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.