Thursday, June 28, 2007


List additions... To "Things I will miss": Fayrouz soda, especially in mango. To "Things I'm looking forward to at home": Access to Livejournal and Google Earth (both blocked in Morocco); a washing machine (though I might miss my clothesline).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Attempting Balance

Okay, so there are definitely more things that I will miss about Morocco than things I'll be happy to leave, but I am trying to find an upside in my imminent departure as well. For example, things I WON'T miss:

Long sleeves on hot days (even though I choose to wear them)
Boys who say lewd things when I walk by
Bugs in the house
Communication issues, not understanding what people say
The guilt that comes from walking past the beggars and turning the street kids away from my door

And even a few things I'm looking forward to at home:
Air conditioning
Family and friends

I'm going to copy Katy...(sorry Katy!)

So Katy's list has made me think...I've been realizing lately how much I will miss Grenoble. It has been my first experience abroad, so I don't have other leave-takings to compare with, but I also have something definite ahead of me, in contrast to Katy. For me, a lot of what I miss about a place comes down to the people; while there are some little things I miss about Nashville, for the most part I miss the friends and acquaintances and professors of which I was fond. That will remain true about Grenoble, the people I have met through lab that I work and hang out with will be the major nostalgia I have. And yet...the people I really know and love will stay with me, because we won't let our friendship get away. This I have learned from moving away from university, at least, so perhaps I will not have to miss them as much as I think.
But there are definitely some things that I will miss about Grenoble as well. At a risk of looking like a copy-cat, perhaps you will excuse me for making a list as well, it seems easiest at the moment.

Things I will NOT miss:
dog sh*t on every sidewalk
people peeing on walls in the street
immensely long bureaucratic processes
longer bureaucratic processes
French road signs - IMPOSSIBLE

Things I WILL miss about Grenoble/France:
all other forms of public transportation
feeling marginally safe biking in the city, thanks to bike paths
rose gardens
big public green spaces
jours feries
RTT days -- random days off every month
coffee after lunch
hour-long lunch breaks!
the breathtaking mountain view around every street corner here
being so close to awesome skiing and hiking
my Girl Scouts
train travel
easy access to other countries!
people who speak other languages everywhere
speaking french (wasn't sure I would be able to say that at the end, but its true!)
hello and goodbye in every store
my fruit/vegetable store

As you can see, the 'miss' list seems to be much longer than the 'good riddance' list... so please join me, us, in hoping that the next 2 weeks go rather slowly!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Still Alive

...and not coming home. I leave Morocco in 16 days and the initial anxiety attacks have set in. I hate the goodbye process part of this routine, and this particular return is harder than after previous studies abroad, when my friends were also leaving and I had plans waiting for me once I got back home. Here, I'm leaving behind a number of friends both local and expat, and I'm returning to a lot of unknowns. I'm trying to convince myself that it's a good time to leave, but I've also promised myself that I'll return. Tomorrow I'll come up with a list of the things I won't miss about this place, but for now, the things I will:

The turtle in my yard
Boys who compliment me as I walk by
Almond milkshakes from the café with the crazy old man near the Moulay Idriss II shrine
Egyptian music videos
Cherries, olives, preserved lemons (and produce in general)
Never needing a watch
Taxi drivers, having life flash before my eyes on a daily basis
Women with Berber tattoos
Feeling fabulously wealthy
Tea, friday couscous, and food as a communal tradition
Camel heads at the butcher's shop and chicken death row
Beachgoers in hijab
Le Coin Berbère
The ever-present hope of my own riad in the medina
The Coca-Cola donkey
Sufi chant and ganaoua music
Saffron (see "feeling rich")
Wearing pjs to class - under a jellabah
The call to prayer
Train travel, and fellow passengers
Getting lost in the medina
Palm trees

Saturday, June 23, 2007

France Trip Highlights

So...I've gotten a little behind on the whole blog thing. Being with my entire family for 3 weeks with maybe yes/maybe no internet and sometimes 4 people wanting to use it was not conducive to regular updates! We went on a 3-week tour of (mostly) northern France, saw some new things and some old things (for me anyway) and got to hang out in Grenoble and meet some of my friends from here. I have discovered that while Loire Valley chateaux are big, sumptuous, and slightly disgusting sometimes, they all look slightly similar after a while. I have learned that Strasbourg-ian french sounds very German, and "Bonn-shoo!" just sounds weird to my lilting-southern-french-listening ears. I have realized that the abbey at Mont St. Michel is not always as cold as it was in January and can be a bit more enjoyable. And I have realized how much I have fallen in love with Grenoble, the scenery and people and places here, when I experienced the joy of showing it off to people I love.
More later on specific funny instances, we had more than a few!!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Siin, Sahd, and Dirty Jokes

Arabic has two letters best transliterated as "s," one called siin and the other called sahd. The main audible difference between them is actually in the successive vowel, since siin comes from the front of the mouth and sahd from the back of the throat. In any case, it's sometimes hard to know which is which when hearing a word and guessing its spelling. One of my classmates will often ask which to use when taking notes, but today her question made the professor stop for a moment.

"That reminds me of a joke," he remarked, then paused.
"Tell it!" Amanda requested
"It's a very dirty joke." Silence.
"If we were boys you would tell it," she retorted.
"Yes." Awkward laughter and more silence.

At least he's honest about it...and perhaps less biased than many. Amanda did bully him into telling the joke, the punchline of which involves a girl's confusion of the two terms "to touch" and "to suck," caused by the fact that the only difference is that one is spelled with siin and the other with sahd. Some days I really wonder about my classes...

Thursday, June 14, 2007


When I was setting out for Morocco, my dear old New York Times didn't offer a lot by way of travel advice. Now, it feels as though they've stalked me here. A profile on Fes, a close-up on my rug guys, and now an article on food and cooking! Though Joan Nathan writes today about ferrane, communal ovens in Assilah, I get the feeling she found a slightly different Morocco than the one I call home. For example:

"People eat seasonally, shop at the outdoor markets, buy live chickens to have slaughtered on the spot, feathers flying helter-skelter. (In the big cities, where health inspectors and supermarkets are taking over, this is a dying custom.)"
Dying? I'm in the third-largest city in Morocco and I watched a chicken die on Saturday because I happened to be walking by a butcher's stall in the medina just as a customer made her purchase - he picked up a bird, held it around the neck, and slit its throat with an already-bloody knife. I go to school three blocks from a storefront in the ville nouvelle nicknamed "chicken death row" for the cages of birds squawking and stinking just off a main street. I don't buy my poultry that fresh because I'm too lazy to deal with feathers, but to call it a dying tradition? Not yet it isn't.

"Today many people have gas stoves or propane cooktops at home, and the communal ovens are disappearing...In Assilah, as in other Moroccan towns, the ovens are in transition, still in use even though many people have their own stoves."
I lived with a solidly middle-class host family and they did have their own oven and baked bread at home, but even they considered this a luxury, even in the new city where families are more isolated and independent. In the medina, houses are compact and crowded and the ovens are still very much alive and necessary. In Marrakech, I watched a little boy carrying his family's bread home get in a fight with another boy. He set his tray down ever-so-carefully in the road before proceeding to kick his opponent in the groin. This was a kid who knew that coming home with dusty bread or no bread at all would be a big problem, and who took his job as oven-runner seriously. If a six-year-old takes it that seriously, you know it's important to Mom, too.

"Ms. Sella insisted that the couscous be steamed three times, something that cooks rarely do in the United States."
It's also something many Moroccans cheat on, apparently, considering that my own teacher only insisted on twice :) Still, her couscous recipe looks like a traditional royale (rather than the standard vegetable mix - a classic couscous nonetheless). Note that even the NYTimes foodies don't try bastilla, which I'll admit I'm both eager and terrified to attempt...but it tastes so good there's no way I can't at least make an effort to bring it home with me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lost in Translation

One of my teachers this term is an animated, slightly crazy man prone to unexpected tangents. Through his many wandering stories I had learned such unusual Arabic as pornography (al muwaaqa ila baahia) and homosexual (mithli, an adjective stemming from the comparative particle "like"). But today he reached into English for a colloquial expression and ended up creating something else entirely. Speaking about multiplying problems, I offer you the new saying:

"Out of the oven and into the frying sauce."

I love non-native speakers of my mother tongue...

Fences and neighbors: update

So the boys finally left yesterday - and took the outer half of the doorknob on the gate with them. Now getting into my own yard is a bit of a Houdini act even with the key, as turning a small square axle is a lot harder than you'd think.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fences and neighbors deux

The loquats have all been picked or rotted and the situation with my neighbor-boys seems to be doing the same. Two weeks ago, a friend staying with me let the usual group into the yard while I was in class. Farrin knew that I let them pick the fruit but didn't know that I hung out and supervised when they came by, so she wandered back into the house for a while. Later, she took the broom out and offered them 10dh to sweep the walkway, which they halfheartedly did. She went back inside and got distracted, only to find later that the boys used the broomstick to push a window open - she caught them trying to lift a shoe through the metal bars. They left, but after Sam got back from his short trip, he discovered that his laptop power cord, a blazer and two dress shirts had gone missing, vanished out that window.

Farrin paid for a replacement computer charger and we dismissed the incident, resolved simply not to let the boys back in the yard. Two days later, three of them rang the bell and asked for water. I glowered and yelled at them in a broken attempt at darija about the thefts but still took them a bottle filled from the tap because it was, after all, a hot day. They rang the bell again, demanding food and money. One started to come into the yard. I closed the gate on him, and after ringing the bell another ten times, they left.

Today they were back. They asked for food and I said no but went to fill a water bottle again. When I returned they had already gone, but an older woman was at the gate and accepted it with thanks. An hour later, I looked out my back window to see the ringleader standing in my back shed with a black plastic bag in hand. Yelling for Sam to join me, I stepped into the yard only to find him vanished. Standing at the clothesline, wondering where he had gone, I heard a noise and realized he was still hiding in one of the outbuildings. I poked my head in and he stood stock still behind the door, pretending I hadn't seen him. Finally Sam came out and half-dragged, half-pushed him out of the yard while I picked up the bag he'd left behind - one of my bedsheets, my blue jellabah, some of Sam's towels, all plucked from the clothesline moments before. He climbed up and sat on a low spot in our wall, jeering.

I need to call my landlords and start hanging my laundry indoors to dry. Thankfully all the windows to the house do latch firmly and we have bars on all of them...but now that the house has become a target I'm not really sure how best to stop the harassment.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Youm al-Juma'a

On Thursday, not only did I play the good student and go to class rather than to carnatic chant, I also stayed home that evening to do homework (gasp!) housework (what?!?) and cooking preparation (now that sounds more like the Katy you all know and love).

You see, in a moment of confidence and folly I had decided to invite my classmates over for Friday couscous, a near-sacred tradition. While every other day of the week is named for its number, from Sunday's first to Saturday's seventh, Friday is instead the day of gathering, coming together: Mosque day, the day of communal rather than individual prayer. After worshipping together, extended families gather while smaller families join friends and neighbors for lunch, which is invariably couscous.

I had loved this tradition when living with a family, and now that I had a kitchen of my own I decided once again to participate. I'd observed and assisted in couscous preparation, but had not tried it solo. Still, it's simply not a dish made in small portions, and so I invited the girls from my class to become guinea pigs and three cheerfully accepted.

Thursday afternoon I wandered through the market, buying zucchini, pumpkin, cabbage and carrots; saffron threads, extravagant even here, though far less so than at home; ripe tempting cherries and lemony green olives as accompaniment. Friday morning I rose early to cut vegetables and dissect the whole chicken before class, returning at noon ready to put the whole mixture on the stove.

A couscoussière is an oversized steamer - the chicken-and-vegetables mixture all goes in the bottom half while the couscous sits above it in a colander-like pot, making this a one-burner meal. The hard part isn't so much the cooking process but the couscous preparation. First it has to be dampened and hand-rolled until it unclumps, then put into the steam pot. After twenty minutes of cooking, you have to take it back out, add more water and oil and spices, unclump everything again without burning your hands, and transfer it back into the pot. I understand now why couscous hasn't really caught on back home - this stuff is considerably more work but also much better than its instant boxed cousin.

Amazingly enough, it turned out. Some chickpeas had to be sacrificed when we found the flies had gotten into them, I spilled couscous on the floor during one of the bowl-to-steamer transfers, and the whole finished product ended up on the slightly bland side - still, the company was good, the conversation fun, and the experience good enough to inspire another try in two weeks' time. Now I just have to figure out how to get my couscoussière home so I can bring a little more of Morocco back for family and friends.

Friday, June 8, 2007

From Pakistan to Chefchaouen: Festival Days Four and Five

Tuesday night, I returned to Bab Makina to catch Akhtar Sharif Husain, Qawwal Arûp Vâle. A qawwal is a chant-singer or cantor, while Arûp is a town somewhere in Penjab, Pakistan. Akhtar Sharif Husain and his group belong to the sufi Chishti order and are the official qawwals for the temple of Data Ganj Bakhsh (patron saint of Lahore) and the only performers allowed in its sanctuary.

All this attempt at explaining their apparent fame aside, their chant was an incredible performance and very different from the sufi brotherhoods I'd been hearing in Morocco. It was more melodic, and with three harmony singers, had far greater musical range than the local style (which is reminiscint of gregorian chant in its slow-changing melody lines). The tabla player put on an incredible show, with an encore solo that enticed the entire audience to clap along.

Yesterday, my classmates Amina, Amanda and Sarah decided to see the arab-andalusian singers and I convinced Maryam and Fatima Zahra to join us as well. Running late, we three slipped in to join the others but were stopped by ushers who forced us into the back section marked as the B seats. While I'd bought B tickets every night, the three previous concerts had been left open (the venue is huge and never more than half-full). This night was not any busier, but when we went around to try one more entrance, the same thing we sat at the back and grumbled.

We could still hear well, and the three North African women performing were lovely even as specks on the stage. Behidja Rahal from Algeria sang the only songs with a notably Spanish influence, strumming a flamenco-style guitar as accompaniment. Fadwa Malki of Morocco received the loudest applause, naturally, and offered more upbeat material, while Sonia Mbarak from Tunisia was left to perform for a rapidly-depleting audience as everyone started creeping out after 10. Their loss, because her final number used the entire accompaniment orchestra and spread an infectious jazz beat through the remaining crowd.

Amanda and Amina met back up with us after the show to go hear sufis at Dar Tazi once again. A brotherhood from Chefchaouen entered the stage, and I recognized a funny little old man in thick glasses. When Pam and I made our day trip, he had been sitting idly in the main square and made friendly chitchat for some minutes before welcoming us to town. Now, he was in a cream-colored jellabah and turban in the center of the group. I smiled and settled in to listen as they began a call-and-response.

After nearly an hour, the little man in glasses stood up and began to wave his arms. One by one, the others joined him as he began to jump up and down. The chant grew breathless, taking on an insistent tone far more energetic than any of the previous groups. An older European woman in the audience began to jump-march along, smiling broadly and oblivious to the Moroccans' amusement at her awkward participation.

Finally at one, I decided that sleep and homework trumped seeing the performance end and slipped out quietly, not knowing how it would resolve but choosing instead to be a good student for once. Tonight I'm taking an evening to catch up on my coursework - Angélique Kidjo from Benin will just have to sing without me, and tomorrow I will return to see "Sacred and Profane Love" performed by Lebanese and Syrian singers. The only real question is whether I should or shouldn't cut class that afternoon to catch Vasumathi Badrinathan performing Indian carnatic chant. Votes?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

American Tourists

Okay, so you remember Mr. American Tourist in "W - The President" shirt? If not, he's right here.

Ian offered a comment: "That guy is just trying to make us look bad. You're not supposed to wear shirts with words, let alone something political. Granted when I go to Glasgow I might wear an Obama t-shirt, but Glasgow isn't Fez and Obama isn't well known enough to be controversial."

Well, Ian, this ISN'T Glasgow, and this guy really seems to have issues. Last night at another concert I spotted him again. Same beard, same khaki pants, same blond wife...and wearing an official campaign t-shirt for Barack Obama, of all people.

Go figure.


Four singers sit behind their microphones while a circle of men sit cross-legged in front. On each side, a row of four girlish youths in funny tall hats sit also. The crowd hushes and one singer begins alone, soon accompanied by chanting from the sitting men, then by the call to prayer as nearby minarets join the chorus. The group finds a rhythm and sways to the name of God, dipping and bowing in unison as the words repeat again and again. The circle rises and begins to rotate as the men sidestep to their devotions, a first turn to begin the process.

After a long while, the boys rise and begin to turn ever so slowly, arms crossed over their chests and long skirts caught in the strong breeze. One by one, they relax, arms opening down, then floating lazily up over their heads and finally draped up, wrists gently limp. They turn faster, heads tilted, eyes seemingly closed, skirts billowing but never quite at full whirl. The central circle has closed in and chants louder, faster, more urgently. They are now clustered tightly and swaying in time.

Abruptly, they return to a calmer pace and work their way back into an organized circle, then settle cross-legged once again. Some dervishes pause and also sit, returning to spin seemingly at random. A flute stands out, and I realize I've completely lost track of time. The spell seems broken, for now I listen but it seems familiar rather than exotic, though the still-turning dervishes maintain their hold on my imagination.

Yesterday over lunch I tell classmates about the concert, still cheerful at the experience. Sarah looks at me and says not unkindly, "yeah, but you can see those all the time." Her family is from Egypt, and I get the point - and the wonderful thing about an international festival is that there's something exotic for everyone...tomorrow she's coming to see Andalusian songs, after all.

(This concert was on Monday night - I'm now running a bit behind, but tomorrow should catch up with a review of both the Pakistani qawwals I heard last night and the Arab-Andalusian fusion I'm going to catch tonight).

Monday, June 4, 2007


People-watching is always fun, but the past two days have provided even better opportunities than usual. First, there was Queen Rania:

Then there are the locals who turn out:

And perhaps best yet, the foreign tourists (yes, this guy really is wearing a "W THE PRESIDENT" t-shirt in public in Morocco):

More to come - six more days to go!

Festival, Day Two

Sunday being the last day I didn't have to juggle classwork around concerts, I decided to see as much as possible. The marathon began at 4:30 with the Gregorian Choir of Lisbon, who performed the better part of two masses. Sitting cross-legged right in front of the stage, I got to watch not only the energetic conductor and the French tourist next to me capturing it in watercolors.

A sandwich-and-pastry break later, it was time to go catch the free public ganawa concert at Boujeloud square. Majda Yahayoui attracted a huge crowd of locals but nearly none of the European tourists who had packed the Gregorian choir. The band included the traditional drums and cymbals but also a trombone and tenor sax, and their sound mixed standard ganawa with a jazzed-up sound for lively effect. A short thick woman in turquoise jellabah and bright purple scarf pushed us forward into the crowd and helped us work our way to the front. Two white girls in a crowd of Moroccans, we received a warm welcome in the claustrophobic cheering mass. After the concert, we turned to thank her and she told us "Assalamu aleikum - hi!" and wished us a good night as we set off for a quick coffee before the next show.

It took three wrong turns, but we eventually arrived at Bab Makina for a Brazilian performer named Tania Maria. She played a mellow jazz piano with no apparent religious overtones, but it was nice to sit in a chair again and relax for an hour while listening to "besame mucho" and the like. On the way out, a news crew stopped me, so I might or might not have made it onto the 2M evening news in French.

Finally, finally, we returned to Dar Tazi for the sufi chant show, this time performed by a brotherhood in from Tangier. They had a young girl performing with them, and also added instrumental accompaniment for the last numbers. What began as a close cousin of the gregorians' style grew in tempo and volume to become a hand-clapping, rapid-drumming chaos that swept the crowd right along into the music. While by 1am I was exhausted, I still couldn't help but pick an offbeat and clap along while the boys in the back added their own chorus.

Home at 1:30, I crashed into bed knowing that class this morning would hurt. Still, for a four-concert, three-continent day at 200 dirhams ($25), the extra cup of coffee needed to restart my brain afterward was well worth it.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

On music and royalty

The International Sacred Music Festival began here in Fes on Friday, bringing with it hordes of European tourists and even some celebrity guests. On a morning shopping trip in the medina, I walked past a lovely woman surrounded by men in suits but thought nothing of it until I caught up to Amina. She was stopped dead in the street, still staring at the mini-procession - and informed me that we'd just passed Queen Rania of Jordan.

After a light lunch with a visiting Scarlett, we rejoined the others for an Iranian singer performing Rumi poetry, where the queen graced us once again with her presence. The music was meditative and the five accompanying musicians offered incredibly talented solos as well. Afterward, I got a blurry shot of the queen while a friend-of-a-friend with the group approached closer and returned to say that he'd shaken hands with Bono, whose presence next to Rania I'd completely overlooked.

We stopped for juice, then joined the crowd at a free community concert in a nearby square, watching parents and toddlers as much as the Moroccan singer with her Egyptian-MTV lighting effects up on stage. At 11, Scarlett and I ventured out one last time for sufi chant at yet another medina museum.

After two hours of steadily repetitive devotions (of which I followed at least a little in Arabic..."There is no god but God" is easy to pick out), I felt relaxed and refreshed. Following the alleyway to the taxi stand, I spotted a man in a bright violet shirt and sunglasses even in the dark of night. I paused a moment to be sure of my recognition and continued along, spotting a less-conspicuously-familiar face a few yards behind. Surely enough, both Sir Bono and his band-mate the Edge are wandering Fes listening to sacred music this week - I'll snap a photo if I run into them somewhere light.

Wallet Wonderful-ness

So. I had an adventure just before leaving leaving Grenoble for family vacation...mostly accentuated by my stupidity -- but there you go ;). Here 'tis:

I found out at the beginning of the week that I 'might' have beamtime on the neutron instrument, D22, on Thursday, at 5 or 6 pm. This wasn't so hot, because Thursday was going to be my last day at work before leaving on the 8 am train on Friday with my brother to Paris, but eh, beggars can't be choosers when it comes to beamtime, so I said ok.
Thursday rolled around, I did in fact have beamtime, but we started about 6:30, and I knew we would be at work late, so I left all my stuff in the office. DATA :) pm rolls around, we get some pizza and are sitting near the office having it, when this random guy from our lab comes down (still at work!) and says he is leaving, do we need the spare office key or can he take it. The people I was having beamtime with say, oh no worries, we can let you (me) into the office for your stuff, so take it (instead of putting it back where its supposed to go...).

All right -- but this meant I was in a hurry when getting my stuff -- people were waiting on me, etc, -- so I managed to get my bag and leave something rather important in the desk drawer...that's right, my wallet. RATHER IMPORTANT FOR GOING ON A 2-WEEK VACATION AROUND FRANCE!! Doh!
However, I only realized this at 3:30 or so in the morning, when Trevor, my boss, dropped me off at home, with my bike, after the beamtime finished. I was finishing up some packing, realized I didn't have my wallet, and after cursing just about everyone and everything even remotely involved in the whole situation, resignedly got on my bike to go BACK to work, at 4 am, to get my wallet.

Unsurprisingly, there is no traffic at this ungodly hour, so I got there fairly quickly, managed to get through security onto the site, and got just about up onto my floor when I finally remembered this whole exchange earlier about the keys...and realized that there was no way I could get into the office! OH NO! I panicked -- and couldn't think of what to do. Finally, after waking one friend from lab up at this insane hour (sorry Estelle!!!) I realized that the guardians of the site have master keys. So, onto the bike again, out to the front gate, brain ceased to function. I think my request/question was the most garbled mix of french and english I have ever heard in my life! When I said 'CIBB' (the building), it came out like Cay-Eye-Bee-Bay, and I totally blanked on the word for wallet (rather important for this situation, I would say) and had to describe it as the thing that you put bank cards in...ugh, completely ridiculous!
Thankfully, they did manage to understand me, I got my wallet, got home with no incident, and even got to take a shower before getting to the train station for my train! Note to self: only forget wallet when NOT going on a long trip early the next day. Oh, and I learned something new: it starts getting light in the mornings at 4:45 in Grenoble...I was still up and outside!!!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mashi Mushkil

The other evening I used the darija expression "mashi mushkil" in an online conversation and my correspondent decided to google the term. All it means is "no problem," but it's often transliterated (if darija, an unwritten language, can be transliterated) as mash mushkil instead. This fortunately-chosen alternate spelling led me to the blog shwiya b shwiya, or "little by little," another expression in darija. It's written by a Peace Corps volunteer living somewhere way south, learning berber and teaching health issues. And better yet, her name is Katy (with a y!) The world is a small place, but the Internet sure makes it smaller sometimes...