Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy New Year 2014

Wow, I can't believe it's 2014 already!  And I can't believe I have neglected this blog for four years!  I was surprised to find it's still on the net and active.  I will have to pick up again and try to do better.

Much has happened since I was here last.  A lot has changed and just as much is exactly the same.  That's the beauty and the mystery of Fez, so they say.  So,where should I begin?

Fez has grown considerably.  It's no longer the sleepy, abandoned wanna-be city of  ten years ago.  The population has tripled along with the number of cars jamming the same old narrow streets.  The suburbs are growing suburbs as an unrelenting effort to construct more apartment buildings and subsequently necessary caf├ęs continues.  There is a new shopping mall sitting right on the roadside behind the iconic McDonalds at Place LaFiat in the ville nouvelle.  Literally hordes of women, children and teens are drawn to the mall every evening as the sun drops and people come out for their evening walk.

The old medina is changing too, despite what guide books would like us to believe.  As families move out, tourism businesses take their place.   Both main streets are pretty much given over to tourism.  Shops open daily with more cheap souvenir items and whatever looks successful today inspires five more identical shops tomorrow.  Whole streets have become commercial hotel-riads, all the previous occupants having moved to another place in to the medina or more likely to the surrounding areas outside.  My neighbors are still not convinced that I am a teacher and not a hotel proprietor even though they see me leave for school every morning.  However they have given up asking for jobs that I don't have since I am not running a business, even if they don't believe me.

In another post I will write about what it's like having a big dog in Fez medina.   And my neighbor who shoots pigeons on his terrace at sundown when I am watering my garden - with a real gun!  My daughter left in April to join the circus after giving up on the bakery idea.  I have a lot to catch up but this enough for the moment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

  The new driving laws came into effect recently in Morocco.  Now, when drivers violate the rules of the road and get caught, they will lose points on their driving permit.  There are associated fines with the violations, too, and in certain extreme incidents, jail time.  The rules are many and I found them online in French and trying read it all was pretty overwhelming.  The website now seems to be down or I would have linked it here. 

However, not much has changed on the road except people are slowing down their speed.  They are still running red lights, driving on the wrong side, passing on both sides and breaking all the 'rules'; this morning I came face to face with a bus on a one way street - and no, I was not the one going the wrong way!  There are supposed to be traffic cameras and radars in place watching our road antics, but maybe not in Fes yet.  Spot checks have taken place regarding the first aid kits and fire extinguishers, none of which can be had in local stores.  So...

Pedestrians can also be fined for exposing themselves to danger.  That can qualify as almost anything you do in a Moroccan street.  Simply crossing from one side to the other is exposure to danger.  There is a certain element of recklessness in crossing without looking - that classic refusal to engage in eye contact in order to pretend it's not your fault - which is how most people do it.  Other favored methods of entering the street are running from between parked cars, vaulting off the bus and darting in front of it into oncoming traffic, and of course, chasing something or somebody.  There seems to be a perception of the street as open space free for all and not restricted to moving vehicle traffic. 

It's early yet, but my suspicion is that once the novelty wears off , it will be business as usual on the road.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I was really busy during the summer and didn't have any time to write at all.  I got back to Fez August 22nd, after a short vacation and it was so hot you could bake bread on a table top.  It was also Ramadan.  I have to salute all those people who adhered to their fasting this year.  It was a miserable time to be going without water, for sure.  Hamdoulillah, it's finished and life is back to normal and it's good.


Today I had the good fortune to run into the Moussem of Moulay Idriss in Fez medina.  I was walking home and heard the music so did a U turn back up to the Boujloud area and the parades were already making their way down to Talaa Sghrira toward the Zaouia.  For anyone who may not know, Moulay Idriss was the founder of  Fez; the son of Moulay Idriss who buried in the mountain village by the same name.

Like any parade, there was a lot of noise and confusion and crowds of spectators.  People watched from the rooftops and packed the streets, frustrating the police, but everyone was very considerate, too.  Children were hoisted up on shoulders and the crowds made room for wheelchairs.  It was a pleasant side trip on the way home!

Friday, July 16, 2010

One of the most common reasons people give for pulling up roots to live in Morocco is simplification - they want a slower pace of life, a better quality of life and time to not just smell the roses, but enjoy those roses.  The thing is, it's not always easy to figure out how to accomplish this.  There is a big difference between relocating to a slower-paced place and slowing down your own pace.

How many people actually know how to just live?  This means doing nothing but ordinary day to day activities that come up, if you want to do them or must do them, and simply ignoring the stuff you don't care about right now.  People who do that can go walking in the park during the evening, sit in cafes all afternoon, loiter on the street corners harassing girls and take the afternoon of from work just because they ate too much for lunch.  Work is not the primary focus of the day, chores at home like lawn-mowing or paying the bills can wait until whenever.  Or never.  You can just take things as they come.

People often remark on the incredible amount of time Moroccans take to socialize with friends and family.  Most are envious of this interaction and wish to experience it.  The thing is, you can't say, Well, sorry, I'd love to chat but right now I have to get to the grocery store; or little Penny has a dance lesson right now.  Some things fall by the wayside.  Not everybody in Morocco is laid-back either because I have seen just as many people working three jobs, speeding endlessly around in their car like its a second home and spending so much time on their cell phone they probably can't remember their last face to face conversation.  It's all about choices.

Chances are a first encounter with Morocco took place on a vacation.  As a tourist or foreigner, one has a different perspective on things than the locals.  You can pick up and go at any time whereas they have to live in the country they built.  Many retirees go down this road, following an idealistic image or memory of a great place they visited only to find that living there is not the same thing.  In fact, living in a foreign culture is a daily challenge that may ease over time, but will never entirely go away.  And again, it's about where you choose to focus.

Morocco is a nice place to live, but it has problems just like every place else.  Some are simple to resolve and others are challenging.  Some things you might consider problems are not problems for Moroccans and those issues will never end.  It's all about you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Anybody who has been to Fez lately knows it is hot here.  Very hot.  And nothing wears on heat-stretched nerves worse than driving in Fez.  I have been on wheels for over a year now, yet I am continually shocked by how inconsiderate local drivers are and how absurdly willing they are to risk injury and property damage and even death just to be FIRST.  This is, as far as I can tell, the point of driving.  It is not to get to a destination, but to get "there" FIRST.  Cars jam up at the lights and intersections, pass each other on narrow streets, drive on any side of the road and hog any open space that will gain them a centimeter over somebody else. It doesn't matter where you are going as long as you are leading the pack.

Pedestrians are a pain in the a-- , too, since they are convinced green lights are for them and they also have a right to the road.  They weave in and out of the traffic, step in front of cars and fall off of curbs and never look in the correct direction for oncoming traffic.  And the newest thing in Fez is for young women to link arms and stroll slowly down the middle of the traffic lane.  This morning a giggling trio of young women was egging on some good ol' street harassment in the middle of intersection where two pedestrians were killed in the last year.  Thank heaven nobody was coming up behind me or the cafe on the corner could have served us all up for lunch after we landed in their kitchen.

There are no speed limit signs anywhere in the city even though it is "known" the speed limit is 40.  However, the real rule is to go as fast as you can as space permits.  If somebody is in your way, blast the horn and shout insults.  And of course, just drive down the oncoming lane and shout insults at them, too, while flashing your headlights to get them out of your way.  Another effective way to get ahead is just drive between two cars. What's a little lost paint on somebody else's car?  Knocked their mirror off?  Oops!

Despite this urge to be FIRST, the thing nobody seems to realize is that traffic is clogged and people are frustrated and pedestrians are hostile because everyone is so UNwilling to cede the right of way to another, even when it is their right of way by law.  I never thought about this before but a perfectly executed MERGE is a beautiful thing! 

Driving in Fez is just take, take, take and take some more.  For a culture where time has so no value and little meaning, this appalling behavior on the road is bizarre to say the least.  Shame on all of you!!
My daughter was assaulted on the street in Fez last weekend.  She was walking home around midday from a sandwich shop with her sister when a guy, old enough to behave better, started following them.  He was close enough to make them nervous and they did stop to ask some construction workers to speak to him.  They chose to ignore the situation and laugh it off.  How many times have you heard that following girls just gives men on the street a cheap thrill and something to talk about with their fellow lounge lizards?

Well, this harasser decided to grab my daughter and take a pinch.  She spun around and slapped him and he punched her in the face and took another swing that cut her over the eye.  By that time, the construction workers were on site and two cars had stopped.  They gave the assaulter a "talking to" and sent him on his way.

The incident was reported to the police and they did go out to the site and talk to witnesses, but nobody would give up the name or identity of the assaulter.  He is known in the area and was seen after the incident, but again, nobody would give up his identity.  The way I understand it, no harm done!!