Vietnam

Tonight Ken Burns’ documentary series, Vietnam, premiered, and I watched the first episode. Vietnam was the defining issue of my generation and the next. As I was entering college, the U.S. was quietly engaging in Vietnam. I knew virtually nothing about Southeast Asia. I was an international relations major with a deep interest in Canada, particularly French Canada. This was the sixties. With the end of the Duplessis government, what was known in Quebec as the Quiet Revolution had just begun. My only real knowledge of Southeast Asia came from the freshman geography class, imparted by my professor, Robert Huke, and he spent more time disparaging Wengener’s drifting continents, soon to become legitimate geological theory via plate tectonics, than he spent on Vietnam. My knowledge of Vietnam was through the popular press. As has become evident over the years, much was happening outside the eyes and ears of the press, and much of what was reported was ignored or denied by the government and military.

In 1964, a buddy and I decided we would hitchhike to Alaska, where we would work for the summer. We began in New Hampshire, heading north through Montreal. The goal was to follow the newly completed TransCanada Highway as far west as we could. Outside of Ottawa, while we waited along the highway with a sign with Vancouver written on it, a group of Carleton College students stopped. They weren’t going anywhere, but they gave us the telephone number of one of their friends, and advised us to look him up in Vancouver.

After a few days of good luck, we actually arrived there. With no place to stay, we called the number we had received in Ottawa. George wasn’t home yet, but his parents offered to put us up and we stayed with them for the better part of a week. During this time, they fed us, took us around town, and acted pretty much like surrogate parents. George’s’ mother even washed our clothes. They were as kind as could be. They were also the first communists either of us had ever met. The father was willing to admit Stalin had made mistakes, but the mother was not. Among the periodicals they received was a Canadian communist publication that carried news from Vietnam. They urged us not to believe everything that we read about Vietnam. We were still teenagers, and neither of us knew the history of Vietnam, nor exactly why we were engaged there. Our global view was the Cold War.

A year and a few months later, I found myself studying French in southern France, and began reading an account by French journalist, Jean Lacouture, of the Vietnamese conflict, Vietnam, entre deux paix. This work which had just appeared, convinced me that you could only understand Vietnam through the prism of intense nationalism, and suggested that American policy might not work at all. The French military experience had been a disaster.

Africa begins at the Pyrenees. Boulevard des Pyrénées, Pau, 1965.

Returning to the States in 1966, I found that opposition to the war increased as had our government’s involvement. The Selective Service was a burning issue. It ensured a steady feed of manpower from the baby boom generation, but the inductions included many who opposed the war or were confused about it. In each category were young men ready to serve, though some were more reluctant than others. Still others opposed the war strongly, some refusing to serve and seeking conscientious objector status, others considering exile in Canada. Anxiety about the draft plagued young men graduating from high school and college. Draft boards followed very different policies across America. Some were hard-nosed, others granted deferments for practically anything. Influence and favoritism were a big problem. If your family was rich and had connections, deferments came easier. In 1966, a returned PCV from Texas told me that his board told him as he returned to college and would soon graduate, that he had done his peace service, and when he graduated he would have to do his war service. No law school for him.

I applied to the Peace Corps before I graduated. I had a good Moroccan friend who occupied the room across from me in Cutter Hall, and another student who, having grown up in a missionary family in Beirut, had developed a deep interest in the Arab world. The latter, by the way, strongly opposed the war, and when drafted, ended up doing clerical work in Alaska, despite his knowledge of French, which might have served the military’s interest in Vietnam.

I did not feel ready for graduate school, and thought that the Peace Corps would permit me to learn and serve. My hope was that I would have a deferment for my Peace Corps service, and be able to put off the draft for a couple of years. I asked the Peace Corps for assignment to Morocco. Of course, I was offered Senegal instead! I turned down the assignment, and asked again for Morocco. Fortunately, Dartmouth had a Peace Corps training office, and a site at a collège catholique in Ste. Anne de la Pocatière, Québec. I was fortunate to work with two West African Peace Corps training programs in that summer of 1967, and ate the best institutional food of my life. What a beautiful spot it was, and what a contrast to the migrant labor camp in Hemet, California, where Morocco X was trained.

Château Frontenac and the St. Lawrence, 1966.
Kids playing in a fountain in Quebec City.

Peace Corps finally did give me an assignment in Morocco, and, to my great surprise and delight, found that one of my closest friends at Dartmouth, who lived down the hall in my dorm, also was invited to the Morocco X program! We celebrated and killed a bit of time until our training program began by hiking in the Canadian Rockies.

Hiking trail to Berg Lake, Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Mt. Whitehorn, September, 1967.
Jim, on Sentinel Pass, below Mount Temple. Banff National Park, September, 1967

In Morocco, the faraway war always hung over us. It was understood very differently by different strata of Moroccan society. Younger, more educated Moroccans mostly saw it as a post-colonial, Cold War episode in a remote part of the world. With past colonial experience, they tended to side with the Vietnamese. Others, like my maid’s husband, Ali, had actually fought in Vietnam, part of the French excursionary forces. These non-French soldiers were mercenaries, and once France withdrew from Vietnam were happy to be home in one piece.

For most, Vietnam was just a remote, faraway place. The Middle East dominated the thoughts of more educated Moroccans, and there was widespread sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and a deep antipathy to Israel, which, by 1968, was occupying the West Bank and Gaza. The media played on the issue, and the Moroccan government gave lip service to the Palestinian cause without doing much. The position of Moroccan Jews became even more precarious. There was a lot of hostility toward Jews, though Moroccan Jews often maintained long-lasting and close personal relationships with Muslims, in and out of the government.

Late in my service a draft lottery was instituted. I drew number 333, and the issue of serving in Vietnam disappeared. I would not enlist, and, leaving the Peace Corps, entered graduate school to study anthropology.

Bread

A couple of days ago, I stopped at DiCamillo’s, a local Italian-American bakery. Recently my wife and I have been in the habit of buying freshly made Italian-style bread. This is not a new habit, but periodically we go off white bread since most nutritionists consider it unhealthy. At the moment, it’s taste over health.

There are not many bread choices locally. In twenty-first century America, most people buy Wonder Bread style bread. It keeps well, it is sliced, and it makes reasonable toast and sandwiches. But traditional Italian bread, with a crispy exterior and a soft interior is so much better.

DiCamillo’s business began in Niagara Falls in the early twentieth century, and continues there to this day. My grandparents lived across the street from the original bakery on 20th Street, and, through the Fulgenzis, I am connected by webs of affinity and kinship. Not so well connected, however, that I get my bread free.

Last Wednesday I was on my way to an appointment with my dentist, and stopped at the Linwood Avenue bakery to buy bread. I was pressed for time, and the clerk was indulging another patron who went on and on about taking the bakery’s products to her sister in Pittsburgh. When my turn finally came, I asked, as I always do, for a large, unsliced loaf. The clerk selected the bread from a stack of four, carefully taking the furthest from the front. I wondered about that, and noticed as I left the bakery that the crust was surprisingly hard for freshly baked bread. Later at home, my wife and I agreed that the bread wasn’t as fresh as it usually is. On my next trip to DiCamillo’s, the same clerk was there and I told her that the bread she had sold me had not been fresh. This did not go over well with her. “Our bread is always fresh,” she replied with indignation. I asked when bread was made, and was told whenever it was needed. And there I left things as far as the clerk was concerned. However, I had purchased the bread at about 10:30 in the morning, so the bread had probably been made the previous night to have a crust so hard. Were the loaves that she didn’t give me fresher? I hope not. A good bakery (and honest business) doesn’t push old goods at a premium price.

Now why make such a fuss over bread? The answer is that it is a staple of life, and in many places regarded almost religiously. Once some of my secular French friends told me how happy they would be to finally cross the border and leave Spain, where the bread was “infecte,” and finally enjoy a French loaf!

Carrying bread home from the oven. Moulay Idriss. 1968.

In Morocco, one could find well-made French bread in the large cities, as well as loaves and baguettes that looked French, but weren’t quite there. On the other hand, many Moroccan families made their own bread in the local communal oven (el ferran). In Sefrou, Gaylord Barr and I shared a maid, Khadija Demnati, who cleaned, washed clothes, shopped, and, of course, made bread every day of the week. There was a large bag of flour in the room that served as the kitchen, and the daily routine involved Khadija making bread, taking it to the ferran, and returning with it still warm and aromatic. I think she also made bread for her family, with our flour, but we did not begrudge her that.

As a result, there was fresh bread most of the time. Normal meals were tajines, eaten out of a common plate, with the bread being used to pick up the juices and small pieces. Not surprisingly, Moroccan bread is just right for that. I did not live a rich life in those days, but it was privileged. I had a couple of hundred dollars a month as an allowance, and it went a long way. What a luxury to eat freshly made bread on a daily basis!

Bread has its special status, too, but I leave commentary on that to my Muslim readers. It was considered a shame to throw away good food. If one found a piece of bread in the street, the proper thing to do was to lift it off the ground, and put it in the crook of a tree, or on a wall, so if someone less fortunate happened by, they might find it. I can remember doing it myself once.

Here is a rather unconventional use of stale Moroccan bread soaked in condensed milk: cat and tortoise food!

Hamara, kittens, and tortoise on the Sefrou roof. 1969.

Clifford Geertz

In the spring of 1969 or perhaps it was the summer of 1968, I had gone to the Sefrou post office to buy stamps, pick up a box of developed Kodachrome slides, or possibly to get the postal money order that represented my Peace Corps living allowance for the month. It was a warm, sunny morning, and the Ville Nouvelle was quiet. Sefrou was much smaller then, and most everyday life took place away from the new town. I don’t have any pictures of any real traffic in the Ville Nouvelle from any time from 1968 to 1971 except during the Cherry Festival.

Outside the front door of the busta (post office) squatted this skinny, redheaded kid, clearly an American. He had a big goofy smile, and kept eye contact, which made me search my memory. Did I know him? Was he one of the village idiots? No, he was dressed casually as an American.

I don’t know whether he engaged me or I engaged him. It might have been me, just out of the curiosity of seeing a foreigner hanging around. Sefrou didn’t get many tourists, and most of the French were old bureaucrats getting ready to retire to France or  young coopérants doing alternate service in the former colonies. Other than that there were a couple of Peace Corps volunteers, and an American missionary, Al Jessup. And there was this American professor that one of the Jewish merchants in the Ville Nouvelle talked about, but whom I had not yet met. No one in any of those categories would be found squatting under a post office portico, trying to strike up a conversation.

The kid was Paul Rabinow. He had come to Sefrou to work on his graduate thesis. His thesis advisor was professor Clifford Geertz.

A few days ago I received a copy of Clifford Geertz in Morocco, and it prompted these recollections.

I had met Paul in Pau, France where we were both studying French, but our contact there was minimal. He hung out with a crowd I didn’t know, and lived in a dormitory at the lycée serving the program. I had a room in town, offered by an elderly and very kind widow who let rooms in the summer, and I had a girlfriend with whom to spend time. The summer program at Pau was in 1965. Now Paul had arrived to do his doctoral research in the area around Sefrou, and was hanging out while getting his bearings.

I don’t think Cliff Geertz was there at that moment. I never met him in Morocco, though I am pretty sure I saw him or Hildred driving their kids to school in Fes in a Peugeot 404 station wagon (or maybe a VW), when I worked in the Ministry of Agriculture, so I think there was some overlap. Once I was living inside the wall on Seti Messaouda, my life was pretty much centered on the medina and the newer areas south and east of my house. My maid used the oven near the main mosque, I used the hammam in Seti Messaouda. For some reason, I seem to recall that Rabinow briefly had an apartment in Derb el Mitr, that later got rented to a Peace Corps TEFL teacher. On a little square, it was noisy and hot, with music blaring late.

I never mixed with the French coopérants, nor the few remaining French, and spent little time in the Ville Nouvelle. The French were there for shorter stays, had little interest in learning Arabic, and I had no daily contact with them. Strangely, later, living in Chauen, I did meet and socialize with a crowd of coopérants, but in Sefrou I was in the Peace Corps, and the Peace Corps experience for many of us PCVs was to try to get to know our hosts, not foreigners.

I never saw Paul very much after that, though I am sure I had him over for dinner. He had been in Paris for the riots of May 1968, and he was still excited from that experience. Paul struck me as an almost stereotypical contemporary. Morocco was groovy. I wondered at the time if he would enjoy being in such a small place. In any case, he had research to do, so whether he enjoyed it himself was irrelevant.

Paul seemed to be a bit paranoid about his Jewish background. I think it was certainly unwarranted, as his American citizenship gave him his real public identity, and what did it matter for him, anyway? As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was thought of by some Moroccans as a spy, since the whole idea of the Peace Corps was foreign, even if la Coopération was understood vaguely though through post-colonial eyes. My name, David, labeled me as a Jew, since there were few Daouds in Morocco who weren’t Jewish, though in fact I wasn’t Jewish. In retrospect, it has surprised me how Jewish the Geertz crowd was, though they appeared pretty secular to me, but Sefrou was beginning to get more attention from Jewish researchers because of the old mellah, pretty much deserted by the time I arrived there in 1968.

My contact with Moroccan Jews in Sefrou was pretty limited to my Arab friends talking about mahya, and my limited commerce with the merchants in the Ville Nouvelle. After moving to the medina, Miloud Soussi became my primary grocer in addition to the butcher, Moulay Ahmed, and the grocers and vegetable sellers around me. The only interesting experience that ever involved a Jew in Sefrou, took place one day when I was hitching home from work in Fes. I usually took a bus or a grand taxi to and from Fes, though I had a jeep most of the time I was there. If one missed the last bus, at the corner where the route to Sefrou entered Fes, you either hitched or stayed in Fes. The taxis and buses stopped after dark.

A car stopped, driven by a young guy, and the first thing he did was to show me a picture of his brother or cousin in the Israeli army. I’m not sure why he did that, nor what he expected as a response. I did not know him. I suppose he was just proud, and it was something he could share with an American without embarrassment. In general, most of the people I knew in Morocco wanted a better life, and the easiest, a word I wouldn’t use myself, road to it was emigration. And in the course of the years, many of the people I knew actually left for France for better opportunities. If you were a Jew, you were leaving a place where religious slights and prejudices were a fact of life, and if you were a Muslim, you were entering a new place filled with slights and prejudices that had disappeared at home, but were amplified in Europe.

In 1969 or 1970, I was passing through Paris, and I made a point of speaking dialectical Arabic to every waiter on the Left Bank. All were amazed and flattered that a foreigner would speak to them in their mother tongue! But economic opportunity was at the base of emigration as far as I could see, and Moroccan Jews weren’t going to Israel, so much as to France and Canada. Morocco was a tough place to scratch out a living, and even Israel, with strong prejudices against sefardim and with a contant threat of war, was a better bet than Morocco.

In the course, of my stay in Sefrou, I saw the Geertz researchers come and go, and wondered what they would come away with. I also watched the people who lived around me all go to France.

I was surprised at what happened to Tom Dichter. I didn’t not know Tom or his wife well. In February 1971 I was preparing to leave on a trip through Algeria, and across the Sahara. I had no idea of the drama playing out in the Ville Nouvelle. Sorry, Tom.

To be continued.

Election Night 1968

On this national election eve, I have been thinking about another presidential election 48 years ago. It was my first chance to vote for a U.S. president.
In Morocco with the Peace Corps, in the fall of 1968, Gaylord Barr and I had moved into a medina house, owned by a cloth merchant Moulay Abderrahman. He had a shop in Sefrou’s small kissariya. sefrou-medina

Sefrou medina. 1968 

Gaylord had been living in one of Mr. Andersen’s properties, high up the hill at the upper limit of the Ville Nouvelle, past the church, which still held services for a few French families. Andersen was an elderly Danish ex-patriot, with a twin brother in Fes. The little house was charming, but it had tadpoles in the drinking water and was a hell of a walk to the CT (centre de travaux) where Gaylord worked, and a worse one on the way back home. There were no stores or anything else nearby.

I had been living in a very basic house, built for the chicken co-op in the Habouna quarter, in the garden of an elementary school. house-in-garden

The garden, the house, and the coup. Habouna, Sefrou.

 

There was not much privacy there, and the house was cramped. When I returned from my summer vacation to Spain and France, I found Gay in my house watching the cat, and he suggested sharing a medina place. It sounded great to me, and somehow he found one quickly, just inside one of the city gates.

medina-house-door
Door to my house. Sefrou

Living in the medina had a charm for us. It was authentic, and traditional. Of course, the medina was slowly turning into a slum, but we didn’t really notice that. We liked the shopkeepers and neighbors. It was far more interesting than living in the Ville Nouvelle.

bab-house-1200
City gate. The house was just inside on the right?

The house had several rooms, a convenient location, and great views of Bouiblane to the southwest and the flocks of the kestrels which nested in the city wall next to the house.

medina-house
House from courtyard with Khadija and Gaylord and Merrycat. I took over the back room, Gaylord the front one.

There were shops all around, and it was an easy walk to the Bab Mkam where the grands taxis loaded passengers for the trip to Fes.mohammedie

Si Mohammedie, vegetable merchant. 1968

The election of 1968 looked bad for the Democratic Party. Johnson had decided not to run in the face of the growing unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, and the nation was on edge. Hubert Humphrey, good man that he was, wore the war, his president’s war, like an albatross around his neck. Nixon was offering a secret plan to end the war, and crack down on drugs and civil unrest. Of course, despite Nixon’s victory and his secret plan, the war continued on for six more years. We got Richard Holbrooke as country director soon after, a refugee from the Democratic Party wreckage. His major interest was Vietnam and editing Foreign Policy Magazine.
Our generation wasn’t fond of Nixon, and feared the worst. Living abroad, we had to vote by absentee ballot. I don’t remember mine, but Gay’s Washington State ballot featured some guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt and running on a platform consisting of a recipe for clam chowder!
It must have been cold. November was never a warm month in Sefrou. We had bought an old wood-burning cook stove in Fes and installed it in the room adjacent to the city wall, which served as a kitchen, though it had no running water. The stove’s flue didn’t draw well. Maybe the chimney should have extended up and over the height of the wall In any case, the wood fire smoked upon the room, and the street below as well. I think the neighbors were happy we hardly used it. Eventually it went to Jan and Ruth, PCVs who moved into the Hajja’s next door in 1970.
Karin Carter, a former PCV was staying with us, though I might be confusing things. I remember her playing the guitar, and singing folk songs, but it could have been a different night. We had some lycée students over who had been friends of PCV Carolis Deal, who worked the co-op before I arrived. I only remember Aboudi, I think, because of his red hair and friendly personality, asking if one song was in Hebrew. It was, and I’m sure the students wondered if we were Jews, but to make a long story short, Karin, a fourth-generation Californian, admired Steinbeck so much that she modeled her college career on his and studied the Bible. There is a tape of her singing and if it is playable and, if I can ever find a reel-to-reel player, I will digitize it and add it to this recollection. Shortwave reception was poor in the kitchen. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was the thick city wall. In any case, there wasn’t any doubt about the results. The election was a disappointment, but life went on. The biggest change was that Peace Corps began supplying us with Time Magazine rather than the NYT News of the Week in Review, which we had been receiving. And eventually there was a lottery for the draft. I won a very high number. But for many others, the war continued on.

The roof of the Sefrou house was a great place in good weather. There were always animals: Aid sheep, turkeys, doves, and you could have tea or just get some air. There was a room there that we set up for guests, but it was cold despite the addition of a wood-burning stove for occasional use. We eventually abandoned it and used it as a place for the doves, which were in constant danger from one of the the cats. Later I set up a wood structure roofed with bamboo, which gave relief from the sun, but not necessarily from the flies.

The roof had a terrific view to the southeast, where the eastern end of the Middle Atlas Mountains was represented by Jbel Bouiblane, snow covered for half the year.

Joel Bouiblane, winter.
Jbel Bouiblane, winter

Kestrel hawks lived in the holes in the city wall on the other side of the house, where there was an abandoned garden. In the twilight they would turn acrobatic circles in the fading sun, before diving into their nest holes.

One summer evening, with guests at the house, we watched a major lightning storm over Taza, to the east. With every flash, the mountains south of Taza suddenly appeared out of the darkness, and then were gone. The storm was so far off we couldn’t hear the thunder. Over Sefrou there was no storm.

Collared dove.
Collared dove

Lillibullero

In the sixties, only well-off Moroccan families had TV sets, and broadcast hours and programming were limited. No Peace Corps volunteer whom I knew had a TV. Most listened to the radio. The choice of stations was limited, and depended on where you lived. In the northeast one could get Spain, Algeria, and, where or when reception was good, France. Moroccan radio, in literary Arabic, was too difficult to follow. Before the Internet, shortwave was the only choice.
While going to college, just before Peace Corps, I began to listen to the BBC World Service. I think it was because I had bought an old, wooden console style radio and record player at a garage sale where I was helping out someone with whom I worked at the reserve desk at Baker Library. I was living in a basement dorm room, and, to improve reception, strung a long wire antenna out my window. At the time, I was interested in Canada, and I also listened to the CBC and, once my French was good enough, Radio-Canada.
When I was selected for Peace Corps training, I bought the best shortwave radio I could afford. Shortwave radios were expensive in those days, and the one I purchased, a GE multi-band, wasn’t great at all, but it worked. In Morocco, I hardly used any bands but the shortwave ones. The best English language programming was on the BBC World Service. It broadcast 24 hours a day, and it kept Greenwich Mean Time, which was the time Morocco used. I could generally tune in on one band or another and get decent reception.

My bedroom, the multi-band radio, and the cats.
My bedroom, the multi-band radio, and the cats.

In those days, the signature tune for the World Service, played before the news, was Lillibullero, and it was played in more than one arrangement over the time period I listened to BBC. I really had no idea of the origin of the tune. Recently, I searched for more information, and found that the tune dates from 17th-century revolutionary England, and was also played by the Orangemen as a regimental tune, a history that must have given a pause to the Irish who listened to the World Service. For me, Lillibullero meant that the BBC World Service was about to broadcast the news, and the World Service had the best, least biased news. Assassinations and riots were shaking America, there were troubles in Northern Ireland, Rhodesia broke away from Great Britain, and the U.S., in the midst of the Cold War, was mired in Vietnam. Far from the U.S., I depended on Alistair Cooke’s weekly Letter from America to help me understand events such as Kent State, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and, often, comfort my fears that the world was going to hell in a basket.
I also listened to a variety of other BBC programming: quiz shows, pop music, comedy, and short fiction from around the world, just to name a few of the categories. It was entertainment, but also an education. There wasn’t much else. I had a record player, inherited from former volunteers, and an eclectic collection of music: Simon and Garfunkel, some later Beatles, Bob Dylan, the musical Hair, Amal Hayati (Oum Kathoum), Judy Collins, and some 45s of current popular songs. Most of it was collected by Gaylord, who actually attended an Oum Kalthoum concert at the Theatre Mohammed V in Rabat along with a number of other volunteers from our group. I wish I had gone.

The BBC remained the mainstay of my entertainment as well as a major source of the news. Even today I have a great deal of affection for the BBC, which epitomized independence and integrity. If you’ve ever listened to the World Service, you know the signature, but for those of you who have never heard it, you can listen to it at this YouTube link  (Lillibullero).

If you don’t recognize the name, Oum Kalthoum, she was the grande dame of Arabic music, an Egyptian whose life was the subject of perpetual interest to her followers, and whose voice made her admirers cry. Amal Hayati is over an hour long, and you may just wish to hear a few minutes from an old TV broadcast to get an idea (Amal Hayati) from this YouTube link.

Kifta

Morocco Rabat Oudaia Casbah Tour Hassan Pano copy
Casbah of the Oudayas and the Bou Regreg, from the top of the Tour Hassan.

Rabat was about three and a half hours from Fes and Sefrou. It was the capital, and the Peace Corps office and U.S. embassy were there, so volunteers went there often. Rabat was also a pleasant place, urban, but not huge like Casablanca. It was fun. There were theaters, restaurants, big bookstores, historic sites, and, besides the volunteers and staff who lived in Rabat, there were always other volunteers passing through, and sometimes other friends, Moroccan and American. In 1968, there were direct flights to the U.S. from the airport in Salé, too, so most new Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Rabat.
Morocco Rabat Sale Ferry 2 copy

The water taxi across the Bou Regreg from Rabat to Salé. 1973

CTM buses were plentiful, running virtually every hour on the hour, and cheap, and, because the windows opened, they did not have that awful, stale odor that buses in the States had. The train took longer and was more expensive. Volunteers made the trip all the time for Peace Corps business, or en route to destinations south and west. I drove the road many times in my Peace Corps jeep. And I even hitched a ride once or twice.
About halfway to Rabat was the town of Khemisset. For Morocco X volunteers, it has a special significance. We were housed nearby at Tiflet for a couple of weeks, while we waited to be picked up and taken to the CTs (centres de travaux), basically agricultural extension stations, where we were to be stationed. It was January, and cold. The Tiflet center was in the country, and there was nowhere to go. There was jubilation when, after a week or so, the showers were finally turned on.
But the true significance of Khemisset, for me anyway, was its location, not as the chef lieu for the Zemmour tribe, nor as a temporary step on the way to my assignment, but as a great food stop, known for kifta and brochettes, on the way between Rabat and Fes.Morocco Khemisset Kifta copy

The kifta stand. Khemisset. 1968.

A line of stalls with charcoal grills served sandwiches. Seasoned with cumin and hot pepper, and filling a section of a round Moroccan bread, the skewered meat was terrific (though, it should go without saying, never as good as what I had in people’s homes.) Still, when one is on the road, a good truck stop is a special pleasure. I always stopped at the same shop, and bought food from the same guys, often enough that they recognized me, probably as the tall foreigner who spoke broken Arabic.Morocco Khemisset Brochettes copy

We always stopped here for brochettes. 1969.

Leaving Fes for Rabat, the road descended through a hilly, terraced landscape.

Morocco Cork Forest Zemmour copy
Mamora Cork Forest.

After Khemisset, it crossed the Mamora forest, the largest cork oak forest in the world, and, from that point, the road was straight and flat where it crossed the Gharb. Today the Mamora Forest is under siege. At the limit of conditions where cork oaks can grow, overgrazing threatens the forest, from what I have read, and it remains to be seen whether efforts by the government will be enough to preserve it. Other cork oak forests, such as that near Chauen, where I spent some happy times mushroom hunting with my friend Gilles Narbonne and his family, are doing better.
In the summer, the coast announced itself with humidity. It is always a strange sensation to leave a dry hot area and to find oneself suddenly in a humid, coastal climate. I had this experience at Bandar Abbas in Iran and Dakar in Senegal, but it was a regular part of living in the interior of Morocco. And mild as the coastal climate was, I always preferred the hotter, drier weather of the interior.
I had a lot of experiences on the road from Fes to Rabat. Once I had to wait for a bus, so I spent the afternoon with a friend, lost track of time, and carelessly missed the bus. Unfortunately, I had already checked my unlocked suitcase, which contained, among other things, my passport. Since I was destined for a medical evacuation flight from Keneitra to the U.S. Air Force base at Torrejón, outside Madrid, I figured I was in real trouble. I decided to see if I could beat the bus to Rabat by hitchhiking. I got a ride right away, by a young guy whom I assumed was French. I explained who I was in my best French, and the driver introduced himself in excellent French, and after a few minutes of conversation it became clear that he was an American, and, not only that, but a graduate of the same college as myself, but a year later. There’s more to the story, including a visit to the so-called secret military base in the Gharb at Sidi Yahia, but the gist of it is that we beat the bus and I was able to get my bag down from the roof rack before the bus pulled out for Casablanca.
Another time, Dick Moench, an anthropology professor at Binghamton University was driving me to Rabat. I had been in Sefrou for the weekend (at the time I was staying in Rabat or Salé), and had fallen seriously ill. We kept putting off getting gas for the little Renault 4 Dick had, and ran out of gas before reaching Khemisset. It was raining and cold. I think it was January or February and poor Dick had to hitchhike in the rain to get a bidon of gas.
Back in Rabat, I was fortunate to be taken in by Diane and Jerry Ponasik, who had a house in the Casbah of the Oudaïya, and I stayed there a couple of weeks until I regained my health. Morocco Rabat Casbah 2 copy

Casbah of the Oudaïya, Rabat.

And finally there was a time when Gaylord Barr and myself were riding the bus into Rabat, and he had needed a toilet so badly he asked the driver to stop. He signaled the bus to go on, and so it did, leaving Gaylord frantically looking for trees to hide behind! He easily got a ride in to Rabat a bit later. Moroccans were always great about giving foreigners lifts.

Sur le boulevard du temps qui passe

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Gouraud Cedar, Gaylord Barr, and Peace Corps Jeep. All are gone today.

Ali Azeriah pointed out that Al Magrib Al Arabi no longer exists. That’s a small change. Add many small changes together and perhaps a place no longer is the same. From the census, we know that great changes have taken place in Sefrou. When I left in 1971, it had an official population of under 30,000, and was part of Fes Province. It was not a tourist venue, except for the Cherry Festival, which was primarily a local celebration. Was the Cherry Festival an artifact of French occupation, or dreamt up by the Moroccan Government? Morocco Sefrou Moussem Cherry Queen copy

Cherry Festival Float. Sefrou, 1968.

The first time I attended was in 1968, and is the only time I really remember the festival. I know that I was there for other ones, but the memories are less clear. Morocco Sefrou Moussem 2a copy

Cherry Festival. Dancers. 1968

Other PCVs came and stayed for some of them.
Actually, when I think of Sefrou, I think of the delicious strawberries that were grown in the irrigated gardens very close to the built-up area.Morocco Sefrou Strawberries copy

In the gardens of Sefrou, picking strawberries. 1968.

I imagine much of that is gone now. That’s often the case with explosive urban growth. Next to Los Angles is Orange County, California, and it was named for the orange plantations that used to be there. Most of those orange groves are gone forever, a victim of urban sprawl. Florida now produces most of America’s oranges.
One tends to assume things are still the same after 40 or 50 years. How foolish! Sometimes progress, or what passes for it, sweeps away the old, sometimes it is just time passing. We are all on the Boulevard du temps qui passe, the title of a Brassens song. I noticed that the Gouraud cedar is no more. I remember visiting it several times. Since it was several hundred years old, it certainly had a good run, but that doesn’t make me feel much better. I like the belief that those old cedars, some from before the time of the Prophet, may the peace of God be upon him, still stand.
I worry about Morocco. I have always worried about Morocco. I loved it the way it was, but I have always known the ecosystem was fragile, and that population growth would eventually stress it, just the way California has been stressed by development. That was something I learned in Peace Corps training in Hemet, California. Scarce water, rainfall irregular, thin, shallow soils, and beautiful forests disappearing through logging and charcoal production were a reality 50 years ago as they are now. California has just got a little relief from its long drought, but it isn’t clear where things will go there as climate change is added to the existing climate variables.
But I don’t want to sound like Edmund Burke, who regretted the decimation of the French aristocracy during  the French Revolution, but not so much the common people. Thomas Paine rightly reproached him for “Pitying the plumage, while forgetting the dying bird.” And thank you, Arthur Wilson, for using that quote in one of your history of political theory courses at college. I will never forget it!
The people I knew when I lived in Morocco were poor or lower middle class, and I knew people who died for lack of medical care and a great many who worked honestly to make just enough to get by. So please don’t accuse me of pitying the cedars and forgetting the people. The people took me in and took care of me. The cedars sheltered monkeys and boars.