Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Internet Relations

Let the debate on internet borders begin: Slate offers a good article on what might just be the first coordinated government web attack. Estonia's government websites have been intentionally crashed, and by computers in Russia. Still, knowing the guilty IP address doesn't necessarily mean knowing the guilty party, and the Russian government is certainly smart enough to deny any knowledge of the hack. International politics meets internet, and I'm certainly staying tuned to see how this spat plays out.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Girl Guides the Last

Yesterday was my last french Girl Scout meeting, as far as I know. Its funny, I always worry and fret about Guides, about what we're going to do, about the planning, I've panicked at random times, and its generally been stressful. But actually AT the meetings, it never is, its lovely. They flow, we generally had enough to do, I know a million games if we don't, and while the understanding (their french, my american-accented) sometimes gets a little hairy, no one gets upset or annoyed about it.

And yet, somehow, I am always surprised when the meetings go so well, since I am always worried beforehand. Yesterday was no exception to the rule; I approached Saturday afternoon with vague dread, but once my girls started arriving, we had so much fun. We went bowling to celebrate our last time together, but none of them had socks, so we stopped by my place to snag some from the drawers. Then on to Echirolles, where I cleverly got us off on one tram stop too early and I was yelling "Depechez-vous" (hurry!) as we crossed exits to a major highway...several times. Yikes!

No one got hit by a car however, and after we got past the one girl who had never bowled before and was afraid of throwing the ball, we all had fun. She ended up coming in second, so not so bad at all for a newbie! Afterwards, we went outside and found a nice patch of grass near the pool to have our snack, a 'Quatre Quarts' and Nutella - their favorite - with Orangina as a treat. We tossed the frisbee around, took random pictures, and generally had a relaxed, nice time. I didn't want it to end!!

On the way back on the tram, the kids started asking me why I couldn't stay for another year -- they all hugged me before they left, were sad at the end. This was really the first real signs of affection I had seen, so blatantly anyway, so it was very touching. They probably won't remember me very well, but hopefully I will have given them another year or positive experiences through scouting - and met their first real American on the way!

Of Loquats and Kings

In the neighbor-boys update, I looked out my window yesterday to see two climbing the tree and opened the front door just in time to see them sprinting for a low spot on the wall. As they scrambled over it, I yelled out (in French, silly me) that they should ring the bell if they wanted to pick fruit. Thankfully, a man looking amusedly over his balcony from the apartment building next door translated, and they walked around and smiled sheepishly at my gate. Today they're back with a third friend, three eight-year-old (ish) monkeys reaching for the highest fruit their older friends left behind.

As for life in general, Fes seems to have adopted a carnival atmosphere with the sudden snap into summer this past week. I first thought the new cheer was due to the kings' visit (Mohammed VI and Abdullah of Saudi Arabia were in town on Thursday and Friday.) Fading murals were painted over in fresh, clean white along the major roads, and the fountains along the Hassan II all began flowing on Wednesday night. My own cross street now has twinkling lights strung up between the light poles, and on Thursday and Friday I had to walk across the closed avenue and work my way through the street bands and throngs of people waving Moroccan and Saudi flags to get home. Yesterday the bands and throngs had cleared, but the decorative lights remain up and the fountains are still running. As sunset comes later every night, more families are out in the streets enjoying the cool air at the end of the hot day, and even after it grows dark the main boulevards remain abuzz, rather than the early, eerie quiet of February. The afternoons are becoming stifling, but if the evenings remain this pleasant, I daresay evening walks along the gardens of Hassan II are going to become a new favorite pastime.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Fences and neighbors

I mentioned the tree in the front yard... the doorbell rang a moment ago and I grabbed my keys and unlocked the front gate to find the soccer-playing neighborhood boys gathered at my door once again. One pointed to the tree and mumbled something about mzeh, the darija name for my odd fruit. I nodded and for five minutes the troop picked loquats and stuffed their t-shirts before departing with shy mercis. Y'know, I think I like this neighborhood...

Edit: Two minutes' peace and they're back with a few more friends. Fourteen boys swarming the front yard and asking me what mzeh are in French (nefle). Crazy kids.

A Small Place

I have a house. It's not the riadh in the medina I'd spent a month dreaming about (buying a refrigerator and transporting it by donkey just proved to be too big an undertaking, let alone other necessary furniture and considerations). Instead, another student went home and I took over her lease for a small orange house in the ville nouvelle and moved in just over a week ago.

It has a yard, complete with a turtle and a loquat tree heavy with ripe golden fruit. My room has a window facing the front yard, a large bookshelf, and a National Geographic map of Africa curiously left behind. Across the hall is Sam's room, and then we share a bathroom (and its narrow, deep tub with shower extension but no curtain), a living room (couch, coffee table, and dining table), and a kitchen (propane stove, countertop oven, ancient refrigerator). A door off the kitchen leads to a weed-grown backyard with a clothesline and a strange outbuilding with three additional empty rooms.

The windows allow a soft sunlight in during the day, and the concrete stays relatively cool even in the afternoon heat. Set back from neighbors, I enjoy quiet except when the neighborhood soccer game gets out of hand and the little boys ring the bell to retrieve their ball from the yard. The previous residents installed a DSL line, so I still enjoy constant internet (oops), which makes up for the fact that I'm back to washing my laundry in a bucket in the bathtub (oh well, keeps me busy).

Yesterday, I finally declared my scrubbing/dusting/organizing project to be complete and served a housewarming dinner to friends. Maryam, Angus, Roshan, John, Laura and Mark gathered for chicken artichoke pasta, fruit salad and chocolate cake. It was a perfect opportunity to introduce old friends and new, and now that the place has been graced by the presence of the cool kids, I finally feel properly at home once again.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Last weekend, I flew to England to visit Andrew and Lara, two friends I met in Grenoble who have moved back home recently, and to see London. I got treated to some typical English weather - (drizzle...downpour...drizzle...clouds...downpour...drizzle...you get the idea). The countryside was still lovely, however, Andrew and I bopped around a little in West Sussex, a county next to the sea, and saw some castles, cathedrals, and pubs.

Then we went to London for a day. There is so much to see! We spent the whole day just walking around, didn't actually go in anywhere, but we were still busy! I managed to finagle Andrew to take me to Pax Lodge, the London Girl Scout International Center, so that makes 2 in the past 2 months! That was very fun to see, and I think Andrew knows a little more about scouting now :). Then we met Lara and wore out our shoes for the rest of the day. The neighborhoods in London are so different from each other; I definitely heard more than several languages being spoken throughout the day.

On the last morning, I got up WAY too early, but I got to witness some of the daily London commute, and I walked across the London Bridge, with mist rising from the Thames below me. Pretty neat :).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

اربع قارات

So today in my tutoring session we went over maps of the Middle East and I learned the word for continent. Thus, the title of this post is simply "four continents," or "arba' qaaraat." Perhaps more interesting, the name seems to have defined the blog's audience more than its authorship (thanks, boys who never write anything :) ) See?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Weddings and Other Beginnings

This term, the American Center didn't have an appropriate class for me, so I began private tutoring at the Subul al-Salam Center until I can re-enroll in a full course. It's run by two wonderful girls who have more-or-less immediately adopted me. Case in point: I arrived a bit early for class last Thursday and in the course of a very brief conversation got myself invited to a family wedding that Saturday. Of course, I accepted the impromptu invite and began to wonder what to wear...

Thankfully, another American friend of mine was also invited and had already been to another wedding, so all I had to do was smile and follow along. Saturday morning, we wove our way into the souk Attarine in the medina to rent our formalwear; beaded, embroidered double-caftans called taqshetas. I chose a light teal shade with a sparkling floral design and wandered out to the nearby shoe stalls to select a pair of silvery sequined heels to match.

After almond milkshakes from my favorite little cafe, we met the rest of our group at Fatima's house, where we changed clothes and piled into taxis. We were the first to arrive at the wedding hall, and women of the family all stopped to greet us and exchange names and kisses as they entered after. Finally, distant music announced that the bridal party had left the house down the street and were making their way to the hall. Surely enough, a few moments later the bride in her silver chair appeared in the window and then squeezed through the door, followed by a host of guests and a full band.

We danced, we ate, and EVERYONE had their picture taken with the couple. While the party might have been a fairly standard reception for the guests, it doubled as a multi-hour photography session for the newlyweds, who departed and re-entered the party six times for clothing changes.

A videographer wandered the room, shining bright lights on the guests and filming everything from the man dancing spastically in the middle of the floor to the grandmother sampling a mini-chawarma in the back corner. The groom sang with the band, the adolescent girls whispered and giggled, and waiters poured countless glasses of sweet mint tea.

The wedding staff danced the bride and groom about the room in three different types of chairs, and about five hours into the party, a spiraling cake stand came on display and the bride entered one last time in a western-style wedding dress, albeit with a white hijab tucked into the low neckline. The cake was cut, candy parcels were tossed into the crowd, and at about midnight, the couple prepared to depart.

In keeping with the white-dress-and-veil tradition, the bride had also acquired a small bouquet of fake roses, which she tossed over her shoulder on her way out the door. Somehow, the flying flowers bounced off my unsuspecting shoulder and landed on the floor at an older woman's feet. She picked them up, but no one paid much attention other than Scarlett, who raised her eyebrows and smirked at me. Let's hope that it's not some terrible kind of luck to get smacked by the bouquet and still not catch it...


This Saturday, I accepted an invitation to tea, where the family gathered to watch the video - all four hours of it. I'd always thought of the wedding video as a sort of one- or two-hour recap that only the couple would ever bother to watch, but ten of us sat down and relived the whole event all of a week later. There were my friends, looking somewhat sillier dancing on tape than I remembered in person. There's me, taking a cautious bite of a mysterious pastry. There's the bride in the traditional Fassi dress, barely able to walk in its stiffness and weight, being tucked into the final dancing chair, and there's the groom standing up in his so as to lean over and plant a kiss on her forehead while the room cheers him on.

It was an over-the-top affair and a completely crazy experience. I even ended up being dragged out dancing and befriended a group of little girls simply by twirling them about. And after tea, I think I've now got two new substitute families in Fes if I ever need them. Every time I forget just how exceedingly generous hospitality can be here, I find myself surprised once again to be welcomed into the strangest of places.

(Endnote - I took considerably more photos, but you have to ask for them if you'd like to see the whole roll...)