Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Today was the first of moharram, the first month in the hijra calendar. It was a holiday, so the library was closed. I got some work, but not much, done. I watched Vanity Fair and thought that it was pretty but overall underwhelming. And the dance number in it was terrible! The Importance of Being Earnest is a much better Rese Witherspoon vehicle. Maybe it was one of those movies you had to watch on a large screen?

Anyhow, the thing with the Islamic calendar is that since it's a lunar calendar, the moon has to be seen so that the new month canbe declared, so there's no countdown to the New Year or anything, because you don't know when it's going to happen, until it's already happened.
Going Native

Here's a picture of me in my djellaba:

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hajj After-Party (now with food picture)

So, all Friday afternoon, and again yesterday, there was loud music coming from the apartment above mine. My housemate Kristen and I presumed that it was a wedding, but didn't investigate. Yesterday, I was at home by myself and the music was, again, on. So I went upstairs and was invited in.

They were having a dance party! The reason for this party was that the upper-middle-aged couple that lives up there had recently returned from the hajj. I had plenty of fun, and the women there made me dance around (I wore the djellaba that I recently bought), and there were delicious sweets (cookies, marzipan-stuffed dates), and tea.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Rock the casbah

So, on Wednesday afternoon, I had been invited for tea at my host family's house in the Oudaya, the casbah where I had lived the first time that I was here in Rabat. As I exited the casbah and crossed the street towards the medina, I noticed that there were several 2M television vans outside of the lower casbah door. So I asked a police/security-type guy what was going on. He told me that the station was having a party. I asked him if it was an open party, and he told me that I would be welcome to attend.

I went back into the casbah and was allowed by the security guards at the entrance into the building traditionally called the medersa with no problem. (A madrasa, in classical Arabic, and medersa in colloquial Moroccan, is a school. The building in the casbah was a palace, and not a school.) I went into the main courtyard of the building, and was seated. A woman came up to me and asked me how I had gotten in; I told her that a guard had invited me (which was true, really.) She had me fill up a form (name, address, national identification number) and assure her that I would be able to stay until the end.

It turns out that 2M was recording a series of musical soirées featuring artists from all over Morocco. There were five different groups that played; the last one featured awesome hip-shaking from the high Atlas. I didn't catch the names of any of the performers, but people told me that they ranged from really famous popular singers to well-respected folk groups.

At some point during the performance, the wind picked up (the performance was in the palace courtyard, which had been covered for, I believe, the occasion--one of the Fulbrighters lives right across from the palace witha view over the courtyard, and it wasn't covered the other day.) It had been raining earlier in the day and, apparently, a large amount of rain had gathered. A ball of rain fell on the performance area, soaking half a dozen Berbers. About thirty seconds later, a second ball of rain fell from the sky, this time hitting the other half-dozen members of the troupe. This second ball also hit a power adapter, and the lights went out.

Long story short, the event lasted well past two in the morning. The musical performances themselves were long finished, but there was a portion during which the host of the program interviewed the leader of each group. I was so tired! I had also been extremely hungry, but there was a food break with brewat, pastila, quiche, pizza, and pastries. During the food break, the woman who was in charge of the audience (and who, cleverly, had sequestered my jacket, among others, so that it both looked good on television and audience members couldn't sneak out early) invited me to come back for the next day's taping and performances, and told me that I could bring some friends if I wanted. Start time was 6pm, she said.

On Thursday, I went back with a couple of fellow Fulbrighters in tow. Several changes from the previous day existed: first, the interviews with the group leaders were conducted first. That way, the audience would want to stay around for the good stuff! Second, the tarps covering the courtyard were no longer three individual sections but, instead, one very large covering.

The performances ranged from extremely loud and too long for my taste to awesome. Both nights had at least one performance with lip syncing rather than live singing (this was by the musicians that could be described more as pop/rock than as folk; in the interview portion, one of the folk perfomers seemed to have no idea how to even hold a microphone.) One of the performers, during his set, was so excited to lead the audience in hand-clapping (and saying the Moroccan equivalent of yeah) that he forgot that he was supposed to be "singing" and so they had to start over again. (On the first night, there were three takes of the audience clapping! We didn't even know how to clap correctly for television!)

Moustapha Bourgogne
was one of the pop stars on Thursday; one of his songs included the word "internet" on a pretty regular basis and, if my Moroccan Arabic is getting up to speed, had a chorus that roughly translates to, "everything keeps changing, but you are still like honey." One of the folklore groups that performed was called the Abidat Erma Khouribga; at the reception at the end, one of the guys who had been sitting next to my table introduced us to their leader whose costume for the performance had a completely different color scheme than the rest of the group: he wore white slippers with black socks, they yellow with white socks. His djellaba was dark blue instead of light yellow, and his shoulder bag was white. (On their web site, which I strongly recommend you take a look at for a few minutes, the color schemes are different yet again!)

And today, the performance from Thursday was on television!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bureaucracy at (even more) work

So, the day after I spent a lot of time at the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs, I spent even more time there, as I had been told to go back the next morning at 10:30 to meet with the appropriate person.

So, I went back and waited and waited. Eventually, I was told that he was actually in Meknes for business, and that I should go back the next day.

During this time, the same three office employees that had been in the reception area succeeded in printing out a piece of paper with hadith (traditions of Muhammad, PBUH) on it, taping it to the wall, deciding that it was way too small as it couldn't be read from across the room, photocopying it on a larger sheet of paper, and hanging that up on the wall instead.

Anyhow, a ministry employee was eventually called to show me the library, which turned out to be closed (why don't you just wait? he suggested, it will be open again in about two hours) and then I was taken to the National Library (where I've been plenty of times) and where, eventually, it came out that there are microfilm copies of these things on file (so I don't actually need permission to look at the originals.) I had looked through the printed catalog of the library and hadn't come across them, though. Not everything is in the printed catalog, it turns out. Alas. Frustration.

In other news, I've gotten to look at some nice old maps and views of Rabat, and have a map of what the city was (thought to be) like in the seventeenth century. I don't think that it's accurate enough, though, as it shows some buildings that I thought were from later ...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bureaucracy at work

So, as part of my research, what I would really, really like to look at is the hawalat al-ahbas for Rabat. For those of you not in the know, a habous (plural ahbas) is a type of land trust through which property remains in a family, or the rents for which are in perpetuity used for the benefit of some sort of pious organization, or somesuch. This type of foundation, which was introduced into Morocco with the Arab conquest, is a really, really good source of information about land use, the populations using buildings, wealth (those founding these things had resources to spare), poverty (those benefiting from the ahbas), and urban history.

What I want to look at is the records from the first half of the seventeenth century, to see the extent to which the new morisco populations here in Rabat owned property, both urban and extra-muros. In order to do this, even though I already have a research clearance letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, I need to get permission from the appropriate authorities before I can muck around in actual documents.

Who is the gatekeeper for these records? you ask.
Well, today I spent a good chunk of the day at the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs.

I admit that I showed up at an inopportune moment, during an hour that could reasonably be construed as lunchtime (although many of the hours that fall roughly in the middle of the day here are someone's lunchtime.) I waited for about an hour and a half before the appropriate authority returned. At that time, the office secretaries let me in to the reception area of that office. While their boss (male; all three secretaries were female) was out of the office, this is what happened: one of the secretaries put her head on her desk. Another put her head on her desk and played a tajwid (Quranic recitation) tape. The third, who appeared to have a full document open and being worked on on her computer, asked, "what's shufan?"

It was a recipe!

Shufan is oatmeal. The Moroccan word for it is shaiir (with an ayn, but the caret that I use for the ayn in situations in which I can't superscript a c does something to the html, and besides, those of you who speak Arabic don't need the appropriate transliteration, and to thsoe of you who don't speak Arabic, it makeds no difference, no?)

The woman's co-workers (who responded with their heads on their desks the whole time) didn't know what it was, so I told her (I had learned the word the first time that I was here in Morocco because for a while I just wanted to eat something that tasted neutral.) This isn't the point of this story, though: today, my paperwork was photocopied, but I need to get back there again tomorrow at ten in the morning.

I'm hoping that I actually get to look at habous documents sometime within the next month ...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dar Bneena

So, my housemate Kristen and I now have a house blog. It's called Dar Bneena, which means "tasty house" in Moroccan colloquial Arabic.

BTW, there was some video and many pictures of Yasmina taken at Eid, the content of which you can imagine (it's the part that happened between Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening.) If you have any interest in this, let me know and I can email it to you. Otherwise, I figured that it might turn the more gentle stomachs out there.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

That's the Noble Animal

Wednesday morning:

Yasmina, left, with Nadim, right.
Nadim belongs to a nearby relative of my host family.

Masud, a neighbor's sheep.

Wednesday Evening:

Yasmina, center
Tafaya, a preparation with caramelized onions, raisin, and cinnamon, is traditionally served on the evening of Eid. Moroccan dishes such as couscouses (casaacis is the proper plural form) and tajines traditionally conceal the meat in a mound in the center of the dish.

Thursday afternoon:

Yasmina, center (Unknown, left, Nadim, right)

Yasmina left, center, right

Friday afternoon:

From left: Masud, unknown, Yasmina (in covered dish at edge)
As part of Eid, neighbors take each other dishes of the meals that they have prepared, sharing the meat from the sheep that they have sacrificed.

Saturday afternoon:

Pizza: tomato sauce, cheese (very little: cheese here is relatively expensive and it doesn't get piled on pizza in the say that it does Stateside), green peppers. Delicious.

Yasmina, potatoes.

This afternoon, a neighbor from across the street (from my apartment, not across the street from my host family's house in the Oudaya casbah, where I went for Eid), brought us over a plate of couscous.

In addition to the skewer and charcoal vendors doing brisk business, and the knife sharpeners setting up shop with their wheels until all hours, the municipality of Rabat gets in on the holiday. On Wednesday morning, a sanitation services employee knocked on the door to distribute this:

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


So, this isn't exactly timely reporting, but I had mentioned in a previous post that there are skinny Santas for photo ops and that they sell inflatable Santa dolls, despite an apparent lack of custom. Here's a Casablanca-based blog with a good picture of the inflatables. They're not around any more (it's really a New Year's thing, I'm told), but here's a photo that I took while I was in Marrakech for New Year's.

The photo that I took immediately before it (which came out blurry, unfortunately) was horrifying in that the small child's head was being held in a seemingly-vicelike grip by the small Santa on the right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Yasmina in the market, Yasmina at home

Yasmina, second from left
The green paint on his horns indicates that he's been spoken for.

Tipping the scales at 53 kilos

In the living room, before the trip upstairs to the roof

Last year, in a Fes butcher shop the day before Eid, on the television in the shop was a program addressing the finer points of home sheep butchery. (My Eid lamb writeup from last year is here; it's under January 23rd.)

This year, my host family (the folks for whom I bought the ram, and with whom I stayed for the first three and a half weeks that I was here this year, and who were some of the first people whom I met in Morocco when I was first here in 2003, and who invite me over for The World's Most Delicious Couscous every Friday) bought a DVD to the same effect.

The usual items on sale on the street in the medina have been supplanted by knives, and the knife sharpeners (who I don't even remember having noticed other than occasionally until about three days ago are out in full force: I went outside pretty late, and there were two, whirring away at their sharpening stones, in the two blocks that I walked. (Notice that the grilling accessories begin to the right of this particular knife display.)

(You Could) Win a Mutton!

So, I think that I may have mentioned it in my massive email from about this time last year (that is, from this point in the lunar calendar, but about eleven days in the future from now last year in the Gregorian), but in the pre-Eid season, this country has the best mutton-related advertising ever (I don't remember there being any when I lived in Egypt.)

One supermarket, Label Vie, has both billboard and print ads for the sheep that you could win:

There is also a television commercial--I forget what it's for, I think some sort of appliance--in which you can also win a mutton. There's a boy who's about eight or ten who says, in one of the final shots, "jameel jiddan jiddan jiddan" (roughly translated: "really really really awesome") and then the final shot consists of his television-commercial dad sitting on the sofa, looking content, and he stretches his right arm in back of him, where the sheep is, and he puts his arm around the sheep. Did I mention that the actors in this commercial look extremely happy?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hey, that's right where I put it!

The above is a phrase that is good to be able to use, for the most part.

However, when it refers to one's laundry and its position in the washing machine, this is a clear indication that the washing machine hasn't done a very good job of washing it. Redistributing dirt, maybe, but not washing.
Oh, Sheep!

I finally brought my bicycle to the apartment the other day--it had been staying with my host family in the Oudaya, and generally took up half of their hallway. (I wanted to clear it with the landlord first, figuring that tenant-protection laws here probably aren't what they are in Spain. Of course I can keep my bicycle in the apartment. He seemed surprised that I even asked, but did ask me to lean it against the part of the wall that has tiles, instead of the part taht doesn't have tiles, since the tiles are easy to wipe clean if any dirt gets on them.)

So, today, I finally took my first (sort of) Moroccan bicycle ride (I had ridden over to the Fulbright office before, but that didn't really count.) I went south along the beach road, thinking that I might hit the weekly Sunday souq at Temara. I didn't make it that far, though, because I found the source of the sheep.

The sheep souq is huge, maybe a city block in size, and it's madness: it seems as if the families who sell the sheep and come in from the countryside to do so set up camp, and they have little restaurant setups, and there's a (shoddy) ferris wheel even, and whatnot. Oh, yeah, and there are hundreds of sheep being carted around, and lazing about, and being looked at in the tooth and carried over people's shoulders.

The thing is, I didn't take my camera. I usually take my camera on bike rides, but for some reason today I thought better of it. Sigh.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


So, this morning's project was the selection, purchase, and transport of a sheep for Eid. The ram is adorable; I named him Yasmina. My computer's brain is full and I need to delete piles of things before I can load any new photos, but let me tell you, Yasmina takes a mean picture.

The taxis used for transporting the Eid sheep are more trucklike than regular taxis. Alas.
The vendors didn't quite understand why I wanted to keep a copy of the receipt that is rubber-stamped with the words "mouton payé," but they humored me. (The ram was 53 kilos at 38 dirhams a kilo; that's 2014 dirhams, which is about $220.)

Also today, I bought fresh milk. As in, warm. This is not just because it's been stored at room temperature (which is pretty cold at the moment--I'm wearing a hat, scarf, and a sweater inside the house. I would wear gloves, but then it would be more difficult to type.)

On other days, whenever I've passed by the store that sells fresh milk (it seems like a better idea to buy it from a store than from one of the guys who sells it out of large plastic containers off the back of his bicycle, yes?), it's been closed, or if it's been open, I've had no need for milk, or have been en route somewhere, or somesuch. But today, I went food shopping and on my way home, a crowd of people was waiting and waiting and waiting for the milk store guy to return (the store itself was open, but there was no one working and nothing to be sold), and so I joined them, and bought delicious unhomogenized unpasteurized millk. I boiled half of it when I got home and used the other half to make mahalabiyya and chocolate pudding.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Connected, and preparing for Eid

As of today, there is internet in the apartment. This is ridiculously exciting. I anticipate that, among other things, it means that I will update this blog more often than I have been.

Tomorrow I am going to go buy a sheep for my host family. Eid, the holiday in which each household slaughters a ram to commemorate the sacrifice of Isaac (hey, scripture scholars, do I have the right guy here?), is on Wednesday.

They sell them at the Marjane, the local hypermarché.

Apparently, they also sell them in some neighborhoods pretty far from town. Following is, translated, the exact dialogue that I had with my host family as to the whereabouts of these Eid-sheep selling lots (and they do sell them in parking lots, much like moveable eatable white Christmas trees.) In Tetouan, where I was last year before Eid, they sell them in the center of the medina. Here, I saw a sheep being carted on a cart through the medina, but I haven't seen any large-scale sheep lots within the town.

Me: So, where do they sell them here in Rabat?
Host family kids: In [such-and-such] a neighborhood. You have to take a bus there.
Me: So, do you take the sheep on the bus to get back home?

This caused the host family kids to howl with laughter.

Me: So ... if you don't take a bus, how do you get the sheep home.
Host family mother: You take a taxi.
And the kids didn't laugh at that, because it wasn't a joke.

But I thought that it was pretty funny. Of course the sheep gets a taxi.