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beautiful diary, Nomad, as always.

so nice to have you in extra-EU roving reporter mode again too.

the gulf is huge, between us born to the first world and the other 4/5ths of humanity. i had no idea really of how huge, until at 18, i stepped off a steamer at Casablanca, after 4 days journey from southampton or portsmouth, i canna remember any more.

my first peek outside the euro-bubble, and though it sounds trite, i felt my worldview do summersaults within the first 5 minutes, as though familiar with the sounds, sights and smells of Naples, it had not prepared me for the maelstrom of sensuous assault that greeted me setting foot on land.

what grabbed me at first was the old men, they had such dignity, then the packs of children, bright eyed and agile, swarming like bees around the influx of walking wallets.

it had been a very pleasant trip, mostly spent jamming with a fellow passenger on acoustic guitars, with a gorgeous side stopover at Lisbon, after a majestically slow trip on the Targus river, slow enough to observe the country folk as they toiled in fields beside the riverbanks... so i was quite relaxed, already light years from the stressful hubbub of London.

hard to describe the feelings, sweltering in shock at the raw vitality of the Moroccans, their wise eyes and proud bearing, the strangeness of their attire, the strong, foxy smells from funky sewerage, the music pounding strange scales and rhythms from teahouses, where old sages from central casting dipped chunks of sugar in their mint tea and slipped sipsi kif pipes from their socks, took a few draws from their magic mix stored on a sheep's bladder, and then tucked them back away discreetly.

men sleeping on the sidewalk/pavement in full 100F sun, dressed head to toe in quarter inch thick wool, caped and falling to ankle length.

it was like coming home...it felt challenging and soothing at the same time, so many answers to questions yet unfully formulated, there in plain sight, and much more hiding and peeking from around dusty corners.

6 months, hitching, walking, sharing bread and tajin with lorry drivers, cruising the souks, marvelling at the artisanry, big 55 gallon drums on street corners with hot chickpea soup for sale, and all seemed harmonious, locals proudly told me how even the poorest never went to bed hungry.

what remained mysterious was the world of women, hidden and veiled, they existed in a parallel world of their own. i was still too immature to reflect very deeply on this, but my girlfriend travelling with me, 21, was half scottish, half guadeloupienne, raised in Paris, and it was through her i became aware of how judgemental it felt for her living along such an overtly patriarchal society. she looked marakshi to the locals, and in her jeans and unscarved head, she attracted not a few hisses of negative judgment from passers by.

we clambered smartish onto a bus to marrakesh, shared with goats, poultry, and mostly local folks. tourism wasn't very thick on the ground, back in 69, and we felt very visible, but not too vulnerable, as our hosts were usually extremely kind and hospitable. one wild party thrown by the decadent scion of the Krupp family was especially memorable, but apart from that insight into how the rich and famous could live in the perfumed gardens behind the high walls, we were in the cheapest dives, the kind where the nightwatchman would lie and sleep on the floor by the main entrance.        

walking the streets and peeking in on the rare occasions a gate would open was always a revelation, cool courtyards redolent with orange blossoms and fountains awaiting hidden from the street.

the last 3 months we spent working kitchen duties in a Tangier beach bar, going to the market in the morning, buying bread, fig-size black olives and other tasty delights, sleeping in a little stucco cabin yards from the water, with a stained glass window. we could see the camel trains silhouetted on the dawn skyline of berber people bringing the produce in from the countryside...

we had tea with brian gysin, a fascinating fellow, hiked along essaouira beaches talking to the boatbuilders, admiring the blue and white tones of the town.

so many amazing memories, thanks for stirring the soup Nomad. perhaps this comment will help explain why i am such a fan of your writing, so right on the cultural interface, and right with reflections on riddles impenetrable.

 my only (hopefully constructive) criticism, your diaries are always too short, they feel like a tease-trailer to some great movie!

we are really lucky here at ET...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Aug 25th, 2010 at 08:47:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great comment, Melo.  I had a similar experience, c. 1973 when I was kicked out of college and wanted to see the world from outside a European consciousness.  Having already felt I needed to unlearn everything I had learnt in school I was ready for a jarring experience and headed off through Europe hitch hiking and sleeping rough.

A one a and a half day wait for a lift outside Madrid has ended up with my meeting a trucker at a trucker café and he offered me a lift to Morocco - his destination.  He was a Swiss guy who had had some kind of (drug related?) near death experience in India which ended up transforming him into a Minister back in Switzerland.

The police on the boat over to Morocco insisted my long hair be shorn and some deck hand was only too glad to perform the service for a considerable fee and no aptitude for the task whatsoever!

Hitching around Fez, Marrakesh and Casablanca was a similar experience with one three day wait for a lift and many frozen nights amongst the orange groves.  I met up with a gang of youths in Marrakesh and we spend some days frequenting souks, cafes, smoking hash and drinking sweet mint tea.

I was somewhat taken aback at the open homosexual advances (towards me) and the sexual frustrations of men with no access to women and no prospect of doing so unless they had an income and two supportive families.

I wandered one day into finely cultivated gardens where I discovered a warm waterfall and had the most delicious shower of my life.  As I was walking away I notice soldiers amongst the workers in the gardens and tried to look, as much as possible, that I belonged in the place.

I discovered afterwards I had wandered into a summer residence of King Hasan and I would have been lucking not to lose a hand had I been discovered as a trespasser.

Otherwise there was no sense of fear or hostility, only an abiding obsession with money by any back packer I came across - perhaps the very "European" (or even more so, "American") trait I had been trying to get away from.

In that I perhaps felt closer to the locals than the travellers, but linguistic barriers always made true friendship difficult. That, and the fact there seemed no prospect of my finding work anywhere.

I returned to "Europe" to work in a warehousing job in London to replenish depleted coffers and link up with some "alternative" communities I had become aware of in college.

The experience probably changed me more than any education and yet still I feel remote from African culture - an experience reinforced by 6 Months spend in South Africa some years ago after the fall of Apartheid (but not its economic and political consequences).

I plan to return to Malawi and South Africa in a couple of months time but have no illusions about being much more than a tourist.  I have some friends to revisit and some promises to keep and Africa will always be a remote fascination for me - A place I would love to live but do not deserve to make home.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Aug 25th, 2010 at 11:09:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
wow, yes... i really resonate a lot with your experience, especially the getting kicked out of school, and the 'unlearning'.

i never could take europe totally seriously after seeing over the edge of it, and to a great extent i still can't, no matter how i feel i should!

the most telling realisation i think came from the beauty of the markets in Tangier, the feast for the senses they were, how pleasurable it was to smell the tuberose and ripe melons, and see the incredible ethnic mix of people and traditions, a melee of awesome.

i reflected on the local safeway in ken high st. with -whoa!- electrically photobeamed self-opening doors, and inside the rigidly marshalled fruits and veggies in military rows, all looking like clones in their horrible, fluorescent-lit ghost world, all bland and shorn of any sensuality. the people too...

and i reflected... we think we're more 'evolved' than they are, we actually pity them, we are so damn sure we're better, further along, more fortunate.

and it hit me hard between the eyes... if we can be so wrong about some things so simple, i had to question everything else we assumed too.

i laughed out loud, i realised we were at lewis carrol levels of ridiculous, we had fallen in love with our own reflections on the shiny chrome reality we were creating, and the Madmen were busily concocting spells to keep us in the mindless consumer trance that kills the soul and stifles the imagination, cauterising the magic out of life.

it broke my heart, even as i laughed...

we had eschewed nobility, somewhere it had been jettisoned in favour of self regard, and the hunt for the slickest deal.

people told me, 'you love morocco, you'll love india more', and there was truth to that, as i stayed 6 months there too a couple of years later.

but morocco was my first peep out the eurobox, and i'll always have a soft spot for her because of that!

really enjoying these reminiscences, thanks for uncorking them, guys...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Aug 25th, 2010 at 05:00:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After a trip in Africa (Cameroon), I can't pretend to know antything, but I feel that I can't nor should argue for simplicity to people who often are a meal away from starvation.

I'm really all in favor of simplicity for myself (when I can make it a way of life that I like), but I will not defend it for people so poor that they can't weather the simplest life accident. And my feeling is that there is a lot of africa's misery summed up in "can't weather accidents".

In Cameroon, I met (and worked with) locals who were at the european standard of formation/knowledge and job skills. I also met (and employed) people who were living for CFA 10k a month per person, even when I paid them above the local minimum wage.
I talked to middle class people who were telling me how hard it was to get jobs, and at the same time, I could see basic infrastructures missing, or badly maintained (roads, water, electricity). I had interesting discussion with my fellow colleagues (who I believed quite liked having them) about why houses were not made of stones in mountain countries but in imported cement, or why the city was not employing people to clean sewers (no tax, no money, no job).

I still have problems to understand why, appart the technological side of development, one country doesn't manage to build and maintain structures that could be found in antic India or medieval Mali, like waterways, houses. I feel it is for the lack of legitimate power in these countries (where the gov is often backed by former european colonisator).

In Cameroon, there exist a small city/country where, at the beginning of the XXth century, the local king forced a small scale modernization of its country, some ten years before colonization. He tried to get from a rural village to an urban center, with written-royal acts, simple technologies to better the farm output (like corn smasher), and commercial/political domination of the area.
It didn't work in the end, because he was overpowered by the europeans (french and germans). I'm convinced that there could be african leaders of that kind today, who would make the "enforced simplicity" a chosen one, or more, but not only a european view of what simple (but happy) man should be on the earth.
 

by Xavier in Paris on Tue Aug 31st, 2010 at 11:31:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
People need sovereignty. The entire point of neo-colonialism and corporate globalization is that corporations (the former colonizer's in the case of neo-colonialism, global in the case of corporate globalization) have sovereignty over all that matters, and people at best have sovereignty over trinkets and meaningless rituals. So, we're all in the same boat, only us 'Westerners' have our rapidly deteriorating but to some extent real sovereignty to sustain us, which most African nations have never had.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Aug 31st, 2010 at 01:10:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I talked quite a lot about this with my colleagues when I was there. They told me that it was very difficult to embrace any carreer without support from the (local) people above.
If and when the people above are an old lifelong president supported by the former colonizing power, this has some implications.
People outside the frame of this have it very difficult to get a job.
I'll say that the scarcity of jobs is capital. If the economy was going well enough, the power would not have so much importance in giving access to a position. But could you have a thriving economy, when a great part of it consists in harvesting naturale ressources?
In Cameroon, there are 4 main sources of revenues: oil (declining, exploitation shared between the french and chinese), trees (exploited by the french company Bolloré - a close friend of Sarkozy), precious stones (by the coreans), and fish (by the  chinese).
All of them are dependent of "sovereignty" as they need the proper authorizations and permits by the cameroon state. Such documents are a clear source of black money at all levels. I feel that it would take a virtuous gov clerck to favorise its own people access to the resource (which do NOT need permits so no black money, eg: fish) over the money channeling permit to a foreign harvester.
But why? Coreans or chinese do not have a military presence, so why do we see the same colonized/colonizing process taking place?
by Xavier in Paris on Wed Sep 1st, 2010 at 02:30:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When the institutional set up of a country is thightly conditioned for a specific process, that process becomes the default one...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Sep 1st, 2010 at 03:59:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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