did you guess all those other things?
He started yelling to his wife to make sure she remembered to order his coffee.

The world is getting bigger and more self-aware.
These relationships will slowly help me develop a nationality that encompasses both where I'm going and where I've been. I just want to be truthful.
Then the problem of finding a word for it.
I might have to move a century back to find the point of origin. There. That.
Say it enough times.

There is something particular about the waiting area in the Buffalo Airport, since it can be assumed that for the most part, only some emergency or devastating news or familial obligation can bring people to Buffalo from some other place on a night like this. And somehow it drains enough out of you that even moments away from boarding the plane back home, most of us still look like we want to die. At least we have eachother's drained, deflated faces to look at and think about how messy her hair is and how strange her nose is and how you want that bagel she's got and why didn't you think of that before you passed through security?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Three men in Astoria.
I must have looked Muslim that day.
"Assssalaaamalaikum Sister."
I butchered it with the old Urdu pronunciation I just can’t shake and secretly don’t want to.

Small businesses generally remind me of camping stores. The shelves here were divided into squares holding Islamic gear- DVDs, headscarves, hadith quotation collections, full hadith collections so you can pick and choose like herbal remedies- the same books weighing down our shelves and hearts back home.

Some titles:
Hell and Heaven
Hell & Judgment
Hell and Shaytan
Hell and Punishment
Hell and You
Hell and Your Burning Spirit Corpse
Hell & Your unanswered cries of pain

I’m waiting for some newer, sexier titles, as is the way with academia.
Like, make me take your class.

Hell and the Politics of Agony and Eternal Regret.
Hell & Rhythmanalysis of Your unanswered cries of pain and eternal suffering.
Heaven & Your Eternal Absence in it.

So anyway, a little girl was squatting beside a shelf of “Adam’s World” DVDs and asked “do you want a movie?” She appeared to have sprouted from one of the white bearded Arab men conversing with the African(-American?) cashier.
“Nooo, not today.” I was looking for the Arabic-English Dictionary.
“Do you speak Arabic?”
Even in speaking with a child, I was suspicious of her motives. Did she own the store? Would she judge me? Yessss.
“Maybe…no. No, I don’t. DO YOU?”
She gave me an “are you kidding me” face reminiscent of when I answer questions by pointing to my nose.
“What’s your name?” I asked and prepared my palate to pronounce it correctly.
I failed. It was so outlandish I can’t even remember it. At least eight vowels. All in a row like little starving children at a kitchen bench.
“I’m Shifa’ ” Naaailed it.
Now the cashier addressed me and the girl was promptly pulled away like an attentive Backstage Drama Club was at work.
“Ooooh I wish I was good like youuu.” He kept saying it.
I looked around. It seemed he was speaking to me.
“This is a dictionary.” It was green. Could’ve been a Qur’an, admittedly.
“Where are you from? I from Senegal. Born in Senegal, raised in France, lost in America.”
I laughed heartily, sincerely, and tried to start paying for my dictionary.
“You know, they charge $45 for this at the NYU bookstore, you’re getting gypped!”
I thought about a possible substitute word for “gyp.” Nothing came.
“You know though, I came to this country and just fell apart. Everythin’, everythin’. Before, I was so good. I was soooooo good. Doin’ everythin’ right. But I got like I thought I was better than everyone else. Now I see I’m just a man, like everyone. Now I have that humble- I can be humble because I’m lost.”
He enunciated his T’s in a pretty way.
“Yeah, it’s hard.” My Buffalo accent sounded disgusting after his monologue. I think sometimes I emphasize it just to gross myself out.
“And you know, sometimes my friends they ask me why I like the white women not the Black women I tell them I don’t knoooow, I just like the white women and they say what if there’s a white woman and a black woman and the black woman is prettier, watchu gonna pick I say okaaaaaaay the black woman. Hehe.”
“So really you just like beautiful women.”
I’m not sure if he understood my accent.
“…I wish I was good like you.”
I looked down at my paid-for dictionary. My dictionary.

What ever happened to the boys? The sons of that guy in Bryant Park I met last summer when Samia couldn’t find me at the movie. I heard him speaking Arabic on the phone and got all excited and said something about it and he asked me why I was studying Arabic all the way over there in Morocco. “Why not in New York- there are more Arabs here than Lebanon!”
“Lebanon is small,” I replied.
“I have two sons. Both of them can teach you Arabic- for free.”
I thought about his proposition. “At the same time?”
It was a joke. I wouldn’t say he eyed me wearily, but he definitely eyed me.
In any case, I don’t think he replied.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ramadan Blues

The thing about Ramadan in NY is that almost every mosque represents a different part of the world. I found a watermelon themed jainamaz from the Bengali man with the incense rack that always makes me embarrassed, mostly unsure if the bearded vendors notice that they sell fragrances titled "lick me all over" and "touch me here" right under the "patti labelle" shelf. I guess she's wholesome enough for all of us.
The Syrian and Egyptian hanouts share my loyalties when it comes to "canned fooul" and expired halal cheese.
I once frequented the Burkina Faso-ian market but I've converted over to Kosher meat from Trader Joe's because I can't be bothered to skin my own chickens (and to think I ever imagined I could marry a Moroccan). It was fun speaking French though. They were all so nice to me. They invited me to their country.
I'm invited.
As is the way, the only place I could find to belong was the place no one belongs. The "University" Islam scene is somewhat of an enigma. Complete with flourescent lights to spotlight the sins we commit pre-lunch break, the Islamic center is housed in the basement cafeteria of a church on 6th Avenue. The community is something of a collision between the Pakistani Student's Association and the Palestinian Student's Association, and somehow I can't pass for either. (Something about my nose not being pointy enough. Both nations of the pointy nose...) I fled to Columbia where I correctly predicted that most of the kids at Iftar dinner weren't even Muslim, and was met by a special presentation of the Nakshabandi Turkish Sufis. The Taraweh was more of a workout than a spiritual reflection but I think I just need to get the hang of all that up-and-down. Even I hated pilates on the first day. This is like pilates + God. In any case I will go back next week and see if I can be inspired.
Which as I recall, seemed to happen through various means, several times daily, in Tangier.
I'm not moping, I'm just saying.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008









Saturday, September 6, 2008














Thursday, September 4, 2008


"I'm a smoker as you can see. I have to apologize. I really shouldn't be smoking."

The middle aged woman with the awkwardly arranged gray bun in her hair started to fidget with pieces of her kitchen.

"Here c'mon we'll try it right here." She left the room to find cloth and thread so I could test out the machine.

"As you can see, it's brand new!" she yelled from the next room, unnecessary in such a small apartment.

"You can just unplug the vacuum cleaner to get that thing going!"

In searching for the vacuum cleaner plug, I surveyed the kitchen, a hodgepodge of colorful dishes and imported goods from India. There were some posters indicative of her religious persuasion, having converted from Judaism to Sikhism, which I already knew because she told me in the car as part of the explanation for why she moved from the upper west side to Far Rockaway.
I can't remember how it fit into her story or why she felt she needed me to approve of her life choices.

"Not a big deal," I said. "Some of us live here, some of us live there." It sounded vaguely like something she might say. Safe choice of words.

"...but it was all we could afford at the time and you know even with this crazy economy I'm still paying less for this apartment than I was over in Manhattan."

Looking around the apartment, it wasn't hard to understand why, although she had made it cozy with oversized cats for insulation and paisley bedsheets nailed to the walls like tapestries.

"Here we go. I use this just to clean things up sometimes, no big deal if there are a few stitches in it."

She handed me a white, blood-stained handkerchief.
I waited for her to explain that it was actually ketchup but she didn’t, and I was too impatient to leave to insist on a less cryptic scrap of cloth.

The machine itself did seem brand new, without so much as a fingerprint on it. It was more of less like the one I share with my mother in Buffalo, so I knew how to thread it. I slid the non-bloody side of the cloth under the presser foot as the woman explained to me that her mother could “sew like a horse.”
I told her my mother could sew like a seamstress.
She replied, “Well, yeah, my mother was a seamstress.” I backed down.

“But I just don’t have the knack for it. Or maybe the time, or space, or…” I listened and added appropriate comments and questions where they fit. She asked me to repeat everything I said. I would switch to a tone someone might use to read a children's book, to encourage her to reply to my questions with something relevant to the topic. Sometimes it worked.

Her head was almost resting on my shoulder. My right shoe searched for the plastic pedal and was greeted by the sound an elephant makes when it bleeds.

“What the…” The woman eyed the machine with a furrowed brow. “Try it again try it again.”

I re-threaded both top and bottom and tried maneuvering the bloody cloth once more, but no-budge.

The next ten minutes consisted of her saying “now, what the…” in different tones and at various speeds. She would probably also be really good at reading children’s books.

Eventually she gave in. Speaking slowly, “you know, I re-mem-ber having this problem once before. I think it’s why I gave up on my sewing!” She let out a hearty laugh. I even more slowly suggested that I leave. She suggested we continue looking at the machine saying “now what the…” and so we did. It was her house I had to follow the rules.

“The thing is (I tried to use all of my favorite phrases to keep me entertained), the teeth aren’t rising up to the cloth. See how it’s buried? It’s supposed to rise up to meet the foot and nudge the cloth forward. Instead the needle is just sewing in the same spot over and over. Nothing is moving forward.”
I quietly enjoyed the metaphor and wondered to which of us it was relevant as she switched her repetitions to “awww Iiiii seee.” I hummed in agreement after each time until I felt it was encouraging her to keep saying it.

Once our song was done she insisted we best be getting to the station.
“Well, at least you don’t have to walk!”
“Yeah, thanks for driving me.”
“You know, it actually all worked out for the best I think because I never would have known what was wrong!”
“Yeah.” I tried not to think about the two hour subway ride ahead of me as we both climbed through the passenger door of her sea-green Buick.
“Can you believe this only cost me $300?”
“Wow.” Actually I couldn’t. It was an okay looking car. My favorite color. Same color as my ipod. Which also cost $300.
“Same price as a sewing machine,” I offered, and wondered if it was inappropriate.
“I know! And it drives, to boot.”
“To where?”
“…to boot.”

We passed an African-American couple on the street, and here she found an opportunity to share her expertise about Far Rockaway. “You know, the Blacks are actually very friendly here. The Spanish, no, but the Blacks, oh yes. Very ‘yes ma’am no ma’am.’ I can’t say anything about the Jews though!” Then muttered something. She laughed because I was supposed to know what she meant.

At Mott St. she thanked me again as I tripped out of the old Buick. “May you have… the best life. The best of life.” She was moving her head back and forth and enunciating her words like it was a poem.
I smiled. “Oh, thanks. Good luck with the machine.”
She sort of winced as I mentioned it- the thorny issue tainting our otherwise pleasant relationship- and winced again as a crowd of teenagers called out to me as I entered the station. “Sugarbuuuutt!” 

Monday, August 25, 2008


WHAT TANGIER TAUGHT ME ABOUT RAMADAN, sources included in parentheses:

1. Don’t strategically forget it’s Ramadan. (General Words of Wisdom)
2. If you do not wear a djelleba, you are technically not Muslim (most boys from Al Hociema)
3. Put long skirt on over your regular outfit before you reach the door to the mosque (shifa)
4. You don’t have to fast if you are chronically sleepy, but you do have to constantly accuse others of not fasting, to make up for it (multiple sighted sources)
5. When you see a procession of young boys running with bowls through the street, you know it’s time (Grand Socco)
6. Try to remember the difference between gin and water. (General Words of Wisdom)
7. Bringing fruit to a Moroccan family who has invited you for iftur is ridiculous and they will mock you (shifa)
8. Don’t break your fast with kif. always eat a smidgen of a date first (Grand Socco)
9. Always remember to hang mildly translucent bedsheets over your wine rack. Sometimes you can cut eyeholes in these for a spooky effect (Casa Pepe)
10. Despite popular belief, glue sniffing is allowed during daylight hours (Rue Imam Laiti Glue Sniffer)
11. Despite popular belief, punching other people in the face is also allowed during daylight hours. But sex is not. Even just regularly. Unless maybe it's a really dark room. Or the Hotel Flandria (not shifa).


Friday, August 22, 2008


Now that my two years of moroccan-husband-searching are finally up (out of necessity, not success), I finally discovered the cruel secret they were keeping from me, betrayed in the end by Shayla, my friendly Arabic Podcast host. An early September "Festival of Brides" in Imilchil, south of Casa, involving mass-husband choosing by the girls that had come of age in the year preceding. When I googled it I found a photo of a group of men all peering over each other, presumably at the women, like boys at a high school snow-ball. Only some of them were toothless. I keep wishing I was there.

Shayla's incessant talk of Moroccan culture is not helping the situation either. Her subtly firm grasp of English idiomatic parlance does not convince me that she is also doomed to a life away from $.50 bowls of baysar and loosies for a dirham. I suspect she records from a flourescently lit internet cafe in Casablanca. Oh Shayla. If only you weren't my teacher.

Sometimes I talk nervously to myself out loud in coffeeshops in Arabic to warm up my vocal chords before I delve into learning and creeping out my neighbors on the sinky couch cushions totally non-condusive to serious academic work. I recently realized the first thing that comes out of my mouth without thinking is "N3am, walikin m3andish asdiqa' hanaya." It's sort of sad and makes me wonder why I miss Tangier, but then I convince myself I learned it from Maha. Hiya f3eallan wahida.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Old Times

I’ve been trying to keep up my Tangier lifestyle while spending my days dragging 30 lb groceries through the streets of Brooklyn because I can’t figure out the subway and when I do it is undergoing maintenance.

I visited Atlantic Ave. first chance I got, hoping to be swaddled by a warm blanket of Arab sights and sounds. There were more hipsters than hijabis and hardly anything halal. I managed to peek my head into a Yemeni restaurant full of only men, and was comforted by the awkward and misplaced-ness of my presence under the fluorescent lights. I will go there later with a notebook and it will be just like old times.

I found a few butchers that will come in handy for next month’s Ramadan, one Pakistani, one Lebanese, and one Egyptian. I decided to make it a competition of signage, and since the Pakistani had his price list titled “HALAL MEAT” all in that ghoulish font typically used only on Halloween (with the blood dripping down the letters), he definitely wins.

I tried to befriend the Lebanese Goods cashier in my old way, explaining that the name on my “SHIFA HONEY HEALING HONEY IT WILL AMAZE YOU” honey bottle, was in fact my own name! He ignored me. I guess it only works in Arabic. And not in America. I’m starting to feel that way about my personality in general.

At the end of the street is a perpendicular highway and beyond that highway is the river. I could see boats on it and as the sun set the whole street was orange. It made me want to buy school supplies. Instead I hung my head low and began the hour-long walk back home, when out of nowhere the Adan (call to prayer) started to blast from the loud speakers of Al-Farooq Mosque and out onto the streets of Cobble Hill for everyone to hear. I didn’t even think that was legal. But there it was. And all the shops closed, and re-opened fifteen minutes later. And I was late for prayer.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The kids on the street set up a lemonade stand.
It vaguely reminded me of Safia and the fresh squeezed orange juice, mostly just the spirit of it, so I went over. As I approached, the sight of cell phones and bottled juice set up on a foldout table forced me to pretend I had walked to the end of the driveway to get the mail.
Things just aren’t the way they used to be.
There’s even a black kid on the street now. We haven’t had one of those in years.
Twenty years now we’ve been the most non-white family on the block. Ironically the only time my neighbors see me is when I take the day to tan in the backyard.

I can’t tell what I’m writing about anymore. All I have here is my family, (almost the exact opposite of Tangier) which I was banned from writing about years ago when my Baji made me promise never to mention her by name when I become a famous journalist.
I am starting to become fascinated by the daily living practice of everything around me, I think it’s more of a bad habit than creative inspiration, seeing everything like a specimen. In any case I’ve been busy with a project of preservation.
The project we started at the Cinematheque right before I left was Memory Box / Boite a Enregistrer les Souvenirs / Snduq Al-Dikrayat, to preserve the memories and family stories of our neighborhood. The whole family album.
It spawned out of wanting to record every word my mother said. So I got home. She was still talking. The family albums were still there. My sister had begun to censor them, removing and possibly destroying the ones that included my other sister, when she was young and adorable, where you can see her true hair color, and the same of my mother before she went to Hajj. These are the gems.
As someone who has an almost manic obsession with recording everything through pictures and sound, I have been trying to build on our family album for years. It’s like cutting my legs off.
So I have launched a preservation project to digitize all family memories before they are screened by the “black cloud.” In a way I understand what she is doing but in a plumper, more supple way, a way that takes up most of the chair, I think the whole thing is ridiculous and as much as I miss Tangier, I’m glad I am home to save these things.
Even my mother, when she opened one of the 1999 Kashmir albums exclaimed, “This thing is just -like a -memory -box!” with all the usual hesitations and accent.

And I miss the elastic way of practicing Islam that seemed to come from all directions back west, generally behind a façade that presented itself in a caricature almost like a joke, like talking and winking at the same time.

This is the only picture I have with no people in it. Maybe I will start coloring the faces of people in black like my mother does when animate objects sneak onto the patterns of the fabric of our furniture. In her defense, sometimes it does take a month or two to recognize that squiggly shapes spell out a body. Head and hair and everything.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


When Morocco wants you out, she kicks you out. With the heel of the boot.
Somehow I got tricked into spending my five hour layover entirely within airport walls, instead of wandering the streets for some last minute kicks.

She finally gave me most of my voice back, but kept my luggage in exchange.

But it feels appropriate. This is how I pictured my last moments in the Maghreb.
This is basically the way I arrived, eating the lettuce out of a frozen sandwich from the airport.

Monday, June 9, 2008


The wheat shimmers in the bread. Long pieces of it.
Consider the view from behind my glasses compared with the view outside the lens. Juxtaposed, two confused versions of the same thing.

I started announcing my departure- my favorite response is when someone hangs their head and sighs.
The manager at Cafe Paris is going to give me his sister-in-america's address so I can go visit.

Mohamed’s baby was born and is named Hamza. I wonder about the family name. If it can be linked to drug-lords from Al Hoceima, like everyone says is probably the case.

Absalom got married. I wasn’t invited.
He came into the cinema with his new bride. I asked why he didn't tell me earlier, and he looked at me and responded in a mix of Arabic and English, something along the lines of “I was completely enamored with my new wife that I forgot to invite you.” Of all the things he could have said, this was probably the least disappointing response. Still, I would have loved a chance to redeem myself from the Bir Shifa incident.

In the spirit of having my fill of the Mediterranean before I am banished to the Atlantic, I went to Greece.
Everyone thought I was Greek.
Everyone looked like my mother.
One of these women was at the seminar I was flown in for. She was wearing a hot pink shoulderless t-shirt under a black spandex dress. She suggested instead of “dialogue” or “unity” as the theme for next year’s call for proposals, we use “bread.”
“Because everyone love bread,” she said.
That also reminded me of something my mother might do.

All over were posters of a man who was an exact 50/50 cross between my mother and father. My Greek brother? His name written in Greek looked like mountains colliding into parts of a wheelbarrow.

We drove to the Temple of Poseidon for sunset. The sea was moving in jerky slow motion like the leathery skin under the fin of a dolphin. The open mouth of the temple made everything around it more possible. Aesthetically, vaguely closer to perfection than any other given thing, sitting up on a hill with arms crossed above a full belly like it was pleased with itself.
We watched the sunset there then ate fish, the same fish we have over here and I wondered how the cultures of the coast affects their personalities. They tasted like they maybe had less of a backbone than moroccan fish. More willingness to cooperate.

My last night I spent at Hotel Zorbas and was greeted by some Spaniards in the shared dormintory in the thick of the night. I had fallen asleep to a Spanish music station looping Jennifer Lopez, George Michael and Britney Spears, which, I found upon waking, had at some point transformed into hardcore porn (or softcore at a climax). The girl was very polite in asking if she could turn off the television, or if I was still watching.
I snuck out like a thief in the night at 4am to catch my free ride to the airport from a different hotel, hiking through the streets of Athens, hoping it was as crime-free as the website insisted. It’s amazing what a girl will do for a free taxi. Legitimately, it would have cost one fourth of my monthly Moroccan salary to order my own. But getting away reminded me how lucky I am to have access to fresh bread and chicken and fish and figs for $1 a kilo this week. And how I have exactly two weeks left to enjoy these things.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Days: Numbered

Two stray cats are copulating on the sidewalk of Rue de la Liberte, I laughed out of embarrassment and they both looked at me for a minute then kept at it. No one watched them or tried to move them, only moved around them.

The death of the discman has brought me to a strange place, post IPOD death and IPOD II disappearance, this most recent blow has relegated me to punishment of silence, and the discovery that I understand 70% of conversations going on around me. Luckily,
the best way to learn Arabic is to listen to old people. Half the conversation is comprised of noises and they often repeat themselves, or repeat what the other person said, to confirm they heard right.

Eating a cold pancake out of a plastic bag, watching the fountain and the gardener of the traffic circle: the old man to my left is desperately trying to suck something out of his teeth, or maybe that is how he tastes food. The blind man arrives a few minutes later with someone resembling him, maybe only because they both have white hair. They cozy up between a man sleeping peacefully in his booth, and a heartwarmingly plump Spanish woman with a coffee and a cigarette and her head resting on the hand with the cigarette, like she is sitting at her kitchen table waiting for the mail.

I’m back to my daily routine now that my days are officially numbered, cakes for breakfast, H&M&M&M for lunch (even though Mohamed keeps telling me I got fat and inflating his cheeks to demonstrate), and the continued mission to try every fish in the market. Except the ones that are sold only half-dead, squirming around in the bag as you carry them home to their impending fate / doom, then erode their spirits into the walls of the qasbah.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feels Like Patanka

Through the window at Café de Paris I get to see everyone on their way to work, scarves and belts and pot bellies still in place where they were strategically placed earlier that morning.
Most of us are still waking up, sneaking in yawns, and others are already knee deep in dealings by 8am.
Café Paris celebrates shady passport exchange, what seem like divorce proceedings, and -God help me- small children and their obnoxious noise pollution, as of late.

I have begun to mentally prepare for my departure, designing small handmade invitations for my Mughal-e-Azam going away bash. I will invite all of them, and only Absalom will come.

I’m not usually up this early. Tight times are forcing me to “take-jobs” that have nothing to do with me or mine including menial photography assignments- the latest having to do with the Tangier Renaissance- forces me to think about what that could actually mean.

Will these upscale elitist spaces eventually overtake the low-life gems that continue to differentiate Tangier from Marrakech despite the waterfront, despite the geraniums?
Are the Dar Noors and Serenity Spas of the city really the next wave of urban development for sleepy Tangier?

Sometimes the whole city is like one big yawn. The noise is transparently placed in efforts to wake us up. I can see through it and conveniently, also sleep through it.

From the café window I get to see all of my Souk Barra friends out of uniform and a lot of times I don’t recognize them, only that I know that I know them.

The waiters at Café de Paris wouldn’t let me take pictures this morning- some mumbling about the patron and pleading eyes convinced me to drop the subject and sheepishly tuck my camera back into its hiding place.

A man with a box tied to his neck with a bird sitting on it is in the window, I want to ask what he is selling but I’m losing my vocabulary and can’t pronounce verbs ending in ein. I usually say something like, what’s that you've got there? or Can I buy that from you?

I have become all around very strategic. Being a strategic person involves trusting yourself. Your ability to affect people. General faith in cause and effect.

In general, I don’t trust the words that end with an open mouth. F’gaa, qaraa, shifa’e.

I have two months to get through the 3 kilo textbook that has been making eyes at me from across the room all year. You know you want me come get me, he says. But I resist each time. When will this flirtation evolve into something real? Why can’t you commit? Was it something I did, something I said?

While pleading with my Arabic I lost track of the conversation in real-time. Apparently I had stained my banana-coat in some mysterious place between my waist and collarbone and right shoulder. I thanked the man for pointing it out and chased it like a dog for a minute before deciding it was a strand of my hair that he mistook for a streak of dirt.
I received a free treat from the Qawee on my way out, also like a dog.

What to do when no on takes you seriously? Opt out of the banana coat, perhaps? But Faddal makes brush strokes in the air each time he sees me in it, calls it my artist coat.

I know it’s not the coat-
it seems I’ve all around made myself too familiar.
Too available.

Is that the name of the game? I plead once more with my Arabic, it takes him a few seconds to mentally translate, then he slithers away as if to say, you’ll never learn.
In dialect. In idiom.
Something about my being fit for a pocket.
At least I understood the part about the pocket.

Friday, May 9, 2008


After finally exploring the gloomy remnants of cafes and low-budget sea-side resorts at Robinson Plage (empty pools, etc) I was especially eager to make the trek to Hoceima. A long time coming, I admittedly let myself build it up in anticipation, the long imagined home of Mohamed and Mohamed (and Mohamed and Mohamed).

The six hour approach managed to include a stack of misadventures including the creepily determined, possibly high, car-chasing hash-dealers they warn you about in guidebooks. They put on an impressive performance, luckily shy of running us off the road. The eventual disappearance of each obstacle was only an introduction to a new one on the one lane mountain road to Hoceima. At points we ventured off-course only to be met by potholes and gloom. The first glimpse of the Rif cuddling up to the sea coaxed some gasps, mostly on my part, a pretty constant gasper on the whole. But as we approached the city in our tiny white fiat, still pure and genuinely curious, there came an overwhelming sinking feeling, felt by all parties.
We spent two hours in Al Hoceima, inspecting the gloomy premises, before we decided to flee- or more appropriately- to escape-
no Talla Youssef, a taste of Cala Iris, a taste of the public beach.

Upon my return Uthman interrogated me on what I’d seen and why didn’t I tell him. Come with me next week, he pleaded. I casually blocked his hand from touching my knee and explained that I would never return to Hoceima.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Public Performance

It only took two weeks of frequenting the farran (public oven) daily to hit the red brick wall at the end of that path. The mool’l farran, a fresh replacement for my favorite old man ever (now fled to Placa Toro) has also been acting as my dealer for various gems from the neighborhood: peanut cookies, abandoned bread loaves, moroccan pizza / caliente (ironically always cold somehow), Abdullah’s mint tea, and lately the gargantuan black bookshelf donated to the oven from the mosque, to cut up and use as fuel for the fire. Men, boys, and children wandering the street with nothing better to do come by to chat or smoke, and this way I have secured a handful of neighbors willing to guide me through the process of preparing whichever mythical-looking fish I purchased that morning from the market uphill from the Socco. I am careful to follow these instructions exactly, since they will all see the finished product and probably by smell alone be able to tell if I failed in my endeavor. This is the trouble with public-cooking. Inevitably, you will be judged. As an American I am expected to be incompetent, but since taking the Ana Hindaweea route, I have a reputation to uphold.
Performance wise, I would say the mool’l’farran is probably a religious man- he never lets me take food with my left hand, often abandons CapRadio for Quranic recitation, and prays on a warm blanket behind a wood pile. I can understand that my visits and photographs might convey a certain sentiment, and so when he vaguely asked me to enter into a non-baked-good-related relationship, I tried to be as nice as possible in my refusal. Instead of the usual smug “why/why not?” he looked away in embarrassment and possible shame, a smeHlna, avoiding eye contact with the other men in the room. They all seemed shocked that I wasn’t interested, assuming that this is what I was after all along in the guise of cakes and cookies and disastrous fish tagines. I awkwardly handed him the dirhams I owed for the use of the fire and headed back across the street to my home.
I could retreat, seeking out the "old mool" in the maze of Place Toro streets, in my usual way, showing passers by his photo asking "have you seen this man? Which way did he go?" but I am tough like all American girls, as they say, and I refuse to let this deter me from spending the occasional rainy and windy Tangier afternoon in this warm and safe place, warm from the fire and safe because bread is baking just behind me, and there are trays of cookies to the right and left of me.
It seems that old Kashmiri logic is haunting me again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


In rainy Tangier everyone is hiding behind those big plaid umbrellas. I refuse to carry them because they insist on making a mockery of me, turning tricks for everyone to see, insides outside and downsides upturned, basking in the wetness from above and the wet mess it makes of me.

There is some secret fun to be had- rain fashions are the most entertaining. Old women wrap themselves in yellow plastic ponchos as though they are about to cross the strait, boys and men are tucked into hoods like Eskimos or skaters (sk8rz), and the women manage to keep their spiky heels on with no issue. I enter the scene like some sort of sea creature, blinded by the steaming lenses of her glasses and lack of reason.

Even still, Suleiman insisted this morning, in English
“If I were already young, I swear, I would just sit next to you…all day. I would never get up.”
I wanted to ask,
“What if I get up?” but he whisked away with his tray of mint tea, a delightful compliment to the rainy season.


My lessons at the sewing school have been dwindling. I’m just not as passionate about pockets as I once thought. I agree there is a lot to be learned from the modern variations of pocket, but they are not so relevant to my life right now. Although I could always use a good hiding place.

A few weeks ago I scoured the city for a sewing machine in the hopes of making a go at the growing pile of clothing projects in the corner of the spare room (not so spare any more). I was delighted to find, at the foot of the stairs lining each side of our street, a tiny sewing school with seven machines crammed into a 10’ x 10’ room.

Although it is a training school preparing students for work at the local pocket factory, the m3allam insisted that I would follow my “own system” and “learn everything.” The first lesson seemed promising, I re-learned how to use the industrial machine that had years ago prompted me to drop out of fashion school. I mastered it this time around, and learned all of the Arabic names. It wasn’t until my second lesson that the m3allam ordered I follow the “common system” - “his system” -“the pocket system.” I have a lot of respect for pockets and the things they hide, and I am trying not to discriminate against them while I learn to discriminate between them, but I think it is time to move on to a less-limited system.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The King graced Tangier last week. The Socco outside of the CdT was lined with metal barriers and hoards of men, women and children behind them, waiting for him to pass on his way to Friday prayer in Jama’Al Kabir. Bus loads of people from all over town steadily built a healthy crowd. Officers were posted every few feet to keep us off the streets and keep us from taking pictures of the square. In practice, most of them turned a blind eye, although they were especially adamant about every window in every building of the Socco remaining closed. Personally, if I were being cheered for, I would delight in the little window explosions of arms and heads and laundry. Maybe it is a security issue? It was so sad to see them all retreat into the darkness of their homes and offices.

We waited well past prayer time, in anticipation as the multiple prayer calls overlapped each other into one brilliant howling. I can only assume they delayed prayer until his arrival. It seems like something you might do for a King. Men in djellabas distributed miniature Moroccan flags and pictures of the King looking uncomfortable in his pink cushioned chair. The moment I held these free items in my hand I felt a surge of national pride run through me, and could hardly keep from waving them like a child.

His passing was announced by a handful of tiny black cars, speeding in circles as though the controlling of hand of a giant three year old was guiding them. The King sighting consisted of one arm, waving.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Plan I: leave in the early morning, when the Moroccan mothers and grandmothers are still too sleepy to push and push in line.

But our south of Chefchaoen search for the field of dreams lasted longer than anticipated, because of the covert February harvest, unexpected.
“Not even one plant I can show you,” he said- the boy we stopped en route to interrogate on the status of kif plentitude on the rif. I bet any waiter in Tangier could have told me if I had asked them.
“Not even any one small tree-like thing of kif down below” is actually what he said, in keeping with the Moroccan tradition of answering me using the vocabulary of the question, a few extra prepositions, and mockery.
All we found was a little graveyard, as Maura put it, of “unimportant people.” The graves were like scattered rock piles but in enough order to distinguish between nature and handiwork.
By mid-afternoon I was en route to my passport stamp (Ceuta). As usual, I was interrogated about my heritage and guided to special windows, forced to muster up “playful shifa” for the bolice. Shamelessly batting my eyelashes doesn’t work as well as it did pre-budagaz incident.

Plan II: “Stamp - Polaroid film – Salmon Sandwich”

The trek from customs to “ceuta” is a healthy thirty-minute walk in the African sun (Spain is in Africa too!) Regretting my boots and too exhausted to investigate the public bus I settled for the road to town, asking about sandwiches, making friends and even found a flea market resembling those plentiful on Hertel Avenue, Buffalo, NY. A witch-like Moroccan woman stared right through me as I tried on boots and coats and leafed through stacked frames. The highlight was a few peaceful minutes spent in the sun on a tiny wall of rocks about thirty feet from the customs officials, trying to chat with the lone fisherman avoiding eye contact with me. I offered him snacks through subtlety and gesture, but the fish out-did me. As his fish-sack grew plump we sat silently side by side across the wall, eating chocolate and waiting for the sun to fall, fishing and listening to the same song on repeat, pretending we were individually alone and then feeling alone and appreciating the watery marriage of continents.

Sleepy from the sun, I hitched a ride back to the border with a man I had passed an hour before, after spotting him approaching a car-like object with a key in hand. He happily agreed to escort me, and started the car by connecting two open wires between us. A few minutes later he disconnected the wires and the car stopped.
"I am sorry, I have to hide some things," he apologized and reached into the back seat, full with bottles of Disfruita apple juice. He then easily removed the inside of each door and nestled the bottles of juice in the spaces between, then reassembled his car.
We passed through customs without a hitch, and I realized I was back in Morocco without a stamp. I tried to pay him and he refused, so I gave him tickets to the cinema. I ran back to Spain, begged for a stamp, got the stamp, and returned home to Morocco in three minutes time, and in heels to boot.

Saturday, March 22, 2008



Like those games your mother buys for you on the way into the grocery store for half a dollar, with the little silver balls.

Those of us that crave the empty spaces feel it violently, a stealthy penetration of space, filling up with objects mostly foreign and whites whiter than the rest of the street. But when I ask the locals about it they use the same vocabulary of progress and hope as those who put those things there in the first place. Something like: maybe this will be of use to me some day, or someone like me will use it. Something so fancy can’t possibly be useless.

Those of us that don’t belong here help fill up the holes. Sometimes they make holes for us to fit in, like the road through the old cemetery past the iron welders and animal hospital. It is already full of tourists, 'encouraging a circus-like atmosphere,' and we are getting back to the headlining balancing-act –foreign and familiar, the constant bumping heads of insiders and outsiders.
We agree to disagree and form one smooth flat surface:

Fatima insisted I do my laundry in their washing machine, after I explained my misadventure with some buckets and the bathtub. While I was there chatting with her daughter a handful of the extended family arrived for Sunday Leisure time and I sat awkwardly watching Rachel Ray and laughing at the jokes that couldn’t translate. Rachel gave some actress the gift of a framed burger king uniform with her name on it, because she had worked there when she was fifteen. A man from Burger King came out on stage to apologize to Kate for firing her, years before. I tried to explain to Hamid what was going on and how eerie it was, and everyone nodded and smiled and the little kids ran around and grabbed my skirt and I pretended not to notice. They also changed all the knobs on the washing machine, forcing Hamid to announce the purpose for my visit and bring me in to the kitchen to fix the damage done. I adjusted the knobs to a shorter cycle and soon fled.

Along with the warm seasons come more library patrons. The ordinarily stale, deathlike atmosphere was more like a circus today. The ex-librarian was visiting from Rabat and confessed that she had once been accused of “encouraging a circus-like atmosphere.” Each new patron to enter the crowded room was overwhelmed by the chaos and seemingly on the verge of a heart attack. But the Brits are often like that. I’m still trying to figure out how they survived in Tangier this long.

After my shift I was invited to lunch with an American woman married to a Moroccan man, and we talked about Oprah and cats and then Oprah again. Her husband speaks fluent English, having lived in the US for a few years when he was younger. It is strange to think that is was actually easier for people of his generation to go abroad than for people my age. Even those that remained in Tangier had the opportunity to hear and learn English, whereas now they are hard to come by. And among my waiter-friends, only the oldest ones speak any French- the Al Hoceima crowd probably taught me a quarter of my Arabic repertoire, and through song, added some very key nouns and phrases to my Hindi vocabulary, filling in the holes that faulty-subtitles make.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eid Al-Nabi

I was told there would be cows in the street today, I have yet to see anything of the sort. But that kind of thing is child’s play to a Kashmiri woman, which is how I introduce myself to people, and so that must be what I am.

I have developed a financial relationship with the woman that sits outside of my morning café. How could I not? I am usually the only woman inside and she is the homeless mother outside. If I pass without stopping she calls out “America America” until I turn back. She always tells me what is going on in her life, and sometimes I can’t understand how it relates to money and interpret it as casual conversation. The day before the holiday I wished her Eid Mubarak and she tried to explain to me that her son was being circumcised the next day. I understood that something was being done to her son and I knew the verb “to cut,” but couldn’t get further than that. She tried to point and still I drew a blank. To any passer by, our conversation consisted of a homeless woman yelling “Penis penis penis penis!” to me in the street, and me squinting my eyes in confusion, “shnoo?”

In honor of “Eid Al-Nabi” I spent an hour in a taxi last night trying to find a mosque open late, and even the cab-driver was astounded that we couldn’t find even a one. Since I am currently working through a complex that God is trying to keep me out of His house, this was not the best situation, especially because mosques after hours tend to be where the creepiest people hang out. Not necessarily dangerous, just decidedly creepy. Without entering any of the four mosques we stopped at, I was kissed and hugged and followed and made to recite obscure short surahs to prove that I was not just playing dress up, with my bangs escaping my hijab every chance they got. We ended up finding one light at the end of the tunnel near Mohamed Al-Khamis that was decorated with flashing red and green lights, and half of the women entering were not wearing hijab, and dressed in their fanciest Qaftans and spiky heels. I spotted several obnoxious children roaming free and sulked at their not-being-cows. I declined entry, retreating home to my non-family. This is what holidays tend to be. And anyway, I was taught that we are not supposed to party on the Prophet’s birthday.

The idea of a day off work seems like a distant memory, but with everything closed I am forced to abide. I spent most of the afternoon mopping the flood from my bedroom, and will continue to do so into the night and late hours of the morning.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Buffalo is buried in snow / my heart is buried in snow.
We are oscillating between hot and cold, all of us.
Some days the city is so soft you can push into it with your finger like this and other times like a frozen coconut. Exactly like that.
I start with the weather because it tends to sets an order to the day.

I’m back to my old habits and places, a reversion in reaction to my relocation. The new house is basically just like the old one except bigger and colder and with a more constant level of fear settling like a film over my blankets and jaffef- I still can’t figure out how to clean them. Today a centipede crawled out of one of them. I can skip the arm circles now, because of those damn jaffef and my new hobby-by-necessity, bucket-laundry.
The fear is more anxiety, partially because of all the butagaz sprinkled around our kitchen (and when someone takes up a shower it fires up like a small hell) and partially because everyone in the Kasbah has access to our home through the balcony connected to my bedroom. But that also means that I have access to all of them.

(Beautiful Laundry is progressing nicely)

Overworked and Underpaid,
when will it be over?
I fully realize I wouldn’t have this problem if I were better at selling myself.
Interesting that this is the case, considering how often I get mistaken for a prostitute (no I’m still not over it).

Monday, March 10, 2008


“I need support and a woman to give me what I need to make us both happy.”

One plus two makes three (Mohamed keeps trying to convince me it makes twelve. I argue twenty-one). So I have three jobs now. And third time’s a charm except that since everything is backwards in Arabic it’s like I’m starting all over again as an odd-job-girl out-of-context.
Love assistant is a bit vague, so I prefer Scribe.
I am teaching English to a woman who speaks French and Arabic (if forced to and of course I force her to), learning English for her American love-interest. I started last week and have already written three love letters and translated seven (this is his average per day).

The catch is that he writes to her in English, then emails her through some sort of automatic translator into French, so she receives the letters in French but they don’t make any grammatical sense, and I have to try to slip the word back through the seam-hole and decipher what the original English word was, then respond to him in English based on what she is narrating to me in French, and then to make sure it’s correct I translate it back to my student in Arabic, who then translates it back to herself in French.

Catch #2 is that these are not so much love letters as love games. He uses all kinds of muddy language to avoid saying the wrong thing. He does not so much say things as roll around in a pile of words like a dog and hope that some of them stick. I usually spend the whole lesson with my face scrunched up because his English pains me, miming things like “indirect” and “cloudy.” Yesterday I drew a “ladder of feelings” to explain how “I have feelings” ranks in comparison to “I like” and “I love.” Today’s batch forced me to add “I would like to love,” “I have feelings of love,” and “I think I could love.” When I don’t know how to translate something, I launch into extensive metaphors in Arabic and Mime, and she looks at me in that old familiar way that I used to look at my Derija teacher before I left her for an old textbook, because at least the old textbook didn’t lie to me, or judge me for my taste in pet names (relatedly, Gimpy fled home, Kosovo is not as independent as I initially observed, while Katya- is healing nicely after maiming her leg, possibly in an attempt to imitate her big brother. And Bisoux is too pregnant to care about them anymore.)

I think my student has mostly given up on learning to speak English, and we will just translate and compose love letters all day. Which is basically the best job ever. And comes with free cake, and coffee in zebra-print teacups, but only if I ask.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hiya Fowda Fiya Dokha

A few things relevant to today:
1. When I was young my mother taught me in all sincerity that hope is presumptuous and with negative connotations attached and they can’t be detached. I was nervous about what it would mean to agree with her.
2. Shifa is not an Arabic name it is an Arabic nothing (that is not something my mother taught me it is just something people in Morocco say)
3. To clarify #1, this may partially be because of a subtle language barrier, but is mostly based on her conviction that devotion involves believing in things that don’t make sense, because they are better than worse.
4. There is nothing worse than the presumptuous rajl-f’-zanqa.
5. Is this perverse presumptuousness just a perversion of hope?

I have a friend who works on the corner. His DVD selection is not any better than the next guy but he is young and open late and corrects my Arabic and lets me watch his TV when I’m bored. I visited him to see if he had found the old Egyptian film I requested by means of acting out the first scene, which I had watched at another man’s stall. The boy never actually finds the films I request, but his assurances allow me to continue hoping and I do.
I thought about asking him to accompany me to the Egyptian film at the Cinema Paris later that day. I didn’t ask him in the end, and later found that I had dodged a vaguely bullet shaped almost-bullet when he started telling me what he thought about the Jewish population of Casablanca, or the Jewish population anywhere. I am prone to taking things personally, and despite being Muslim inside and out, (in a cartoonish coloring book sort of way) I did take it personally. How did I manage? It mostly has to do with the presumption he made- the look on his face, waiting for me to agree with him. Like the men on the street that try to hit me with their car, and then ask me to get in the car. I’m sure I have my days when I look as though I can’t do any better, but certainly not often enough to warrant my friendly acquaintances pursuing me with such zeal.

Relatedly, the mentally unstable DVD vendor is at it again. He handed me a letter on Valentines Day and I was too nervous to have it translated until yesterday, but it turned out to be a non-love letter. On the contrary, it was a stay-away-from-me letter. I gladly accepted and felt comfortable passing him by sans-Salam until last night, when he stopped me in the street and caused a scene in front of the egg-shop.
Doesn’t my phone number work? Are you sure you have the right number?
He had written his number at the bottom of a Quranic wood carving and dropped it off at the cinema.
I didn’t call you.
You didn’t call me?

He sort of looked like he was about to punch me and I actually braced myself for an attack. But the bracing only made me more angry. Because why would I call him.
Why would I call you? I see you every day. You are horrible with me. I am not ever going to call you. Understand?

I left as quick as I came, and made my way uphill to the Cinema Paris, thrilled at the prospect of English subtitles and snacks allowed (snacks-allowed is a state of being that can erase any bad memory). As I watched the story unfold, I asked myself (because I had no one to ask in Arabic) if the film was perhaps a sign from God.
The protagonist was a mildly crazed old man, working hard for a living on the streets of Cairo. His only distraction was a beautiful young soda-pop vendor. She ran through and between the trains at the station with a bucket and a dress that was always falling off. She was nice to the poor guy long enough, until he asked her to marry him and she indignantly explained that she was much too good for him, and was already engaged to someone else. Then she laughed at him for a few consecutive minutes while her dress continued to fall off.
I never directly laughed at my crazed admirer but I couldn’t help reexamining my frank reply to his presumptuous inquiry.
In the film, the man ends up trying to kill the girl and accidentally kills her best friend. Then he tries to kill her again but gets caught and arrested, driven completely insane, whereas he started out a 3, on a scale from 1 to 5. A wise old member of the community explains, as though it was the moral of the story, that for the crazy old guy, even very small things were very meaningful, and he simply couldn’t control himself.

I know my life is not an old Egyptian film although sometimes I wish that it was, with all that beautifully contrasting black and white. In this case I pass, and have faith that life is not all that dramatic, really, and there aren’t ever that many occasions on which to say
“Abadan!” Not really.

I finished off my Sunday with a chwarma, not with murder, and found myself at the egg shop once again. There was a man there delivering bread, singing a Spanish song with full vibrato. I was told he is the best singer on the streets of the Socco. He stacked the bread into a pyramid one by one until his cardboard box was empty, and kept singing until the song was over. I told the mool’l hanout that I wish I could record him. He told me the man will come the same time tomorrow and if I come back I can do as I please. I told him I was doing a project. He asked if I would send it to America. I told him no, I would bring it with me, in a few months, when I go home.