A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Globalizing Maroc

It has been argued that the ‘national identity’ is perhaps the biggest and most successful myth perpetrated on humankind during the modern era. Morocco might be a good example of this.

Originally home to nomadic Berber tribes, Arab influences were introduced to the area early, and Carthage established not long thereafter. And though the French had a major role as the main colonizing power of Morocco, one doesn’t have to look far to see the influences of other European states. In the north, where only a small stretch of water separates Morocco and Spain, Spanish sway is evident. Or, a tour around the port town of Essaouira will make apparent the power the Portuguese once had in the area. And with it’s role as one of the most important slave ports on the North African coast, the influence of Sub-Saharan slaves who never made it farther than Morocco is obvious in the Gnaoua tribe that still inhabits the area.

“Every grand civilization is a metissage,” once said Leopold Sedar Senghor (at least according to the Routard), and perhaps this is because, as Salman Rushdie said in defense of his controversial Satanic Verses, “ mélange, hotchpotch [by which we assume he means hodgepodge?!], a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the word.”

And so what does it mean to be Moroccan? Does one identify with Berber roots (of which one might have none)? Does one look to Islam which has organized the society? And if we go that far, must we then look to the French who have left an indelible impression on the politics, economy, and culture of the country? The answer is, probably a little bit of all of these, depending on the time, place, and person. And this is exactly why the myth of that nation-state is so powerful—no matter one’s personal leanings, one is above all else Moroccan. Dwell on that thought a while with regards to your personal context (what does it mean to be an American [especially], or a Chinese, or a Mexican, or a Pilipino, or ad infinidum anyway?).

And while you do, let me continue with two other questions with regards to the Moroccan case: a) is this Marocaine metissage of the past any different from what we experience today as globalization? and b) how is globalization experienced in Morocco today?

With regards to the first question, I can only start with the same argument that most proponents of a globalization thesis start with: the idea of intensification. Indeed Anthony Giddens, one of the pioneering globalization theorists defines globalization “as the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.”

And so, it can be argued that in previous periods, Morocco was maybe subordinated to a colonial ruler, but that this hardly constitutes the close relations all around the world that apparently exist today. Colonial imperialism ≠ globalization—it is too simple a relationship. Also, to what extent did farmers in Bordeaux know and/or care about a nomadic Berber tribe at the height of French colonial rule in Morocco? Perhaps more so than vice versa, but still probably only a negligible amount.

Is this any different from the modern era? Questionable, though several scenarios can be imagined where the two disparate groups might have a large impact on one another. For example, it is much more likely today that a member of the Berber tribe might have immigrated (legally or otherwise) to France, maybe to Bordeaux even. The French farmer then would be confronted directly with this ‘other,’ who might keep in touch with relatives in Morocco via telephone (Skype?), or some other mediated form of nearly instantaneous interaction. Or a more likely scenario might be the French farmer who now has the easy ability to jump a cheap flight to Morocco to go meet (and buy a rug from?) said nomadic Berber tribe.

Framed in this way, it’s a question of intensification. But while a tourist to Morocco is more likely to be from France, or at least Francophone, s/he might just as easily be Spanish, British, Canadian, Australian, Italian, American, Japanese, German, etc. Here it is the diverse global influences, the world system, that is emphasized.

Returning to the Portu-Franco-Arab-Moroccan slave port of Essaouira then, was that not a player in a global system? Anyone with basic high school history can draw the golden triangle of the slave trade between Africa, the New World, and established European powers. Perhaps I’m being to Western-centric to call this a world system, for where is Asia in the slave game? But it’s certainly a very established, very international economic process, where actions in distant lands had very direct local consequences. How is globalization any different today? I’m a little at a loss.

And so I turn to the second question: how is globalization experienced for Moroccans today?

Again, I want to start in Essaouira, a UNESCO world heritage site, which might begin to give us an idea of how the town experiences the world today: as a tourist attraction.

For Amir (names have been changed to protect the innocent) a horse handler who comes from a small village about 3km from Essaouira, this means that beyond speaking Arabic and French (the two languages taught in school) he also must be semi-conversant in English and German. We chose to speak in French.

“Moi, je suis lycencé en informatique,” he explained during our short horse ride. “Me, I have a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology.” “Mais tu vois, je suis ici avec les chevaux,” he laments. “But you see, I’m here with the horses.” It’s the only way for him to make a living in a community which he estimates has an unemployment rate upwards of 40%. “I did create a website for my ranch. I’ll give you the address.”

As we ride through the scrub brush he points to an ancient stone bridge that had been washed away many years before during a flash flood. There are men taking laser measurements on top of the remains. “Are they rebuilding the bridge?” I ask.

“Oh, of course. You see all that scrub over there, that’s being cleared for a golf course. And the construction over there is a new resort. They need to rebuild the bridge so they have access to it.”

“It’s a shame that they’re destroying all that ‘forest,’” I reply.
“Yeah, but the one good thing I can say about it all is that it brings work for the locals.”

And so it appears that Morocco is moving to fill its global niche as a European vacation spot—France’s Mexico if you will. If we are to believe Amir, this is the only route to economic stability for the local populace, which is quite disheartening. But THAT’s globalization today.

Labels: ,

Happy Christmas, etc.

It’s all in the details they say, and it seems to hold for Christmas in England as compared with the States. Taking a general picture, they’re very similar—they’re both out to ostensibly celebrate the birth of Jesus but have actually turned into gift orgies, families are at the center, and there are lots of movies on the tele.

But like I said, it’s all in the details. In England, the potatoes tend to be roasted, not mashed; brussel sprouts take center stage in the Christmas dinner (and there is much debate as to whether or not to criss-cross the bottoms of the sprouts before cooking. No cross = crisp center but will offer little protection from vampires if such an eventuality were to arise); ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ has a different tune (not to mention that they pronounce it Beth-lee-hem and not Beth-le-hem); and ribbon to tie up presents is surprisingly scarce (though apparently I was just looking in the wrong places. I was told to try a haberdashery instead of my local supermarket).

Differences or not, I did very much enjoy my Christmas and Boxing Day which I spent this year with a British friend who I knew from China and her family.

On the 23rd, we “got the religious stuff out of the way” so we could have a clear conscience for all the drinking that was about to ensue. We did so by going to THE Canterbury Cathedral (yes, of Chaucerian fame) for the carol service. It was quite spectacular, and the building itself is awe-inspiring. My friend’s dad pointed out that it was nice to actually see the church in use instead of just touring the building, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Then, for Christmas Eve, we trekked over to Leeds Castle where my friend is going to get married as soon as she finds a rich husband with whom to do so. Again, a lovely experience that involved a magnificent library that left me drooling (and angry with a couple of Chinese tourists who were actually taking down the books and posing with them for pictures. If I only knew how to say ‘greasy paws’ in Chinese, I might have said something), a trip through the estate maze and grotto, and a watching such interesting birds as an English Eagle Owl and some black swans.

Christmas Day rolled around, and my friend and her dad headed up to London to pick up her sister while I stayed behind with her mom and another friend to finish the Christmas meal. When they came back it was presents, presents, presents then onto drinking and the meal. They had the British-style crackers that contained scratch cards inside (I even won £10!), and whistles for all so that we could play Christmas carols. It was all good fun, and we even sat around the piano and sang a few just for good measure.

We also, of course, celebrated Boxing Day (no I still don’t know what that is), whereby we went to Knole Estate (another of Henry VII’s haunts with Leeds Castle) for a walk around the park. We got sufficiently muddy and saw the most adorable Bambi bounding around the park. Then it was home to fall asleep in front of “Bed Knobs and Broomsticks,” before another dinner with more relatives. We got on the subject of the veil, and we went at it, which is all good fun. Leave it to me or my friends to actually have opinions! Or maybe it was the wine…

Happy holidays to you, my faithful(?) readers. And best wishes in the new year!!


Friday, December 22, 2006

Turkmenbashi. Dead?!

I can't believe it. The famed "President for Life" of Turkmenistan just died. I'm strangely crushed, and I can't help wondering who the western media will be able to turn to in order to find crazy dictators. Oh wait, that shouldn't be hard (actually, I was just noting an article about crazy old Ahmadinejad in the IHT today as well).

But really, Turkmenbashi (Saparmurat Miyazov) was in a league of his own, and shall be missed (with the exception of the oppressive dictatory parts). In honor of his passing, I direct you to his Wikipedia biography, and share some important Turkmenbashi facts:

-"He banned video games, gold teeth, opera and ballet, and once encouraged his people to chew on bones — good, he said, for their dental health." (IHT)

-"He forbade independent news media and opposition parties, jailed rivals or drove them to exile, and imposed his name, words and image on all manner of public discourse and life." (IHT)

-"Global Witness, a private organization in London that campaigns against corruption, expressed concern about money held in Deutsche Bank that had been under Niyazov's control. It said that $2 billion to $3 billion were in an account used to accept payments from Turkmenistan's gas customers, but that Niyazov routinely used the account for personal expenses and vanity projects." (IHT)

-"Claiming Turkmenistan to be a nation devoid of a national identity, he attempted to rebuild the country to his own vision. He renamed the town of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea, Türkmenbaşy after himself, in addition to renaming several schools, airports and even a meteorite after himself and his immediate family. He even named the months, and days of the week after himself and his family; January becoming Turkmenbashi.[4] Niyazov's face appears on Manat banknotes and large portraits of the president hang all over the country, especially on major public buildings and avenues. Statues of himself and his mother are scattered all over Turkmenistan, including one in the middle of the Karakum Desert as well as a gold-plated statue atop Aşgabat's largest building, the Neutrality Arch, that rotates so it will always face into the sun and shine light onto the capital city." (Wikipedia)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holy Random, Batman!

I'm in a random mood, and I'm listening to Nat King Cole sing Spanish ballads, so I thought I'd post...cause why not really?

Saw two articles that I found uber interesting and did have to share about China. As a student of culture, I found China establishes initial database for intangible cultural heritage an interesting discussion of culture in China. And also, from the IHT, we have a great article about free cabbage. Seriously, check it out.

Other random thoughts: I'm now addicted to mince pies. Damn you England! Also, Casino Royale, thumbs down!! Bond like barely even has an English accent, and what good is Bond sans suaveness?!?!?! Facebook is fun, even if I am just a recent convert.

Oh, and happy holidays!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Marrakech Vid

And since I'm having so much fun playing with iMovie, here's another short excerpt of my trip to Morocco.

Labels: , ,

Essaouria Vid

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Indonesian HuaQiao

So now that I posted my blog entry, I decided to head over to the IHT to see what's up in the world. And like I often do, I found a fascinating article that I just had to share, this one is about overseas Chinese in Indonesia.

Now, I don't know much about the situation of Chinese in Indonesia, with the exception of the fact that tensions between Chinese and "indigenous" populations run high. In 1998, for example, in Jakarta, there was a huge massacre of the Chinese population.

But things are apparently getting better, or at least that's what this article claims. The quote that really struck me though is as follows:

"As late as last year, a U.S. court of appeal ruled that the threat of violence was enough to justify a Chinese Indonesian to seek asylum."

I had no notion.

Labels: ,

Best Laid Plans

Arriving in Essaouira (as-suira, or 'the well drawn/designed') one can't help but feel the presence of antiquity. That's not to say it's not a modern town--indeed, the beach is lit at night with acerbic floodlights that flicker in the harsh sea wind. But standing on the flushed white ramparts that encircle the medina watching the waves crash up against the rocks, one gets the impression that it's a city past its prime. Rising from the sea-mist it sits regally, like a queen who has lost her kingdom but retains her dignity.

And so it is a welcome change from England, or even St. Malo, France, of which it is vaguely reminiscent. In the medina, motorized vehicles are not allowed, making it a real breath of fresh air. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, and in that sense could just as easily be Lijiang or Luang Prabang, but I'm here during the winter, at the nadir or tourist season, and so it's doable. The beach is mostly empty with the exception of small groups of boys playing football.

But it's the history that's interesting here. Essaouira is situated just on the NW coast of Africa (see map above) facing out to the Atlantic ocean and the Canary Islands. There are small islands just off the coast (just like St. Malo), but the port is more like Marseille, with an island housing not the famous Chateau D'If (of The Count of Monte Christo fame) but a prison just the same. Ironically though, the prison sits next to a mosque, whose minaret stands proud as a monument to ancient Arabic expansion into the west through North Africa.

These islands are known as the "Iles Purpres," or the Purple Islands, and it's here that we can begin to see the links to antiquity. During the time of Caesar, it was on these isles that the mollusks used to make the purple dye for the royal robes were collected. But the "height" of Essouira came much later, as an important port along the slave trade.

And walking along the port, now used to support a fairly minor fishing economy, I couldn't help but think about the trade that used to take place here. And suddenly the ramparts became opressive.

But beyond its history, Essaouira is a beautiful city. Today, as I was walking down the beach, a man approached me with the idea of taking a horse over to "Jimi Hendrix's Castle" (note, Jimi Hendrix, and many other hippies, stationed out here in Essaouira during the 70s apparently). I thought, why not, and we were off with me riding Che Guevara (what a name for a horse!).

We did go over to the little village of Diabat, after fording a river whose stone bridge had collapsed long ago. After a ride through the brush, we came upon Hendrix's "chateau," again, long since in disrepair. The best part was trotting over to the dunes and then over to the beach, where we set out in a full gallop through the shallows. I felt like I was either in Hidalgo, with the sea appearing from behind the dunes, or some Bond film, racing down the beach on a horse. In any case, it was the best experience I've had all trip, and is one I'd recommend highly.

If you have the time, Ranch Mogador even does 6-day horse treks from Essaouira to Agadir, following the coast. It's something I'll definitely have to keep in mind for next time, as riding horses is soooo much nicer than riding camels!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Soyez le bienvenue

First, my apologies if there are a lot of mistakes in this post. I'm trying to be careful with my typing, but I'm using a Moroccan keyboard whose Roman character input is in the French-AZERTY style. Of course, this is made more difficult by the fact that most of the keys are so well used that I can't read the letters, so I'm trying to use AZERTY from memory, and that's just a touch difficult.

But at least I'm here in Marrakech, just meters from the central square, Djemma al-fenah listening to the afternoon prayers. I was looking at flights several months ago (which is how I ended up in France) and thought to myself: 'at the end of term, I'm going to want to escape from London's cold grey skies to some place vaguely warm and sunny.' And so, Morocco!

The funny thing is though, that it's actually warmer in London at the moment. That's not to say that it wasn't damn cold last night when I left (I spent forever waiting for a bus in 35 degree Farenheit weather...grrr), it's just not that much warmer here, and to top it off, it's raining en plus! It's supposed to clear up (and warm up!) by Tuesday, but it still makes me sad, especially since I don't have indoor heating.

But despite all this, I'm really enjoying myself already. I've been taking Arabic classes at the LSE this term, and upon arrival here in al-Maghreb (Morocco) have had a sense of instant gratification. Now, all we've spent the first six weeks doing is learning the Arabic alphabet, but it's so refreshing to study a language with an alphabet again! I'm just going around Marrakech like a little child sounding out letter by letter the words. But it works, and I could read 'Marrakech Menera Airport' in Arabic when I arrived. It's so different than in Chinese where even if I can understand what the word means, I might not be able to pronounce it unless I've memorized how to do so. Now my problem is that I can read some words, but I have absolutely no clue what they actually mean. Details, right? I also don't know how to say anything in Arabic yet, with the exception of "Peace be upon you," so that's a little less than helpful when trying to get around. Next time, next time!

And in a truly bizarre, small world moment, I was walking down the street here, when all of a sudden I heard: "Jeff! Is that you?" Travelling by myself, I was a little taken aback. And then I recognized her--it was a fellow Whittie named Molly who is just returning to the US from Senegal after her two-year Peace Corps stint there. Apparently with Air Maroc you can stay over in Casablanca for up to a month when flying between Dakar and JFK, so she thought she'd take advantage of that fact to explore a new country. She's even already started to catch me up on all the gossip about the other Whitties and people I know from my study abroad program in Nantes, France who were doing Peace Corps in Western, Sub-Saharan Africa. After just having met another friend, Mags, who was passing through London last Wednesday, I can't help but think that us Whitties are everywhere!

Now to see if I can't find a hammam (bath house) to go warm up and get a massage in...

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wikiwiki, what?

I'm not even sure what I clicked to get to this article, but I thought it was really quite funny and vaguely useful. There are diagrams and everything. Still don't think it'd work on the top story of a double-decker...but then you're not really supposed to stand up there anyway...

How to Remain Standing While Riding a Bus

Really, what would we do without wikihow?