Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Money. Curren. Flus.

My favorate way to say money is "flus". I think it sounds like something that a rapper would make up to talk about buying lots of "ice". It rolls of the tounge, rhymes with everything, and sounds as slick, smooth, and sexy as Gorden Gecko. Expect to hear me us it when I get home.

Morocco has very simple money if your life does not get very complicated. If you
buy normal, simple things in large major towns then it is no problem at all. Most people even can quote the price in either Arabic or French (sometimes English or Spanish), which just makes it even easier for European type tourists. The official unit of currency is the Durham. Like in North Carolina.

The Durham comes in coins of .5, 1, 2, 5 and 10. Bills of 20, 50, 100, and 200. There are two different 5Dh coins and 20 Dh bills. They are available in two completely different styles. Clearly its about a newer release slowly taking over the older style, but all the same its a little confusing at first. You can also find different coins of .5 in value, but they look the same.

Now for the confusing part. There are more coins. Centems. They are (metrically) 1/100th of a Dh. These come in 5,10,20 and 50. There are at least 3 versions of some of these coins, but its not a problem. What really sets them apart is that they are all gold colored and there is no confusion after that. You might wonder if the 50 centim is the same as the half Dh. It is, and it look alike (see above). The problem is that almost no on really "uses" the centim. When its quoted I usually end up confused because it comes as a bit of a suprise. Bread bought directly from a baker often ends up with some confusing centim amount. 1 and 1.5 L bottles of Coke are priced with them, but usually stores round up. Its a difference of (really!) 1 cent. Im flexable in this regard. Thankfully, most prices come in rounded off durham amounts, so when a centim shows up it tends to float around in PCVs pockets for some time. Also because they are of relative little value, I do not know anyone who saves them up for a big purchess like a candy bar. I just used a considerably sized 6 month old pile of mine in paying off my bill at the local veggie stand.

Now for an extra wrinkle. My veggie stand doesnt charge in either centimes, or durham. They only work in the ryal. 20 ryal makes 1 durham. It would be like only talking about prices by the nickel. I have heard that the ryal is the Berber unit of money, but they dont seem to be minting any not being in charge of the government. I can not tell if the Ryal is more used in rural and poor areas or in Berber areas because they are (sadly) often one and the same. Interestingly, you can show someone a bill clearly marked 20 dh and they will tell you its a 400 ryal bill. On no part of this bill are the words ryal, or the number 400. This can cause a bit of a sticker shock, my veggie bill came to a little over 4000 ryal. You might think that the ryal would allow for more exact charges for things, such as 17 ryal. But, in reality almost everything is either in whole or half durham amounts. I have heard that sometimes prices will get quoted in centimes, but I havent had that problem yet. My unproven theory about the ryal is that the durham came along more recently in large part to solve inflation after France went back to their own continate.

Recently I had a 20 Dh bill completely disinegrate in half. I spent an entire day trying to pass it off in various towns as I traveled, but couldnt find anyone who would accept it. Appearly a cut bill is not considered legal tender, or no one had some scotch tape. I couldnt figure out exactly which was the predominate reason, both were given (sometimes by the same person).

The final word on money in Morocco is "surf". Great for going to the beach, bad as a career option. In this context, it means "change". As in, "do you have some change, I cant break this 100 durham bill?" No one has change. Generally, my living allowence is payed out in 100 or 200 durham notes. Usually the 200. This is common practice across the country and makes common since when dealing with paying out one month of standard living. But, making that big note work is a real exersise in diplomany. Few shop owners will flat out refuse to sell something due to lack of small change, but they will be very unhappy with you. This can also lead to an uncomfortable period of time when they (or a young child represenative) have to leave the shop, walk down the street and find change while you stand around wondering just how it is this happens so often. I have found myself hoarding 20 durham notes, or the ever useful 10 dH coins trying to bluff my way though a conversation with people who I judge have the change so I can have a little more spending flexability. I suspect they are doing the same thing to me. The change always seems to be available somewhere, but it is never where you are.

Just for those who are curious. The exchange rate is around 8.5dH to a 1 US $. It has been falling slowly, and everyone tends to still use a 10:1 whersion. Who has that exact rate right now? The Euro.

Monday, January 15, 2007

So I guess this should be the "Spending Christmas in a Different Place/Culture" post.
Christmas came, and went. It was hard for me to get in the mood this year. I usually rely on intoxicating levels of other peoples consumerism to help fuel my more pop culture holiday spirits. The lack of pure MidWestern fa la la la la, combined with relatively warm temperatures in "my" Saraha desert, the sand, the palm trees, and the absolute promise of no snow threw me out of my normal seasonal moods. Im sure it would have been much the same if I had moved to L.A. I don't want this to sound like pined for the holiday. If anyone is really curious, I spent Christmas Eve Eve, and Eve talking to my family on Skype, and most of Christmas sleeping, hiking, and cooking.

There are those who would ask if that jolly old elf and all he stands for has made it over to Morocco and if His message has penetrated though the tight mesh of Islam. Sorta, but not by much. No one in my town seemed really aware of the holiday, or at least pointed it out to me. Since I am a lighting rod for all things outside the world of Morocco, I feel someone might have brought it up if awareness was high. Maybe everyone in town still thinks I am Jewish (I have pointed out on many occasions that I am not).

Two fresh memories to share:
First. Riding north to Errachidia in my favorate bus (the TransBougafer) thinking at the time how odd it was I had not yet seen much sign of Christmas. Suddenly, a modern sleigh (Toyota 4x4) sailed past us filled with a happy family and stamped with a Spanish licence plate. Their back window was half covered with a giant Santa Clase and Felise Navidad. We continued to play passing tag with them for another hour until we got to the station. Maybe it was the Clase family returning north.

Second. After a long and relaxing hike being invited into a house to drink some tea with the two sons recently returned for the L'Eid holiday (see next post). This caused a decorm problem because the desert hike had caused my socks to become less than Snuggles fresh&white. They were thoughful enought to not this out, and thats good because I like this family. Halfway though what turned out to be a 5 hour long visit, I noticed they had a Santa on their shelf. From my seated vantage point, it seemed to be the exact same 1970's era battery operated bell swinging Santa that my family has, and brings out of storage every year for his one month of faded glory. I had always questioned keeping the old fellow around, but now, I think he might be one of my favorate signs of Christmas. No one talked about it.
I do not know if the stars and the moon have aligned, but due to a freak cosmic chance the moon and the sun have shifted together and placed the Muslim feast of L'Eid (spellings differ) along with the Gregorian based fete of New Years Eve.

I think that most of you are familure with the more Western of these two holidays. To be honest, I have never been much impressed with it. But, this is not a post about that.
This is a post about L'Eid! Or as a greating, "MBrook L'Eid!". To get the prounciation just right, the "E" should sound as an "EA" combo. So much so that I have seen many people spell it Aid, or L'Aid. Also, the "L" is jammed on in the French way, so demphisise it. If at this point you are tripping over simple words and the concentration of rules causes you to question even your English, welcome to my world where speaking follows the same rules as horse shoes and hand granades.

The feast is a commereization of a true act of piety. Abraham was set to kill his son Ishmael. The boy was bound, the knife was raised. But, knowing the sincerity of Ab's heart, God did not make him go though with it. Exchanging a errant ram for his son (who was as hairy as one), he sealed the fate for millions of father goats down through the milinia.

Let me say that this was obviously an act of God. I have spent much of the last week following and talking to shepards, and it is a rare moment indeed when they let even the smallest fall behind and get lost. Let alone overlooking a large male with horns getting stuck in the brambles. Today I talked to one who was carrying a young kid as gently and securely as if it were his own Ishmael.

Each family here buys (or raises) their own ram. Those who did not have one already been picking them up at market over the last month, so that yesterday you could hear the bleatings all over town. To be honest, in a more agragrian town like mine, this is not that uncommon on most days. But, I have been told that in larger cities it is a sight to see and hear when horn honks are replaced with baaaa. I have seen goats recently stuffed into the trunks of grand taxis, slid under souk buses, and (once) slung over a mans shoulder while he was driving a moter scooter.

On L'Eid the sun rose warm and as full as the promise of tomorrow. It was perfect weather, and I suppose if I were a ram it would have been as good of a day as any to be sacrificed. This is a time that sons who are working abroad or in a major city like Rabat come home. There is that rich wholesome feeling of families enoying eachother. Groups of teenage girls roamed the streets, dashing into one house and back out the side door just as quick. Boys gathered on corners to buy and share candy. And if you listen closely, you can even hear family fights as the prodical son tells his parents about the new job he took last week.

I went for a walk this morning not knowing what exactly to expect. One of the first people I spotted was my local Imam from the mosque. I have often thought about how he is a young fellow, probally in his early 30s. He was walking quick enought to be called a trot down the street sharpening a rather impressive blade that he used to wave out a hurried hello as he flashed a bright smile. I didnt have the heart to call out a kindergarden teacher's warning about the danger inherent his Jason Voorhees-esqu behavior. It was his moment to shine as he was called from house to house, to carry out his duty to sever arteries and windpipes with a twist of the wrist and a wisper of prayer.

As I stood around the local shop, the single most talked about killing was of Saddam. Poor timing from the persepective of those here. Nothing says "Stop the Violence" like a hanging. I tried my best to explain that it was not actually Americans who hung him, but real honest Iraqis. I think we all had a decent grasp of what went on, but we stuck to our stories just the same.
I finished my tour of town as the last ram was put down to find my neighbors already well on their way to preparing lunch. The ladder that was used last month to replaster the house was now doing duty to hang the now dead, decapitated, and skined ram as my friendly neighbor Usfe worked quickly and carefully to take out each of the improbally shaped internal organs to be cleaned by his neice, while two young boys of 5 or 6 watched nearby listening to The Band (self-titled). That night, as well as the next, and those after will find dinner plates pilled high with mutton until every bit had been consumed. Eyes and brain too.

You might wonder why the two boys were listening to The Band. I would like to think that even from a young age they appriciate good music. But, its because that is what I was listening to on my iPod. The enire day has a feeling of Thanksgiving, of appricating what you have, and those who you can enjoy it with. Looking around the table, being happy in the moment...right before you stuff your face and fall asleep. The youth of M'ssici liked The Band almost as much as I do, even if they did not yet understand the profound connecion between history, family, celebrations, and roast meat. But, I think they are getting closer now, and maybe the New Year will find us all understanding each other a little better.

***There will be those who ask why the boys were listening to the "Self-Titled" and not "The Last Waltz". It is because I dont have that release here. We all make some sacrifices.***
I was never a fan of the full moon, until I realized the utility of being able to find the bathroom at night.