Sunday, April 25, 2010
A couple of my good friends made it to Fes after 3½ years of following the ups and downs of my life on this blog and listening to my stories during the two visits I’ve managed to make back to California. Despite the volcano and with great determination, they managed to get across the U.S. and arrive in Fes a mere 12 hours after their planned arrival time. Their plane was diverted to Marrakech on the final leg of their journey and they were boarded onto a bus for a 9-hour drive to Fes. But they made it and, oh boy, was I glad to see them!
About halfway through their visit to Fes, it was necessary for me to spend some time on my work and prepare for the upcoming week of classes at school. I had papers to grade and lessons to plan. So my husband agreed to walk with them through the medina and show them the city he is so proud of while I stayed at Café Clock to read my students’ writing and grade their quizzes from the previous week.
An hour into my work I received a phone call from one of my visitors … “Evelyn, we’re at the police station and we need to you come with your marriage papers.” I rushed home, grabbed my marriage act and implored one of the workers at the cafe to take me to the police station, for it was deep in the bowels of the medina and I had no idea how to get there. I arrived about 15 minutes after I had received the phone call only to find my friends shunted off into a corner of the room and my husband behind the partitioned counter with several policemen around him. I waved my marriage act around and tried to ascertain what I needed to do to get my husband released.
I was told by the head honcho at the station that the arrest had been ordered by the Chief of Police and only he could rescind the order. I was told I must go to the main police station in the Ville Nouvelle to speak to the Chief. My husband was trying to downplay the whole thing for the sake of our visitors, but he implored me to go as quickly as I could.
It was important for me to take my friends with me so they could attest to the fact that they are family members and not some random tourists that my husband decided to squire around the medina to shop. Alas, they did not have their passports on them so it was necessary for them to return to my house before proceeding to the main Police Station.
Feeling a great sense of urgency to get to this Chief of Police, I instructed my sisters to follow the guy who had brought me to the police station back to my house where they should pick up their passports and get in a taxi. I would meet up with them at the main police station. Understand that the young Moroccan man they were following was now at great risk of being arrested by the police for being a faux guide … but he didn’t hesitate to help.
All this time I was in full adrenaline mode and charging up the steep incline of the medina. With each step I was leaving them further behind. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how I would communicate with the officials at the main police station. I was nearly at the top of the medina when I saw a former student of mine standing against a wall. I beckoned to him and asked if he had a half hour to spare so he could help me. He readily agreed and stayed with me through our travails for the next three hours! He, too, was putting himself at risk but did nothing more than call his mother to ask her to check in with him periodically to make sure he wasn’t arrested as he acted as my interpreter.
When I arrived at the police station and I was dripping wet from the heat of the day and the charge up the medina. We went to the main door, were directed to a side door, and then directed to yet another entrance. Inside there was no evidence of the Chief. In fact, after a phone call was made, we were told to return to where we had come from for the Chief was actually still in the medina.
I met up with my friends as I was leaving and we ordered two taxis to take us back. Of course when we arrived, my husband was now gone for the police had taken advantage of our absence and had processed him through the system (of course). We were told he was now in jail in Batha where he would remain until a judge saw him the following morning.
The four of us jumped in a gypsy taxi (petit taxis can only take 3 people) and drove off to Batha. Once there, the guards outside were not about to let us enter. But we persevered and eventually got to see the superintendent of the jail. He kindly and calmly listened to our story and made every attempt to help. But it was all to no avail. My husband was in jail for the night for it was too late in the process to go back. I had been duped from the very start and shouldn’t have left the medina police station in the first place.
Feeling defeated and embarrassed and powerless, I made arrangements with my interpreter to buy food, water and cigarettes for my husband as he waited out the night with 30 other’s incarcerated in a small, dirty, foul-smelling room. As I was handing money to my student to make these purchases, a passing undercover policeman saw us and stopped to question my good-intentioned helper. It turned out this was one of the policemen who had just arrested my husband. A few words of explanation satisfied him that another arrest was not warranted and my student was permitted to make the purchases and reward the guards for passing the goods onto my husband.
Word about the arrest quickly spread throughout the neighborhood and throughout the afternoon and evening, many deliveries of warm clothes, food and drink were passed through the guards’ hands and handed over to my husband to help him get through the night. The following morning he was released after paying 1,000 DH and being told the next time they arrested him he would spend a month in jail and the arrest would go on his record.
I am reluctant to go into details about what happened next, but in the end it was eminently clear to me that my husband’s arrest was a foregone conclusion. The Chief of Police disavowed all knowledge of the reason for the arrest, as did the arresting officers. Some believe a jealous Guide put in a phone call to arrange the arrest. Others say it was so-and-so who had been laying in wait for the past three years for my husband to make a misstep. But it’s very clear to me that someone, somewhere, decided it was time to put him in his place and there was no way to stop what happened.
Of course, if I had been with them, nothing would have happened. If we had gone to the main police station and officially registered my visitors (heretofore, I never knew about this procedure), nothing would have happened. If we had hired an official guide my husband could have accompanied them and nothing would have happened.
Could of, would of, should of!
And now that my friends are gone and my husband is free, I am left with the thought that this incident was an enlightening example of the realities of life here. It actually served to give my family (and yours truly) an incredible insight into how things work. And following the arrest, you wouldn’t believe how kind and supportive everyone was and how concerned they were to leave my visitors with a good impression of their country. Everyone pulled out the stops to show their renowned hospitality and generosity. Of course I also got more than my fill of conflicting advice about what I should have done which I patiently listened to and will selectively heed.
But all is well that ends well and I am content to let all the experiences and impressions sit with my visitors for the next 6 weeks so they can process them and give me the benefit of their insights into the life I have created here. I am looking forward to having a thoughtful discussion with them about my own future in Fes when I arrive in California for the summer.
Posted by Water Dragon at 2:05 AM
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Before the eruption of the volcano in Iceland (I’m not even trying to remember its name, yet alone how to pronounce it) there was a plan in place for four lovely friends from San Francisco to converge at my home for a weeklong visit in Fes. We haven’t seen each other for two years. They were coming from points in America and Europe and were expected to have been happily ensconced in my house by mid-afternoon. After I arrived home from school (around 6:30) I had planned to take them to an art exhibit in a Batha riad.
But, disappointedly, it’s nearly 8:00 and I am sitting at home without any visitors. And I can forget about the art exhibit because I am on standby mode and must let time metamorphasize.
One friend never made it out of San Francisco. Another is stuck in Italy until Tuesday (that leaves 3 or 4 days to visit). The last I heard (via a Blackberry email this morning) the remaining 2 were on their way from Barcelona, even though 75% of the flights had been cancelled. I had sent a driver to pick them up at their scheduled arrival time at midday, but received a call at 1:30 that the first flight was cancelled (I already knew this) and the second flight was in reportedly in Marrakech; its arrival time was unannounced. I haven’t heard anything since and am wondering where my friends are.
As much as I wanted to see all my friends, it’s surprisingly difficult to get too worked up about the situation. After all, as disappointing and frustrating as it is, there are so many bigger problems caused by this volcanic eruption. I just can’t help but see the irony that it’s all happening around Earth Day and I can’t help feeling that I am bearing witness to something so much bigger than me and my little life here on this planet.
Yes, I dearly want to see my friends. And yes, I am saddened that they aren’t here right now -- and some cannot come at all. And yet, I am in awe of the force of nature and know I will find more peace if I just submit to her power and accept what comes.
Posted by Water Dragon at 12:56 PM
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I often say that if it weren’t for Café Clock, I wouldn’t still be here in Fes. It’s no secret that I’ve had a great deal of difficulty here and yesterday was one of those days when I would have given anything to just pack up and leave. I was fed up. Again!
As so often happens when I have a meltdown, I still had to pull myself together and go out into the world to work. I guess that’s because I work everyday … either teaching, or giving dance lessons, or doing writing assignments or working on some project related to the house.
I did my best to put on a composed face and went to The Clock for an appointment to interview someone for their blog (I write most of the articles on www.cafeclock.com). I sat down at a table, plugged in my computer and ordered a coffee. But I wasn’t able to hold my composure and I felt the tears coming on. Luckily, this was before my appointment arrived and in an unobserved moment with Max, Café Clock’s head domo. Max was full of warmth and compassion and gave me the strength to carry on.
Support comes in such a variety of forms from the people who work there and from my fellow expats who frequent the café. The café owner, Mike Richardson, is always giving me interesting projects to do or distracting me with his endless energy and head full of plans for a new project. Often, we work out a trade for food. This is wonderful for me because I don’t cook. I know how to cook; I just don’t do it. It’s not one of my talents nor is it one of my interests. So this plan works out great for me. Especially since the café is only a block from my house.
When I’m feeling lonely on a Sunday evening, there is always a concert to attend. The same goes for Wednesday evenings where a jam session is always underway. Inevitably I go alone to these events but also sooner or later someone I know comes in and keeps me company or greets me with warmth that fills a hole in my heart.
When I need a ladder or extra seating for guests or glasses for a gathering, Café Clock is there to help. They send me belly dance students and introduce me to interesting people who I get to interview for the blog. I get free wifi and effusive greetings upon my arrival and all manner of love and support every time I go there. Souad, who works in the kitchen, calls me “the flower of Café Clock”. A great photographer willingly photographs my house for nothing; people ask for my advice and offer some in return. Contacts are made, friendships are formed and English is widely spoken. And all this is just a few steps from my doorway and away from the curious eyes and the wagging tongues that are always present in Fes. Café Clock is truly an oasis for me and a tonic that never fails to soothe me.
Living in a culture that’s so different from the one I grew up in is an endless lesson for me. I must confess I sometimes feel like I am punishing myself with the hardships that I naively arranged for myself and with my inability to find balance when the cultural differences are so extreme. But in my more lucid moments I realize I am becoming a better person for unearthing the differences, looking them straight in the eye and being willing to bear witness to my own prejudices (which I previously thought were nonexistent) and I always make a conscious attempt to dispel the negative thoughts. And Hamduliallah I have a place to go where I feel welcome and supported and appreciated as I struggle with myself to broaden my perspectives and self-correct.
Posted by Water Dragon at 12:37 AM
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Once a month I go to a superstore here called Marjane where I load up on cleaning supplies, paper products, beauty products and some foodstuff. Occasionally I purchase something I’ve been wanting for a while … like a vacuum cleaner or a chauffage to heat the house. I also routinely buy myself a treat like any cheese that isn’t “La Vache Qui Rit” and crackers, or a medium-sized bag of peanut M&M’s (which never seem to remain unopened during the taxi ride home).
I always try to go when the store isn’t crowded because I don’t really like to shop at superstores and I prefer to get in and out as quickly as I can.
But that’s not always possible.
One deterrent to my swift shopping is the products themselves. I rarely recognize a brand name and rarely purchase brands I know because they cost a lot more. So I find myself peering at labels in French and Arabic trying to sort out if it’s the product I need. I look at the pictures and try to recognize some words. Cleaning products pose the biggest challenge.
Another deterrent is the store is constantly changing the layout. Paper napkins used to be in the front isles but now all paper products are in the back along with other household goods. Summer patio furniture now occupies the space previously devoted to kitchen utensils.
The merchandise is haphazardly priced and even then you can’t trust that the price on the product is what you will be charged at the register. And woe to the shopper who picks up a product without a bar code. Try to purchase it at the register and you’re in for a lengthy wait while someone ambles over to the register, looks quizzically at the product, then saunters off to search for its location. If you are extremely lucky, they will find another with the required sticker. More often than not you are told the product can't be located and it’s impossible for you to purchase it today. Then the cashier sets it aside.
I don't like hypermarches.
Some people like to ‘shop’ at Marjane and fill their cart to the brim with anything and everything that catches their fancy. Then they just walk away, leaving the full cart in the middle of an aisle, creating a kind of obstacle course for those actually intending to purchase the contents of their shopping cart. This seems to be a kind of leisure activity.
And while there are plenty of employees wandering around stocking shelves and arranging displays, and putting things back from overfilled and abandoned shopping carts, they aren’t very useful if I have a question about a product. To begin with, I can’t communicate with them as I can only speak a few words and phrases in Arabic -- and my French is not much better. When I do manage to get my point across, the employee generally tells me to buy what I am asking about -- or not.
After getting through all this and filling my plastic bags with my purchases, there is still the challenge of finding a taxi and schlepping the twenty-some-odd bags to my door. Of course I could always hire a carossa to wheel my purchases home when I emerge from the taxi at Bab Boujloud, but there never seems to be one handy. So I distribute the weight of the bags as evenly as possible and race down the derb before the circulation to my hands is cut off.
Once home, I survey my purchases. Invariably I have spent 1,000 DH. I see before me a relatively small display of products for the cash outlay … mostly over-packaged, brand name knock-offs and some cheaply made products from China.
I am relieved that my monthly shopping foray is over as I put everything in its proper place and sit down to finish the bag of M&M’s.
Posted by Water Dragon at 1:14 PM