It took me 2 days to track down a drum set in the Medina. It belonged to the local muscle, aka Driss, aka Big D, aka Boss of the NBT (Nice Boys Team). Driss is also the lead singer of an Issawa music group and is an expert in several hand-drum instruments. I won his respect after playing the beat from “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” and now have his protection in the Arsat-Lamdelsi neighborhood. After googling “Rod Solaimani” and finding a clip from a live show, Driss now insists on calling me Rodness, which is short for His Rodness, which was the stage name I was christened with when I drummed for the instrumental hip-hop group Epiphany back in Atlanta.
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Usually at 5pm during the holy month of Ramadan most Moroccan cab drivers are on edge. I hear it’s even worse in Cairo. Fasting isn’t so bad. Not smoking is another matter. The combination of stress, hunger, and withdrawal lead to frequent scuffles and outbursts. This phenomenon is described by the newly created Moroccan verb “t-ramdan” which is often used in the phrase “Ma t-ramdan-sh aleya!” (“Don’t Ramadan on me!”). I have decided to fast through the rest of the month for reasons that now escape me. Intensive classes in darija (the colloquial spoken here) are in full swing and I’ve moved in with a host family, The Eljai’s, in the Old City of Fez. I’m here with another Fulbrighter who we’ll call Andrew, because that’s his real name. We are frequently visited upon by a bald Parisian hairdresser named Richard (pronounced RiiiiiishARD) who runs a Bed & Breakfast next door and an eccentric couple from the U.K. who tutor my host brother and host sister in English. I like to think of my life as a Moroccan Seinfeld.
Orientation in Rabat is non-stop. I start thinking about ways to put my Fulbright proposal into action and fate introduces me to the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer and her assistant, Ashraf, who helps run a Jazz music camp for youth in the “unreachable” parts of Morocco. I read The Alchemist just before leaving the U.S. and was immediately reminded of a line repeated throughout the book. “If you pursue your personal legend, the universe conspires in your favor.” Funny enough, the story’s protagonist also spends a transformative year in Morocco.
I am once more standing spread-eagle in a glass box with a boarding ticket in one hand and my passport in the other. I try to explain that I will be researching Gnawa-Jazz fusions in Morocco and that the “torture devices” being extracted from the depths of my bag were actually brushes for playing the drums. Unsatisfied with my answer, they ask me what kind of last name “Solaimani” is. “It’s Persian,” I replied. No response. “It’s Iranian.” Bingo.