October 31, 2009

It's a roller coaster

Learning! Exploring! Changing!

Hooray for Morocco.

Everyone at home is dressing up and drinking and laughing and slurring and making out.

Damn you, Morocco.

Maria from Sweden carries her baby on our walk and school kids greet us in French and Spanish. Later, her American husband Eric shows me his woven-paper tapestries. On the way home, the cute grocer on the corner sells me plums and dark grapes in Spanish and Arabic. Couples walk before the sun sets.

Hooray for Morocco.

I go for my first run and fall in the gravel, tripping over my loose pants. In Canada, I would have been wearing shorts or tights. Hands ooze and six dogs circle the corner ahead.

Damn you, Morocco.

The first day of Creative Writing 101. Eight students come and they are so into it, so engaged, that they keep going when the activity ends. We walk out to palm trees and honeysuckle swaying in the warm breeze. It is almost November and we are wearing sunglasses.

Hooray for Morocco.

October 30, 2009

If these got federal funding, so should I

The effectiveness of assistive technology for struggling writers

Touching intimate parts: the implications of early modern German men-midwives touching their patients

What motivates rugby players to continue competing

The role of headphones in the sonic constitution and social negotiation of space

Indigenous perspectives on teaching yoga

You are here: in pursuit of a literature of the Canadian mall

Important factors in the desert fathers’ withdrawal to the desert

Eight hours drive from anywhere: a geographic occupational study of clasical musicians in Thunder Bay, Ontario

Female romantic jealousy and extra-pair desire across the menstrual cycle

Creating community in medieval Aragon

Meanings of masculinity in the Fort Simpson fur trade, 1834-1887

Bad sex objects

A deleuzian ontology of Christ

*Each got $17,500 from SSHRC in 08-09. If they won, then surely this will:

Press here: Indigenous fathers’ geographic occupational perspectices on what motivates struggling writers  from medieval Aragon and present day Fort Simpson to withdraw and touch themselves across the menstrual cycle in a negotiation of space, masculinity, and ontology.

October 29, 2009

"fierce, dodgy seven-year-olds"

I'm reading a novel called Johnno. It's about two boys growing up and leaving Brisbane, Australia. The words are precisely chosen (the author, David Malouf, is a poet, after all) and the observations are unsettling because they feel true and familiar.

"Like most sons I suppose, I had forced upon my father the character that fitted most easily with my image of myself; to have had to admit to any complexity in him would have compromised my own. I chose the facts about him that I needed."

"[Johnno] felt the need to reach out only when he was either desperately miserable or in some sort of ecstasy, and I knew, as he must have, that by the time his words reached me, five thousand miles away, as I was rushing out of the house for a tram, his mood would already be gone--replaced by whatever it was his silences represented: long stretches of sitting alone in a tent at the end of nowhere..."

"We didn't go to Greece. Or even to Brittany. Johnno, I soon realized, was mesmerized by Paris, his dreams of leaving it for one corner of Europe or another were simply alternatives that he allowed to exist for a moment because they made Paris itself, and his presence in it, so much more solid and absolute. Paris was the city for which Greece, Spain, Sweden, and other places too numerous to mention, had been rejected. As for me, I was just a tool in Johnno's process of making Paris real for himself, and I soon tired of it."

"Meanwhile, after three years, people at home began to think of me as an expatriate.

An extraordinary denomination. What did it mean? It seemed too grand to fit anything I felt about my position, or any decision I had made to leave Australia and start again elsewhere. I had found it odd, gratuitous even, that I should be an Australian. I found it even odder, more accidental, that I should be anything else. Friends who came to visit on working holidays were resentful of my being so settled. Their resentment found its object in certain habbits that they thought of as non-Australian and therefore a betrayal. Like calling the pictures the "cinema" and sandshoes "plimsols". Like reading The Times. Like wearing sandals with socks. Impossible to tell them that all this was quite fortuitous. That I hadn't chosen "silence, exile, cunning", had never left Australia in more than fact. That going to sleep at night was still, for me, to climb high into the glossy dark leaves of the old fig tree outside our kitchen window in Edmondstone Street, with flying-foxes rustling in its darkness, and long golden strands hanging from its branches like a giant's beard, and butcher-birds or mynahs picking about in the sunlight, between roots that pushed deep in under the house, lifting the concrete under the washtubs and even sometimes shifting a stump, far away under our sleep. Expatriate? What did it mean? Nothing it seemed to me. Except that the tree below my bedroom window here was a weeping beech that in summer filled the whole view with its brittle leaves and in winter let through the houses opposite, with frost repointing the edges of their bricks. The children in the flat below hung gobbets of meat from its boughs, and all winter the birds came to peck at strips of belly-pork or pick the last shreds from a mutton chop. A red setter loped through the yellowing stalks of the over-grown garden, sniffing, freezing--hunting blind in his own territory. There was nothing exotic about all this. I taught school all week, drank at the Carnarvon Castle or the Queens on Friday night. Saturday afternoon shopping. A Sunday walk to the top of Bidston Hill, with a long view across open country to an estuary and golflinks by the sea. In the town itself men from the shipyards in their heavy lumbermen's rig and donkey jackets still grimy from work, dragging their boots over the sawdust in dockside pubs and bursting noisily into the street at closing-time, stumbling off for a piss in cobbled backs. It wasn't something I had chosen. I was here, that's all. I had never left anywhere..."

October 28, 2009

Busiest day so far

8:10-10:10 Class in Contemporary Printmaking (in French)

11-2 Class in Tile Work (in Darija)

2 Outdoor cafe (my one-woman stand against male-dominated public space)

3 Arabic pronunciation workshop

3:30-5 Class in Standard Arabic

6:30-10 Teaching

10-11 Lesson-planning

October 24, 2009

Friday couscous

"Mary, why do you guys keep saying l'avion? Doesn't that mean airplane?"

"La viande! Meat!"


October 22, 2009

Moi y my new French friend, we text

Mary: Salut, Oriane! How was the art institute? Did you find any classes? I hope you are well. Best, mary.

Oriane: Buenas tarde. Me parece que la clase de arte sera muy interesante pero, para la gente exterior, deberia ouvrir una classe pero no es muy seguro. Te deciria mas cuando se encontramos. Que tal con este nuevo trabajo y la langua maroquis? Hasta pronto. Oriane.

Mary: Gracias por el mensaje! Quieres venir a la casa manana y tomar un te? Yo se que es tarde, pero podemos encontramos en frente de l’institut francais a las 10 por la noche.

Oriane: It would be pleasur, but in this time I live in Martile. 10pm will be difficult after with taxi but we can it something for the lunch if you have some time.

Mary: Ah, je vois! Veux-tu manger avec nous a 1 heure, a la restaurant la union? Si non, nous pouvons rencontrer a l’institut francais a 2 heures, avant de ma classe a 3.

Oriane: Merci. Je ne sais pas encore comment les choses s’organisent-Je te dis vers 12H.

Mary: Bueno :)

The next day

Oriane: OK-Pour 2H-A l’institut de langue? Ou l’institut francais?

Mary: De francais. see you at 2!

Mary: 2.15 svp!

The next day

Mary: Hey oriane, quieres ver una pelicula al instituto cervantes esta tarde a las 5? Se llama los ladrones. Cleo puede venir tambien, peut-etre.

Oriane: Muchas gracias pero estoy trabajando para la exposicion en la medina. Cleo tambien. El vernisage sera manana en 4H. Bienvenida. Buena pelicula.

Oriane: Demain, vers midi? Dans le jardin de l’institut francais?

Mary: C’est possible a 10? Si non, a 3.30? la chose est que je dois faire quelque chose a midi.

Oriane: Alors peut etre apres demain? C’est possible pour toi?

Mary: Oui, d’accord. Mercredi, entonces. Sabes tu horario?

Oriane: J’ai juste en cour de 10 a 12 – on peut se retrouver avant pour petit dej ou apres.

Mary: Hmm…como es 1-3 manana? Je vais manger dej avec une amie, mais apres ca marche.

Oriane: Ouja. Mzien bzef.

The next day, in the evening

Oriane: Bonsoir. Eric, n’etait pas a l’exposition. Je peux tout de meme venir te chercher demain.-Dis moi-Bises.

Mary: Je voudrais tout la meme. A quelle heure veux-tu meet ici? Et merci!

Oriane: Ok. Vers 9H 45.

Mary: Parfait, see you then.

October 20, 2009

Where do you want to take my sheep?

There's a French Institute directly behind my apartment. Classes don't start for another two weeks, but I have access to the médiathèque. I went there and read Le Petit Prince with a dictionary. Two poignant lines from the poignant story:

Où veux-tu empoter mon mouton?
Where do you want to take my sheep?

C'est triste d'oublier un ami.
It's sad to forget a friend.

Globalization moment

I believe the world's economies reduce to five gas stations.

First there is the Japanese gas station. Gas is $5 a gallon. Four men in uniforms and white gloves, with lifetime employment contracts, wait on you. They pump your gas. They change your oil. They wash your windows, and they wave at you was a friendly smile as you drive away in peace. 

Second is the American gas station. Gas costs only $1 a gallon, but you pump it yourself. You wash your own windows. You fill your own tires. And when you drive around the corner four homeless people try to steal you hubcaps. 

Third is the Western European gas station. Gas there also costs $5 a gallon. There is only one man on duty. He grudgingly pumps your gas and unsmilingly changes your oil, reminding you all the time that his union contract says he only has to pump gas and change oil. He doesn't do windows. He works only thirty-five hours a week, with ninety minutes off each day for lunch, during which time the gas station is closed. He also has six weeks' vacation every summer in the south of France. Across the street, his two brother and uncle, who have not worked in ten years because their state unemployment insurance pays more than their last job, and playing boccie ball.

Fourth is the developing-country gas station. Fifteen people work there and they are all cousins. When you drive in, no one pays any attention to you because they are all too busy talking to each other. Gas is only 35 cents a gallon because it is subsidized by the government, but only one of the six gas pumps actually works. The others are broken are they are waiting for the replacement parts to be flown in from Europe. The gas station is rather run-down because the absentee owner lives in Zurich and takes all the profits out of the country. The owner doesn't know that half the employees actually sleep in the repair shop at night and use the car wash equipment to shower. Most of the customers at the developing-country gas station either drive the latest-model Mercedes or a motor scooter--nothing in between. The place is always busy, though, because so many people stop in to use the air pump to fill their bicycle tires. 

Lastly there is the communist gas station. Gas there is only 50 cents a gallon--but there is none, because the four guys working there have sold it all on the black market for $5 a gallon. Just one of the four guys who is employed at the communist gas station is actually there. The other three are working at second jobs in the underground economy and only come around once a week to collect their paychecks.

What is going on in the world today, in the very broadest sense, is that though the process of globalization everyone is being forced toward America's gas station. If you are not American and don't know how to pump your own gas, I suggest you learn.
--from Thomas L. Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree

October 17, 2009

Pan-Slavic hilarity

In a UN discussion of the Organic Act introduced in Tanganyika prior to independence, the English-to-Russian translator, the daughter of Russian émigré parents, fluent in Russian but educated outside of Russia, translated the law as Organicheskiy Akt--literally a correct translation but a phrase that in modern Russian also means "sexual intercourse." Perhaps primly unaware of this generally accepted meaning, she captured her audience's undivided attention. She continued to develop, in Russian, the ramifications, modifications, and positions taken on this Organicheskiy Akt. The fascinated Russian delegates first chortled, then laughed outright, even exchanging waves with the Ukrainian, BYelorussian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech, and Yugoslavian delegates of the Slavic fringe who, delegation by delegation, joined in solid Pan-Slavic hilarity. The final clincher was a question to the English delegate from a non-Russian speaking delegate: "What do the natives think of the Organic Act?" The reply, which brought down the Slavic side of the house, was: "In general, they maintain a passive attitude."
--From Native Tongues, by Charles Berlitz.

October 16, 2009

Every day's a one-act play

Scene: a school supply store in Tetouan, Morocco

Mary (our protagonist; she seeks to buy a pencil sharpener)
Woman (she stands behind the counter; pretty, wears a head scarf)

Mary: Bonjour

Woman: Bonjour [smiles warmly]

[Mary rummages in her purse until she extracts a pencil]

Mary: Je cherche...[acts out pencil sharpening]

[Woman nods. She goes to the other end of the counter and returns with two different models of sharpeners. Mary selects one.]

Mary: C'est parfait! Sha-khal?

Woman: Cinqo

[Mary pays the woman with a five dirham coin]

Mary: Gracias

Woman: De nada

Mary: Que tenga un buen dia.

[They smile warmly at each other]

[End scene]

October 15, 2009

Arabic Day 3: Frustration

The Frenchwoman couldn't pronounce the throaty "ha" and her frustration spilled over and spread onto us. The class felt too long. The letters blurred together. We frowned and furrowed our eyebrows. We complained to Wafa that we needed more time to practice the sounds. In the worst moments, though, my secret companion would step forward. Turkish to the rescue. Wafa would unknowingly use an Arabic word that I knew from Turkish and it was like a friend's hand on the shoulder. I started a list.

Arabic Turkish

kelima (word) kelime (word)

dars (lesson) ders (lesson)

dar (house) daire (apartment)

resim (picture) resim (picture)

maktab (desk) mektup (letter)

balad (country) belediye (municipality)

daqiqa (minute) dakika (minute)

kalam (pen) kalem (pen)

jumla (sentence) cumle (sentence)

sabah (morning) sabah (morning)

kitab (book) kitap (book)

October 14, 2009


Spare bedroom. Hint hint.

Arabic Day 2

Ismee Maryam. Ana Canadia, min Vancouver. Ana usteda injilizia. Askunu fi dar fi Tetouan. Adrusu aloura arabia. Ohribo tamr wa harira. Wa antee? 


My name is Maryam. I'm Canadian, from Vancouver. I'm an English teacher. I live in a house in Tetouan. I'm studying Arabic. I like dates and soup. And you?

Nice to meet you!

October 13, 2009


I was sitting on the tile floor the other day. Yellow light poured from the overhead lantern and through the half-blinking blinds that protect us from the afternoon sun and it struck me: I am free. Whether it was forgotten or never recognized, there it is. I am not in school, not in the army, not in a bad relationship, not in a job that sucks my soul... and even if I were, I would still be free to leave. 

In middle school, I checked the clock every two minutes on Wednesday afternoons (the Saudi equivalent of Friday afternoons). The excitement of the weekend and everything I could do in it was almost too intense for my body. I bundled all the energy flooding down my spine somewhere in my chest. I kept this syndrome to myself, figuring I was alone in it.

Now I feel like it's Wednesday afternoon again, but instead of 48 hours stretched out in front of me like an oceanic swimming pool, it's an entire life, and, lo and behold, I'm already swimming.

My brain is going to explode!

Arabic class is INTENSE. Wafa points to a word and we sound it out on the spot. Every letter has four styles depending on where it is in the word and nine sound variations, I think. The class back-up language is French, which caters more to the Frenchwoman and the half-Dutch, half-Moroccan girl than to me. That's okay, though. Today we learned six. Yes: six letters. And I am not even confident about them! Right now I am relying on memory tricks.
This letter is cute, and so are sheep, which say "ba ba ba." 

There are two dots. "Two" and "ta" sound similar.

The little symbol inside the big one is like a "calf" ("kaf") inside a cow. On the right, I imagine a man throwing a javelin and screaming, "Yes, I can!" "Can" reminds me of "kaf."

That swish is a tiger tail. Tiger's say "RA-OWR!"

 In cultural psychology we learned about "memes," which are packages of cultural information, distinct and capable of being pass to new generations, like "genes." The theory of memes is basically dead. And on the right, that letter looks like a dead person (see the head on the right?).

On the left, you can see the cute little "lam"'s tail.

Tomorrow I'll wake up and sit at the dining room table to sound out these letters and the words they hide in. My brain is too buzzy now, after a morning of Arabic, an afternoon of walking around the old medina ("cultural activities included"), an evening of teaching, and a night of lesson planning. Rinse and repeat until Friday. WOOT! WOOT!

October 10, 2009

"You're such an expat!"

Yeah, Mom, I know. But to be fair, Fatima only comes once a week, and it's not like she's making my bed. She just does the laundry. And the floors. And if my bed happens to be un-made when she comes...just kidding. Plus, she forces me to speak French. Know how to say underwear in French? "Culottes."

The funniest thing about Fatima is that she forgets who speaks which language. Sometimes she tries Arabic with me or she explains her schedule to Alaina in French. Sometimes she mixes the two and confuses us both simultaneously.

I am grateful in these moments to have Alaina, my new but dear roomie and colleague. Alaina speaks Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic. When we're not eating chocolate pudding, we're talking about language. She blogs, too.

October 8, 2009

Dear Lil Wayne, thank you for the lyrics

I got a bitch named Nina

and Nina's so slutty

'cause she'll do him

and every one of his buddies

MTV Arabia? Score.

In one of the filler ads, a cartoon woman in an abaya strolls past a spice-seller. Her perfume wafts over him. Then we go back to the World Chart Show, where Soulja Boy places first. We also have FOX Series, Fashion TV and a channel that shows only movies with sappy endings. Someone must fall out of a boat and the girl must cry. In Saudi we called these Hallmark movies, because they played on the Hallmark Channel. 

Best of all, though, are the channels named after countries:


Alaina and I agree that Channel Sudan has the most unique content. Arabic is still gibberish to me, but I imagine the husband was praising his wife's cooking. Wrapped neatly a green head-covering garment, the wife smiled and rocked back and forth, herself overjoyed by domestic bliss. 

October 7, 2009


there was in her a garden and a twilight

My favourite line from Lolita.

October 5, 2009

Buenos dias, Bonjour, Sabah al-khir

Northern Morocco is a riot of language.

People assume I am Spanish, so if they can, they ask me lo que quiero. The fruit-seller at the souk: Manzanas diez dirhams, la granada tres dirhams. The waitors: Un sanduche de queso y un batido mixto, si? Agua con gas o sin gas?

This was a pleasant surprise, because it means I can navigate the city without feeling completely lost. Not everyone speaks Spanish, though. It seems to be limited to tourism-related folks, which makes sense, since they serve the Spaniards who come across the water on holiday.

When people shake their heads at Spanish, they usually offer French. The woman charging my phone card: Combien est-ce que vous voulez? The landlord’s wife: Si vous voudrez quelque chose… French is taught in school, so only the uneducated don’t speak it.

Of course, with each other, Moroccans usually speak Darija (unless they are Berber, but let’s hold off on that). They might greet each other with Ca va? but Lebes? is more common. They can switch between Darija and French in the same sentence, and I understand there are a lot of loanwards in Darija itself.


I need to learn French (again)

And Spanish (more)

And if I want to be like the cool kids:

Arabic (Darija)

And if I want to read and write:

Arabic (Standard)

October 4, 2009

"Are you speak English?"

Rabat. 8AM. Switching buses to get to Tangiers.

There is nothing more comforting than a Japanese tourist more confused than you are.

October 3, 2009


I lived in Saudi Arabia for most of my life without learning more than twenty words of Arabic, such was the insulation effect of the expat community. I was excited to redeem myself by learning the language during my time in Morocco, until I did some research.

Darija is the dialect of Arabic spoken across the countries of Northern Africa. Certainly it shares some grammar and vocabulary with Standard Arabic, but it is distinct. It is not just British English compared to American English. Each country has a variation of Darija, which leads us to Moroccan Arabic. Says Wikipedia:

"Moroccan Arabic has a distinct pronunciation and is nearly unintelligible to other Arabic speakers."

Fantastic. I will learn this Arabic dialect, known as Darija, and be more or less unintelligible across the Middle East. But everything for a reason, my mother says. Chin up, I began from square one with my Casablanca host, Nourredine, who taught me the following expressions. 

lebes? (how's it going?)
lebes (it's going well)
kider(a)? (how are you?)
mezyan (good)
ana canadia (I'm Canadian)
ana usteda (I'm a teacher)
deba (now)

Thanks, Nourredine.

October 2, 2009

"Smile, you're in Casablanca!"

Morocco is much more relaxed than I expected. In the airport at Casablanca, I looked at clothing and found short-sleeves, knee-length skirts, and leggings. This is nothing like Saudi Arabia. The sticker at the passport control booth told me to smile, so I did.

The next day, biking along the Pacfic, I saw the same variety of clothing. I also saw couples holding hands, girls laughing, and crowds of boys jumping in the water and too busy to bother their female counterparts. All these signs point to societal health.

Smile, you’re in Morocco!