Sunday, March 27, 2011

CLOWN CARS, room for three.

STABILITY: degree to which fabric resists pulling out of shape

Yousef Clown was in my taxi this morning. I was coming from the market and almost melted and it would have been impossible to not take a taxi. I found one and just as we were about to escape the chaos of the Souk Barra he ran up to the window and asked to go to some place I have never heard of but was somewhat on the same trek as mine. Yousef Clown didn't see me. The driver was reluctant to let him in and I wanted to loudly whisper or gesticulate in the rear view mirror or kick the back of his seat to communicate, No! Please! KanKaystobarni!

But he could not hear my silent cries. In addition to the surprise 70 degree weather in what would be considered chilly-autumn- boots, I felt like I was melting with the thought that he had come in the taxi because he saw me there and came to reprimand me for some lingering, unfulfilled social obligation related to clowning. But I was resolved that it couldn't be. After sleeping on it, I decided that I was being too judgmental of clowns. I quietly imagined a television series in which clowns are a common race along with regular mortals, deprived of their basic rights. I would play the special clown that was both clown and magician - the best parts of a child's birthday party. And you would play the evil clown from "IT" except secretly good inside.

He didn't follow me out of the cab even though I had to wait for change, and I am sure he didn't recognize me- the runaway. These small interactions tend to play out like little stories. There is a minor chance it is just my mind constantly reshaping events into tiny narratives. I was always awful at interpreting the moral of the story. There was something the author was trying to say and I could never "get it." Eventually I decided it was fine, because there was no such thing as "getting it" as long as you got that you could never get it. And the author was absent anyway. And lots of dead white men wrote about that sort of thing and lots of other dead white men agreed with them later and I wrote some papers about it and it all made sense to me then.

After years of such a fine education, I think about these small things and how they unfold, and I know that actually God is unfolding them, and I can only hope I'm getting it. I like to think the best of people, and I like to think the best of clowns.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I talk to myself the most.

It might be that every sheet of paper I borrow from Cafe de Paris burns another bridge. I had to get up three times today to ask for another wrqa. One of the things I say the most here is "ghallat dyalee" - it's my fault. Maybe I never learned how to be polite or maybe I'm just telling myself that to make excuses for things I know I shouldn't do.

I have chosen to ignore the difference between K (singular second person) and Koum (plural second person), and it gets me into linguistic fowda. Whenever I come back to Tangier I get gifts for cafes and other establishments that I frequent/haunt and almost every time the random waiter I give it to assumes it's for him and himself alone. And all the other waiters get offended and I get a funny feeling in my stomach when I do things like ask for pieces of paper. Apparently gifts are an efficient way to burn bridges.

I've been reading a book comprised of quotes from Imam Al-Ghazali. I read the first half of the book like a textbook, but the sort of textbook where you highlight everything because all of it is important and in the end the pages are 90% flourescent yellow with red ink in the margins and you get really embarrassed when someone asks to borrow it.

Page 3 and Lesson 1 : knowledge without action is insanity and action without knowledge is vanity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Yes, it has officially happened. I was offered a job as a clown. The offer induced laughter, then excitement, and eventually terror.

I was chatting with the shoeshiner, who tends to stop and say hello, gesturing at the seat across from me to ask if he can sit there while he waits for customers. I always say yes but usually add - "but I do have a lot of work to do, sooo..." He sits down anyway and makes a mouth-zipping gesture and promises to be quiet.

A group of four was sitting beside us and kept looking over as though they wanted to ask for something. I smiled, we got to talking, and I said something about how "kanhbb tanja bzzef bzzef walakin makaynshi khdma. WALU." (i love tanja soooo much but there's no work. NOOO WORK). I say this sentence at least ten times a day.

"Join us!" they cried jovially.
I asked "Shnoo khdma dyalkoum?" (where do you work?)
"Shnoo??" (in my usual squeaky 'shnoo' voice)

The shoeshiner, who was annoyed for the entire conversation and definitely did not want to take part, finally rolled his eyes and translated:"Clowns. They are clowns," as though we had just lost a round of charades.
I'm not sure what sound or face I made, but both of sheer disbelief and delight.

I fear clowns just as much as the next guy, but it was some sort of twisted reflex. And since no one was wearing their gear at the time, I felt pretty okay. So we all chatted and I learned some clownish vocabulary in derija (Fessi derija mind you). Perhaps their invitation was in jest, but they appeared in earnest when they asked if I would want to join them as their "woman clown," and then asked me to at least come see them perform at a local Moroccan school the next day. Of course, OF COURSE, I said yes. Who can say no to a clown?

The next day we all piled into a shady white van. When we arrived, the children were all lined up, waiving their tickets to the show in the air, entering one by one. After everyone was in or being kicked out, and before I could assemble myself, the music started pumping and the kids were singing along with a terrifyingly dressed Moroccan clown who, although a man, had perfect control over the swaying of his hips. I eventually recognized that it was the shorter of the two boys that seemed so ordinary at the cafe the day before. I sat through the show which mostly consisted of him yelling "khyba!" (bad) at the kids, and they accusing him of being "khyba!" back. (This sort of exchange is typical with kids here. They love it.) At one point he jumped onto the benches and started running around frantically. There is no way he didn't step on at least one kid. All in all, a good show. I wondered if a tasteful clown dress of only mint green and black would any less insane. I'm sure it could be considered couture some day. Besides, who are any of us to say what is and is not clownish?

We gathered equipment, got back in the van and things started to feel uncomfortable and not entirely real. We headed back to the cafe where the woman was trying to make plans with me for the next day. The shoeshiner was there and took me aside and warned me, very seriously, not to trust these people. "They want something from you." And he walked away looking like a worried father. I felt slightly suspicious of their hospitality but hey, it's Morocco. It's normal. The more you are able to trust people, you learn things you would ordinarily never get to know. This has always been my philosophy, and I am consistently being warned about it, but you can't change a hardened woman.

Things got quiet and I gradually began to notice that all of them kept making eye contact with each other silently and then the woman would ask me a question either involving making plans or where I lived. She made at least four attempts to figure out exactly which street I lived on. I hoped that maybe she was just an impolite woman, and quickly called a friend for backup, just in case, to make sure I didn't get captured by this Insane Clown Posse. Things were feeling sinister. They sensed my fear and started to loo like they were going to either boil me in a pot and eat me or chop me up and sell me for parts. Or just sell me whole.

My friends showed up, immediately agreed that this was not a good situation, and we left just after I promised the woman that we would go to the hammam the next day. My friends made me promise not to go because they both agreed that they were definitely planning something for me and it was not the hammam. BUT THEY WERE CLOWNS! I ask myself, is that a reason to trust them, or a reason to think they might capture me or sell me into white slavery. To their defense, they are from Fez. (And yes, that was another jab at Fez and how awful it is.)

Various members of the ICP traveling show called me from different numbers thirteen times the next day, and I didn't answer. They left for Fez the following day and I figure I'm rid of the temptation of seeing them again and facing the possibility of capture.

But O, to be a clown! Even just for a day.
No one would be able to notice how big my nose is, hiding under that big red ball.
Enough reason to be a clown.
Did I lose my chance?
I'll sleep on it.
They return to Tanja in one week.

Monday, March 21, 2011


The roosters are confused. They starting crowing for Fajr prayer but then they keep going until almost 3pm. It's frustrating but as Imam Al-Ghazali taught me in a present from my father, "Dear Beloved Son," 'the voice of the cock" is one of three exalted voices, I'm assuming because it wakes us up to pray.
My regular hairdresser mildly fondled me today. Not so much fondle as offered to scratch my back like a loving mother and I couldn't resist, as the fate of my hair was in her hands. I'm not sure if I can go back. I suppose I can live with stick straight hair. The young girls in the neighborhood giggle and pet my hair when I walk by. Little do they realize I would kill for those crazy Moroccan curls.
The cats sound like birds and a woman outside my window is repeatedly yelling at her husband to buy cream cheese over the sound of the call to Asr prayer. The boys outside are kicking the football against the wall of the house and the rooster is still crowing. The neighbors daughter is throwing pebbles onto my balcony and there is nothing I can do to stop her.
These are the sights and sounds of the city today.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


EASE: a way of sewing a large piece of fabric into a smaller space without resulting in gathers or puckers.

What was that book that said the sign of a good woman is that she has a clean home?
What was I thinking about dreaming of?
Dreams are overlapping with reality. I can't tell them apart.
One sign of a bad women is when her maid resents her. I tell myself that the reason she makes extra unnecessary noise when I sleep late is because I don't save plastic bags and that makes it difficult to collect trash like a normal person. Then I say that in my dreams I wrote something brilliant but was too tired to get out of bed to write it down. These are the nice things you tell yourself when everyone tells you that you seem "constantly angry" when you pride yourself on having won the "nicest girl in school" award three years in a row at Country Parkway Elementary. So I try to do nice things. And look out for old people about to trip and fall so I can rescue them.

We have a classic home video of my brother, my father and me, circa 1987-ish where I wander around the patio making duck noises while my father asks my five-year old brother what he wants to be when he grown up.
He said:
"First, I'll learn to fly the ai'plain, then I'll fly the helicopta."
Dad: "what about your studies?"
Brother: " the my boooooks....then fly the ai'plane.

He was also well known to answer : "I wanna be a Maaaaan." Buffalo accent included.

So, these are my goals for the YEAR:
-fly the airplane
-read my booooks
-be a good woman

Goals for the WEEK:
-burn no bridges
-make no enemies
-clean my room

Goals for TODAY:
-don't trip on a crack in the cobbled streets with my new heels.
-in honor of my father's birthday, read the book that he gave to me, "Dear Beloved Son."

Goals forever: lead a simple life.