Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hajuj lessons

It’s a sad time when you finish a good book. There’s a moment of despair, knowing that it’s done, gone. I know, it’s melodramatic. For anyone who’s interested in Fez, though, I recommend some Paul Bowles’ A Spider’s House (a daring move undertaken by few academics).

This evening was a wonderfully spent bit of time with Annie. We walked around the new city after sitting atop Hejji’s carpet/justice house. We had some pizza at our favorite little spot, and then tried to find the old park. It’s in great shape! The king is really knocking out these public works projects. Hassan II looks great, there’s a pair of large fountains, and the park is a pleasant surprise! We passed on the Fez City Clan, a hip hop group, at Ait Skato, and instead took the rare opportunity to just wander the new city. When I got back to Sidi al-Awad, it was hopping! There were sellers through the entire entrance with music, shoes, pants, shirts, etc. on rugs set out on the sidewalk. A good time to come back, it seems.

I bought a hajuj today! After asking over and over again, I was confident that Abd al-Rzaq did, in fact, have another instrument. And in order to secure my lessons, I paid him 700 DH for the instrument (instead of 1000) and offered 100 DH for each 4 lessons. This gets me 12 lessons, an ambitious goal, over the next few weeks. And today was lesson #2! We worked on the bambra, the first song played after everyone sits down at the layla. My finger hurts.

Tomorrow we’re going down to Sefrou for their Cherry festival. It’ll be our first visit to the smaller town, and the first time back in the adventurous Grand Taxi.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Just got back from the best of the Sufi Nights programs. The Tatrit group was a collection of Tauregs (men and women) who had more energy and performance wisdom than any of the other ensembles thus far. The Qawwals may be able to complete, but what this group had was a sense of staging that included motion. They didn’t “dance” per se, but they would get up, move around, and, as Fiona had put it, did crazy things with their hands. These fluid gestures would have come across as silly, but the consistency with which they carried them out made the moves fit. They had an electric guitar, two n’gonis, and a series of small hand drums to go along with the singing and clapping. The French descriptions between songs elicited enormous applause each time, they were probably nationalist, or counter-nationalist statements, each firm and carried out with confidence. I only wish we could catch more of what they were saying.

Today I had my first gimbri/hajuj “lesson” with Abd ar-Rzaq. I’m going with him tomorrow to check out a maker, and I’m going to attempt to pay him for lessons.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sick day.

This morning I woke up feeling somewhat lousy. So, of course, I went back to bed. The lack of language skills is exhausting. That’s why I ended up staying in all day, I realized after a while. I didn’t have the energy for a long sit with Said, Hejji, Mohammed, or Abd ar-Rzaq, and that limits my ability to wander the streets. When I want to avoid everyone, I end up closed in since each road now contains familiar faces. Exhausting.

I did, however, get to explore a new part of the house today. Si Ahmed asked if I’d like to join him on the roof, and after getting there he began to work while I sat. He uses just one small wooden table, full of large spaces between the old boards, and a giant pair of scissors. His ruler is a properly cut piece of wood. I guess that after time you learn that you only need one or two lengths to measure – an actual ruler is far more tool than is sufficient for the job. And his only pattern was cut into a piece of thick cardboard. That’s it. And while I sat there he made the fabric cuttings for probably 50 dresses. All yellow. Then Mohammed came up to feed his pidgins with Do’a. Watching her play with the (impressively large) birds was quite the pleasure.

The evening was the most satisfying part of the day (it always is) since the small girl from the neighbor’s family came by. I made her sit and help me with my Arabic – we worked on adjectives. Since I didn’t know the word for “opposite,” I had to act out what I was trying to get, which never really worked the way it should have.

Yesterday afternoon was a highlight of the trip thus far, since I got to sit with Abd ar-Rzaq for the first time (during the day). Our previous conversation was somewhat off the cuff, and absolutely unexpected. I prepared notes and questions for him while waiting for his arrival, but since it took much longer than I had hoped, I ended up talking to his friend. This conversation was almost as helpful as what came after it – never underestimate the power of speaking with those who think they know nothing.

When Abd ar-Rzaq did arrive, he sat and spoke with me about the mluks, all 7 men and 4 women, and gave me two names for each. Before he would answer something, he would ask me what I know, almost as if he’s testing my interest or research, perhaps to see if I’m serious. Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask to go see his friend about buying a hajuj myself. UF may end up with a free one as a donation in the end.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The big question from the family

Today I finally got the question from Si Ahmed: Why do you ask about music, about Sufism, etc, but not about Islam? He shared his need to fill the duty that is opening the way for my path into the Muslim life. (I definitely heard the word “shabek,” window, in there somewhere.)

Annie was off from school, so we finally got to spend an entire day together. It was wonderful. After a fantastic lunch here, with the family (lamb, but in some sugary grease?), we went to meet Claudine. But, sadly, it turned into a bit of a goose chase to find her house. Since she didn’t feel like leaving to meet us, it will have to wait.

The concert tonight was impressive. Morocco is doing an outstanding job, adding small details since two years ago. The entrance to Bab Makina, an old armory, was adorned with a series of stalls, each housing representatives from companies: TV5, Century 21, local spas, etc. The performance itself was a collaboration between the Al-Kindi Ensemble and a Byzantine chorus.

Fez has been good to me. The people each time I visit continue to surprise me with their unnecessary generosity, Hassan and, now, Rachel’s family, Si Ahmed in Sa’ada, and now Si Ahmed and his son here in the old city. I met Annie here, we fell for each other on these streets. Well, maybe that was in Chefchaouen or Essouira, but the vast majority of our time together happened in Fez. And now we return. Maybe again next year, and for a full year after that… This place is a large part of my life. Why is that? What made me take Arabic? I wanted to kill time and it quickly (not losing any of that killed time) shifted me into a different place completely. I meet all these people and I can tell, even if they don’t ask, that they wonder the same thing. And so do I. Why study this stuff?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Night In

(Everything before this is copied from the notebook – forgive the terseness. I’m not good when writing by hand.)

Today had some big moments, but not where they were expected. Early on I went to visit Said, who informed me that Hejji had tried to call yesterday and had arranged a meeting with his Gnawiyya friend. After fixing my phone, we sat with Claudine, who wants to introduce me to Fredric, who is with the Hamadcha Brotherhood. He is a French researcher who performs with the group regularly and has lived in Fez for the last 5 years. She is also a singer and is interested in electronic music (in Paris). My first trip back to that area. In the new city I got to see Annie again!

After pictures and lunch Annie made me talk to Thierry, a photographer at the café with the festival schedule at hand. He agreed to meet me tomorrow for coffee after we talked at some short length on his childhood in Algeria and his life here in Fez since. He returns frequently, but hasn’t found himself ready to try and head back home – a family of his name was recently killed on arrival.

Tonight dinner with the family and Hafid (uncle, brother of Ahmed) broke into song! Stories of the prophets, Allah, and muezzin-esque recitation by Si Ahmed himself! I learned that the family is Tijaniyya and was able to ask many questions on the group’s history and structure. According to Hafid, Tijani was not from Algeria (contrary to some popular beliefs), but from Saudi Arabia. And he scolded Algeria for using the man's legacy for political gains. And get this: their other uncle, the older one who was admonishing Mohammed’s friend yesterday, is the assistant Imam at the Zawia – quite the post, and a retired Arabic teacher. I now understand the significance of last night’s argument.

There’s a Tijaniyya performance with the Sufi Nights this week. I wonder what the family has to say.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The argument...

So I just witnessed quite the argument/discussion about Sufism between Ahmed’s brother (white jallaba, beards in hand) and this other fella (jeans, polo, younger, studying with Mohammad). The brother was lecturing the other on what a Sufi is. The other is now de-stressing with Mohammed’s sister, and I believe that I heard him say “Ana tasawwuf!” a few times. I think that he was just scolded, and I only hope that I didn’t cause this by coming downstairs at a terrible moment! I really need to learn my Arabic.

Earlier today I found out that Hejji Karim knows a Gnawa! Hopefully it’s true! I am afraid that I need to initiate more intentionally.

Annie and I had a wonderful morning, sitting with the group around the corner (Said, Hejji, some old men). We talked, had tea, and she was given earrings and a port d’eau (?). I even got a ring from the deal. We met my family and had some lunch before she had to head back.

Meeting the family!

Today I met my homestay family. The house is right in the middle of the old city, between Al-karowayne and the Zawia Sidi Ahmed Tijani. I’m up on the third floor with a wonderful family. Mohammed’s English is solid, his father is, seems stern, but loving. He is a tailor and showed me some of his clothing. His son is finishing his training to do the same, but with modern cloths. They have two daughters and one other son, and one of the daughters has a small child, Do’a (“supplication”), who is a riot, and keeps falling on her bum. The next door neighbors are always over, and their daughter just received 500 DH for doing well in school! The first thing she did was try to give it all to her family members (they gave it back)!

During my walk I met a group of men, led by Hejji Karim, who knew quite a bit of English. He says that he will introduce me to a musician friend of his in the next few days.

And the schedule for the festival looks fantastic!

The morning involved sitting at the old café (now a pool hall!), running to find info on tickets with Annie and Fiona, and enjoying a lunch of people’s leftovers at the school. Who could eat 8 fruits at one meal, anyhow! After a tajine!

The baby keeps screaming when you least expect it. But not in a bad way.

(I miss Annie.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

We made it!

After many, many long hours of sitting, waiting, flying, and riding trains, we made it to Fez last night. And already it's beginning to look pretty eventful. I had almost forgotten, but the Festival de Fes begins this weekend, and after looking at the schedule, I'm stoked. Nass al-Ghaiwane is doing a free show next weekend, Ismael Lo of Senegal is doing the same. The Sufi Nights program (late night chants) includes Taureg music and a number of different groups from the south. Even Al-Kindi is performing, who Jonathan Shannon studies (Deborah Kapchan's husband, and we all know how I feel about their writing...). The entire schedule is at - take a look.

Yesterday we had dinner at a place called "Ten Years," and it was excellent. The first reminder of how tasty couscous and harira can be. And no one can deny the bland familiarity of the Fez Special brew. It's bad, but local, so you can't complain. Reminds me of Costa Rican Imperial. The server was ecstatic to have someone is his restaurant, and asked us how to say things in English all night long.

Frank, I saw Si Ahmed today (for everyone else, he was our old Moroccan host), but my Arabic was so rusty I felt bad. Hichem moved to LA!

We both have phones: my new number is (from abraod) 212 76 61 17 99. Annie's is 212 76 61 08 00. You can text without any extra international charge, I think. But I make no promises. Checking of email will be sporadic, of course, especially with all the travel and wandering the country. I hope to hear from everyone soon.

B-slama w barak allahu fik.