Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ninety-Four: Part Twenty-Six: Wherein The Younger Me Gets To Tell You Stuff The Older Me Forgot, Continued.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. From time to time, I'll recap that year. This is part 26. Click here for a table of contents.

I'm still working my way through the letters I wrote from Morocco -- reviewing the younger version of me's view on life, and realizing that it was pretty shallow and superficial and kind of dumb, which makes me pretty certain that, after all, I made the right decision throwing out that red notebook, because who wants to constantly be reminded of just how dumb they used to be?

Then again, I wonder if I will, in 17 years, look back on these blog posts (probably from my home in Hawaii) and think Man, I was dumb, then?

I'm pretty certain that won't happen. Just because I was certain, at age 25, that I knew everything and was smart and charming and successful and heading places but turned out to be wrong about most of that doesn't mean that, at 42, when I'm certain that I'm smart and charming and successful and also pretty good looking despite having put on a few pounds and still heading places, that I'll be wrong now.

Or, at least, I'm pretty sure that at 59, when I'm all those things, I'll finally be right then. And I'll look back at 42-year-old me the way 42-year-old me looks back at 25-year-old me, and the way 25-year-old me looked at everything.

Which is to say, sneeringly, without knowing enough to realize how dumb I was being. Back to where I was, which was midway through the first letter I wrote from home, which I'll recount verbatim and occasionally interject to point some things out.

[When I last left off, I had just finished talking about how I'd been served various parts of a sheep's head for a dinner that was meant to honor me.]

I've seen some of the city; it's actually 2 cities, Rabat and Sale, divided by a river. (No one calls the river anything; it's just "the river.")

[Note: That's not even kind of close to being true. I just googled it and the river is called "Oued Bou Regreg", which is probably Arabic for "Just because you don't speak the language well enough to ask what the river is called doesn't mean they don't have a name for it, idiot."]

[Page 4 of the handwritten letter starts, as all my letters did, with a quote from a song at the top. The quote on this page was Shireme don't like it, thinks it's not kosher, from "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash.]

Rabat is westernized in that people drive cars and can buy Nikes. Sale is "traditional" and poorer. In Sale, the streets are about 4 feet wide, which doesn't stop people from driving. It's like a maze there. In Rabat, streets are paved & only a little narrower than ours, which lets people go tearing around them like Mario Andretti. Traffic is amazing. It's all on-way streets with no traffic lights, only a few signs, very few cops. People drive little tiny cars or mopeds, and pay no attention to little things like lane-dividing lines. I saw 2 accidents in 1 day. They park pretty much anywhere they want, usually bumping other cars.

[Note: This would seem like the usual views of an ignorant American making fun of other countries, a la oh, look they're terrible drivers. But it's not ethnicist; at that time, I'd only lived in Milwaukee and Washington D.C. and had owned a car for a few months, so I wasn't actually familiar with big-city driving in any way. I'd have said the same thing about any city where there were lots of people and cars.].

I haven't seen a new car yet, and only 1 American car. ("Too big," Hamid told me.) They use the horn like crazy, and seem to think brakes don't exist.

So far, I've seen the Palais Royale, where King Hassan II lives. It's huge-- about 2 blocks long. You can only go so close to it; there's a little "x" and if you get to close to the x the guards and the Twellga (Hassan's personal servants) get real alert.

It's very clean there (the only unlittered area in Rabat) and the flower gardens are beautiful. They have a lot of flower gardens here; in the Kasbah des Oudaiyah (Kasbah's Fort), an old monument at Chellah (Roman ruins) and near the Mausolee Mohammed V, where Hassn's dad is buried.

[NOTE: That's three. Three flower gardens. Which isn't a lot by any means. Madison, Wisconsin, has, like, seven.]

I've seen all of those -- they're mostly old temples. The roman ruins looked pretty much like every other building here.

[NOTE: That's not meant to be mean. They did.]

The architecture is very Spanish: small buildings, open spaces, terraces, they're mostly white or brown and all look pretty rundown. The whole city needs a good coat of paint.

[NOTE: I have no formal training in architecture.]

I've also been to the Medina, the old city, inside the walls that once surrounded all of Rabat. It's mostly a marketplace, where you can buy anything from a walkman to dried figs.

[NOTE: So, you know, completely unlike any other market. Or mall. Or modern SuperTarget.]

It's very cool.

[NOTE: Even then, I styled myself as a writer. Hence my brilliant use of language.]

It's really crowded and the shops and stalls are all crammed together. There's spice stands, and fruit stands, and musical instruments, and jewelers, etc.,

[NOTE: Again, look at how I use English like a fine instrument.]

They have open-air butchers, which is really sick. (The smell gags me; they don't refrigerate the meat. Have you ever walked by a row of 200 newly-killed chickens just hanging there all day.)

[NOTE: This is why I could not have been Indiana Jones. When you're watching those movies, you don't think about the fact that any food not in McNugget form makes you barf.]

and bakers with huge mounds of bread, etc.

[NOTE: I'm like if Hemingway had a kid with Emily Bronte and that kid invented a thesaurus.]

Then there's kids running all over, and beggars (some are really badly disabled) and guys chanting the Quran for money. (To people asking for stuff, you say La Shukran -- "no thank you" or asif -- "sorry" -- and keep walking. Never stop. If you pick up something, or even pause more than a moment, you're done for. They assume you're ready to buy.) The Medina is where you haggle. You look at something, ask chi halleh? (How much?) They name a price, you chop it in 1/2 ,then go up a little. But once you start haggling, you almost have to buy it, or they accuse you of wasting their time.

[NOTE: It might seem odd to have to explain how to haggle, but it had to be explained to me: The first time I tried to buy something, the guy named a price, I paid it, and everyone was shocked; my host student, Nadia, told me that I must be rich because I hadn't haggled, and then showed me how to do it after I said that in the US, we didn't haggle.]

There's also guys called Gerbeds in the Medina. They carry around water in a big skin, and lots of cups hanging on bandoliers. Nadia insisted that I try some; it was real cold, and kid of weird-tasting. She explained that the cold and the taste come from this black paste smeared on the inside of the water skin just for those reasons. They also use the paste in their hair. So apparently I drank some kind of Moroccan shampoo.


That's it for this time. But as a teaser, next time, I discuss the money, and how hilarious I found it.

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