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.