Tuesday, October 6, 2009

God, Country, King

Dear blog followers:

As always my life has been quite busy since I last bared my soul to the nebuluous domains of cyberspace.

This past week I was fortunate enough to consume an improperly canned tin of sardines which caused me to break out into a set of hives large and extensive enough that my Rastafari Moroccan friend, Aziz, was extremely perturbed and insisted I visit a pharmacy. Upon arrival at the pharmacy, the hives which had now spread from my arms to my legs, back and stomach, were severe enough that the pharmacist informed that I would need to visit a hospital. After a fifteen minute IV administered by the able staff of the Clinique des Nations Unies I was fully recovered and had a newfound lack of available funds, a common side effect of quality medical care even in developing nations.

This weekend was also the IES-organized trip to the Sahara. Departing from Rabat we were treated to an exhuasting bus ride over increasingly winding and bumpy roads which crossed the Atlas mountains (stopping to view some monkies) and ending at a upscale tourist resort whose luxurious pool is apparently featured prominently in a number of Moroccan music videos (Lonely Planet-Morocco, "Xaluca," 2006) and was replete with all the necessities of a tourist trap-cum-resort trying to make it on the Orientalist circuit; Moroccan attendents swathed in robes, sedated camels being led around for pictures and pettings, "Berber" tents for poolside loungers to escape the ravages of the desert sun, wandering musicians banging drums as local women extravagently attired sensually gyrated their hips and, most essentially, hordes of middle aged european tourists wearing semi-casual and largely unflattering attire designed for comfortable and practical travel.

We, the only group of guests with an average age below forty, spent a most relaxing and enjoyable night in this opulent and extravagent oriental compound of wonders. And after enjoying a continental-style buffet breakfast departed to the town of Erfoud, a short and bumpy bus ride away. In Erfoud we all purchased the traditional blue scarves of the Saharawi (the people who live in the Sahara) in which to wrap our heads against the brutal sunlight and stinging sand. We also visited a number of small villages in the environs of Erfoud, stopping in each to pay a visit to the local school to combat adult and female illiteracy, become objects of fascination for the local children and eat dates right off of the trees (the area around Erfoud is famous for its dates).

Around four our trip moved into its second phase as we all donned our scarves and mounted long lines of camels to be led into the desert to our camp. Riding a camel is like riding one of those rides for children outside of a supermarket only it lasts for hours and the animal which you are riding is ten feet tall. Camels, unlike other animals such as dogs or even horses, don't seem to enjoy human attention and generally adopt a somewhat apathetic attitude characterized by periods of slight annoyment. Aside from that the camel ride was beautiful, exotic and enjoyable (magical!). Upon arrival at camp I and a few of my IES chums decided to climb the gigantic dune behind our campsite, which turned out to be much larger than we had thought and resulted in an exhausting hourlong climb. The view from the top was astounding as you realized the vastness of the desert as well as the uniform chaos of the dunes below you. With the moon rising over what we were informed was Algeria it made quite a sight.

The rest of our trip largely revolved around sitting in a bus on the way back to Rabat. I will add however that one of the most interesting subjects to be brought up on the trip was the motto of Morocco - Allah, WaDhan, Malik- God, Country, King. For those of you who are familiar with post-colonial identity politics it no doubt has already struck you that the two main unifying national symbols of Morocco are included in this motto; Islam and the Monarchy, both of which are said to transcend the numerous ethnic, linguistic and class differences of the country. It is also notable that these three words denote the "red lines" or issues which the Moroccan media is not allowed (by law) to dicuss or even mention in passing; Islam, the Western Sahara and the Monarchy. This motto is cut, painted or burned into numerous hillsides, rocks and roadside barriers all along Morocco's highways. Symbols of unity -real or invented - which show not only a historical legacy of les colonis├ęs but also a desire for stability and a rejection of the divisive ethno-politics which have plagued Morocco's Maghribi and Sub-Saharan neighbors.

As a final note, my appartment now has hot water, desks, a stove and kitchen utensils. Inchallah, by the end of the week we will have a refrigerator, a portrait of the King and wireless internet.

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