Posts Tagged ‘Morocco’


Climbing through the Atlas Mountains

Climbing through the Atlas Mountains

Somewhere between the dusty path under our wheel and Marrakesh at our backs we had lost ten degrees of Fahrenheit. Poof! Gone were these degrees, evaporating into the ether as unheard of as a Neverman punchline. Despite the westward road’s climb in elevation, the increased proximity to the African sun actually brought relief from the valley’s all-too-intimate heat. Such change was a welcome one. Weeks ago I had given up on the insistence on cleanliness in vogue of late, surrendering my thrice daily baths and becoming familiar with the smell on my skin of days-old sweat (mostly mine, but not always). I didn’t entirely betray hygiene; I had, after all, packed my toothbrush. I kept my wounds covered because Ebola, I overcooked my pigeon because E-coli and I didn’t fraternize with camels because MERS; but I stank. I smelled of Fes tanneries, of Meknes butcheries, of spoilt vinegar thanks to the puddles of cat piss throughout Marrakesh. Up here, though, in the thinning air of the High Atlas… the wind charmed the nostril with the scent of untainted dirt.

I held my head out the window as a dog, the desert goggles strapped to my head keeping the filthy specks of Africa out of my eyes. To my left, my brother of a Berber-Arab mother drove the latter-century Mercedes truck.

“I have a joke. It is like riddle.” Rafiq began. In the back were the Australians and a California photo-journalist chick with mythical tattoos and a watch she wore on the inside of her wrist like a Mossad agent (thus I considered her highly-likely of Mossad). Rafiq went on with his riddle, “How do you get the camel into the refrigerator in three movements?” Rafiq drove on in the silence. Someone asked if there was a blender involved. Rafiq shook his head, no. “It is romantic joke.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe journey continued. Rafiq begged us to “think” about the joke. The answer was clear, he insisted. What wasn’t clear was our intent in the High Atlas Mountains. It began as something of a dare over smuggled gin – me auld mate of the Australian Consulate, Digger McKenzie, and I were desperate to unearth Qatari spies, especially if they had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. While the MB presence in Morocco had decreased after the reactionary appeasement to the Arab Spring by King Hassan, there were rumors of the Muslim Brotherhood being rife within the Rif and the Atlas Mountain ranges. Where our quixotic caravan wandered was Bled el-Siba, the Berber tribal country translated as ‘the Lands of Dissidence’. These were the mountains of the one-eyed rogue, Bou Hamara (translated ‘the man with the she-ass’) and of the kidnapper of Americans* el Raisuni: both scoundrels a century dead (give or take a hanging). The High Atlas was bandit country, fertile ground for a brotherhood of Islamic radicals on the run.

*President Teddy Roosevelt once put a bounty on Raisuni if a kidnapped Greek-American businessman was not returned unharmed, “Perdacarus Alive or Raisuli Dead!” Gunboat Diplomacy was nothing if not direct.

Since World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood had been a power player in Egyptian culture and politics (note past tense had). With the coming of 2011’s Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood seized power in Cairo with a little propaganda help from al-Jazeera Network and funding from the Qatari Royal Family. This would be the MB’s greatest (though brief) achievement and ultimately their undoing. The American Military of Egypt (armed by America, trained by America, etc. by America) held themselves a fashionable coup d’état and tossed the Muslim Brotherhood out of the country. Not only that, the most recent state of Egypt called treason on several al-Jazeera journalists for their part played in bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power (read more in my Qatar expose –kangaroo courts convicted the journos, rather unfairly, even if al-Jazeera paychecks are signed by Qatari royals). Suddenly without a country, where would the Muslim Brotherhood run? To the war-torn streets of Damascus and Baghdad? Or here… the Land of Dissidence?

I should mention, my introduction to the Muslim Brotherhood was pre-Arab Spring thanks to the French Documentary OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

Vic in Bled el-Siba, the land of dissidence

Vic in Bled el-Siba, the land of dissidence

We left Rafiq’s grandfather’s Mercedes in the village of Imlil and hiked our way up the mountain path to the village of Armed. Beyond Armed were valleys of river rock, thousand-years dried, and mountain peaks separating us from the Sahara. Both Imlil and Armed were villages prone to Berber territorialism, yet hardly breeding grounds for Islamic jihad. We still chatted and made tea with each passing villager, leaving my bladder a traffic warden ushering the minty, sugary stuff in as easily out.

At last, during a shade break well-beyond Armed, Rafiq answered his own joke, “How do you get a camel into a refrigerator in three movements? Open the refrigerator door, push the camel inside, close the door. Inshallah.” Ahh. Ahha. Arabic humor, you can’t mistake it. These are the same dudes who invented algebra, probably another of their jokes. The (Israeli-)American photo-journo asked, “How is this a romantic joke?” Digger, the Aussie, deadpanned, “Guess it depends on how you push the camel.”

Many thousands of miles away, in the disputed territories of Iraq and Syria, American drones are bombing jihadists who call themselves the Islam State of Iraq and Syria, or more commonly ISIS. These terrorists are the threat English-speaking governments & media insist have sleeper cells occupying the London Underground, digging beneath the Mexican Border and hiding under your bed. ISIS is ushering forth their own eugenics campaign – decapitating heathens is Natural Selection in favor of ‘the Faithful’, at least this would be their rationale should they be well-read on Darwin and Evolution. While misguided support of ISIS exists in the streets of Morocco, there does not seem to be any sort of organized threat here. Yet…

“There is reasoning why ISIS is only in two countries: ISIS is agent of America.” said the Frenchman wearing nothing but his very brief underwear and a curly red beard with beaded knots. It was a profound allegation that had us on our heels, but then we were leaning back as soon as this 6’+ Neanderthal emerged from the woods scratching his briefs and speaking French. I might, at this juncture, mention Rafiq is as allergic to Frenchmen as I am to Mayonnaise – which are related allergies. If you ask Rafiq about the period of the French Protectorate of Morocco, his kindly eyes will darken and he would spit on the ground if he weren’t so damned polite, incensed to the point of claiming, “Nothing was protected, only occupied.” Therefore French suck. Not that Rafiq ever shied from the occasional Parisian girlfriend, but these are details outside the realm of geopolitic.

Mister Giggle's nephews, Stink and Blink, with a mule train in the distance

Mister Giggle’s nephews, Stink and Blink, with a mule train in the distance

We didn’t happen by the Neanderthal, Francois, by accident. Our troupe had been hiking along when we encountered a mule-train recognized by Rafiq (these are the hills he grew up in). He connected with these Berber muleteers who invited us in for tea. All so bloody-fucking British, you would think, but the hospitality is nothing new to country folk – here or anywhere. Digger, his Australian companions, the Cali-Israeli chick Ly, and I enjoyed our tea as Rafiq rapped Berber with his people. He returned to us with another joke, “Lion is king of the jungle and so he plans a party. He invites everyone to party he is having and every animal attends except for one. Who is the animal and why is he not attending?”

It was while we were sipping our tea and pondering the party snub when the Neanderthal, Francois, emerged from the woodwork in his skivvies and a dead rabbit in hand. We asked Francois the Frank the same questions we had asked the village people and all of the muleteers in between – mostly, had you seen any Islamic radicals? Francois the Frank scratched his red beard, looked longingly at Ly, scratched his groin through the skivvies using the spare fingers of his rabbit hand and then spoke heavily-accented English directly to Digger McKenzie, who he assumed was the man in charge.

“ISIS exists, but not here. ISIS only exists in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Syria is where it exists because this is where America wish it exists. America does not like Syria regime, they are too friendly with Iran. America does not like Iraq regime, they are too friendly with China.”

Digger and Rafiq have tea with the muleteers

Digger and Rafiq have tea with the muleteers

Surprise, surprise… We had ourselves an educated Neanderthal. Apparently, that cyber café back in Armed came in handy. I couldn’t disagree with his premises. Syria’s dalliances with Iran didn’t make any friends in the Pentagon and it was true the previous Prime Minister of Iraq, al-Maliki, was cutting deals with China to give them oil once Iraqi oilfields were back in running order. All this and a free toaster, however, was hardly enough evidence to suggest the United States were behind the rampaging ISIS jihadists.

“Where come the money for ISIS? They have money, they have guns. Where this come? It come from Saudis, it come from Qataris, all by approval from Mother Liberty Miss America!” The Frenchman saluted as he ranted. The French had tendency towards douchebagginess. Digger McKenzie later diplomatically confirmed in his infinite wisdom: only the Dutch were worse.

Francois the Frank’s mumblings seemed absurd, yet absurdities worth considering… chaotic warfare in Syria and Iraq does benefit American aims to keep China and Russia off-balance. The be-headed Christians made an example of by ISIS were merely the sacrificed pawns of the Occidental War on the Orient. If you read behind the groin-scratching madness of the half-naked Neanderthal, you can start to see a conspiracy unfold. China is desperate for oil and the longer Iraq remains in chaos the longer China has to wait to quench its thirst. China is, ultimately, the power in the East (Orient) and the eventual Endgame opponent of America and the West (Occident).

Russia is even more susceptible to oil scarcity. Russia’s economy is dependent on a high oil price – the USSR even more so. In the 1980s, the United States managed to manipulate oil prices and the Soviet Union collapsed (#Reaganomics). To this day, the United States still manipulates the oil supply. The theory of “peak oil” is but myth meant to exaggerate supply & demand economics. There is no doubt plenty of oil exists and it is being held back by the United States. Canada wants a pipeline, fuck that. Iraq wants to rebuild their oil infrastructure and sell to the East, fuck that. The United States would rather keep oil underground than allow Russia or China to get their filthy mitts on the latest vintage.

As Russia encroaches on the Ukraine – just watch as surplus oil hits the market in a flood. The cost of oil will drop (though it will be hidden from the gas prices at your local petrol station) and this drop in price will drive Russia to economic ruin and/or nuclear agitation. Who drives this sudden surplus of oil? Us. US. US of A.

“If the Lion throws a party and every animal attends but one, who is it that does not attend and why?” Rafiq had asked back at the tents of the muleteers. After many guesses, the California girl surmised, “It is the camel.” Why did the camel not attend the party? “He is still in the fridge.” She was correct. The poor beast of burden was shivering his bones in the fridge as the lion party went on.

“Okay, an Aussie joke.” Digger interjected, not to be outdone. “Three Aussies enter the Medina and realize they forgot their watch. They ask a Moroccan sitting next to a bull what time it was. The Moroccan reaches out to the bull’s scrotum and weighs its bollocks with his hand before replying, ‘2:15’. Amazing, the Aussies think. The next day, they return with a watch and find the same man next to a bull. They ask him again what time it was. Again, the man cups the bull’s balls and estimates a time. The time matches with the Aussie’s watch. ‘How do you do that?’ the Aussies inquire. The man waves them forward… if you lift the balls of the bull up, behind them you can see the clock tower.”

Again – the answer is often clear, but blurred by our manic imagination.

It’s just a joke, but there is a pattern worth recognizing: Arabic tendency versus Western conviction. Westerners hear the same joke and expect different results. When the punchline comes, it is too late. Towers fall. I am no Arabist, but I read. I read about the English in Afghanistan in the 1840s and damn does it seem similar to the same tribal warfare we encounter now. I read about the Indian Mutiny of 1857 – incited when Muslim and Hindu troops under the employ of the English were led to belief their gun cartridges were greased by pig and cow fat. Western Diplomacy is short-sighted and long-barreled. Eastern-diplomacy is long-game and dagger-in-the-back. This shit is ongoing, eternal. After the atrocities of World War II, Western Powers bulldozed a path for permanent Israeli settlement in the Levant – the umpteenth Crusade, this time with a Hebrew King of Jerusalem instead of a leprous Frank. Has this crusade been any different than those of the last few millennia? Has the British cartographical dissections of Jordan and Iraq worked out? Ask the various tribes and ethnicities that make up the majority of those countries what they think of their chances at democracy.

Rafiq had a final joke, “How do you get an Elephant into the refrigerator in four movements?”

I was able to respond easily enough, “Open the door, remove the camel, push in the elephant and close the door.” Rafiq turned towards me and asked, innocently, if I had heard the joke before. I had not.


Greetings Wanderer,

This Brisbane bloke to my left and I have been sitting here admiring your disembarking of the train into this wilderness of Marrakesh. These nos-nos coffees may twerk our alertness, but nothing could perk our spirits as much as your grand entrance: baggage in the throes of mutiny, father already pickpocketed, step-sister having bled all over the seats now in search of toilette and nephews stolen away and sold into slavery at an Algerian anchovy cannery. Magnifique! Bienvenue a Maroc!

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh train station

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh train station

While here, I recommend endearing yourself to the heat. There is no sense in fighting the inevitable – your hotel room ceiling fans can only account for so much conditioning of the air. Take this Aussie bloke to my left – he is used to sweating for twenty hours a day and for the other four he drinks. He often drinks with me as I adopted the same lifestyle years ago living in the former Spanish colony of La Florida. As for finding booze in a mostly dry country, this is a topic for another time…

In Morocco, you are lucky enough to encounter a local who speaks Napoleonic French, let alone the Queen’s English. Even Arabic speakers may be hard to find the further into the Atlas Mountains you wander. To prepare the wayward traveler, I have compiled a short compendium of relevant words and phrases:

Arabic Common Words Heard in the Streets of Morocco

Nos-Nos – “Half-half” relating to the proportion of coffee to cream

The Baroness, having survived her interrogation by the Moroccan secret police, walked up to me in the hotel restaurant, grabbed my cup of nos-nos and dumped its contents into my already humid lap.

Bisaha – Cheers

“Prost!” Conrad lifted his glass of smuggled schnapps and swallowed it down, unaware of the laxative bubbling away within. “Bisaha!” I toasted back with my Casablanca Lager.

Inshallah – God Willing

I’ve got to see a man about a mule, Inshallah. Tonight I will sleep, Inshallah.

Y’allah, Y’allah – Hurry up, let’s go

To the roof! Y’allah! Y’allah! The secret police are downstairs.

Balek – Get out of the way, spoken by muleteers as they prod their beasts of burden through the Medina.

Balek! Balek! Unless you want to meet the business end of a mule, Balek!

Bahr Adulumat – “Sea of Darkness”, the Atlantic Ocean

Do you know what they do with Kaffirine like you? They tie you into sacks and drown you in Bahr Adulumat like dogs.

Caravanserai – lodging place on the outskirts of town where travelling merchants hold business.

There isn’t a decent drop of whiskey to be found in the city. Try going out to the Caravanserai where, for a price, you can find anything; except, maybe, incest as your kin are notoriously slippery.

Kaffirine – heathen or savage, often pale skinned and drowned in a sack in the Bahr Adulumat.

Not all Kaffirine are Nazarene, but all Nazarene are Kaffirine.

Nazarene – Follower of Jesus of Nazareth; Christians in specific, white folk in general.

You can claim atheism, but until you adopt the Five Pillars of Islam and discover your parents are Moroccan, you will always be Nazarene.


Now for some Francais… (courtesy of Ghislain, a notorious rake living in Portland, Oregon)

– Hello = Bonjour
– Thank you = Merci
– Sorry = Pardon
– Restrooms = Toilettes
– That’s a nice camel you have here = Votre chameau est magnifique !
– Where is the …? = Où est le/la … ?
– How are you doing? = Comment ça va ?
– What time is it? = Quelle heure est-il ?
– How much does this cost? = Combien ça coûte ?
– I would like to marry your daughter = J’aimerais épouser votre fille

Neverman of Marrakesh

Neverman of Marrakesh

Some further Francais courtesy of the InterWeb translation machines

Let them eat cake

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

Bring me more beer and whiskey, please

Apportez-moi plus de biere et de whisky s’il vous plait

How to make the camel stop?

Comment faire cesser un chameau?

Where can I urinate if there are no bushes in the desert?

Ou puis-je uriner si il n’u a pas de buissons dan le desert?

Show me to your dancing girls

Montrez-moi a vos filles de danse

I come in peace. Take me to your leader.

Je viens en paix prendre moi a votre chef

The American Embassy will pay you much for my release.

L’ambassade americaine va vous payer beaucoup pour ma liberation

I didn’t know she was your (sister, wife, mother, daughter)

Je ne savais pas qu’elle etait votre (soeur, femme, mere, fille)

Is there (a cell phone, an ATM, electricity) in your village?

Y at-il (un telephone portable, distributeur de billets, del’electricite) dans votre village.

Can you look at this rash? Is it normal?

Pouvez-vous regarder cette eruption? Est-ce normal?

Yes. Now that I think of it, your religion is superior. Where may I apply?

Oui. Je comprends maintenant votre religion est superieure. Ou puis-je postuler?

No really, I am Canadian.

Non, vraiment, je suis Canadien

No really, I am a Turk.

Non, vraiment, je suis un Turc

Is there anything on the menu without sand in it?

Y at-il quoi que ce soit sur le menu sans sable en elle?

Please, no mayonnaise.

S’il vous plait pas de mayonnaise

How far to the nearest shade?

A quelle distance a l’ombre le plus proche

No thank you. The price is too high.

Non merci le prix est trop eleve

Of course, all of us Canadians hate the French too.

Biens sur, nous tous, les Canadiens detestent les Francais trop