Trees and God

The great benefit of not having trees

My wife and I just had five tall, old trees cut down. One was dead, one was a nuisance, and three were just a little too close for comfort. We loved those trees, and cutting them down, even if they do provide wood for next winter’s fires, was a heartache.

Now one has a slightly better view of the lake, the gutters will not fill up from beechnuts from the mast, and my wife will have more sunshine in her gardens. But we will miss those trees and the cicadas that sang in them during the long summer twilights.

A newly emerged cicada.

Where there are no trees

If you travel around the United States, and have the inclination, you can equip yourself with a series of books on roadside geology. I haven’t checked so I don’t know if there is one for every state, but there are many states represented for sure. In the west, where the climate is more arid and the rock strata are not covered, you can often witness the forces that shaped our planet from the comfort of your car.

Morocco, because it has only Mediterranean and desert climates, could benefit from a similar guide. The geology, in all its splendor, spreads out before you, plain to see.

Morocco also tends to lack biological diversity. Add up all the native species of trees and perhaps you may get a couple of dozen, far less than you would find in Western Europe or the Eastern United States.
That said, Morocco still has some great forests, notably the cork oak forests of Mamora and the Cedars of the Middle Atlas, though both are under pressure and threatened by climate change, overgrazing, and charcoal manufacture.

Flock in cedar forest near Ifrane. The forest was populated by boars and monkeys.

When I was visited by three volunteers from Libya, just before the revolution that launched Gaddafi’s career, I took them in the Willys jeep up to the cedar forests southwest of Sefrou. They were impressed by the karst lakes and the dense, tall Atlas cedars. It had been some time since they had even seen a tree.

I can’t help thinking of them when I watch some English period drama that frames the earl, walking with his old dog, past the huge Atlas cedars adorning his estate. I actually tried planting one a few years in my backyard, as I live on the edge of a climate zone that supposedly permits their growth. Unfortunately, after a few good years, it succumbed to a particularly bitter winter. Perhaps I’ll try again, but I will never have ones like the Earl of Grantham or those surrounding the châteaux of France. An old friend was fortunate enough to purchase some hilltop property above Albi, and the French government subsidized its reforestation with thousands of Atlas Cedars!
The rocks in Morocco contain more than a record of the physical forces that have shaped our planet.
From the skeletons of giant dinosaurs to earliest evidence of modern man, Morocco has been a great place for paleontologists and archeologists in recent years, and it is virtually certain that there will be new discoveries that expand our knowledge of the history of the world.

If you drive from Sefrou, through Ahermoumou, to the western slopes of Jbel Bouiblane, look in the stream beds that the road crosses, and, in the Cretaceous rocks, you may find large and beautifully preserved ammonite fossils. The ammonites perished in the last great extinction, when a Manhattan-sized rock struck what is now the Yucatán and left the Chicxulub crater. These long gone creatures, in their beautifully coiled shells, also may remind us that a great extinction is taking place today, caused not by an asteroid, but by ourselves.

Darwin’s Dilemma Solved

Proponents of creationism have recently pushed their point of view by claiming that “Darwin’s dilemma” demonstrates that God had His hand in the “Cambrian explosion.” The argument conflates two somewhat different facts. Darwin found it difficult to reconcile the period of rapid diversification that took place in the early Cambrian, between 541 and roughly 518 million years ago, with the short time in which it took place. Darwin was still operating in a uniformitarian mindset of course. And he knew nothing about modern genetics which helped explain the process of evolution. This has prompted the latest challenge by intelligent design promoters, namely, that diversification could not possibly happen fast enough for all modern animal phyla to develop. God must had intervened.

Now, this explanation has been permanently discredited. A.J. Bateman and a team of scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, have conclusively proven that God was on vacation during the geological time period in question, and simply left everything up to nature. “We got the idea from the Old Testament. Though God is everywhere and all powerful, He may not always be working,” said Bateman in an exclusive interview last Friday. “We knew from Genesis that God rested after creating the world, so we simply searched for vacation rentals over the last 690 million years,” said Bateman’s graduate assistant, Samuel Clemens, who also noted that a day in God’s eyes might be millions of year in ours.

It didn’t happen every day, or, possibly, it never happened

There were many stories about the first Morocco Peace Corps programs that we heard as we trained and served. I met a couple of volunteers from an early program in Hanover, NH. I worked at the reserve desk of the library with the wife. One day they needed a babysitter, so I was pressed into service. It was in their house that I saw my first picture of one of the monumental city gates of Meknes. I really knew nothing about Morocco yet, although the following year I was to develop a good friendship with a Moroccan student who lived in the room immediately across the hall from mine.
Strangely the only thing I remember was an offhand comment by the husband that there were no beautiful Moroccan women, which I doubted at the time, and found to be utterly untrue after living in Morocco. The wife, however, did share with me the discrimination that she suffered as a child growing up in Colorado. That was my first insight into the discrimination that Hispanics faced in my own country. It was 1966, I think, and it was a wake-up for me.
Other than that, the older volunteers I knew were either training or country staff, or those still living in Morocco when I arrived (VII or VIII.) They all had stories, and, of course, every volunteer has them. It is unfortunate that there is not something like NPR’s Story Corps to capture them for posterity.
Some of the first programs were apparently disastrous. Morocco had only been an independent country since 1956, and Moroccans tended to be suspicious of foreigners. Also suspicious were the numerous French still working in the government or living in Morocco. France has its own volunteer service, called la Coopération, an alternative to military service for some, and was not terribly interested in having the Peace Corps on what it thought of as its turf. The French government was led by Charles de Gaulle, who distrusted the anglophone world, in general. Peace Corps TEFL teachers could be seen as yet another attack on la francophonie.
Moroccan bureaucrats were perplexed about what to do with these young Americans and probably about the programs that came with them. Foreign aid is a tough business, and my experience with USAID was that many of its projects were questionable and many AID people collected high salaries for doing very little. This may be a jaundiced view, but it still feels right today.
There were stories about the early programs that were difficult to believe. Volunteers from a failed program, hanging out in Rabat, racing their blue Willys jeeps up and down Avenue Mohammed V in Rabat, waving winners with a checkered flag. Volunteers grabbing policemen’s hats and running into the USIS building, where they stood behind the Marine guard, and taunted the policemen.
Two stories were more interesting. The first is true, and the second sounds true, but I did not witness it first hand.
In the early days, a doctor was assigned to the Peace Corps office in Rabat, to take care of the volunteers. Given that one had to be young and healthy to get into the Peace Corps, the Peace Corps doctors had plenty of time on their hands. By Morocco XII, the role of the doctor was replaced by a nurse. I knew the last doctor, who became a good friend, and developed an affection for the first nurse, an older woman, retired from the military, whose gruffness often obscured her kindness and generosity.
One early doctor was a would-be poet and avid surfer, reputed to be difficult to get in touch with on short notice. A volunteer serving in Nador became seriously ill and could not reach Rabat. She had met a Jewish doctor in Oujda at some point, and called him in desperation. He told her not to worry, just go to the airport and wait. Within an hour or so he arrived in his private plane, and whisked her back to Oujda, where she recuperated in his clinic until she regained her health. I don’t think he ever charged for his services.
The second story took place in Fes. It reminds me a bit of stories from the Thousand and One Nights, where the fifth Abbasid caliph, Haroun er-Rachid often wandered the streets of Baghdad in disguise, hoping to discover what his subjects really thought. This was during the Golden Age Of Islam, when Baghdad was a great center of thought and learning.

One day the local police circulated throughout Fes rounding up volunteers. They knocked on apartments, went to volunteers’ work places, and even found volunteers in cafes. Needless to say, this was at first a cause of consternation, but the police made it clear that there was no law problem, but rather that they were delivering invitations to an official dinner, thrown by the local government for David Rockefeller, the banker. Rockefeller had a lifelong interest in Morocco, and was a friend of the King. Tired of official receptions and eager to know more about the work of the Peace Corps, which he admired, he had asked that some volunteers be invited so that he could meet and talk with them.

So the police found as many as they could and that night they dined with some high ranking officials and Rockefeller. At the dinner, Rockefeller told a story about meeting Hassan II a few days earlier. As is customary, Rockefeller brought a gift, a very fine telescopic sight for a hunting rifle. The King accepted it with thanks, and told Rockefeller that he had a little something for him. He led Rockefeller through a palace doorway into a room piled high with fine Moroccan rugs. They continued through another door into a room filled with fine pottery, and then into a third room stuffed with brass trays and kettles. Rockefeller commented at the dinner that he went away embarrassed by the King’s largesse.
It reminds me of a refrain from Georges Brassens’s song, Marinette: “Avec ma p’tit’ chanson, j’avais l’air d’un con…”.
David Rockefeller had a long history with Morocco, and played a key role in some important diplomacy when the Shah of Iran was forced into exile. One of Rockefeller’s Moroccan pleasures was visiting Fes and shopping there.
Perhaps someone out there will confirm or correct the details of this story.


Here’s a bit on Fes that I picked off the Internet. It is an anti-Mason, anti-Shriner piece, but it also defames Muslims and Islam. If one knows anything about the history of Fes and Morocco, one knows that it is a fabrication.

Fes was founded in the 8th century and populated with Andalusian emigrants and local Berbers in the 9th. Given the sizes of cities at the time, it is unlikely that the population was very large. Not much is known about the early history of Fes, but there is no mention of any significant Christian population, let alone 50,000! Perhaps there is no historical mention of Christians at all!

Moreover, throughout Moroccan history there have never been any huge slaughters of Christians. Jews have suffered over the centuries, but usually in localized events, when the sultan did not have the power to protect them.

It is extremely unlikely that a Muslim ruler would slaughter mass numbers of “People of the Book” since one’s subjects are the wealth and strength behind a ruler.

Talaa seghira, just inside Bab Boujloud

In any case, the following episode, found on the Internet, is a manufactured, falsehood.

Now, if one wishes documentation about the Christian slaughter of innocent people, history is rift with them. No invention or imagination is required, nor need one go all the way to distant and ancient parts of the world.

Christians should remember that one of the commandments is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

The Disgusting Blood Red Shriner (Mason) Fez And Oath To The Pagan Allah:

The Masonic Shriners wear a red hat known as a Fez named after a town in Morocco, where in 980 AD, 50,000 Christians, including women and children, were brutally murdered by the Muslims. As the streets ran red with the Christians’ blood from the massacre, the Muslims dipped their hats in that blood as a testimony to Allah. The red Fez symbolizes the slaughter of Christians in that town. The Masons still wear the red Fez adorned with the Islamic crescent symbol. Among the oaths of the Masonic Shriner organization is one that says, “…and may Allah the God of Arab, Muslim, and Mohammedan, the God of our fathers support me to the entire fulfillment of the same. Amen, Amen, Amen.”

The fez derives its name from the place where it first was manufactured commercially, the city of Fez, in Morocco. Some say, the red color is to memorialize the color of blood, and the Muslim victories over Christians. The City of Fez formerly had a monopoly on the manufacture of the fez headdress because it controlled the juice of the berry used to color the fezzes. The color red may represent the blood of innocent victims, like Christians and Jews who Islam plans on subjugation.

I haven’t annotated this quote, but anyone can find it easily. If one wants a good book on the real history of Fes, try Roger LeTourneau’s Fes in the Age of the Merinides. The University of Oklahoma Press used to sell an excellent translation of the French language original.

Blood does run in the streets of Moroccan cities once a year. On Aid el-Kbir, every family that can afford it will slaughter a sheep to celebrate the sacrifice of Abraham.

Aid el Kebir, Sefrou. 1970

Biblical plagues

When I think back to my Peace Corps experiences, recollections are sometimes of brief or momentary things. The abandoned and deserted city streets at the end of the days of Ramadan, for example, when people sat around the table at home anxiously waiting for the canon or siren to sound the end of the fast so that they might pick up their hrira (Ramadan soup) or cigarettes, whichever mattered more.

The road from Casa to Marrakech is long and straight, and crosses some of Morocco’s most productive agricultural land. I traveled it from Rabat many times on the way to Toubkal massif, south of Marrakesh, where I went hiking or climbing. On a hot summer day, the stubble fields exuded heat, and little dust devils would cross the road from time to time. It you hit one, the car would shudder. I always worried that my French friends’ little cars, traveling at 120 kilometers an hour, would spin out of control.

Often, it was more convenient to travel at night. It was far cooler and there was less traffic on the road. But more than once, there were explosions of the mice and frog populations. I can understand the former: after the harvest, there was plenty of grain for every hungry mouse, and since the mice gave birth every 21 days, it didn’t take long for the fields to be crawling with mice. You might not notice them from a speeding car, at night, except that so many tried to cross the road and were run over. The highway was literally wet from the blood and squashed bodies of thousands of dead mice. We never stopped to look at them so I can’t say what species they were, but I did see the reflections of their eyes as they scurried back and forth across the highway, uncertain as to which way to turn.

I witnessed the mouse massacres several times, but on one occasion, it was frogs that littered the road with their bodies and coated it with their blood. I think they were frogs, though they might have been toads. The numbers, like those of the mice, were astronomical, and the wet road in the middle of a rainless summer was all the more astounding.

Eventually one would drive out of the slaughter zones, but it always reminded me of the plagues of the Bible. I never witnessed a desert locust flock, but I suppose that, if I had, I could add them to the list. Southern Morocco has long been plagued by them.


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.


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.