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Ahmed rushes into the house in his usual adolescent larger-than-life manner. He disturbs Grandma’s, Shumishas and mine after lunch peace when he announces that the time had changed last night. He takes off the clock from the wall and puts it an hour ahead. Grandma and Shumisha angrily ask him what he is doing and he again, somewhat impatiently, explains that the makhzen (a term Moroccans used for anything and everything connected with the government) “zad shi sa3a” (lit. added an hour – turned to daylight savings time). I thought it was weird that no-one was informed about it and that it would be done on a week day rather than during the weekend when people have time to adjust to the hour difference. I sent a message to Derek to check on the internet what current time in Morocco was. It was still ‘tqddimt’ or the old time – which is the term but more importantly the reality it creates that I’m trying to get used to now and am having a hard time with as the time indeed changed to daylight savings the following night.
Shumisha barely shrugged her shoulders saying that nothing would change. “What do you mean nothing will change?” I asked somehow confused. She answered “people here don’t pay attention to this. They will do their chores and daily activities according to the old time.” “Eh?” was the only thing I could mutter as at that time I wasn’t fully aware of what this ‘business-as-usual’ attitude will bring into my life. Soon enough, however, I figured the consequence of me living in the tjddid (new time) whereas everyone else was living in the tqddimt. On Sunday morning I went to the internet cafe at 10am as I usually do only to find the streets more or less deserted and the cafe still very much closed. The next day I had a scheduled interview with a teacher at 10am. I realized later that there was no point in me getting up early to have breakfast and get ready only to find the house still sleeping and me roaming around as if in the middle of the night and of course to come to the appointed interview an hour earlier. On Tuesday I wanted to go to my ‘aerobics’ class which I attend with some other local women three times a week but was warned beforehand that the other women will most probably come according to the old time, and not new time. I was confused. Why this revolt to change the time? It’s only one hour. “People are used to one time and there is no way that they will change their daily routines and get up an hour earlier every day,” tried to explain to me a friend of mine. “But,” I protested “it’s only today that they may feel the difference, tomorrow it will be like it was the old time.” “No,” she said “they won’t get used to the time difference.” I dropped the issue as I thought it was meaningless, thinking about all of my recent time adjustments – Morocco to the UK when the UK was already on daylight savings time but Morocco wasn’t (plus one hour), from the UK to Texas (minus 7 hours), from Texas back to the UK (plus seven hours), and then from there back to Morocco (minus 1 hour) (I beg you – ignore my carbon footprint, I’m really trying to compensate in other areas! Really!). But I would be lying to you if I told you that it is not frustrating. I feel like I’m living in two time zones simultaneously. Whereas official institutions, including schools, operate according to the tjddid (note however, that people in their free time still act according to the old time as the missed appointment with the teacher showed – he does start his classes according to the new time but does everything else according to the old time), local merchants, mosques (praying times), and women run according to the tqddimt. I run according to both – my watch is set to the new time, I get up according to the new time and I go to sleep according to the new time. Everything else in between I do according to the old time. I complain as well as locals do. For all of us this new time only created confusion. But whereas I see it as “why don’t we all just run according to the new time?” they will respond “well, why do we have to change the time at all?” They don’t see the consequence of such behaviour for those members of the family who work for an official/government institutions – be it a teacher, or a clerk in the post office, or for children who attend school. This parallel time deprives them of one hour of sleep EVERY day because they have to get up according to the daylight savings time but go to bed according to the ‘local’ time – dinner, namely, is now in my house, served at 11:30 pm new time instead of 10:30 pm new time. And no-one complains (except me). You may ask why don’t I just go with the flow – well, I would if I didn’t have to catch a bus for Marrakech and if I didn’t have to deal with government employees on a regular basis. Not to mention that tqddimt is now only a local construct. Does it really exist? Or is tjddid only my construct? Which one is reality? Can both exist at the same time without constantly figuring out which one is the real one? Instead of code-switching, we have time-switching…
I couldn’t help but notice in this story that women, and not men, dictate time within the house. It is 9 am when women get up and not when their husbands or brothers have to be at work or in school. And it’s time for dinner when they’re hungry and not when the male members (or children of school age) have to go to bed to get enough sleep. Households really are female ‘run’ and this parallel time seems to me to be only another indication of who creates this home atmosphere and dictates time in this pre-Saharan oasis community.
In three-months time, however, before Ramadan starts, makhzen will ‘take this hour back’ and people will, as if nothing happened in the mean time, continue to calculate their time according to positions of the sun and not according to numbers on their wall clocks. Is it really worth changing time for a few months at the expense of people’s confusion?

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6.05.2010 15:15 in označeno , ,  | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

I haven’t been to these many weddings in my whole life as I’ve attended here in such a short span of time. Four in less than a week and I could’ve gone to a least a few more if I could split myself in half. Wow. Apparently it’s like this every year after Eid al-Adha (Sacrifice day/holiday) – lots of engagements and even more weddings. You can see how important marriage is here if I tell you that I attended 4 weddings in only one ksar of less than 2000 people. There are more than 20 ksour here… And everyone is telling me “wait until the summer, then you’ll go to three weddings every day.” How is that even physically possible? One for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner?

Weddings definitely are a big deal here. They usually last at least two days though these would be considered more modest weddings. Such ’short’ weddings, it seems, are only organized for either already divorced women marrying again or for those becoming a second wife to a polygamous guy but neither of these happen very often. This observation may be grossly exaggerated but this has been my experience so far. If a girl is young and a virgin on the other hand, wedding is bound to be a big jubilation, an event lasting up to a week. Duration of a wedding and the number of guests do not usually reflect financial capabilities of parents, meaning that poor families can and do host just as many people and for just as long as richer families. After all you don’t want people to be angry at you because you didn’t invite them, or because there wasn’t enough food or, god forbid, food was bad. Therefore you need at least a day or two to invite all of your neighbors, friends, and family for lunch or dinner (or both) to make everybody happy. That can mean 300 or more guests in the course of lets say 4 days, which is what an average wedding here lasts.

Lunch invitation (or dinner invitation on the day before the henna party) is the one where you can be almost 100% sure you won’t see either the bride or the groom. It is organized solely to satisfy quantity and prevent evil talk. Thus, because you have to invite everybody you have ever known or met it would be hard to host 300+ people all at once so you want to divide your labour and have people over for either lunch or dinner. Here everything is held in the home of the bride or neighboring houses (when my family organized a double wedding for their sons they had guests in 4 other houses belonging to their neighbours for a week…) where everything is also cooked by the female members of the family and perhaps a few other hired women, if the family has money to do so. Division of sex is strictly observed. Men gather in another house or another, separate part of the same house and their purpose is to read the Qur’an before eating and then going home right after. Women on the other hand know how to make a party. Igdams (drums made of sheep skin) are brought in and there is usually quite a lot of volunteers who want to play on them. There is also at least one woman using two tea glasses and ‘drumming’ them against an elevated silver plate in rhythm. The music they create with these simple instruments is quite incredible and enjoyable especially when joined with signing and dancing. And dance they can…they wiggle their hips and butts like there’s no tomorrow. Because they are usually wearing loose jellabas or koftans they tie a scarf around the butt to accentuate their moving body-parts and to give the body a more alluring figure (much the same as what we do in Europe with tight clothes and deep cleavages). No wonder thus weddings are an affair strictly divided according to gender…if they weren’t they would probably be very boring with men sitting and women serving them as women wouldn’t dance and display their charms in front of men…

After a few hours of this and after drinking large amounts of syrupy green tea and nibbling on cookies and peanuts, water is finally brought in for female guests to wash their hands and start eating. There is no choice of menus or creativity in creating them – first dish is couscous with chicken and sweet sauce made of caramelized onions and raisins, followed by a chunk of cow’s meat cooked in an onion sauce, topped with cooked prunes. Every meal in Morocco would not be complete without a dessert – seasonal fruits. When all this is eaten, everyone leaves and the female members of the family have to clean up and make everything ready for the evening set of guests. Dinner party usually follows a similar pattern, the only difference is that after dinner on the second or third day (depends on when henna ‘party’ takes place) and when groom’s family comes to the house of the bride, the newly-wed couple is finally exhibited. A side note on the ‘newly’ part of the ‘newly-wed couple.’ Marriage ceremonies at least here in Tinjdad are always a two-tier affair. The official signing of the marriage contract takes place on a separate day and it can happen even a year before the wedding party. It is accompanied without any pomp. The couple then legally becomes married though not socially. And this social/public part of the marriage ceremony is the one which makes the couple married in the eyes of the community and thus carries all the weight and importance. In other words, the bride only moves to her husband’s father’s house after the actual wedding party and not after the signing of the marriage contract (though there are exceptions to the rule but very few!). In other words, the marriage can only be consummated after the couple has had the wedding party and after the community has witnessed the bride leaving her father’s house. Thus, the ‘newly-wed couple’ can and usually is legally married for a lot longer but what constitutes the beginning of a marriage here is not signing of a marriage contract but a wedding party followed by consummation of the marriage, the so called laylat al-dukhla (wedding night). Weddings, it seems, are just another example of how divorced official law is from traditions or customary law.

Let me return to the henna party when the bride is prepared – beautified for her first night with her husband. Nagafa (she’s like a wedding planner of the bride) brings the bride clothes, jewelry, puts henna on her hands and feet, and at the end make-up. Her job is to make the bride look pretty and desirable for her new husband. The bride can change 3 or more different takchitas (Moroccan female gown made of two layers of fabric and worn with a big belt) in the course of the evening/night and again the rule seems to be, the more you change the happier people will be. The couple then sits on a kind of wedding altar so that people can take pictures with them. At around 3 am the wedding is over. The groom goes home and the bride sleeps one last day in her father’s house before moving to her new home the next morning. But Morocco wouldn’t be Morocco if her going to her husband wouldn’t be accompanied by singing and dancing by the community. And, if the day after the wedding night wasn’t a day to celebrate your new life and your new self with your girl-friends. The so much anticipated married life then begins for women.

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9.12.2009 22:28 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

The purpose of my living here in Oued El-Ouliya is, in short, to research the impact of the recent
reform (2004) of the Family Code (or the Moudawana) on people’s lives through interviews,
discussions with both women and men and basically through being a “participant observant” -
ethnographer. The Family Code is a code that deals with everything pertaining to family – thus,
with marriages, marriage contracts, relationship between husband and wife, their rights and duties,
with divorce, polygamy, inheritance, with rights of children, women and men. I don’t want to go
into a long discussion about the reform or the Code itself, let me just say for the purpose of this blog
that the reform has stirred a lot of emotions both positive as negative, and the aftermath or
“implementation” has been a mixture of disappointment (because of the rather slow and uneven
application and disregard of certain provisions not only in more rural but also in urban areas) and
welcome improvements as this reform also opened the door for reforms of other discriminatory and
ossified laws (e.g. Nationality Code, etc.).
Women’s activists in Morocco are not slow to point out what a great achievement the law
has been for Morocco and for women. Some even argue that it has brought equality to women. I
would argue that although the reform has certainly made a step closer to “equality” and without a
doubt has improved women’s rights in comparison to the old Code at least on paper, it remains more
or less an empty shell, a paper to show to the outside world that the country is democratizing. The
reality, at least in Oued El-Ouliya, has been minimally affected by it and much has to do with
“taqalid” (traditions) holding a rather firm grip on the society. That is not to say however, that the
community is static. Significant changes are happening and these might and most probably will be
the main catalyst for the overall improvement of women’s lives, a result so anxiously awaited and
advocated by the women’s rights activists. How much of it is the works of the Moudawana however,
I still say is disputed.
What perhaps is missing in this discourse is their, women’s activists’, definition of
“(Moroccan) gender equality.” It certainly is a word in vogue among women fighting for their
rights, although my observation has been that a lot of these women already are equal with men as it
seems, and this is not only my observation but something frequently heard among those dealing
with women’s issues here in Morocco, that the Moudawana has only benefitted women of a certain
(i.e. higher) social class particularly because they benefitted from education, living in big cities
where the taqalid have given way to a “modern, European” life, marrying husbands who
acknowledge their worth, and mingling in the kind of society where equality is not a question but a
given fact. But this is another Morocco, much different from the Morocco I’m living in.
Pessimism aside, what’s the most important about the reform are the principles the new Code
sets – first of all, with the reform it was shown that even sacred laws can be touched, debated and in
the end reformed; and secondly, and this is perhaps essential, recognition of the need to improve
women’s rights in the country should not be understated. After all, big earth-shattering changes don’t
happen over night and when such a reform necessitates transformation of people’s mentality, when
it entails a dramatic cultural metamorphosis to be fully implemented, you can be sure that it will
take a generation or two to be fully implemented and arrive to The final goal – equality between
women and men. Whatever that means or shall mean.

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23.11.2009 16:49 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

The bell rang during our breakfast. It was a neighbor asking me to read medicine instructions which were in English and she couldn’t understand. Her child was in pain and she gave him Zyndol, a strong painkiller which shouldn’t be taken without doctor’s supervision as the effect of taking it is similar to smoking opium. No need to say that her child was pretty much feeling high and no need to say that such drugs are under no circumstances suitable for children. She got the drug from her relative who’s working in the Netherlands and, I can assume, she was only told that it was a painkiller. But a painkiller is also aspirin…

Drugs here are not hard to get as there are many pharmacies, even in villages such as Nimero. But they are expensive and none are ‘free’ or covered under health insurance, simply because health insurance is non-existent for many people. Thus, in order to get prescription drugs you have to first pay to see a doctor and then pay for the drugs and this is just too expensive for a lot of people here.

The other day I gave paracetamol to a friend of mine as she was having a migraine. I didn’t want any money for it and thus the family asked me whether medications are free in Slovenia like they are in France. People here are told by those working in Europe that medications are free though no-one really explains to them what this ‘free’ means. The consequence being that immigrants send or bring the allegedly ‘free’ drugs to people here without telling them that such ‘free’ drugs could only be obtained from a doctor and thus were only prescribed to cure a particular illness of the patient. I don’t want to think about the effects this self-medication causes but I can only imagine that it doesn’t always end well. The problem becomes even more worrying when you know that such drugs are given to illiterate people, and there are plenty of those in places like this one.

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10.11.2009 11:45 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

It was Friday early morning and people were already gathering at the main road. King Mohammed VI was visiting two ksour near by, which, according to people, was his first such visit to this area. King’s photos were displayed everywhere, Moroccan flags hung from all official buildings and polls along the road, and numerous banners were welcoming the King. It was a day to celebrate his visit. Everybody got a day off, schools were closed, as were all the businesses so that everybody could go and see their King. The municipality organized free transportation to and from the two ksour to cheer the King and perhaps even to shake his hand. People from as far as Tinghir, it truly was an amazing undertaking. And a day like no other for some.

Shumisa, Hanan, Hajar and me were running a bit late as we were supposed to take the bus as early as possible to ensure a good spot. Unfortunately we weren’t the only people wishing to get there so early and thus it took us another two and a half hours to actually get on the bus, which was taking people to one of the ksour and then coming back to get more people. When we got to the ksar, everything was ready for his arrival – red carpets on orangy soil/sand, huge pictures of the King were ubiquitous, there were tents for people to hide their heads from the scorching sun, royal guards were putting on their beautiful layered uniforms, made of wool and heavy cotton and who knows what else, looking so uncomfortable for the too hot Friday, musicians were taking their spots along the road, and of course there were thousands of people, waiting to catch at least a glimpse of their King. Even the tent where the King is briefed by his ministers or people in charge of a specific project carried out in that town/village and which is usually the purpose of his visit, was there. It all looked so identical to other such visits of the King.

And we waited, sat in the tent, had lunch by the mosque where men were listening to the Friday khutba. Time went by and we were still waiting for his arrival. At about 2pm we finally see the helicopter, which was supposed to carry the King from Errachidiya/Erfoud, where he was staying during his 10-day visit to the region. People started running towards the road and we at first hesitated to leave our spot in the shade as someone told us that he won’t come before 3pm but then we saw that the police and military auxiliary forces were in their ‘ready-steady-go’ position and that all the local officials in white (woolen…) jellabas and white or yellow balgha (Moroccan traditional shoes/sandals) were lined up along the red carpet. The air quickly filled with excitement and joy. He was finally there. We got a good spot from where we could see the whole ceremony and, most importantly, from where we could see the King. Another 20 minutes passed before first cars from the royal caravan drove by, people starting going crazy, musicians were playing at full blast, women ululating, cars were passing by and driving off… without stopping. I thought to myself, ‘this must just be his entourage, he’s probably still in the other ksar‘ when I realized that everybody started to leave. I must have been the only confused person in the crowd of at least 10.000 people. This was it? All this waiting under the blistering sun, all this preparation and getting up early for the display of the royal garage only? I asked my friends if they were disappointed and some said that “it was important to come so that he could see that we exist,” while other added that “it was too hot for him to get out of the car.” Later another friend of mine said that perhaps the reason why he didn’t stop in this ksar was that he was afraid of the people. Namely, as she continued, when his late father Hassan II visited Goulmima, a nearby town, people sent dogs after ‘him’ and thus he never returned to the land of these feisty people.

In the evening I sat with the family, waiting for the evening meal and watching the news. King’s visit to Goulmima and one of the ksour in the region was the main news item. We could see a new gym being opened by the King, and we could see him visiting the newly opened Qur’anic (boarding)school. The report then showed all the people cheering by the roads, the King shaking hands with local dignitaries, and finally we could see him among his people. Everybody seemed to be overjoyed though I could discern a slight disappointment among the members of my family who went to the ksar to be part of a similar scene yet were for some reason excluded from it. Who knows when he’ll come back.

And that was that. My encounter with the King.

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2.11.2009 19:39 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

It is two o’clock and we just finished with lunch, delicious tajine with loads of home-made bread, which one of the women in the house bakes every day (women in the house alternate their daily chores and so when one woman is taking care of cooking, the other is in charge of cleaning). It’s siesta (istiraha) now for a few hours or so until the whole ksar awakens and shops open again.

I arrived to Ksar Taddert*, my final destination and my fieldsite, four days ago. I’m living with a family of 8 people whom I met and stayed with last year during my work/internship with an USAID-sponsored agency. There’s grandma, whose husband died a long time ago, and whose house this is. She has 6 children, of whom 2 live in the house her unmarried daughter (Shumisa*) and married son (Mhammed). One daughter lives in the same ksar with her husband’s family, and another daughter recently got married and lives in Casablanca. As for sons, one moved with his wife and their son to a city near Agadir because of work a few months ago, and the oldest one died at the beginning of the 90s due to heart failure. His widow (Zahra) still lives in the house with her two teenage boys (Ahmed and Karim). Mhammed is married to Rouqiya and they have a beautiful two-year-old son whom I like to call Habib.

I often tell people that the region between Ouarzazate and Errachidiya, which is where Ksar Taddert is situated, is my favourite region in Morocco. It is mostly Berber I try to be careful with such descriptions as even a common Moroccan saying says that in Morocco if you scratch an Arab you get a Berber and thus a clear-cut distinction is almost impossible to make. However, people here do call themselves Berber and speak a Berber dialect called Shilha. The region is, I would say, semi-arid (though some parts especially at this time of the year seem arid… dry and inhospitable) dotted with oases and palmeries, which provide sustenance to ksour (plural of ksar. The word denotes a mud-brick village typical for the desert region. You can find similar villages in Mali, Tunisia, and other Saharan countries. New houses, at least in my ksar, are not built with mud-bricks anymore as they can literally melt over time and especially after heavy rain) and their inhabitants. The land is cultivable and thus majority of people (both women and men) are filaha (peasants). Ksar Taddert is only one such ksar, which together with more than 20 other ksour fall under the jurisdiction of Oued El-Ouliya. Oued El-Ouliya is thus a small municipality (baladiya), rather unimportant in relation to Rabat and for Rabat.

In the last decade Morocco has become a flourishing ‘market’ for various NGOs and local associations, of which only some are funded by the government while the others depend on foreign aid. The government has vested interest in allowing such associations to be present in places like Oued El-Ouliya (and within big cities as well) as they’ve taken on the burden (and primary task) of the government to alleviate poverty and thus help people improve their lives. Morocco wasn’t a rich country to begin with but in the mid-1980s the government agreed to implement IMF’s Structural adjustment policies (SAPs). What followed was a common scenario – deterioration of living conditions for the people and creation of new social problems on top of the old ones. Some experts report that since the initiation of SAPs, feminization of unemployment and poverty occurred as on the one hand women were the first to lose jobs due to privatization and the fact that men remain as the main (and in many cases the only) breadwinners of the family; and on the other, many men were forced to look for jobs abroad, either in other Arab countries or in Europe, where some of them found new wives and/or stopped supporting their families at home for various reasons. Thus, female-run households are not a rare sight though to be quite frank, even where there are men in the house, providing financially for the family, it is the women who do the bulk (if not all!) of the domestic work (which includes upbringing of children). In my opinion women indeed support 3 and a half walls in the house if not all 4. Such situation, coupled with freezing of social and health-care transfers as another consequence of SAPs, contributed in a negative way to the already dire living conditions of the lower-strata people (if not of majority of Moroccans).

In such conditions it is not surprising that local associations act as blood transfusions needed for the village to survive or at least to function better. They provide jobs for local people as they’re usually run solely by locals; and they educate and support locals in various ways satisfying individual needs of their locality. The association I’m working with is called Oued El-Ouliya and has branches in about 15 ksour. They offer free classes (think of them as a sort of substitute school) to those who never went to school or dropped out of school educating children, teenagers and adult illiterates -, they organize, in addition to such classes, various activities for girls who never went to school such as cooking, baking pastry (happening this week so I’m partaking as well!!!), learning how to use the computer, how to sow, etc. Furthermore, they organize lectures on topics such as women’s and family health, women’s rights, environmental issues, etc. Last but not least, they help peasants with seasonal works and providing seeds. In short, the people in the association really are trying to improve the lives of their co-villagers.

So this is where my ‘home’ will be for the next 10 months or so under unrelenting sunshine and among palm trees, ksour, welcoming people and their syrupy mint green tea.

* All proper names referring to my fieldsite and people are pseudonyms. I’m only using names to simplify things and avoid confusion :) which could arise if using such descriptions as ‘this daughter,’ ‘the oldest sister,’ ‘her son,’ etc. constantly. But I will call grandma ‘grandma’ as I don’t know her name and I usually just call her by that (jidda).

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28.10.2009 18:35 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

 

Arriving to new places has always been a bit hard for me particularly when I’m travelling alone. Morocco isn’t a new place but it nonetheless feels foreign, like I don’t really belong here. With every new visit this feeling subsides a bit as I know my way around the country, around cities, around people though a trace of the feeling clings on to me like men cling on to female passer-bys in Fez. This time I decided to fly to Agadir instead of Marrakech as I wanted to test whether this feeling has anything to do with my place of usual arrival. It does. Marrakech, I still think, is an amazing place, so Oriental it’s surreal and unimaginable that a place like this still exists, let alone thrives, so tacky, only first-timers to Morocco will fully enjoy it, and so terribly annoying with everyone seeking instantaneous satisfaction of whatever need s/he has, it’s best to avoid it. Though, I have to admit that at the same time it’s beautiful. With all its colors, enormous souq where you can buy anything you desire, and Jama’ al-fna – The square which people really think was taken directly out of Alf Layla wa Layla (Thousand and One Night) and for which Edward Said probably still turns in its grave. Marrakech. The only place in Morocco where taxi drivers rip you off. The only place in Morocco where the main square turns into a giant food market at night, every night. The only place in Morocco where you feel exceptionally alone if you’re there by yourself. Morocco’s new tourist slogans.

 

Thus, I’m in Agadir, staying at a friend’s family house and having a great transition time. The town is ok-ish, I guess you can’t expect much from a town which was completely destroyed by the earthquake and then rebuilt in the horrible 1960s style. But Agadir has always been about the beach, and the beach is nice, if you’re into that sort of thing. I presume though that Agadir is a great starting point for many of the region’s tourist spots.

 

I’m staying here until tomorrow, doing nothing much but hanging out with the family and enjoying the hot weather while exploring what there is to explore. Yesterday I was driving around with Hasna, my friend Ali’s sister. She works in a rent-a-car agency and one of her customers, a Saudi, wanted to get some herbal medicine for his wife to gain weight. Yes, to gain weight. And yes, HE wants HER to gain weight. While in the car, driving to the shop where they sell this sort of quack ‘medicine’ he was telling us that some Saudi sultan is staying in town due to health problems. Apparently, and I’ve heard this from other sources, it’s quite natural to ask to see a member of the royal family. Now, the purpose of the visit is usually not to check up on them, to see how they’re doing, to catch up on the latest gossip. The purpose is to ask for money. And you usually get it. Courtesy of Saudi generosity… but only if you’re a Saudi citizen. So Hasna’s customer promised us $200 if the Sultan gives him money. You ask why he would give us money? Well, Hasna was driving him around town for a few hours, which cut into her lunch time, like a personal driver (get the irony?), and as for me, he told me he’s so happy to talk to me in Arabic. So the $200 would be a reward for my decision to study Arabic. I haven’t seen the money yet but if this really materializes (which I doubt it will), does that make me a Saudi charity case? Ah, Saudi Arabia. A place where obedience can be bought with money. Nothing is free. Neither obedience nor money. And I guess I shouldn’t be judgemental and think that there is something seriously wrong with a country (or in fact that it’s the only country where this is possible!) where people find liberation through the satisfaction of their material(istic) needs (though sometimes the money is used for basic survival needs and education, again I shouldn‘t be judgemental). Different definition, same thing all over the world. It all sounds familiar.

 

Tomorrow I’ll finally be on my way to my fieldsite. I will have to stay the night in Ouarzazate as there’s no direct connection to Errachidiya (my fieldsite is on the way to Errachidiya). Then, my fieldwork can finally begin.

 

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22.10.2009 16:06 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

Going back to work or studying after 3 months of sheer enjoyment is no piece of cake (can imagine that going back to work after 9 months of maternity leave is even worse…). I’ve been back a good week (‘good’ in its phrasal meaning but definitely ‘bad’ when referring to how much work I have actually managed to do so far) but it feels more like a month already. Where are those days when weeks went by like single days? I’m sure they will come again but right now I feel like a rusty old car that needs some serious work if I wish to drive again. Though, I keep thinking (more or less seriously…) – if all else fails, I can always open a delicious bakery teasing people’s taste buds by giving them delectable home-made breads and cakes. Lana, my architect friend, already offered her professional expertise in designing my shop…I keep looking at wedding and summer photos and this only creates an unwelcome nostalgia especially when the view from my new room offers nothing but grey British skies, no Derek, and no adventures – except academic ones which may not be that bad but you certainly can’t put those in frames – imaginary or those real ones. I shouldn’t really be complaining as I love Oxford and what I’m doing it’s just that summer memories are still so fresh and summer is still only a two-hour flight away (na dohvatu ruke). Oxford is no Caucuses (no amazing and cheap seasonal fruits and/or mountains to die for) but then again Caucuses is no Oxford either (no threat of war here…except academic ones).Derek and I did avoid the big honeymoon adventure which we could have experienced had we stayed in Tbilisi or in Georgia for only a couple of days longer. We ended our honeymoon only two days prior to the start of the war in South Ossetia and thus this blog is about me being still in post-summer trauma and not about my memoirs from a war-torn country. The interesting thing about it is that we were as surprised when we heard about the start of the war in South Ossetia as the international community was and perhaps even the Georgians themselves. True, we don’t speak or read Georgian so we were not informed about domestic politics; I did watch Georgian news in Russian and to my knowledge there was no talk about tensions in the region which would escalate into a full-fledged war; and the locals that we talked to never said anything about the situation except that you can’t go to Ossetia as the border is closed. Of course they might have just forgotten to mention it. Who knows. Upon our return from Azerbaijan at the end of August (about a week before the war started) we did see huge military convoys moving out of Tbilisi…we thought that was a bit strange and perhaps unnecessary but concluded that they must have some kind of training sessions going on. If only we knew…when we were taking photos in Gori of a huge Stalin statue and looking for a café on Stalin Avenue that people will die right on that main square a couple of weeks later; or that bombs will explode in Zugdidi, the town we affectionately called Zugidigi and where we waited for 6 hours (from 5:30 am after an all-night train from Tbilisi) for our marshrutka (minibus) to finally depart for the magnificent Svaneti to where it took us additional 7 hours to drive approximately 100 km of mountain roads and frequent vodka stops.Despite all this, we had great fun in the region. We were a little disappointed at the fact that all three countries do not have a couple more beautiful towns or sights. Two exceptions are Tbilisi, which is amazingly adorable and Baku, which, if you turn a blind eye to perverse wealth and then poverty just around the corner, to the ecological devastation outside the center and if you don’t spend too much time smelling and looking at the Caspian from up close, was surprisingly pretty – however, after mentioning all the downsides of Baku it makes me wonder what is left of Baku to really enjoy in…  But, as with a lot of the trips – tourist and life – it is the people that make the journey unforgettable. We found people in all three countries extremely hospitable but it is the generosity and warmheartedness of particularly some of them that we more or less randomly encountered which will have a special place in our honeymoon memory. Hasmik and Mihran, a couple from Armenia, who welcomed us into their home and hosted us for 5 days in Yerevan; Irine from the hostel in Tbilisi, who gave us presents, did our laundry for free and gave us huge discounts (and a honeymoon suite J for no extra charge) on accommodation; the Azeri couple in Lahic that bought us dinner and a present and a couple in Seki who invited us for tea and lunch after we stopped them on the street to ask about their awesome looking 1963 Volga. And of course, there are Andy and Frank, two Irish guys we met in Yerevan and ended up spending quite a lot of time with in all three capitals of the Caucasus’ states. What is interesting about the region is that there are surprisingly a lot of backpackers. Despite this you keep meeting the same backpackers throughout the region as everybody is on an independent Lonely Planet package tour. It is indeed a small world, the Caucasus.And so it’s Oxford. That is only one of the reasons why I’m so fond of it. After a couple of weeks, new and old students will return, so will Derek and my friends. My motivation is getting better since I started writing this blog and you won’t believe it but the sun did actually come out as I’m finishing writing these lines. After all, happy endings are my favourite endings. 

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26.08.2008 20:36 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

First of all I apologize if with this blog I will inadvertently hurt somebody’s feelings but read this on and perhaps you’ll forgive me…

There is something really annoying about religious people’s quest to convert areligious people or people of other religions into their religion – be it Christians or Muslims. I find the latter in this respect a bit hypocritical. Why you ask? In Islam apostasy or conversion to another religion is haram (completely forbidden and thus according to some even punishable by death). However, it is ok for Muslims to actively engage in converting let’s say Christians or areligious people into Islam. After all, in their opinion, Islam is the greatest and the only true religion so why wouldn’t you want to convert (this discourse of course could be applied to Christianity as well)? Even Jacques Cousteau realized that when he saw an inscription of a Qur’anic verse (aya) at the bottom of some ocean during one his diving expeditions; and the astronaut Armstrong as well when during his walk on the Moon saw a similar Qur’anic inscription on the surface of the Earth. Of course they converted instantly, at least according to my host Mom. Needless to say that this story is just too crazy to be even a tiny bit believable, but I will still mention the first question which arose within me when she was telling me this story: how the hell did Cousteau and Armstrong who, at least to my knowledge, didn’t speak Arabic recognized that the verse was, first, from the Qur’an and, second, what its meaning was…but I should know by now that religious people don’t go into unnecessary details and take religious meanings at face value and hence for them Jacques’s and Neil’s apparent conversions are a true sign of the correctness of Islam. I wont argue with any religious person, be it Christian, Muslim, or Jewish about this last point because they can believe whatever they want to. And this is exactly what I’m getting into – if I don’t try to convince religious people that there is no God/Allah/Yahweh then who gives them the right to try to convince me that there is God/Allah/Yahweh and that either God or Allah or Yahweh is the best (I will get into this fabricated distinction between the three a bit later)? God/Allah/Yahweh? And also, why are religious people so concerned with what happens with me in MY afterlife? Is it really because they truly care for my wellbeing or is it because they get some made-up points from heaven to convert ignorant people into their religion?

Let me go back to the origin of my frustration. I have been asked too many times since I got here why am I learning Arabic if I’m not a Muslim or have no intention of becoming one. Probably what really baffled them was how come reading the Qur’an and studying Arabic hasn’t made me want to convert to Islam as if Arabic should only be spoken or studied by Muslims (on a side note – I do agree with Muslims though that the Arabic language and thus the language of the Qur’an is exceptionally beautiful but also intimidatingly rich as there are at least fifty words for every meaning or thing and we have to learn them all with their miniscule nuances). Namely, when studying the history of Islam and conversions of Christians, Jews, and other pagans J into Islam you learn that a lot of the conversions were allegedly done after these non-Muslims heard the beauty of the Qur’an and its language. Well, I guess it doesn’t work with anyone, does it? … I could tell you of at least 5 such attempts of Moroccans telling me that studying more of Arabic will eventually lead me to accept Islam as my faith. Just today during my morning coffee and kharsha (a type of bread made out of corn flour) two waiters on two separate occasions (!) tried to convince me that Islam is the true path. When I argued that what should matter is that I’m good in heart and a moral person they both said that that’s ok but these are the matters of this life on Earth what about my afterlife?

The other quite odd instance to say the least was when I was talking to a bus driver on the way back to Fez from Chefchaouen. The conversation was about whether I could sit in the front instead of the back (so nothing worth mentioning) and when I thanked him, I used instead of plain ‘shukran’ (or thank you) ‘tabaraka llahu fik’ (or may God bless you) which is the other more commonly used expression of saying thank you a lot. The immediate reaction of the driver was whether I was a Muslim and since I’m not why am I invoking the name of Allah. Oh boy, here we go again. The heart of the misunderstanding between people of the three monotheistic religions – without this driver knowing anything about my religious background (except of course that I wasn’t Muslim) he forbade me say the word Allah as if ‘his’ Allah was different than what he presumably thought was ‘my’ Christian God or someone else’s Jewish Yahweh. I think it’s time that all three peoples realize that Allah equals God equals Yahweh. The name may be different in different languages (duh!) but the substance is the same. I mean, according to their logic (and here I mean Western Christians, Muslims and Jews alike!) English God is different than the Slovene Bog.

I always tried to avoid Christian missionaries and now I have to deal with lay, unorganized Muslim ones. I really do have a problem with this on a couple of levels. The first one I already mentioned – Muslim double-standards about converting people; and the second one is the sheer nerve of all religious people to tell me what I should do and what I should believe in. I think I’m old enough to think for myself and decide by myself whether I want to be saved through Jesus, or through Islam or whether I want to be saved at all. Perhaps I’d like the world and me to be saved by true socialism. Ha!

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12.04.2008 14:29 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink

It’s a rainy day today in Rabat and I have to say I’ve enjoyed this rain immensely. True, I always complain about Britain’s gloomy weather but here after a month and a half of mostly cloudless skies and days this rain feels good. It is also an excuse for me not to frantically run around thinking of activities which would fill my day and arranging interviews. Because honestly, who would walk an extra meter to meet with me and talk about the problems of the country and its female population when it’s pouring rain?! So I can sit comfortably and with a clear conscious in one of my favourite Rabat’s patisseries/cafes called Majestic (and it truly deserves its name), sip delicious Moroccan coffee nuSnuS (half half – espresso with hot milk) and enjoy in the sweet aroma of their pastries. I am now fully convinced that Morocco serves not just the best coffee outside of Italy but also the best croissants in the world. Let me repeat – in the world! True, I haven’t yet been to France or tried their croissants but I doubt they can beat delectable Moroccan croissants which come as plain, jam, chocolate, almond or my absolute winner – with lemon. Now, show me one town in France where they serve such a variety of croissants. Thus I argue with 100% conviction that the former French colony of Morocco outdid its imperialist schweins. And I’ve never even been a croissant lover but trust me – when you taste Moroccan croissants you’re converted instantly! It’s worth coming to Morocco just for their coffee and pastries if not for the weather (even rain feels better here than in Europe), their proverbial hospitality (though it has limits but then again nobody’s perfect), pretty towns and rural scenery, and shopping. I’m not a big shopper or I’d like to think that I’m not a ‘consumer wench’ ;) but shopping here makes you go crazy. The only problem (or perhaps solution to this consumer disease) is that everything either weighs too much or is too big to pack – there’s pottery, lamps, rugs, leather, etc. Moroccans, you see, are also artisanal magicians.

Rabat is probably my favourite Moroccan city. It’s mellow and diverse. There’s the beautiful Ville Nouvelle, the walled white-washed medina which preserved its original purpose of being first and foremost a residential area and hasn’t (yet?) been converted into a tourist space with foreign-run riyadhs (hotels which have rooms centred around the inner courtyard) and tourist shops. Of course you find these in Rabat’s medina as well but essentially it is still a place where locals live and do their shopping though this may change as Morocco doesn’t want to lag behind Western urban transformations of moving shops to suburban huge shopping malls.

Then there’s the beautiful qasbah overlooking the Atlantic ocean and Rabat’s twin city Sale on the other side of the estuary. The photogenic qasbah has narrow and winding cobbled streets, blue and white houses with pretty doors.

Outside the medina walls and next to the river sits Chellah, a former Roman and later Muslim fortress. It has the most unusual inhabitants: a catwoman – a woman with way too many cats; and European storks (maybe even Slovene ones) which make the place their winter retreat.

Rabat is a city which despite its status as the capital isn’t pretentious and which maintains its Moroccan traditions. After all, it is still part of Morocco and so there has to be this constant interplay of modernity and traditions, a kind of cultural conservatism. People wear djellabas and balgha, cafes are a male-dominated space (though you do spot a woman or two every once in a while and more often than elsewhere in Morocco), Friday is a couscous day – many restaurants only serve it on Friday, there’s poverty around the polished corner, and medina caters mostly to locals.

Ah Rabat. It truly is a great city.

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11.04.2008 14:05 | Komentiranje onemogočeno | Permalink