Sunday, August 19, 2007

When I was growing up, Salina had a small dirty place called Bogeys. Its name being an homage to Humphry Bogart, star of many classic movies including Casablanca. Bogeys was one of those odd businesses, ones that prosper enought to stay open but were slow to adopt some modern conviences. It was located down a small residential side street in an aged commercial strip. My friend Andrew's grandparents lived a few doors away, and I always thought they had cleverly picked out a wonderful location, especially for their grandchildren. I can not remember how much a vanilla cone was, but it was a convient amount for young boys to find under the sofa, slip into the lower left pocket in their cargo shorts, and zip over on a bike ride in the afternoons. The perfect word for this perfect time is halycon.

I was a fairly nieve youth, and in retrospect I have little doubt that Bogeys had its fair share goofieness. It was located near a small college, and the drinking habits of Lutherins are legend. It seems like the type of place where the afternoon fry dude was ahead of the late 90's low-fat trend and was staying baked all summer long. It was one of those places that had a venier of family friendly, yet somehow was never able to clean up that tacky feeling you could have sitting on the benches. Salina has a hyperactive health inspector, and pure bribery was the only way they could have stayed open. I find this type of activity somehow comforting. While Im sure there was some "plan" to Bogeys, the beauty was that in being left alone it had a personality that made it a home in my heart.

Casablanca (dar bidia) Morocco is not unlike Bogeys in some ways. It certainly has a tackyness to it. A certain trashiness pervades. Yet, somehow this is a different trash. This isnt clean, its not a family friendly place. Even the fry guy would be scared away. The same things (bribes, thc, etc) that a person might find so quirky their more intense incarnation down right troublesome.

I read recently that Casa was the first town in the world laid out and designed entirely by airplane. Ive known that the town was heavily built up by the French and Spanish during their time here, but this seems to confirm that the random hand that creates beauty was held back. Its not that European colonial powers make ugly things, it is just difficult for the natural forces to take over. Could this artificial additive be connected to the slums that have become so well known there? Poverty mixed with religous extreamism is an explosive combination as the town has experienced over and over.

Im not advocating that Casa be left to mellow out on its own. That the forces of international trade will give jobs to the unwashed masses. I am trying to point out that planned expansions and modern cities often seem to lack a certain connected feeling that evolves naturally in many processes. These can help make something that would be bad, into something acceptable. But if prevented can lead to determential mixes that have the opposite effect of what the planning was trying to achieve.

Besides, who ever heard of using an air plane to plan a city?

Sadly, a few years ago Bogeys built a new building, and cleaned up its act.

I spend half of the ride home today trying to use my book (globalization and its discontents) as a pillow . I spent another part serving as a pillow for the kid next to me who passed out on my shoulder with his bus ticket in his mouth.

That above post sorta implise a dirtyness on the part of Moroccan people. Its not true. I think people here are much cleaner than most Americans would be in similar situations. I am sure I have the dirtiest house in town.

Also, it suggests that residences of suburban American could be prone to violence because they are not exposed to natural randomness and beauty.
I want to say a few things about suicide bombers. I wanted to spend my holiday weekend in Meknes, so one can imagine my shock when I found a note in my email inbox saying that "Man Blows himself up, no one [else] hurt".

The entire idea of a suicide bomber is confusing to me. Not because I do not understand war or wanting to kill the enemey. But from a practical matter it is saying that it better for a person to wear some explosives and die in their delievery rather than just putting them in a box under his seat and walking off the bus. This would not raise an eyebrow in Morocco, and if it did people would be more intested in returning the box than thinking it might blow them up. In the second senerio the worst that could happen is the same thing that is almost assuredly going to happen in the first. I think to understand the "suicide bomber", more emphisis should be given to the first part, and not just the headline grabbing trajic results that come with the second.

In the time I have been in Morocco I think we have had 3 bombings. 2 in Casablanca (see other post) earlier this year and 1 now in Meknes. I assume that a Moroccan bomber is at least as intelligent as one in any other country, so their lack of getting done what they want is confusing. At first it was gallows humor. A butt of jokes, to take our mind off of the danger and risk in our lives. But, the longer I think about it and live near it the more I worry about the people who make such an odd choice for ending their lives.

If you ask people here they will say the men are "crazy". Its probaly true, mental illness is overlooked so often or papered over with a quick phrase. Clinical depression affects millions. If we passed a man on the street suffering from a bloody compound fracture of the thigh bone, we wouldnt say "the man is sick", and walk along. We would be inclined to help, and look into the cause. If we saw a rash of men around the country, prone on the ground with crimson streaked white bones poking out under their jallabas we would need to look into root of such problems, it must go further than a soccer red card. These bombings are a depressive cry for help, in an international language.

A few days ago that in Iraq petrol lorries were blown up killing hundreds. The perpetrators were mad. Pathological, but also angry. Having lived amoung Moroccans, and enjoyed cities such as Meknes, I do not think these are the same acts. It is a big place, so some people are going to be upset with forigners. Some Americans hate Arabic people. Facts of life. But, Moroccans are not an angry people and they are not xenophoic.

I suggest that a cause is that Morocco is stuck in Africa, but wishes it was invited to the European party, or was more firmly part of the Middle East. But, geography (and other things) has left it stranded out on the edge of both unable to fully realize the benifiets of a closer assoication with either. Morocco is the exotic bridesmaid. It is this sence of alienation, and the real effects of economic depression, that lie as causes of this psycosis.

Morocco is about the size of California, Ive been told. I am sure that if one were to parse though newpapers over the last year and a half in that state, there were at least 3 instances of people engaged in some anti-society act that would result in their death. Holdups, hostage taking, shoot outs. Not that much different.

To summeries: Morocco has suicide bombings not because it is full of "insurgants" or Al-Quidia ops, but because they have become a trendy way for young confused hurt Muslim men to end their lives.

Of comment. I read that the tour bus that was targeted was saved because of the quick work of the bus driver. First, I have never seen a large bus do anything quickly. They are the blue whales of the highway. Second, what visual clues does a person give off that they are going to blow themselves up. If they give any, they are doing their job poorly. If they give none, how did this driver know?

Meknes. A lot of people do not realize how great Meknes is. I love it. It is just friendly nice place that I have found is very welcoming to foreign visitors. It has all the aspects of a major Moroccan city, without being overly tackyly touristy. It is renowned for having the best candy (near and dear to my heart) and good carpets. It does not show off, to cater and pander like Marakesh. Nor does it rudely demand your attention like Fez. It quietly offers itself and that is something that I appricate very much.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I lost my shoes. There are some really great ways to lose them, maybe in a kayak accident or stolen at gun point. This has to be the dumbest way.

I was elaited to be invited to a wedding fest, I dont like to be a door crasher but Moroccan culture is a little more vauge about invitations than American. Embossed paper is expensive, but word of mouth isnt. So at 1130am, I biked over (with helmet!) to Mulay Abdulahamans. I tend to call all weddings by the name of the father figure, mostly because they seem to be the ones in control of everything. It wasnt Mulays wedding, I think it was his daughtors. Truely that part was not important, and at this lunchen fest I never once saw either the bride or groom. I like to wear what I call "traditional" sandles, because many people have them. Really, they are imported (China?) plastic sandles. They are very sturdy, and very cheap. Most of them are blue (this is key).

When you arrive at someones house it would be impolite to track dirt into their rooms. So you take your shoes off at the door. Which is a simple process in plastic sandles (another reason to wear them). At large gatherings the piles of shoes grows to impressive size, looking like you have arrived to a grade school sock hop. Instead we all hang out barefoot thinking "damn, that dudes feet have been treated harshly". The food came, we ate, and pretty much as a group we stood to leave. Because everyone is looking for shoes at the door it creates a small bottleneck, and I was at the end. As the crowd thins and I move to the front I do not find my fairly new size 44 blue plastic sandles. What is left are two mismatched, smaller blue plastic sandles.

This leads to two conclusions. Either one man came wearing drasticly mismatched sandles and worked a little prestidigitation. Or two men came, switched one foot each and now have mismatched pairs. I am hesitant to assign sinister motives, and am more concerned about the lack of observation skills in my town. While the right footed sandle is close to the correct size (its a 41), the left is truely too small for my foot, which makes me think someone in town has a left that is way to large for them. In a week of strangeness, which I am attributing entirely to the informally named "owner of the stars", this was the icing.

Time to go back to market and buy another pair.


I looked back on some of these "posts". I am unimpressed. But, more importantly, it is hard to believe how quickly this time has gone.

I was spending some time with a few vols from my cohort this weekend, and we all could not believe how soon we were done. As the summer starts to fade, and I know that I have a mostly mild winter then the trip home I know that it is coming quick.

This does raise the issue of counting down months. It is my feeling that one should count a month as finished at the end of the month. But, strangely some vols count off a month at the begining of the month. Strangeness. Think about it this way, when school is out, Ill be home.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

All I need in life I learned from the Iraqi War (continously updated as the war continues).************************************************

1. Things that seem simple can be very complicated.

2. Try not to be in the middle of someone elses family feud.

3. Thou shall not kill.

4. Drink lots of water and use oil sparingly.

5. If you are going someplace dangerous, take a lot of friends.

6. The world is full of lots of different people, most of them are nice, and most of them dont like guns any more than you do.

7. It is ok to be wrong, its not ok to be delusional about it.
I might have mentioned it, but I only recently bought a fan. Keep in mind that last summer my town was without power in the daylight hours, so any percieved extream slowness in this case, was only normal Scott slowness.
My little box of joy cost 100dh, I should have bargined more but standing in the hardware store the idea of a fan for such small amount of money seemed reasonable. If a the quality of a price can be found by compairing the overall pleasure and utility of a product, weighted against the amount paid, then I think I got a very good deal. Those guys were suckers.
Tempering this, I can not claim to be an expert on fan technology. I have in my life owned one fan that I felt was "a really good fan". All others have been pretty much the same with minor variations. The product currently winding my feet is in the second class. It is on the small side, and has few visable studry metal parts. If I was to carry this fan onto an airplane, I feel confident it would breeze though security. My coke bottle and Tevas would get more scrutiny.
It is a 2foot square box. White in color, with odd gray aerodynamic trim on the top. The grill is also gray. It has three speeds, and a two hour timer. A simple need, simple fan.
As mentioned I do not stay current with advances in fan design. Many fans sold here strangely feature a rotating grill. This is so absuredly useless and cosmetic that it can only have been created by Americans looking for a way to sexy up an otherwise normal household appliance with a feature I neither need nor want, the camreraphoning of the world. My fan has a switch to turn the movements of the grill on and off. Gnomes within seem to dictate if the grill will rotate clock or counter wise. My friend a few hours away has a fan with 4 seperate moving circular grills arranged in a confusing square. But, Im not the Mr. Fancy Pants he is. In theory, these moving grills should create a "spin" to the air current pushing it further without dying out. Same prinple behind throwing footballs in a tight Sunday afternoon spiral, and putting grooves in gunbarrles. In reality, it does nothing except provide a little visual distraction. I keep the switch turned on.
A common conversation I have is to compaire the current weather with weather in the United States. I try to explain that while Kansas does not have the same heat that we have, there are places, like Arizona, that are similar. It is hard to summerize a place like America and people here are unsure exactly what is American weather. They are however confident that European weather is a lot cooler. Thus, my fans name is "Europa". If the economic success of France and Spain can not be equaled right here at home, at least some of the comfort of the climate might be.
Not to be overlooked is the tranquile element of fan sound. I read a piece of writing influenced by Eastern philosophy few years ago about the beauty of silence. The author said he did not play music as background noise, that there was entirely to much of that in this world and to appriciate silence (with natures orchestra) was a good thing. Unluckaly, this chop souy (American muddle with faux-Eastern flaver) made a small impression on me. Before, I felt some conflict about turning on a noise machine, as if silance was a comlicated and intricate sand drawing and my stero was blowing it all away. But, Ive learned it is easy to get silance back, simply turn off your noise. It can be appriciated then. My time here has me wondering about the wisdom of the author. His ideas are better suited to a different world. The first world. The smooth purring whiring sounds like everything is all right in the world. I wonder if those same geniously of marketing that worked out the grill could help design extra calming sounds for the fan. Certainly not all are the same. Some must be more relaxing, more tranqual than others. This would put a fan in the first catagory.
My observations are antidotal, but it seems like many more fans are for sale this year at market. It take this as a good sign of improved economics and more modern conviences.

************First there were glass containers for our soda that we named "bottles". Then came steel and aluminium "cans". Now we are back to bottles with plastics. Here in Morocco, all three states of drink container technology exist more or less peacefuly side by side in the store refrigerator. I like the glass bottles best. It has an odd retro look and feel. They have solid reasuring protective heft of thick cold glass in your hand. Good in case of a fight too.