Family and Friends

Last week I took my family on their first trip to Los Angeles.  For the girls, it was a series of firsts: first trip on an airplane, first trip to the West Coast, first trip to the beach, first view of the ocean, first ride on a boat, first stay at a hotel.  In addition to being sunburnt to a precancerous fiery red, highlights of the trip included a visit to the La Brea tar pits, Venice Beach, Dume Beach, and yes, inevitably, Disneyland.  (It is amazing what a cheap bailing wire and pasteboard aspect Disneyland presented in comparison with my memories of several decades past.)  And no, the years have not made me fonder of carnival rides that go high and fast.

Logo of the United States Peace Corps.

Image via Wikipedia

But the occasion of the trip was not merely a vacation, although a vacation was overdue.  Rather, it was a rendezvous with the core of my class ("stage") of Peace Corps Volunteers assigned to Morocco in 1988.  While I have good friends from other times in my life, as a group these are the best people I know.  In 1988, they assembled to teach English and development, rebuild the water infrastructure, promote reforestation, improve infant and child care, raise healthier livestock, teach health and sanitation, and even promote sounder beekeeping.  These enterprises met with varying degrees of success, although not for lack of effort.  And they were tackled with an unparalleled joie de vivre and a robust skepticism.  I am honored to have served among them.

The cross section of people that assembled for the reunion continue to be an inspirational cadre who are promoting the common good on a daily basis. From the engineers who are keeping the water supply safe and promoting solar and geothermal energy, to the teachers who are educating our children, particularly our special needs children, to the environmental scientists who struggle to save our own wilderness heritage in the face of too much bureaucracy and too little money, this is a group that has remained committed to making a difference.  My old friends, and I say that proudly, include an eye doctor, an U.N. translator, a software executive, and an entrepreneur and are involved in endeavors that span the globe from France to Australia to China.

On a personal note, I was particularly glad to see three people who made my experience in Morocco especially meaningful, The first, a co-organizer of the event, was one of the first people I met in Peace Corps and one of the ones I have known best and seen most over the years - a crazy-assed water baby who once griped, "I am everybody's best friend in Peace Corps."  I am glad he is mine.  The second was my next-door neighbor, only four hours away by way of the derelict Mercedes known as "grand taxis."  A person of style, poise, and grace, she was the best neighbor one could have -- supportive, present when needed, and tolerant of the foibles of someone who has spent too long in an isolated Moroccan village.  Third was the volunteer who organized the program at the La Creche Lalla Hasna orphanage where I spent my summer filling in between teaching stints in the countryside, an exemplar not only of concern and compassion for children but also of grace and cultural sophistication.  (By way of example, she travels with the music of the Tuareg on her iPhone).  

Justice requires a longer tribute than space allows; there is not space here to discharge my debt to the many Volunteers who bettered my life both during and after Peace Corps.  But at our reunion, for one brief shining moment, we were again Peace Corps Morocco.  And for that moment, hijinks aside, we could remember that we were and are heirs to the clarion call issued in a simpler time by President John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address: "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for
- ask what you can do for your country."

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el-Guerrouj Gets the Gold

The New York Times > Sports > Olympics > Track and Field: Guerrouj Gets His One Missing Honor

Aug. 24 - Hicham el-Guerrouj dropped to his knees and kissed the track, snapping the spell of two straight Olympic failures for himself and for Morocco.

With a defiant, redemptive kick, Guerrouj outlasted Bernard Lagat of Kenya in the final thrilling 50 meters of the men's 1,500-meter race on Tuesday and then edged him at the line by 12-hundredths of a second, a blink that became the achievement of a lifetime.

Peace Corps Back in Morocco

Peace Corps | Media | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 3, 2004 A group of new Peace Corps volunteers officially began their service on Thursday, May 20 in Morocco. The swearing-in of this second group marks the successful re-entry of the Peace Corps into Morocco.

I guess that they have been back since June, and I did not know it. I am glad they have returned.

Moroccan Mag


MoorishGirl mentions that the latest issue of Tingis is out.

The Summer 2004 issue of Tingis, a quarterly magazine devoted to Morocco, is now available, with non-fiction by Anouar Majid, David Kuchta, Oumelbanine Zhiri, and others.

I like the magazine, so I am pleased to see it getting more exposure, and I am looking forward to receiving my summer issue.

In the meantime, I am trying out my new CD of Gnawa and Issawa music.

Dog Bites Man

Charleston.Net: News from the Associated Press

MADRID, Spain (AP) -- Europe's biggest terrorist threat is Morocco - seething with as many as 1,000 al-Qaida adherents capable of suicide attacks and skilled at slipping through the continent's southern gateway, Spain's leading anti-terrorism judge testified Thursday.

It's not as though Spain has been pointing the finger at Morocco for the last 1500 years, or anything.

"Play It Again, Issam"

Casablanca Plays It Again at Rick's Cafe

It appears that an American entrepreneur has finally succeeded in opening a "Rick's Cafe" in Casablanca. The Reuter's article suggests that maybe this new restaurant, rather than being simply a crass knock-off of one of America's most popular movies, has a certain charm of its own. One thing is for sure, it's more Moroccan than the film, which was produced and filmed entirely stateside during World War II.

Moroccan Villages

Some years ago, I started a web page devoted to collecting information about Moroccan Villages. Over the years this page has undergone a number of iterations, but it gradually fell by the wayside both because it was too much work to maintain and because users could not contribute easily enough. For a long time, I have hoped to revive this page as a forum to which users could easily contribute with relatively little oversight by me. Since my current hosting configuration allows me to do this, I am pleased to offer the Moroccan Villages Forum.

War Corps or Peace Corps?

Send in the Peace Corps

"The question of how to reorganize the armed forces should be turned on its head: instead of making the military better at humanitarian assignments (in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps Liberia), humanitarian groups should strive to become more comfortable in military situations."

I agree with the author that we were too quick to pull our Peace Corps Volunteers out of longstanding programs in Jordan and Morocco. Refocusing the Peace Corps' mission from longterm development to military relief would be a mistake, however, and not just because it would increase the danger to volunteers. Frankly, the thought of turning the Peace Corps into an adjunct of the Bush administration's military adventurism revolts me.

Zawiya 1

I managed to catch the question and answer period of a lecture on North African zawiya -- or religious brotherhoods -- at the Middle East Institute. One of the more interesting points was that many of the Moroccan dynasties began as zawiya. Coincidentally, I began to read about their modern role in Morocco in Elizabeth Warnock Fernea's A Street in Marrakech. Although I saw many maributs -- or saint's tombs -- while I was in Morocco, I lived there in complete ignorance of the complex societies that exist around them, about which I am only now beginning to learn.

Arabs in America Today

I attended a fascinating lecture at the Middle East Institute today by Jean Abinader of the Arab American Institute. In the course of an hour, Mr. Abinader discussed many of the stereotypes and preconceptions that color both popular discourse and national policymaking in the United States. For example, contrary to popular perceptions, most Arab Americans are Christian not Muslim (a reflection in part of declining Christian communities in Arab countries). Moreover, only 20 percent of Muslims in America are Arabs; Arabs are far outnumbered by South Asians and African Americans. Arab Americans have made a point of distancing themselves from the despotic regimes of the Middle East, and have not traditionally thought of themselves as a minority. In fact, most Arabs in America do not think of themselves as Arabs at all, but as Egyptians, Lebanese, Moroccans, Syrians, etc. (Many associate the label "Arab" with Nasser's discredited pan-Arabism.) Increasingly since 9/11, however, Arabs have found themselves consigned to minority status and facing many of the same problems that other minorities have faced in this country. At the same time, the community is coming to grips with the fact that if they want to have a political impact in the United States, they need to come together, and that the label Arab-American is one under which they can unite to pursue their common interests and influence U.S. policy. On a local level, AAI is pursuing legislation to preserve civil liberties in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

Cowboys and Indians

I have almost reached the end of Albert Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples. Not only is the separate history of Morocco fascinating, but also the ruthless colonization of the Maghreb as a whole by the European powers. The situation in Algeria today is much easier to comprehend once one understands the extent to which the French colonizers completely subjugated the Algerian people, reserving land, wealth, education and power to themselves. My friend Rachid once said to me in Morocco: "Nous somme les indiens." At the time, I did not really see the parallel to the American frontier, but the parallel is a little clearer after reading Hourani's account of the colonization of Algeria and its cataclysmic war of independence.