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 ...


Blogger anyblock said...

Oatmeal and Esperanto — fresh, neutral. What was the Moroccan oatmeal recipe? And could you not use an apostrophe for the ayn?

1:54 PM  

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