Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Settling In

It turns out teaching is a lot like bartending. Efficiency is a important, but communication is key. Speak slowly; use concise, simple present tense sentences and active phrasing. Gesticulate. I am good at those things. So while I've never had a job quite like this before, it feels good. Now, at least.

It's difficult to describe - or even remember - how nervous I was for my first couple days of work. I think I've sort of blacked it out of my mind like I had PTSD; buried it under some twigs in my subconscious like the cover of a pit trap - something to stumble into later and deal with in therapy. It was the result of three compounding weeks of anticipation. Moving to (yet another) new country, finding an apartment, making friends, settling into the office, finding a gym, figuring out how I was going to do laundry, etc... Miniature adventures that I relish, but that totally sapped my mental energy in fairly short order.

On Sunday, I hung my empty backpack on the curtain rod above the French doors that open onto my small balcony. It doesn't quite match the red pastel drapes, but it couldn't be more appropriate to the worn motif of the room itself. Everything had a fresh coat of paint applied to it in anticipation of our arrival, but it all still feels old. The paint still has the newborn sheen that highlights the sag and imperfections of the walls. The furniture is dark stained wood. My dresser is an elegant, preposterously heavy old thing, but missing a few handles. Laying on my stiff mattress in the middle of the day, distracted by the insane noise of the street and soaking the duvet through with afternoon sweat, it feels like home.

Casablanca is a wonderful city. Like a good expatriate, I'm slowly working my way through a few Bowles novels, and spending as much time as I can wandering the streets, eating things off of carts. The place is a farcry from the gorgeous old cities of Europe and the Middle East. It doesn't have any old architecture, fortresses or landmarks. At least, none that haven't been cannibalized for some new purpose. The whole city is painted from the same palate of beige, gray and broken cement. But it feels like a crossroads. If the United States is the mixing pot, Casablanca would be the point directly above it where the various streams of humanity cross, mid-pour. French-speaking Africans from the horn of Africa, Arabic-speaking Africans from the Sudan and Ethiopia, Arabs of every stripe, Europeans, and a spattering of Americans and Chinese. They all live here and do business in the chaos that is laissez-faire as only Africa can manage.

So I understand why guide books recommend giving the place a miss. If you only have a few days, there's really no excuse for coming to Casablanca over Marrakesh or Fez. But if you're looking for a place to settle down for a couple of months to finish that novel, this is the place.


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