9/20/2009 – The following morning (still Ramadan on account of a shy moon), the Fulbright crew put on a live concert for a thrilled audience of exactly 2 Spanish tourists. The venue? Café Detroit in the Kasbah. How it happened? I’m not sure, but like all great adventures it started by stopping to ask a man wearing a Fez for directions. We were looking for a Gnawa Master known as Abdellah El-Gourd, also known as Abdellah “the bearded one” by the locals. (You’ll never believe how we found him in the end). Anyhow, we were invited in, and after a quick demo in 6/4 time, Kendra Salois and Catherine “Second Wind” Skroch (both newly inducted members of Moroccappela) took us on a mint-tea induced musical journey.
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FLASHBACK TO FEZ: Meanwhile, in a 5-star hotel bathroom 350 kilometers away, a Fulbrighter named Sam is being asked to leave the premises, permanently. Sam has avoided his host family’s Turkish toilet for over a week now. Instead, he strolls unceremoniously into Hotel Batha each morning as if he were meeting an old friend for coffee. A casual bystander would note that Sam even glances around the lobby with a slightly raised unibrow, in hopes of spotting said acquaintance. On this particular day Sam has no time for theatrics. His dinner has been plotting its escape all night.
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During Ramadan the door to McDonald’s in the New City reads: No Muslims Allowed. We visited one afternoon in hopes of satisfying a sudden desire for Oreo McFlurrys. I spent perhaps 6 or 7 minutes studying the menu. They had steak fries and a sandwich called the McArabia: a lamb meat patty served in a pocket pita with vegetable stew dressing. But, what really perplexed me was the Chicken Mythic. It looked exactly like the McChicken but cost 20 Dirhams more. Andrew bought one and I got the other. The difference? A slice of cheese! I ask you, does cheese really make a sandwich Mythic?
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.