Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Previous Employment

Jack was something like a friend. His thick Brooklyn accent was always a welcome change to the British voices that always seemed to be mocking me in some way, gossiping about each other as they slipped in and out of the dreary apartment adopted by the British Library. They asked me about who had been in, who checked out what book and who hadn't paid their dues. I caught on to the social humiliation that comes along with not paying ones library dues and promptly crafted a very large sign listing names of those with delinquent fines and exactly how much they owed. Another sly move was for one member to pay the dues of another, initialing beside the name and putting a single line through it so it remained legible. I only bothered to remake the sign every few months because as much as I deplored public humiliation, I was a responsible librarian and determined not to let Margaret down. She was, after all the only member of the board that supported me taking up the position. She said I reminded her of herself. Always a good reason to hire someone. Fathers trust their daughters to men who are like them, and the library was Margaret's only child- she trusted me with it.

I knew I was going to be a good librarian. At least I had the wardrobe. The space only consisted of two rooms and was quiet and out of the way and I was pretty comfortable with alphabetical order. I never make my patrons feel like they have to justify their choice of reading material (it only encourages stealing / book-pants-ing). I never stole money or books, only book covers and postcards that fell out from between pages of them. None were from people I knew or addressed to people I knew, so I guiltlessly held on to them. None of them included anything more than short notes amounting to updates on the state of the weather.
Plus, I was a "great reader," or had accidentally began to masquerade as one. There was nothing worse to the Brits than to have an unacceptable answer to the ultimate judgement, "do you read?" It felt like a trick question at first, and took a few months for me to learn that this would make or break you. "Of course, I'm a librarian" was not enough. I had to cite books- my favorites, classics and what I was currently muddling through. And I had to keep up on what everyone else was reading so I could report to the others.

Jack came by every other Monday and sat in his usual spot with a stack of books he picked out in the first five minutes he was there on the table beside him, to sort through for the remainder of the three hours I was open. He almost always accidentally checked out a book he had already read, mostly because a lot of the books had been donated by him. He took a trip back to Manhattan every year to see his doctor. He never explained to me what was wrong with him, nor did he ever mention a family. When I announced that I was leaving Tangier to go back to school in the city he came to see me on a Wednesday before I left. He could hardly breathe as he was coming up the stairs and I could hear him panting before he made it to the top. It was labor. It sounded like labor. It sounded like lung cancer.

He had lent me a book of essays by Robert Fisk and we would talk about politics and the war. We talked about the exchange rate and New York. We talked about the election and he hated Hilary Clinton and called Obama "Osama" by accident, regularly. Most days he would come with Lucia, a blond Englishwoman in her seventies who dressed like she was in her twenties and had recently been dragged down rue de Fez by a motercycle after refusing to let go of her purse for a drive-by thief. Jack paid her dues for her because she was flat broke although she never looked like it. He never initialed the sheet so I never put her name on it. In the last months before I left he refused to pay and the two of them played a cat and mouse game, leaving messages with me and spying on each other. A month of this passed and I never saw Lucia again. I was pretty sure she wasn't much of a reader.

He said he came to say goodbye and at first only insinuated that he might never see me again. I gradually caught on and he gradually became less cryptic and eventually told me he was dying. He wasn't going to make it much longer. So when he said goodbye he was really saying goodbye. I said maybe I would see him again in Manhattan. He didn't answer me and changed the subject. He did this a lot and I assumed he hadn't heard the last thing I said. I think that is what happened here. I wasn't sure what was appropriate to do. A hug was out of the question and there was nothing between a hug and just saying goodbye from my seat behind the desk and plus my legs were mounted across the grill of the space heater that I hid under my desk because it was the middle of December and the walls were made of cement. When he finally decided to leave I locked the door and cried just a little bit, just in case I never saw him again, I knew I would remember that he said goodbye and that I cried.

The next time I saw Jack was a year later. He was walking through the Petit Socco slowly, in a bright purple gondora that reached just above his ankles. I had never seen him wear anything that didn't resemble safari gear. He looked like an old senile man who wandered out of the house in his pajamas. He took a front seat at Cafe Tingis just like he ordinarily would, ordered a coffee and smoked a cigarette. I know he looked directly at me but there was no recognition, but I refuse to believe it was because of my hijab or his adversity to it. I thought of going over to say hello, but what if he was actually senile and didn't remember me? I wasn't about to cry in the Petit Socco and I'm no good at seeing people outside of their normal state against their free will. This I knew, Jack was alive. He was smoking, purple and pining for Lucia.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


My new ipod shuffle is so inconspicuous it's the sort of thing I could crush up and put in my grandma's oatmeal, undetected. Something so small it hardly changes the taste of things. A tinge of bitterness followed by a clump of brown sugar makes it better. Can't even taste it.
It's September 14, 2010. Nine years ago I was in high school and my yearbook advisor was yelling at me for not capturing the faces of our students as they watched the news a few days before. At the time I agreed with him, Why didn't I take pictures? In retrospect, I can see that although I do frame everything that happens to me in life as a story to be written, 9/11 was too confusing to be thinking as a journalist.
And ten years later. It is hard to feel that we aren't moving backwards. Assuming that moving forward entails universally acknowledging that Islam is a religion, not a political ideology or a cult. At the same time, the definitions don't really matter, it's just words. And to hear the same people that were the first to defend Islam after the attacks, years later asking if it is inherently dangerous "by definition," is mostly because in 2001, many Americans didn't know enough about Islam to question if any of the things they didn't know about it weren't true. In our newly enlightened age, most of America now knows so many things that give them an excuse to talk, any one of which might warrant suspicion, hatred or book burning.
I am not a political person, although as a theory major I have to at least admit to being a political body. I am Muslim. I do know this for sure. I can't say that "killer fundamentalists" as I like to call them, are either Muslim or non-Muslim, the same way that I would choose to ignore anyone who claims that homosexuals or prostitutes can't be Muslims. The phrase, "who are we to judge?" should resonate with Muslims most of all, considering that it is the basis of our daily lives. We are not the judge. More importantly, there IS a judge.
I don't like to debate. I'm not quick on my feet. More of a monologue kind of girl. My voice was made for it. I am told it is soothing, and good at putting people to sleep. And debate has too much to do with vocabulary. Why pit words against each other? Let them be a family.
I recently heard a man who had sadly majored in 'Creativity" at Buff State refer to himself as "an ideas person." The walls of his bedroom were papered with interpretive maps of his brain. I am a "words-person." The term "Islamism" is baffling to me. It is redundant and reminds me of "exorcism." It is listed in Wikipedia under a special series on "Criticism of Islam." But in the same way that I can call it inappropriate, I would say that language is fluid enough that this word can mean anything to anyone, and language is playful enough that made-up words and titles are entitled to make fun of me. I like to think they're having a good time.
If not for the coining of this term to mean awful things, I might have at some point referred to myself as an "Islamist." Now, in such a situation I will have to resort to "Islamish." It reminds me of the trail of goo behind a snail.
Being Islamish is to agree to play the game where we pretend that we can take the proper noun of a religion and add "ist" to create a whole new genre of terrifying people, then to take the root word and add a little disclaimer- I believe in Islam, which is a way of life, and so as the world changes, so will my lifestyle. Not to be mistaken for Muslimish, because that is something different entirely and more reminiscent of a fictional Kosher dessert.
I know. Even the -ish is redundant. Isn't it liberating? You can never really know which things fall under the Ish category. It's like saying I am a student of X. As a student, I am a critic, and I am still learning. I am a student of Middle Eastern Politics today and in ten years I will be a small business owner. Ish involves room for more. A space that can be filled or left alone. An empty seat at the back of the plane. An empty seat at the front of the bus.
"Islamism" used to mean Islam. As we increasingly became confronted with what is also known as political Islam (if I have to be a political body, why doesn't he?) it was readopted. We.
That's right I said it.
Irrespective of my fondness for the third person plural, wanting to be part of something that you're part of, the We here is problematic. Is my We the same as your We?
I hear everyone talking about this Islamist threat, separating the Islamists from the Islams, the (m)islams. I agree, We as Americans should accept those moderate muslims as ones-of-us. But I won't put too much weight in the pronouns. It all depends on which room we decide to wander into at the party. I don't mind being a she or an it or a part of they. I know when I'm being talked about because no one stops talking when I walk into the room.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I discovered that my first home in Tangier looks exactly like the sanitorium in Halloween. Hotel MHrsa. I am going to live there again some day and be who I was then. It's as easy as that. Didn't you know that?
It would have been a great room for seventeen people on a roadtrip, but for just me on a crisp night in the middle of December and a creepy mustached concierge who wouldn't help me with my bags and the not so subtle noises from the room next to the communal bathroom, it was somewhat sinister. The bathroom was a hole in the floor in a closet with a lone lightbulb hanging from the ceiling making shadows of the spiders that looked like bigger, scarier spiders.

It might seem like a nostalgic longing for the time- a first arrival in a new city- but I think I do actually want to stay in that hotel again. It's like the horror films. I know how creepy it is but I also know it is relatively safe. And familiar at least in my memory and reconstructed imagination of it. Plus I want an excuse to say skeevies.

A passer-by at Cafe Aroma recommended a book to me that reminded him of the book I was reading. I have given in to the fact that I will probably have a lot of conversations with strangers so long as I decide to do my work here. The last guy came over to my table to tell me how impressed he was that everything on me coordinated perfectly. "I'm fascinated. I mean, just the amount of time that must have taken you!"
I looked up the book. The author seems to generally argue that urban space is divided into places and non-places. He counted the metro and the supermarket as non-places. Transient spaces that engender no sense of belonging. I suppose a one night stand with a hotel would fall on this side of the line.
It is clear this man has never had a one night stand with a building or a room, but it appears he has had a love affair with a city. If only he knew how much could happen in a super-market! And entire languages can be learned on the train. And I could assert the place-ness of hotel MHrsa with my hands tied, which hopefully they won't be. It feels like mine in its status as a historical landmark in my personal timeline. Maybe there's more to his ideas than that, but I'll pass regardless.

As I embark on a journey of thick description, I am looking forward to indulging in the small details of the local. I can write about the patterns of the cracks in the pavement without shame! Perec asks "how do you know your city?" and gives a set of directions for how to do it, specifically how to get it down on paper. I'm good at paper and following directions. I don't get lost on purpose because I don't need to. I'll keep a pencil to the ground to trace a line so you know how to find me. And at the very least it will make for a good set of instructions for an embroidered representation of the city shaped like a pelvis or a dress fitted around the pelvis.