Saturday, October 27, 2007

Better late...

Tuggy has tagged me, meaning I am required to answer this quiz tonight rather than write that China and Japan paper I have been procrastinating on. First though, I'm supposed to post

The Rules:
1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules. (if you don’t have a blog, email me)
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read their blog.

8 random things:

1. This one echoes Joel P., but it is true of me as well... when I was a kid, I was so enamoured with Star Wars that when nobody was looking I would reach my hand out toward objects and try to pull them to me with the Force. And I was always pretty disappointed when it didn't work. Secretly, I think I still believe that if I just concentrate hard enough...

2. I have only once shed tears in a movie theater, and that was when Wilson the volleyball floated away in Cast Away.

3. I often cry in church. Although that doesn't bother me anymore.

4. As a child I had a recurring nightmare that a flying whale was coming through the window next to my bed. I would sit there on the bed, paralyzed from fright, and watch it draw steadily closer through the night air. Still gives me chills.

5. I have a close-held but unlikely dream of one day writing a novel.

6. As a kid, I remember whenever missionaries spoke in church I would become terrified that my parents would pack us off to Uzbekistan or something. I am now an International Community Development major.

7. For most of my life I have made friends only with those who pursue friendship with me, and I am not good at faithfully pursuing others. I didn't realize that until this year but I'm trying, with God's grace, to reverse it.

8. I love fairy tales, mythology, and fantasy. Even the lame stuff. I recently rediscovered the variously colored fairy books edited by Andrew Lang, and have been tearing through them.

Okay, and I'm tagging... Wilson, Heather, Hannah, J-Ho (reading your SIP, by the way), Faith... my friends seemed to have dropped off Xanga like I did...

Thursday, October 4, 2007


"It is hardly possible to overrate the value, for the improvement of human beings, of things which bring them into contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar... "
~John Stuart Mill

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
~St. Augustine

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."
~Lin Yutang

I am once again enjoying the old, familiar pillow, even if that pillow currently rests in a house on Lookout Mountain. I'm not sure how often I will write here, or whether anyone is still checking this dusty corner of the internet. I've enabled comments now that I'm home as well...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cultural Differences, Yek?

I have tried to write this post several times, but I keep getting interrupted. The interruption yesterday was a pleasant one, however, as a Moroccan friend called to tell me he was in the neighborhood. He is blind but gets around well and speaks English. He's also a Fulbright scholar, and he has been unemployed since he returned to Morocco. There are not many opportunities for those with special needs here, even when they are brilliant. Anyway, we met and set in a cafe for two and a half hours, where we discussed obesity in America, rituals in Morocco, and I tried my best to explain to a blind North African what a set of bagpipes looks like.

This past Friday I went for dinner at the house of my Moroccan language instructor. My French language class lasts from 6:30 to 9:30pm, so when he invited me for dinner I assumed he meant before our class: he even told me "I eat very early." In reality, when he said we would be eating "early" he meant that the food was on the table by midnight. The food, however, was incredible (It always is here), and the famous Moroccan hospitality ensured I was wonderfully stuffed and not back to my apartment until 3am. I was still full when I crawled out of bed at 8. Heck, I was even full when I got out of bed the second time... at 2pm.

I have witnessed an interesting thing the past several days. July is considered the most propitious month for ritual celebrations: marriages, engagements and so forth. Over the last three evenings I have seen numerous groups exactly like this one (pictured) pass under my apartment window. Though I already suspected the reason, I asked my blind friend to explain the phenomena... you may have to click to see...

The mounted men with their decorative rifles are fathers, and the important people are the boys riding in front of them. This is the earliest stages of a circumcision party. And the boys, as you an see in the picture, must be at least five or six. Probably older. They march through the streets of the neighborhood playing trumpets and drums and shouting, and then the entire party returns to the home. Some metropolitan Moroccans have the operation done in a hospital, but most do it in their home with a pair of scissors... you know, so all the guests can watch.

Also a quick update on the research... things are still, for better or worse, moving very slowly and not according to plan. At least, not according to my plan =). However, we recently were allowed to meet the training instructor at a major MFI, and he told us that he will give us permission to finally observe a group-lending meeting and talk with the clients (the first time in 9 weeks). No word from him yet, but I'm pretty ecstatic about the possibility. There's very little time left to learn from the experience. I could use some Help. That is something for you to think about...

Anyway, here are some final pictures to close:

In spite of the locale, we did take some time to celebrate July 4th. We grilled out, ate potato salad, and drank Moroccan mint tea (because the latter is basically obligatory here). In the picture you can see the immaculately beautiful burgers that we grilled. Ah, the taste of home. You also might notice the suspicious-looking turkey burger we cooked for Intern Valerie. *shudder*.

This is a Moroccan garbage disposal system. And in case you can't see it because of the small picture size: this is not a cow, it's a bull. These walking trash cans with horns can be found all over Hay Hassani.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


As I listen to the violins and haunting vocals of "Cathedrals" I can't help but imagine that this is the first time that the band Jump, Little Children has ever been heard in Morocco. But then, who knows? Stranger things have happened...
Such as, for example, yesterday when my flatmate and I witnessed a police car chase; except that the getaway vehicle was a horse-drawn cart at full gallop. The cart and it's frenzied driver were attempting to escape down the wrong side of the road, and the police vehicle squealed its tires noisily as it sped after. They vanished around the corner and I didn't see the conclusion. But my money is on the car.

Nus-nus is the name that Casablancans give to the half-coffee, half-milk variation of their cafe espresso. In the ubiquitous cafes of this city there is only one coffee option: strong, thick espresso. There must be dozens of different ways to order your espresso though; cafe nus-nus, creme, au lait, noir, beida, and several other French or Arabic words that denote exactly this or that ratio of coffee to milk. All, of course, sweetened to unsafe levels. And all wonderful.

Anyway, this internship has now reached nus-nus: halfway finished.

I had the opportunity this past weekend to see Marrakech with some of the other staff. We spent significant time in the Djemaa El Fna, which is a large square known for its entertainments. Starting in the afternoon and going long into the night, the square becomes something straight out of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Monkey-handlers show off and sell their chimps, Arabic storytellers (who made me really wish I spoke Arabic) recite folklore, tumblers flip across the pavement, snake charmers play to cobras, veiled women paint henna, magicians sell medicines and reagents, and traditional musicians sip mint tea and strum their lutes. Unfortunately, everybody demands payment if you take a picture, and I was short on change!!! I did get a few pictures of the outer ring, however, where food, OJ, and spices are sold from wheeled carts. This may all sound like a tourist trap to you (and there are a growing number of tourists in Marrakech), but in fact the Djemaa El Fna has been operating in much the same way for decades, and is equally frequented by Moroccans.

My favorite part of the experience was in the evening. Wade and I were eating cous-cous at one of the carts when the Maghrib sounded (the call to prayer at the setting of the sun). Immediately the cacophony of instrument and voice stopped, perhaps for the only time all afternoon and evening. An eerie silence falls and the wail of the adhan can be heard clearly as it comes from three separate muezzins on different sides of the Djemaa El Fna. As the call comes to a close, all the carts turn on their powerful electric bulbs and the reverie explodes once again to welcome the night.

Finally, on the research side of things... the going is still very slow, but I have had some interesting interviews and talked with a growing number of people. A lot of what happens in the coming weeks is riding on meetings with the local Microfinance Institutions (MFIs). We have had to pull some strings to get an opportunity to meet with them, and I hope they'll give permission for me to observe some group lending meetings and talk with the clients. If this happens it could open up new avenues for the study; it's definitely something to think about.

Well, I'll close with some more pictures:

This is one of many tables selling fruit, spices, or olives and nuts in the Djemaa El Fna. This, obviously, is one of the latter. A man stands in the crevice at the top center on a stool, and uses a really long-handled scoop to retrieve your purchase. If you're considering buying, it's perfectly okay to just grab a few with your fingers and try the wares.

This marabout is in Casablanca near the popular beach area. A marabout, or saint's tomb, is thought to contain "baraka" (blessing). The idea isn't orthodox, but is widely held nonetheless. A witch lives in the marabout who is often sought out for problems that need a supernatural cure, especially infertility in women. If you click on the picture, you should be able to get a clearer view.

Friday, June 8, 2007


Well, I've done a bad job of keeping this up so far. More seems to happen as the days pass than I can possibly make sense of in my own mind, much less put into coherent words for my blog. But nevertheless...

I'm riding the bus everywhere now: in the morning, on the way downtown, the bus is inevitably packed with bodies. In order to assert my right to a space I often must make liberal use of my elbows, jostling for the privilege of cheap transportation. Once, on a Friday evening, I quite literally had to raise both my arms above my head in order to make space for just one more commuter. We all pay our 3.50 dirhams to whatever open palm emerges from the tangle, and then spend the rest of the ride strategically maneuvering towards the front of the bus (no gentle task, believe me) in order to catapult out the front door upon arriving at our destinations. Thus far, I have consistently been the only non-Arab on the bus; some Moroccans have grinned at my willingness to jostle with the rest, while one woman grabbed a cloth and buried her face in it as soon as I climbed the stairs. I am, after all, still an infidel.

It seems hardly possible that I've been here for almost 4 weeks. My study of microenterprise still seems, to me, to be going excruciatingly slow. I've conducted a number of informal interviews with individuals and organizations, but so far I haven't been able to use any other tools in order to triangulate the data. Maybe I just need to chill out, but I've been a bit disappointed with my seeming lack of ingenuity thus far. I guess I just need to be more trusting, because the one who began a good work...

I might be leaving the city for the first time next week, and I'm excited to see some of the countryside and the rest of Morocco. I didn't know until I arrived how varied the climate and scenery is in this small country: Casa and Rabat are mediterranean and temperate; Fes and Marrakech, slightly more inland, are by this time of year covered with a dry heat that is oppressive in the sun but beautiful in the shade. If one travels further south, the Atlas mountains tower upwards in the traditional lands of the Berber people. Some of the peaks are covered in snow year-round, and more than one town open ski resorts in the winter. Past the mountains, the pre-Saharan oases with their rural villages of Berber-speaking peoples fade into the Sahara desert.

Anyway, I'll end with a few pictures. Hopefully I'll be taking better ones soon?

This is somewhere deep in the heart of Derb Ghalef, the massive and labyrinthine market in Casa. This is actually an unusual section, as in most parts the shops and stands are so close together that they form a roof, and the whole place is dark except for the artificial light coming from TVs for sale. You can buy fake Rolex's, genuine iPods, pirated DVDs, second-hand clothes, fresh(?) fruit, hand crafted furniture, coffins, olives, laptops, live chickens, seat-covers, or buy raw snails right out of the shell. Guaranteed to make you sick.

This is taken outside the Derb, where people who can't afford a place in the Derb itself sell their wares on blankets or straight from carts. They're also, of course, completely informal (though the Derb operations are semi-formal at best, from what one shop-owner tells me). They mostly sell second-hand clothing (and advertise it as such), though a few blankets held "prada" purses or other such treasures. For the most part people just sell whatever goods they can afford.

This final picture is of an empty plot near the Derb, but there are two noteworthy things in the background. The first thing is a bidonville (just beyond the wall). The second thing is globalization. By "bidonville" I mean the Moroccan term for a shantytown. And by "globalization" I mean high-powered satellite dishes in places where the toilet is a plastic bag. I have a really hard time knowing what to think about that. You can see some of the apartment buildings where most people live in the further background as well.

This is already longer than it should be, so I'm off to bed.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Week 1

The study is coming along slowly. Because of budget and availability, I may only have an interpreter for 2hrs/day and 2days/week; my English is relatively useless, my Arabic is non-existent (except for "hello" and thanks"), and my French is truly execrable (although I can now order that clutch chicken dish across the street... pardon, je voudrais le poulet plat avec des fritures). I have my first interview tomorrow: and I do mean a single interview. At the same time, I understand that this is how it will be for a while. I'm trying to avoid idleness.

I did make one achievement though: I went to the local supermarket with my flatmate and bought some groceries. The cereal box I chose was nothing but Arabic writing and one English phrase: corn flakes. They're some local brand; who knows how they taste. But then, as my English flatmate commented, "all corn flakes taste a little like soggy cardboard anyway."

In other news... Casa is exciting! The people are hospitable, warm, and eager to communicate. The city streets are nigh overwhelming: in addition to the masses of people and the insane drivers, I have seen unattended cattle, horsecarts, and one character wandering aimlessly around with an eel dangling from his hand. Yesterday I climbed out of a taxi too slowly and he ran over the back of my shoe. I suppose it could have been my heel.

There's supposed to be a shergui (sandstorm) sometime this week. My host suggested that by August I might need to buy a djellaba.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The beginning of a beautiful relationship?

Well, I'm here! I lost my phone enroute and twice misplaced my boarding passes, but after 23 hours of travel I've arrived in the Casablanca airport. The city is massive, throbbing with people, and mesmerizing. Men and women in full traditional dress are juxtaposed with modern business men and McDonalds. We passed both a Mercedes and a mule-drawn cart in the same block.

I want to tell you guys more soon, and show you pictures, but for now I have a lot of sleep to catch up on...