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.