Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Old Medina

A unique part of many North African cities is the medina, or old city. (Not to be confused with Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia.) The Arabic word means “city” or “town,” and this was usually all there was at the time the French arrived. Many existing cities were destroyed to make room for French settlements, but in the case of Rabat the medina was preserved and the ville nouvelle was built around it. 
I’ve now been to the Rabat medina three times, but the first two times we were moving too quickly for pictures. Here is at least a glimpse of what it looks like and what you can find. (The internet connection is slow so I'll have to put up relatively low-quality images. Sorry.)

Avenue Mohammed V at the entrance of the medina

Avenue Mohammed V is the main street through the centre-ville. It leads from Parliament and the main train station into the medina. There are many shops and vendors here but the main place for shopping is Rue Souika (literally Souk Street.)

I'm tempted just to say you can find anything here, but there are some things you tend to see a lot of: 

Shoes, both traditional...
...and Western.

Mounds of spices,
dried fruit and nuts,
and lots of women's clothing.
The mannequins are creepy. 

For some reason,  Franklin & Marshall clothing can be found all over.
There are lots of shops selling shirts with English (supposedly) on them. It usually doesn't make any sense and can be quite entertaining. My favorite is still a (men's) shirt featuring a werewolf with shiny pink eyes and, among other quasi-sentences, "You can trll merf me. You do not worry."

Some areas and shops are clearly geared toward tourists.

Some places cater more to local tastes. We also saw a shop selling
cow feet and heads, but I'll spare you the picture of that one.

And apparently Moroccan carpets are famous.
(Or, Moroccan carpet sellers are infamous.) 

Then suddenly the shops end and you once again find a street with cars on it. After you cross the street (easier said than done), you come to the walls of the Kasbah des Oudayas, the fortress on the coast.

Old and (relatively) new.

The main bab (gate or door) of the Kasbah
Apparently even the ancient stone walls are under construction.

Inside the Kasbah: narrow blue streets,
and tiny blue doors like the one here.
 Imagine living in a house like this.
The end of the Kasbah overlooks the main beach of Rabat.
The beach and medina of Salé seen from the same spot.
Plus, a nice view of the Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum.

There are still vast areas of the medina left to explore. And then there's Salé.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Current Events

First, a summary of what has happened around here: There have been demonstrations outside the Consulate in Casablanca. In Rabat apparently there have been small peaceful sit-ins outside Parliament (as per usual). I don’t know exactly what has happened in Rabat  but I think nothing major so far. In Salé, across the river, around 300 people gathered in a poor neighborhood before Friday prayers and burned two American flags. We have been advised to stay close to home and Agdal should be safe.

Now, here is what I think of the recent events throughout the Muslim world and elsewhere. Feel free to tell me if you disagree.

1. The incident in Benghazi was not a result of the film. It is becoming clear that the attack was planned for 9/11 and anger about the film was used only as a convenient pretext. It seems likely that al-Qaeda was behind the attack, but of course it's not certain. The killing of an ambassador is a tragic event and its perpetrators should be brought to justice, but this should be treated separately from the film protests.

2. The film (“Innocence of Muslims”) itself it hateful and aimed to offend but I think we’re all taking it a bit too seriously. I haven’t seen it but I’m sure it’s nothing of any value. Of course there are those who absolutely irrationally hate Islam, and they are often the loudest. Two years ago Terry Jones became the center of a nationwide and international controversy simply by persistently advocating something extreme and ridiculous. Of course he was never able to follow through with it, but he made headlines all over the country--and I think that’s exactly what he wanted. I think in his case the media are to blame for making him such a big deal. The message of Terry Jones and other radical Islamophobes is so desperate and irrational that they must resort to the bizarre to get any attention. There is a lot of anti-Islamic sentiment in America but most of it is more moderate and almost even reasonable. 

3. In my opinion, whoever made the film--Sam Bacile or Nakoula Basseley Nakoula or whoever it is--is not entirely to blame for the violence. The words of one extremist may have been the spark that literally set several embassies ablaze, but now the film protests are unpopular and most of the protesters haven’t even seen the video anyway. Many of them (at least in Egypt) are unhappy about unemployment or football or just looking to cause trouble. Those with strong anti-American sentiment had it long before this video turned up. Call me unpatriotic, but I think that to some extent the people of the Middle East have good reason to be angry at U.S. foreign policy and American public attitudes towards Muslims. That said, violence in response to words is not justified. Flag burnings and violence against embassies are never appropriate.

4. I hope it’s clear by now that the violence does not represent Libya, the Middle East, or Islam in general. In Benghazi there have been several pro-American demonstrations and apologies from both the government and the people. (I realize now that I’ve violated my own rule in the first point. Of course the events in Libya and the protests elsewhere can be seen as manifestations of a larger problem; just don’t say the film caused the Ambassador’s death.) Militancy and terrorism are not Islam any more than the Klu Klux Klan (or Terry Jones and Sam Bacile, I hope) is mainstream America.

I guess this is where I’m supposed to put in my plea for mutual understanding and religious tolerance and world peace and stuff. I will at least say that some people I know could never imagine going (or sending a teenager) to live in a Muslim country. They cannot fathom the idea of Muslims and Arabs as equals and reasonable humans. Let’s just try not to be hateful and judgmental and hope others can do the same.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


It’s been quite an adventure figuring out the best way to get to school. (I’ll post more about school later when my schedule is finalized.) The easiest, most direct way is to take a blue petit taxi. This will take you exactly where you need to go as long as you know how to get there and somehow manage to explain it to the driver, who usually only speaks a little French. A petit taxi can take up to three passengers to school for 12-15 dirham (less than two dollars).
Next are the white grands taxis. These aren’t actually any bigger than the petits taxis, but they hold twice as many passengers. They have fixed stops and so you have to walk a bit from the stop to the school. Another problem is that if there aren’t a lot of people who want to ride, the driver will often wait until the cab is full before leaving. This means that if you want to get home at a time when not many people are going back to Agdal, you may have to wait quite a while. A grand taxi ride is 4 dirham per person, so it’s much cheaper than a petit taxi if you’re alone but with two or three people the money saved is not worth the discomfort and inconvenience.
A third option is the bus system. There is a bus that runs from near my house in Agdal to a stop very close to the school. A bus ride costs 4 dirham, the same as a grand taxi, but the bus is much more reliable and even more comfortable. 
It also may be possible to walk home from school. It seems like we’ll normally take a petit taxi when there are three of us and the bus otherwise.

I’ve been asked what is the weirdest thing I’ve eaten here. There really hasn’t been anything too exotic or strange, and I’m not complaining. A few days ago for dinner we had bits of what turned out to be liver. (I’m still telling myself it was beef, and technically that’s true.) We also managed to find some camel milk at a supermarket. That was interesting enough and now I can say I’ve tried it. 

I’m still surprised and delighted by the language diversity. I saw a store with a sign in four languages--Arabic, Amazigh (Tamazight or Berber), French, and Spanish. Four languages and not of them English! It’s also very interesting to listen to local radio. There is a lot of American music, ranging from gospel and country remixes of popular hits to explicit rap. There is also a religious station that broadcasts prayer all day long. Many stations are news and talk shows in Arabic or French or both. In a five-minute period you can hear a single station broadcast in three different languages, and sometimes you can find Spanish and Amazigh as well. 

The first few days of school have been pretty hectic, and I’m still not sure of my schedule. There are classes like English that I don’t need to take, classes like Arabic that I can’t take (everyone else in the class speaks it as a first language), and classes like P.E. that I don’t want to take. We’re trying to get that all figured out but for now it’s a bit of a mess.