Beyond Maude Cary and Al Jessup

When I began the blog, I chose the Book Locker and Mme Miss Terri as subjects because the first was iconic, and the second was indicative of how we Peace Corps volunteers were struggling to make some sense of our surroundings, where things might not have always been what they seemed to be.
The book lockers faded away as the card board containers molded and broke, and, perhaps, because they may have represented a sharing of contemporaneous literature not universally admired. In 1968, the political winds blew through the Peace Corps offices just as they did everywhere in America. After the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the New York Times Week in Review ceased arriving and in its place was Time Magazine.

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Don Brown, Dick Holbrooke 1970

Eventually we even got a political refugee, Richard Holbrooke, whose stated ambition, on one occasion anyway, was to drive along every paved road in Morocco. I don’t think it’s likely that he did that. There were a lot of paved roads in Morocco down which Peace Corps work didn’t take you. His interest was Vietnam, of course, and his second language was French. His knowledge of the French song was limited to Aznavour and I was smitten by Georges Brassens, so there was no meeting of minds there, and while I did like Aznavour, I doubt Dick even knew who Brassens was. We did not hit it off. He was impressed that I was an Ivy grad, but that didn’t hold much interest for me. I thought he was ambitious and shallow. He was ambitious. Others who knew him better can judge his intellect. But in fairness to Holbrooke, he went on to broker the Dayton Peace Accords, and halt the genocide that consumed the Balkans in the early 1990s.
This long digression ends with its primary subject, the mystery women who was no mystery to the Moroccans among whom she lived, and her successor, Al Jessup. None of us Peace Corps volunteers had any interest in spreading Christianity in Morocco. Most of us did not practice our own religions. A few volunteers even converted to Islam! We were in Morocco to help the country any way that we could, but our jobs had nothing to do with religion.
I have noticed, after writing my blog entries about Maude Cary, that American evangelicals have been pushing hard, trying to spread “la Bonne Nouvelle” in Morocco. Under the French Protectorate, there doesn’t seem to have been much of an effort to spread religion. France was a secular state, and it deferred to the nominal ruler, the sultan, as far as religious matters went. France wanted peace and had no interest in provoking any kind of unrest. Some French religious orders ran schools, orphanages, and training centers. After independence, the GOM discouraged missionary activities. The Maude Carys and Al Jessups faded away.
Today, however, American evangelical organizations are mounting an effort to enlarge the sphere of their missionary activities, and enlisting Congressmen to pressure the U.S. State Department. The U.S. Administration views missionary activities as contrary to the wishes of Morocco, and has not supported their requests. Morocco is a long standing ally of the U.S., with which it has enjoyed good relations for many years.
This is a tempest in a teapot, but reflects the rise of the religious right in America, and active attempts to reverse the traditional secular orientation of the U.S. Government. I find it extremely ironic that Americans are so frightened by extreme fundamentalist Islamic organizations, while ignoring the promotion of religious agendas at home. Unlike Morocco, which is almost homogeneous in its religion, and is headed by a ruler who claims the title Commander of The Faithful, the U.S., a nation of many immigrants, has a diversity of religious beliefs and a Constitution which forbids the establishment of an official religion.

Maude Cary

IMG_2361When you begin to remember, new recollections follow one after another. Miss Terri’s real name was Maude Carey. If you look at Amazon’s offerings, there’s a book by Evelyn Stenbock, entitled Miss Terri!: The Story of Maude Cary Pioneer GMU Missionary in Morocco, which I bought and read long ago when I was a graduate student. It was published in 1970 by the Back to the Bible Society. While it provided information on her life, I did not find it very interesting. I wanted more information about Sefrou. Wikipedia has an article about Maude Cary. She died in 1967, the year I joined the Peace Corps.

 

Al Jessup and Gaylord Barr
Al Jessup and Gaylord Barr. 1968.

Gaylord and I knew her successor, Al Jessup, but never witnessed what he did. He liked to fish, and was friends with a French merchant who sold sporting goods, and spent a lot of time fishing. The rainbow trout fishing was great in the eastern High Atlas, not too far from Sefrou. And there was always fishing for European pike in the Middle Atlas lakes close by. I think Mr. Jessup had a Land Rover.

Mr. Jessup probably wrote us off as poor Christian souls who had lost our way. He and his wife were kind, and invited Gaylord and me to have Thanksgiving dinner with them in 1968.

There are a couple of pictures of Mr. Jessup. One is with Gaylord Barr on a trip to Azrou where there was a leper colony. The trip was memorable for two reasons: first, because it was the first time I had ever met anyone suffering from the disease of leprosy, and second, because the weather was icy on the trip over from Sefrou, and, Gaylord, who was driving, lost control of the Peace Corps jeep in a sleet storm somewhere along the main highway on one of those long flat stretches before Ifrane. I was in the back, which had no seats, and as we spun around on the road, I worried about a big truck approaching from the south. We slowed and slipped into a shallow drainage ditch and the jeep tipped over on its side. None of us were hurt, the jeep was undamaged, and the truck crew stopped, and helped us right the jeep, a little short wheelbase model with a canvas top, and we were off again to the leper colony, not injured but a little shaken. Gaylord took this as a sign to slow down! Mr. Jessup probably saw it as Divine intervention.

Our Peace Corps group was in Morocco at a time when things were changing. The French presence was still strong, but career bureaucrats were retiring from Moroccan posts. In the short time I was there, the church in Sefrou, high above the Ville Nouvelle, was open for Sunday services, then shuttered, and finally sold and used for another purpose.

Notre-Dame de Toutes-Grâces. Sefrou.

French coinage, in denominations of francs and in the name of the Empire Chérifien, were still in circulation. I still have some of the old aluminum 5-franc coins, worn almost flat.

Older coinage. Note the imprint, « Sherifian Empire »
Franco still ruled Spain. And both DeGaulle and Johnson were presidents when the Morocco X group landed in Rabat.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, with a lot of time to read, I sometimes went to the Christian bookstores. While I was briefly stationed at a Centre de Travaux Agricoles (CT) on the main route south out of Meknes, the shop I visited was La Bonne Nouvelle in Meknes. There was also one in Fes on Mohammed V. It was run by a pleasant Englishman and his Moroccan assistant. I still have a copy of Huxley’s Mediterranean Wild Flowers, which I bought there and enjoyed and looked at often.

The Peace Corps office in 1968 or 1969.

And speaking of changes, the Peace Corps office, which I think had been next to Aeroflot office, had been moved to Rue Van Vollenhoven, in the heart of Rabat. Great location, with plenty of room, but sitting on valuable real estate. Before I left, its address had been renamed more appropriately, zanqat Moulay Rachid. Today it is elsewhere.

Madame Mystery

I remember emailing Gaylord Barr, a Peace Corps volunteer who served in the late 1960s in Sefrou, some questions about Madame Mystérie. I was surprised that he did not recall that my reference was to the first missionary to come to Sefrou, in early years of the 20th century. Her name was Maude Cary (I have a little book about her somewhere, published by a missionary society.) Unmarried, she became known as Miss Cary, which made more sense to non-English speakers as Madame Miss Cary as she got older! Of course, I misheard her name Madame Miss Cary as Madame Mystery, mysterious till I figured it out. It seems that my Moroccan friends also knew her as Madame Mestiry.
Every one tries to take unfamiliar things and place them in a context that makes sense. Near the end of the French Protectorate, when King Mohammed V did not support the French and spoke out for independence, the French exiled him to Madagascar, then a French colony. For many Moroccans who had never gone to school, Madagascar meant nothing, and some, asked about the King, said that he was sent to see “Madame Cascar.” Madame Cary was a lot like that to us naïve Americans.
I think the last missionary, Mr. Jessup, left in 1969 or early 1970. He couldn’t proselytize, and he had nothing to do and spent a fair amount of time fishing. When I told this story to an old friend, Ali Azeriah, he wrote back with his own recollections, and they contain a lot more detail than my own, and his story is interesting.
“Now to Madam Mestiry. She too was part of my childhood. I was eleven years old, and I used to go to a school in Derb l’Miter. My family used to live in Setti Mesouda. At that time (about 1958-59) many Jews (the wealthy ones) began to move out of the mellah and settle in such districts as La Ville Nouvelle, Setti Mesouda and Derb l’Miter. So Derb l’Miter hosted many Jewish and Muslim families living side by side and maintaining good neighborly relations. Madam Mestiry, the American missionary, used to live in a house in Derb l’Miter, it being the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Sefrou then. She was well known in the Sefrou community, and especially among pupils my age and teenagers in general, including those who did not attend school. At six o’clock in the evening when we came out of school, most of us students would pass by her house, and there she would be standing at the door of her house with a big smile on her face. She would ask us to come in in Moroccan Arabic ‘Aji! Aji!’ (Come in! Come in!) And a whole bunch of us (ten or twelve of us) would walk in. She would take us to a large room furnished with many chairs, a piano (the first time I saw one), a cross on the wall, and a bookshelf full of books. She would make us sit on the chairs arranged for the event, and she would sing to us hymns in broken Arabic. I can still remember one half sentence from her many religious songs: ‘something (I can’t remember the word) will take me up to the Lord.’ After about twenty minutes or so, she would stop singing, and give us pictures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Then she would invite us to the kitchen and give us the thing we cherished most: French bread and cheese or bread and chocolate, one day French bread and cheese, the next day bread and chocolate. Hungry as we were, at 6 o’clock we would flock to Madam Mestiry’s house to be fed food which we had never had at home: Boulanger (French Bread), red cheese and chocolate. We did not care as much about the religious songs or the pictures as we cared about the food, which we, the miserable kids, enjoyed very much. One day my uncle, having found the pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in my satchel, asked me how I came to get them, and I told him the truth. He gave me a thrashing and ordered me to never go to Madam Mestiry’s house. ‘She will make a Christian of you, you donkey.’ I promised him to never go there again. But I did not keep my promise. I just could not resist the temptation of ‘boulanger” and cheese or chocolate.
My generation still remembers Mme Mestiry. I do not know any one (from among the circle of my friends) who converted to Christianity, but I heard of some who did actually embrace Christianity.
This is my story of Mme Mestiry. She was well known in Sefrou.”
Thanks, Ali, for shedding light on the mysterious Mestiry and the Sefrou that was.

The Peace Corps Book Locker

The Booklocker

I lived in Sefrou, but worked 20 miles away in the provincial capital, Fes. I commuted every day by taxi or bus, which I caught across from the Bab Mkam. During the half-hour rides, I read voraciously. In the early years, volunteers were furnished “book lockers,” collections of classic and contemporary books. The “book locker” collections were a varied mix, and, as volunteers added and subtracted from them, they grew ever more diverse. Volunteers visiting Rabat would find book lockers in storage at the Peace Corps office on rue Van Vollenhoven, and look for new titles.

The book locker was an American idea, conceived in the earliest days of the Peace Corps. The names of those who put the original collections together seem to be lost. The Peace Corps knew that volunteers in remote places might find it difficult to find reading, and that they would have lots of time to read.

In Morocco, I found English language books at a certain newsstand in the ville nouvelle as well as at the missionary run store, La Bonne Nouvelle. I did a lot of reading in French, and searched the medina booksellers for old items on climbing and mountaineering, my passions, as well as history.

Since that time, I have never had so much time to read.

This may seem like a slow start, but the trivia of everyday existence is as relevant as anything else. I am not aiming at profundity, just a start to the blog.

Source: Peace Corps Morocco Beginnings