by Benny Raymond
One time in Morocco in the Peace Corps I was supposed to go down to Rabat for some interagency hocus-pocus to do with US AID, different Euroaid outfits and a couple of the tame domestic royal Alewid ministries, agriculture — a cover for big landowners planting orange groves for the sugar trade — and Jeunesse et Sport, a front to make people think the government was anyway sort of committed to young people. “Zhay Pay” as the Moes called it was also a place to tuck away the idealists and let them fight over the sultanate’s annual and never-enough domestic handouts. These came in on a kind of variable schedule and had a lot to do with when the US aid cash blew in; this had gotten a hare more random as Jasper Carter strove to tread inflated bubbly water and pay off LBJ’s and Nixon The Lip’s bills and still keep the buy-offs flowing to the then still-young professional McGovernites On The Make. It was the first emergence of two parallel uppity trends in my generation and the “helping professionals” were, for now, shaking down the Future NeoCons of America…
My reason to be in Rabat now was to provide additional background scenery as some Young DLC type or other blew in to announce new emphases on human rights and how the King of Morocco was “really” a humanitarian exemplar for all of Africa; my part, I think, was to wear a turban along with the other PC rank-and-file and carry a spear and sing in the Aida chorus; or something. So, instead, I went up from Fes to Sefrou about thirty klicks in the mid-Atlas foothills, to see if a woman I knew called Fatima had come home for the weekend from her Rabat Lloyd-bank job, to see her family — and me, by implication.
That whole family really liked me! Later, in 1984 or so while I was losing our family-farm here in southern Minnesota to the IRS, I realized what a mistake it had been to come back here just to shovel a pile of shit like this. Later, in a marriage to a rather untidy person in the 90s and when similarly fed up with, well basically, shoveling shit, I would review likewise with second (third?) thoughts the general pattern of defects in my life-system of decision-making.
Needless to say, there were plenty of crosscurrents and undertows:
“If” I had stayed and married Fatima? Christ, everyone was all for it, especially Fatima!
But, it was a real novelty to me, in the first place, to find myself talking about marriage to a woman (and her father and mother!) that (a young American buck of the 1970s!) I had only been able to, allowed to, kiss. The whole thing had started in a jokey way, started by her brothers and fathers over cous-cous while Fatima giggled and scolded her parents for “embarrassing si’ Smeet’!” That was the second time that Fatima had invited me home. Her well-off family lived in a traditional adobe sort of house with a visitors’ pool and and a hareem pool, which could only be reached by going out and back in through the two doors of the front entrance, or else through the kitchen; on my third visit I was asked in to eat by the hareem pool, although I still hadn’t been asked in there through the kitchen. That is Women’s Country in the Maghreb. We were now through about the third round of jokes, though, over a fourth meal or so together, and so the on going conversation I realized now had to find out how to go…where?
But in the second place, to go on at all I would have had to now develop a load of new ways of disguising from The Others my really basically pretty rotten, or American, character. The practice of hypocrisy in the Moslem countries is a lot more work than here, where we are that much farther down the hill in terms of our religion, and you just have to put in a lot more time at it.
And as well, there are a lot of new codes to learn generally when you run away to live in a foreign country, the secret grips and signs, little phrases and gestures and everything you have to know and that, although I am a quick study, are best learned from childhood; to not do that and not to go the whole distance means you wind up with the other yuppie oldsters on the esplanade in San Juan, waiting on The Volcano or some other black camel.
Also, Fatima’s father in the honesty of his heart thought I was going to stay and learn the dry-country farming of the Fassi uplands; he had flat out said as much “would be very nice.!” His son Idries and I were fast becoming friends and I bid fair to be the second son he had lost to the French bar.
On the other hand, Fatima knew, and she (who had wonderful cat-whisker dimples when she smiled and laughed!) made darn sure to tell me so right away, that she would not like it as much in Minnesota as in California, on account of some sort of bad stories about the Winter here she had got her fool self stuffed with, somehow.
And, so, the upshot is I would have likely wound up in California, my Minnesota family mad at me and Fatima’s likewise in Morocco; and, when the love-coma had died the death, I’d be the doubtlessly non-custodial dad of two-point-something kids on the child-support bandwagon and firmly in the socialworking clutches of a load of California Democrats — the worst kind! As our late mother used to say, “Can’t win for losing!” Our late Uncle Emmett, her little brother and who called Moslems “them A-rabes,” was more succinct:
This is the sort of insightfulness that is the garland and the gift of old age, and so such a grasp of reality was wholly beyond me when thirty-two years ago at thirty, in February of 1979 I piled into Mansur’s old Mercedes grand taxi for the run South up to Sefrou; also, the bright light of the late Moroccan Winter Sun seemed to fill the interior of my skull like the dome of the Spanish mosque. It was probably to do with the half-brick of riffiyya hasheesh Al Lantz and I had burned up the night before. Mansur by now was something very like a friend (he had gotten us the hash), and in fact it was on the first time I’d ridden back up from Rabat with him that I’d met Fatima. Both of them on the same occasion; Mansur was decent about women and didn’t make Fatima hide her lighted cigaret from him by slumping low in the back seat. Not a few cab drivers would drive a woman they caught smoking to the police station and split the heavy fine; it was a graft more profitable than that of the PO desk clerks, who buffaloed the American volunteers sometimes for months out of a dhiram each, to hand over their General Delivery mail.
All the way from Rabat Mansur had talked nonstop to the whole cabload of us about the FIFA World Cup, Moroccan National Forward Abdo Cosmo and the African teams’ prospects. Now the topic was the same a year later as we drove up into the low midday Sun; it was in Morocco that I first realized how sports the whole World over — football in one way or the other — are the magnificent obsession by which the hundreds of millions jabber over the tedium of their lives, the underlying and boring stark horror of it all.
[to be continued — ed]
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[1 Rabi al-Awaal 1432//3 February 20]