Saturday, August 29, 2009


The people of the town have a right to know

I am a local person.

I have no right to combining,
neither apparent combining nor real combining
neither apparent nor real combinations of salutations
and I salute you, members of the community.

At least three DVD vendors in Tangier think they are eventually going to marry me and it's not my fault. Each time I go back I get to learn new things about what I've been up to while I was gone. Sometimes the references make sense, or if the stories had titles they could apply to something I might do.

One of them gives me gifts. He leaves them at the cinema and then sits outside the hanout with the Marlboro men until I get there. I think he has been forced to make friends with a lot of the guys in the Socco because of this habit, and also smokes less because he can't smoke in the more public of the public, and by default this makes me a good person.

It had been a while since I'd got a gift but then, it had also been a while since I'd been in Tangier. He asked his messenger what I thought when I got it, and the messenger told him that I laughed. He held on to his fury.
"No. She was laughing on the outside but crying on the inside."

We're all in this together, the men on the corner and the crazy people and
I am also in on this. In December we agreed to disagree and I reverted to the comfort of being mute.
Wouldn't say something like, my mother looks just like Fairouz before the nose job. I can't even imagine saying that. But I know I said it like five or six times not that long ago.

The turnover rate is increasing but so is the rate of return,
and I can quietly go back
to being a local person
contained in one small pocket of the city.

Friday, August 21, 2009

BIR CHIFA //احسن يوم EVER

I canceled on Hamid for the interview three times before I decided to stop being a jerk and make my way to the cafe at 2:30, the time we both agreed would be most appropriate for me to meet him there, "because I can just keep working until 3:00 and you can just sit and have coffee and then neither of us will be waiting for each other like I waited for you before for a really long time all those other times," he said. It was also the mid-day slump when the taxi shifts were changing so anyone who knows what's good for them stays home in the midday heat. The shifts at the cafe also change, so everyone is there all at once like a big family, first the night shift in regular clothes, then the day shift in regular clothes. Most of them wear fisherman vests, except Hamid, who wears muscle tanks.

The taxis to Bir Chifa are lined up on a very upright street next to the shop where I buy djellabas for my father and brother every time I go home to visit and they never wear them. I felt the need to make awkward small talk with Hamid along the way, since we were smushed together in the front seat of the communal taxi, and soon realized it was, if not inappropriate, unnecessary to speak. We passed through parts of Tangier that I had never seen before, until we stopped at a small grey intersection where the buildings were also grey, and angular where the second floor juts out over the first floor.

Bir Chifa is one of the highest points of the city. We could see everything. Every patch of white and yellow and red and that shade of pink mostly only old people like to wear. Hamid spread his arms out nervously and said, "Bir Chifa," presenting it to me officially, and I realized he was nervous that I wouldn't like it and he wouldn't look directly at me. I hated realizing this, because it meant I would unnaturally emphasize my appreciation, even though it was sincere. I responded something like, "I love it bzzzzzeff." He nodded and kept avoiding eye contact and we kept walking. He mentioned to me in the taxi that his brother is still a tailor, and has a shop that we could go to so I could take pictures. I declined at the time but it appeared we were going there anyway. Hamid was also a tailor when he was young and when I first met him I innocently exclaimed that I had been searching the city for a sewing teacher. In retrospect and perhaps even at the time I could sense this was mildly inappropriate and probably a contributing factor to one of our many falling outs.

We stopped at a long green wall with a moped parked in front. I assumed it wasn't Hamid's because he sold his the last time I was in Tangier so he could buy a newer, faster one, and this one was more beat up than his last one. He shouted up to the second floor of the building and a few heads poked out, then ducked back in and a few minutes later his brother opened the door for us. The walls were like bubblegum and the floor was wonderfully covered in scraps from tailored women's clothing. Hamid demonstrated some of his skills on the makina while I loaded my camera- it seemed like the only way to convince him that I did really like it, and I wasn't mocking him when I said I wanted to live here. I had to be careful in crafting my sentences to be clear that I would be living either alone or with many women, also being careful not to use the phrase "house of women."

"Maybe we'll be neighbors some day!"
He smiled and nodded slowly, letting me know he was humoring me.
This was all, of course before I learned that the houses in Bir Chifa are actually more expensive than in other parts of town, closer to the city. Needless to say, this finding-a-house-in-Tangier-because-I-can't-find-a-husband thing still requires a lot more research and consideration on my part.

As we were leaving the shop, a plump woman in a blue headscarf peeked her head out in search for Hamid. A minute later we were sitting in his home, on his couch, watching TV with the woman, his step-mother. One of the first things Hamid had told me when I met him was that his mother had passed away, and that I looked just like her.
I luckily did not look like his step-mother. She looked slightly alarmed as though ready to pounce, but managed to smile as she stared at me sideways. We chatted about the Saudi Sheikh giving a lecture on TV. Hamid's brothers passed through the living room several times and were very polite. We sat this way for a couple of minutes until we got to the point where everyone in the room was looking around nervously like jittery birds, we said our salaams and headed for the qahwa.

Hamid not-so-innocently hyped up the qahwa by casually mentioning that Mohammed went there everyday after his morning shift, or before his night shift. "He pulls up a chair from the qahwa over there and brings it here to this spot, and sits here and drinks tea all night. Just like we're doing right now!" He pulled two plastic chairs over to the large expanse of dirt overlooking the city, and we made a table for ourselves in the middle of nowhere. To the left of us were four rows of parallel streets, a mini-howma, which I immediately identified as my howma. The first building in each row was simple grey concrete but I could tell there were some gems further in. I told Hamid my plan over and over, pointing to houses I thought would compliment my personality. He told me I probably couldn't afford a house in Bir Chifa. I had explained to him earlier how much debt I was in from college and now I regretted this. I really do want to be one of those rolly polly women sitting on the side of the road in a row. I wanted him to believe me.

We spent the afternoon at Mohammed's spot. Hamid told me stories about getting hit on by the European and American men that frequent the cafe and tips on how to avoid the especially creepy ones. I told him I was a lesbian, thinking this might safeguard against any misunderstandings on his part. He didn't believe me, but did help me pick out potential girlfriends on the walk back to the taxi. Every couple of sentences he would throw in an endearing comment or funny story about Mohammed, and to my astonishment and delight, confirmed Absalom's previous claim that there were no hard feelings. He shrugged. "He married a Rifia."

He asked me what I thought of his neighborhood, over and over, and I insisted, every time, I heart Bir Chifa I heart Bir Chifa, but I know he didn't really believe me. So he'll just have to wait until I can prove it with a T-Shirt. Forthcoming.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ضريفة ومزيانة \\ NICE AND GOOD

"Cheeeeefa. Cheeeeefa." It sounded like a muffled scream under a heavy layer of track 4 from the mix CD Frank made me for my birthday.
Then an awkward poke of the arm and a mimed plea for me to remove my headphones. O Abdesalam. How is it that you so often end up randomly walking behind me?

"Asalamalaikum Abdesalam. Lebass?"
It was around 11pm near the door of the Minzah and he probably just got off work. He kept his goofy smile on and immediately dove into a lecture on the social implications of constantly wearing soundcancelling headphones.
"When I say Salaam, you don't see me!" was the gist of it.
"Well I saw you just now."
"No you didn't I had to follow you."
The subject quickly changed to how I was making everyone think I didn't want to talk to them by being so unapproachable.
"You know, Chifa," he leaned in close as we made the turn onto Rue de la Liberte. "There are people like that here. Daeeman m3asaba. Always moody. But I know you're not like that. You're a nice girl, a good girl." I could feel him framing me in his peripheral vision, waiting for me to agree. "Now, Mohammed, you know, he's kind of like those other people...moody...mean..."

It was enough of a shift in topic that I could sense this would be one of his "let's talk about Mohammed so Chifa gets embarrassed" moments.
"You know, one day, he was spending time with you, here and there, helping you with your project, having fun, good friends, and the next- all of a sudden he got married! Safi! No more Chifa."
He continued to bizarrely narrate the history of my rocky friendship with Mohammed as if we were in the beginning scenes of a sequel and he was catching up those members of the audience that were just tuning in. He even brought up the birthday cake.

"...and it was so strange because you were so nice to all the rest of us and kept coming to the cafe. You talk to everyone, even my ugly brother Ahmed ..."

"...and we all had so much fun when we went to that wedding in Bir Chifa..."

..."then you spent Ramadan with us at the cafe and Mohammed was so mean! Remember that?"

He narrated my life to me with empathy and was clearly trying to elicit some vulnerability on my part, so I performed.
"Yeah! That was mean! Why did he do that!?"
A huge part of me was curious about what had caused Mohammed's outburst years before. Even post-birthday cake, he had invited me to his wedding in Al-Hoceima, then subsequently uninvited me. The boys gave me hints every once in a while, but nothing concrete.
He followed closely beside me as we entered the old medina, facing a swarm of women with strollers and kids on bikes, wobbling back and forth.
"I'll tell you why. You know, Mohammed, he didn't just get married. He married a Rifia."

I knew this. A Rifia from Al-Hoceima. I even wrote a poem about it. The ة endings are irresistible.

"And she told him, the day you marry me, you have to stop speaking to all other women! So he did. That's it." He peered at me. "I told him it wasn't right, you were so nice, but he was scared of her. But now even he tells me how nice and good you were. You didn't do anything wrong." He paused and looked away as if to provide sufficient time for me to think about his words. It occured to me that he wanted to be the bearer of good news.

As we walked past the baisara guys calling my name, I thought about this possibility. It seemed strange that it hadn't occurred to me. Mostly because I knew I had done something wrong. About 100 things. Most of them involving inappropriate offerings of baked goods without realizing the implications of those little delictibles. The birthday cake! I never forgave myself. Was Abdesalam absolving me of years of guilt? Apparently I had just been overreacting this whole time, ignoring a friend, who I missed, for no good reason.

We were nearing my final stop in the Souk Dhakhel, and I said as much, knowing I needed to be alone to mull over these new revelations.
"Wait wait I'll come with you."
"Nooo, I prefer to be alone, inshaAllah I'll see you tomorrow."
"Nooo, I'll come with you."
"SuperHadda Beach Club!"
"SuperHadda Beach Club! Let's go!"

I noticed a curious glimmer in his eyes. Absalom then went into a strange fit of raving about SuperHadda Beach Club. "Wow! It's so great! Music! Dancing! Wow! I invite you! C'mon! At SuperHadda Beach Club, all you do is say Whisky! and they give you whisky. You say Red Wine! and they give you red wine. Wow!" He was speaking in English now, and it was getting out of hand. Seriously ليس مناسب.
"I'm sorry, Abdesalam, I don't go to places like that. Ana Muslima."
Disbelief. Repetition. He explained again, the garden of earthly delights that was Superhadda Beach Club. Then he dropped the bomb.

"You know, Mohamed was saying you should go. He says how you are so nice and good and he wants you to go to SuperHadda Beach Club. He told me to take you."

The level of his desperation had reared its ugly head. This was the same Mohammed that insisted my Ramadan fasts didn't count because I wasn't wearing a proper djellaba and would daily beg me to consider wearing the hijab and yelled at me for buying him a birthday cake. It was clear what was going on. Abdesalam had hit a new low.

I left him at this juncture, and re-welcomed the strong possibility/fact that the birthday كعك was a mushkil, I was past the point of no return with Mohammed, and I would probably never live in Al-Hoceima. Word on the street travels faster by street-cat.

I imagined Allah was chuckling to Himself, then got all serious: يا شفاء, you can continue to be ashamed of your سلوك
كان ومازال ليس مناسب
The joke's on you.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Three quarters of the way through the most eerie summer ever- where "ever" now officially means a quarter of a century. It has becoming difficult to form words around experience.

My English is failing me and Tangier is gaining on me.

I keep falling asleep in bushes and hardly have time to respond to harassment- one of my favorite pastimes back in '07- let alone fleamarketing, public ovening, kittening, etc.

Between broken relationships and broken plurals, the shekl of things has molded into a sickly shade of green with envy for anything that speaks Arabic and people with cars passing through Souani.

Things we've always known still surprise us- we are not famous in Tangier but everyone knows us.
One false move could be the end of us. The more you are loved the easier it is to disappoint and the more you are watched the easier it is to see the flaws and the brighter your leggings the easier it is to spot you! There she goes again, off to make another mistake!

Floating in the refuse of my neglect of Beni Mekada, Bir Chifa and Tanja Maghogha, my neighborhood maps are still half drawn and I keep accidentally doing my Arabic homework on the back and handing them in.
A beacon! (the good kind): redemption at Al-Hoceima.
I knew it was a fluke back in '08 when the city where I know my fate at least partially lies was repelling me like an overeager potential love interest. So I gave it another go, and thankfully. I knew he could grow to love me the way his older, more refined distant cousin could. Just took time. The trip consisted mostly of inappropriate naps and eerily decorated cafes and glimpses of the King on the tenth anniversary of his reign. The baisara isn't as good and the beaches are black but I'll be back. I can feel it like a tiny ant crawling up my forearm.
I have to make the myths before I debunk them and draw the maps before I embroider them.
It is my duty to the city.
Really, this is my true wajib.
Not all that other wajib that I am getting in class and paying no attention to.

I've been reading about our good friend "Ibn Battuta" in our good friend "Fus'ha" and find myself bombarded by dates of each of his travels which quickly led me to the conclusion that it's time to start dating again. Today it is 2009. It will be Ramadan in 2 1/2 weeks. I am leaving in 9 days, and I arrived here in 2006 which means 3 is the lucky number.

Of course, as is the course of life, relations are constantly breaking and the tiny kittens keep dying. But I can feel the vacant lots filling with promise. Soon I will be gone, and my spot will also be empty, and waiting to be filled by the next girl.