Saturday, November 17, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 23 [Fire, Bureaucrats and Other Moments]

Mehdi is old.  I joke with him.  He's turning 32.  I met him on Halloween: he was dressed as a skeleton, and he said "This is my real face."

It's his birthday.  Le Cotton Club is HIS club (or as his as it can possibly get).  Diana and Susanna (also known as ROOTSMAMA) are playing and jamming out.  In between talking to people, having a couple of drinks, and joking, we all chill out.

Until the staff brings out a huge tray.  They build a pyramid on top: three, two, one glasses.  Then, at the bottom, they create a slurry of alcohol.  Which they then light on fire.  The alcohol (and blue flames) trail downwards from the the top glass, creating pretty blue heat wherever it flows. We take straws and attempt to swallow our flaming-party-tray concoction.

I know there's some sambuca: my chest feels warm and there's an aftertaste of licorice.

The apartment is fabulous, large, and spacious. Not. Yes, it can hold four or more people; yes, it's large.  But: the broken window is covered by a plastic bag, our power flickers on and off, the "stove" is a tiny propane tank on the counter, the Turkish bathroom isn't big enough for a bucket shower, and the terrace keeps getting locked, stranding my laundry.  Still, I grin and bear it.  This apartment, with it's beds on the floor, and a jank little lock, is MINE.

Our first dinner was ramen.  The second dinner: pasta, pineapple juice, orange juice, garlic bread, fried eggplants, fruit.  Then, add three great friends.

I am so tempted to scream.  Bureaucracy is spectacularly good at frustrating a person: in fact, I believe bureaucratic processes are a specialized form of torture. In order to talk to the orphanage director, we have to file a letter of intent.  However, they won't tell us how to file a letter of intent.  This is the third phone call in trying to figure out how the letter of intent works, where we should send it, who should sign it.

The voice speaks again, "Sorry, sorry, but I can't help you." He hangs up.  I look to Saltana, she looks at me.  And we dial the next phone number on the list.


She shrieks.  I look over to my left and want to laugh.  It's not anything shocking, but at the same time, it kinda is.  There is a severed chicken head on the sewer grate, there are bones lying in a puddle next to it, and a cat looks up expectantly before CRUNCH-ing into a bone. 

To be honest though, I've gotten used to the sight of bones, bits and pieces of meat, throughout the medina.  It's a fact of life: meat comes from animals, which have bodies, which are made up of bone and muscle.  The excess material has to go somewhere.

Still, she shrieks again when we see a butcher carrying racks of ribs, hustling towards the open back door of a van.  And I have to admit, my stomach churns a little uneasily too.


The new year is/was Friday. November 16th marks the date of the Islamic new year 1434.  Actually, I really don't pay attention to the date, or even realize it.  At first, I am more concerned by the firecrackers that appear and suddenly seem to be launched at me.

The kids laugh and giggle, little hobgoblins in dark alleys, casually tossing them at me and hurling them in different directions.

At night, I wonder if they'll blow their fingers off as I hear pops and shrieks from the street.


The first night, I sleep fitfully.  My roommates inform me that someone apparently died the night before, before we moved in.  They saw, they say to me with earnest faces, what appeared to be someone wrapped up in a carpet downstairs.  I hear wailing that day, screaming and crying, sounds that come as part of a mourning process.  I joke that there is a ghost, and one roommate glares at me. "Don't say that!"

That night, I dream of a woman wrapped in a carpet, being thrown down my stairs.

I sit bolt upright and see some sort of figure in the hallway.  The plastic bag on the wall crinkles.  I grab my glasses.

There is nothing, but the plastic bag swaying gently.


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