(with, of course, all due respect to mr. e e cummings)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Itha kunta fi almaghreb...

    I've heard it from several people now: "Itha kunta fi almaghreb, fa la tastaghreb."  If you're in Morocco, don't be surprised by anything-- anything is possible.  It was an idea that we always expressed in Syria with "Ahlan bi Suria" ("Welcome to Syria") and honestly, it was a little more appropriate there than here.  Generally speaking, we have a schedule here according to which things happen.  There have been very few surprise holidays, trips, or guest speakers, and as I mentioned earlier, we live in the lap of comparative luxury, so there is little in the way of shocks in the way of living conditions.

    To give you some idea of how things go day to day here, maybe I'll just give you a brief tour.

    On the macro level, I am living and studying in Tangier (Tanja), at the northern edge of the African continent and the western edge of the Arabic/Islamic "world."  It seems to me that Tangier is more like the Casablanca of Hollywood than the real Casablanca is.  Back in its heyday, Tangier was the destination of choice for carousing Americans and Europeans seeking release from social norms.  Oddly enough, the international zone of Tangier, governed by a committee of representatives from European nations, provided a perfect place for that.  Today, you still see traces of British, Spanish, and French influence in Tangier.  Most signs and menus are in French (with perhaps Arabic underneath) and most Tanjawi people (Tangerines?) speak the local dialect of Arabic (darija), French and Spanish to varying degrees, and a smattering of English and even German.  The language of the Moroccan interior is much more "pure" Arabic, but Tangier's proximity to Spain and history of occupation makes it unique in its degree of integration of languages and cultures.  Besides the Moroccans who live here, you can find a sizable minority of West Africans who either are trying or have tried to get to Europe, as well as a fading representation of the older generation of Europeans who knew Tangier when.

    As I think I mentioned earlier, my center of operations is the ritzy-ish American School in Tangier, which is apparently very expensive to attend as a student.  We're somewhat of a compound a la Saudi Arabian oil companies, with green grass and palm trees surrounded by a gated wall beyond which is a residential neighborhood.  Last weekend, I went out exploring by myself for the first time in the city and am now proud of my ability to navigate at least some of the small streets and alleys in the neighborhood of the school.  Our neighborhood is called Ain Qatiyut ("Kitty Oasis," I think).  (I'm not joking about the translation.)  One of my favorite landmarks is the malbana nearby, which is something like a deli and at which a young man works who apparently has made friends with CLS students in the past and is eager to do so again.  Another favorite is a maktaba (bookstore) that reminds of Capitol Hill Books in DC: tomes line the walls up to the ceiling, and I very slowly and badly discussed my favorite Syrian poet with the shopkeeper.  I'm finding that the most famous Arabic-language poets are something like rock stars in the Middle East/North Africa-- everyone knows them and loves at least one.

    Anyway, that's probably more introduction to the city than you ever wanted, but the upshot is...itha kunta fi almaghreb...


  1. I think they might actually be called Tangerines (at least I believe I heard my Fessi professor, who calls himself a vegetable, call people from Tangier Tangerines). I also like your description of Tangier and had a similar feeling when I was there. Do you think it feels like a city trying to find its identity? It sounds like all is going well and I hope you're able to enjoy yourself at least a little. Peace from Minnesota, Zack

  2. Hey Zack-- I don't know if Tangier feels like it's searching for an identity so much as it acts like the whole identity think is overrated anyway...people pretty much just use whatever language or custom comes to mind first and if that doesn't work, move on through whatever else they've got on hand until something clicks. I guess it seems very...adaptive?...here. And from the number of times we've had class discussions about the diversity of cultures, languages, etc., in Morocco and especially the north, it doesn't seem like people are too bothered by this. But also many of the people I know here are not Tanjawi in origin. Thanks for the good wishes!