Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Friday, 31 March 2006

The Protest

I have had recent reason to have renewed respect for our local consulate. They have taken to notifying us when there are going to be protests or rallies that we might be interested in attending. The cartoon flack I wasn't really on board with, as those who read this blog know. But today we were just told that there was a protest for Palestine, against American action/inaction there. After getting the requisite permission (as specified in my contract), and admonishment to not mention GWA were I interviewed (when the yellow journal TelQuel interviewed me on my political views about the US presidential election a couple years ago, I was careful to state that these were only my views), I hopped a cab over to the consulate. And had a great conversation with the cabbie, helping him understand a little more about what we believe. No, not three gods, but one God. Not the Father, Mother, and Spirit (it says this in the Qur'an)- we've never believed that, that's shirk, heresy. But rather Father, Jesus, and Spirit. Kind of like how the Qur'an says God has a word, and that word is one part of who God is. No, Son of God doesn't mean to us that he is literally God's son, but rather it is a symbol for anyone who is close to God. Ironically, Son of Man is the divine title. It was a good conversation.

And a strange rally. There were about 200 people there, about a block from the consulate. They couldn't get any closer, as the entire block was blocked off in front of the consulate. For this rally. There were also about 20 police cars and a commensurate number of policemen. Despite my receiving warnings that it would be dangerous for Americans there, I felt far safer there than I feel in many other places. They were chanting slogans, and, in order to appear less American, I joined in in the places where I could do the Arabic sounds. For that same reason I didn't bring a camera, so as to appear less conspicuous, though there were a number of Moroccans and Palestinians there with cameras. I'm not sure of most of what we were chanting. Something about Palestine being Arabic. And I think they said that all Americans are sheep- but that really didn't make sense.

They had an entire block cordoned off. But I was expecting a few thousand people at least, and a march, like the protests we have in the States. This was far smaller, and they were allowed to walk within only about 100 meters of that block. So they took a large Palestinian flag, which they waved with great exuberance in the center of the crowd, with everyone holding an edge, and walked back and forth on the 100 meters. The waved flags, and did a sing-song chant where one side would chant a short phrase, and then the next, on and on, back and forth. I found without the marching, it becomes less engrossing, so having my fill, I returned home, to prep the next Biology test.

Thursday, 30 March 2006

The Wedding

As I prophesied, the wedding bit. It was a bit, for I wasn't able to stay that long, as I had to pick up some Friends from the airport later that night. See, weddings here start a bit later- this one began early, at 8. In the evening. I told the host (mother of the groom, owner of our apartment) that unfortunately I had to leave to pick up Friends from America, at midnight. She said, "Please, come back when you're done. We won't finish till seven."

At first we were relegated to the Westerners room. They had a room for women, a room for men, and a room for the Westerners- me, Scot (who lives above us), and 2 Italians, one of whom spoke some English. Thankfully, we abandoned the Italians after we struck up a converation with a Moroccan man who sat down next to us and then invited us over to the men's section. I say thankfully, not because it's fun to abandon Italians, but rather that I was looking forward to interacting fully in Moroccan culture.

After a lot of sweets, we were invited outside to see the entertainers arrive. They came in dancing, playing their horns and special tamborine-drums. Every little bit they'd stop, calm down, and recite the Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur'an. And then loud, long trumpets, looking like those Swiss Ricola trumpets, but a little bit louder, and more dirgeful, played with penache.

I find most of the time, women here get to do cooler things. They get to dance more, put on henna, spend more time in the hammam...They talk a lot more at weddings too. The guys just sat around, drinking tea, eating sweets, staring. Oh, occassional talking. But a lot of staring.

I found out what we were waiting for. It turns out the bride didn't come here. She was at a different location, so we all piled into cars to go there. I guess some families have the bride go to the groom, and some the groom to the bride. This was one of the latter. When I say palace, I mean to say Taj Mahal level. This was a place rented out by the bride's family. These two families are la bas alihum - literally no harm upon them, a rather sad and ironic way of saying "well off". This Taj Mahal was 3 stories high. When I say tilj, I mean intricate carving 4 stories up with the detail a modern spy satellite could pick up, carved in flowing three-dimensional plaster. It was at about this point that I had to leave to pick up Friends, so I missed the entrance of the bride. But it was for the best- I couldn't have gone around the next day if I was up till seven.

I did have a good time with the Harmons, Jeanine, and Dawn. We saw the thieve's market, briefly, the local souq, the beach, and the best shawerma in town, near my house. Strangely enough, they didn't want to go to the hammam...And ironically, now there is someone else from Yearly Meeting interested in working at the school. While on tour with them, I got a pic of one of my favorite signs around the city, "It is forbidden to pee here." They're everywhere.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

How to Attack Your Students

Well, we had our 1st Physical Science Field Trip, to which I sadly forgot to bring a camera to, so no pics...But we got to see the local Meteorology Institute. They do weather predictions and long-term climate analysis, and are the premier institue in the country. They were pretty advanced there- big vancy building, with lots of large computers, doing many billions of calcultions per second. There was a room where you could observe the scientists hard at work inside with complex computer diagrams, kind of like a zoo. I fully expected a sign "Don't Feed the Scientists". There was a sign in French that had a cigarette crossed out, and something that looked like nothing less than a marijuana leaf in it's place...We weren't quite sure what to make of that. They also had a lot of meteorology tools they had on display outside- not the ones they regularly use but rather the ones they have for all the tours that come through. The instruments they use are in the adjoining small airport.

If it sounds like my description is disturbingly lacking in science for a science teacher, that would be because it seems they somewhat forgot we were coming yesterday. And the guy who was going to translate for us, who used to work there, also did not show up. So the entire time it was in French, of which I speak walloo. (That's Dareeja Arabic for none.) So the exercise in review for the students on the bus ride back was telling me what they learned. I told them to pretend I hadn't understood a thing...I did learn that they claimed at the Institute that the guy who found the Ozone hole was a Moroccan. I have been unable to independetly verify that on the internet.

Speaking of students, I'm quite proud to report that I've recently taken to yelling at them and throwing large objects at them. Had a student a couple weeks back hiccuping constantly in class. She wouldn't stop. I waited till all was quite as they studied for the upcoming test, and then yelled out, "Zineb!". Quite loudly. For which she thanked me, as the hiccups had completely stopped. Always good when a student thanks you for yelling at them.

In another case, I've had a number of students confused of late as to what science is, as they have received a lot of misinformation lately on the subject. So in one class a student was basically saying that there was no way we could trust science. It was all opinions, theories, and not facts, and constantly changing. I explained again (as I had thought was understood at the beginning of the school year, before they heard otherwise) that theories are facts in science- just better than facts as they explain how a large number of facts work together. Although we always expect that things can change in the future once we get more information, we are always open-minded, we hold to what the current evidence states as a fact. They were still unconvinced, and a few others joined in the argument, saying we can't be sure of what is said in science, for the evidence can deceive. It being a science class and not one of existentialism (a philosophical school I greatly respect) I finally picked up a large book and threw it at the student. "Why'd you duck?" I asked. They got the message of the Flying Object Lesson. (To be fair, I didn't want to risk the student not ducking, so I threw it not directly at the student.) Scientific principles are based on evidence, which we rely on in order to trust anything in this world- even if it's a scientific principle that we accept as a matter of course, like projectile motion and gravity.

Saturday, 25 March 2006

The Ancient City

Fes is one of the 3 oldest continually lived in cities in the world. I've been a few times before, so I didn't spend a lot of time in the medina, or take a lot of pictures- it's not that new to me. But I had a good time over the weekend though with the Kelleys, and visiting the American school there, Amacitia. We saw a one store chalk full of spices, of which this is only a small portion- every spice you can imagine, and many I never could of. None for curses or love potions though. (Which I have an interest from from a purely anthropological folk-Islamic perspective- honest.) And the ancient tannery is there, divided into the white and colour zones. They use all kinds of substances to make that beautiful Moroccan leather, including urine and pigeon poo.

Unfortunately, Bill ran into some trouble from one of the water sellers while we were there in the Medina.

And then off to the the throne of America, situated conviently close to the church- and happily with a bit of Moroccan flavor in the McDonald's roof.

Tonight, for a few hours before I pick up some folks from Yearly Meeting at the airport, I'm going to go to my first Moroccan wedding. I hope to have some interesting etic observations to report, along with pictures, when I next blog.

Friday, 3 March 2006

Sugar and Snails and Everything Nice

There's a tradition here, that you bring a pillar of sugar, a qalib, if someone experiences a death in the family. We recently had a basketball game between staff and students, the first game of the school I've attended. (I'm more interested in football as it's more contextual in this county.) Last year the students won; this year it was the staff, by about 12 points. So I brought in the qalib and place it on the overhead. When students asked about it, as I knew they would, I responded, "I have heard it is tradition here that you bring a qalib when someone experiences a loss. I have brought this then for the students, who have experienced such a huge loss yesterday." See, it was a good game, but there was way not enough trash talk on the court. And now I've got enough sugar at home to make 4, maybe 5, cups of tea.

So today was another field trip with the Marine Biology class. My roommate who heads up a surfing company (Kai Boardriding Company- teaching and making boards) often goes there. I'm shocked at myself for never seeing this place at low tide before,in 2 1/2 years! It was absolutely wonderful. I've been there before when it was high tide, but never seen really the diversity possible in this area when it's low tide, in the right spot. Giant limpets; snails galore; green-striped crabs and fluffy yellow crabs; Cthamalus barnacles, giant Balanus barnacles, and goose-necked barnacles (rather gigantic size- bigger than I've ever seen); octopi larger than a man's fist; algae; rock-boring sea urchins; 3 species of seastar; 4 species of anemone (including striped and polka-dotted varieties)...It was absolutely beautiful. Yes, it was the same student, The Count, who was able to find again all the varieties of anemones. One Moroccan guy walking by helped us out in our request by capturing a large octopus alive- but he severely damaged it in the process, exposing it's brain. Unlike the other inverts without brains, Octopi can't survive well without a working brain, and sadly he died in about an hour. We found another octopus inside a small cave, but none of us were wanting to risk losing part of a finger by putting our hand inside to pull it out, and when objects like pens were stuck inside, his 2000 suckers with 0.17 lbs. (1.67 N) of pressure per sucker were nearly powerful enough to pull the pen out of our hands. He didn't go for the dead octopus we stuck outside to lure him out, though he was happy enough to nibble on it if we put the dead octopus on the edge of the cave.

We spent the day in a few different transects. The 1st was horizontal, with each student having a 12x1 meter swatch to observe all species and their diversity meter by meter. The 2nd was vertical, with a sloping or near cliff face to identify the 12 most dominant species and their total numbers in each 1/4 meter. Throughout this time, they had to analyze the water quality for salinity, dissolved oxygen content, pH, phosphates, and nitrates. (The salinity tester has some rather noxious chemicals in it. I'm hoping these brown stains on my hands will go away...) They also drew pictures and identified as best as possible the species we were observing, using an extensive N. American field guide and a more limited Mediterranean Field Guide. It was an excellent field trip, and we all had a lot of fun, despite it being cloudy and cold in the morning enough that I didn't think I'd need a hat and sunblock, for which reason I was sorely disappointed to discover myself red enough to appear to be supporting the red football team in Casa, Widad.

At the end of the day, we had collectected a large number of specimens, including the egg case of a "paper nautilus" (a form of octopus) and a test (shell of a sea urchin). We took a number of them back to school and set up a tank for all the species listed above. That gave us the opportunity to observe them closely in vivo. Some of the organisms were able to latch on to the new plastic surfaces. The limpet the size of the palm of the hand latched on with great force to the glass cover of one of the jars, and had to be pried off again. The urchins put out their tube feet podia and were waving them around. The crabs, annelids (green worms with legs), brittle star, and seastars started walking around even before the oxygenizer was inserted. But I'm worried about the mussels and barnacles and goose-necked barnacles, who aren't used to being transplanted after settling down for life in recruitment. Especially the goose-necked barnacle had to be pried off with some mess, and we got to observe one of the hermit crabs going to dinner on the base of it.

On Monday, insha'allah, we'll begin some labs, using live specimens, if they are still alive. I hope to observe the sea urchins alive and then dissect them, and see the flow of water over the mussel gills. And a particularly fun experiment- gently crack open the hermit crab shells, releasing the hermit crabs, and providing them with another shell, and watching what happens. Typically, they set up a heirarchy of shells, so if you drop a particularly nice one in the tank (be it a snail shell or a thimble), the top crab will drop his shell and grab the new one, the 2nd crab will do the same, grabbing the previous shell of the top crab, and so on.

I've blogged before how good the snails are here- especially in the juice. You can buy them from a number of stands in my neighborhood. But there are also women lined up for a fair stretch on the road to my school. Each has her own cart with a separate number. When the police come, they don't seem to have permits to be there, as they all run away. Ocassionally you see a car stop and buy some snails from them. But evidently, its quite popular. The other night, coming back from a Bible Study at the school, we ran into a huge amount of traffic. We creeped forward, and fully expected to see a large accident blocking the road. No. Just car after car, double-parked 3 abreast, lined up to buy snails.