Sunday, February 22, 2015

After 10 days in Italy

By Cabuchi Americano

February 22, 2015

Its now 10 days since my arrival in Italy and I find it far more comfortable and familiar than I expected.  Italy is in all ways a modern industrialized country.  I don't know why that surprised me, but then I have never been in Italy before.  I had no idea what to expect.  There is also many familiar foods here, American cuisine is a collective mixture of foods that immigrants brought with them to the New World.   This morning I realized the bread I was eating was sourdough bread, and really was not that much different than what I would get in San Francisco.

Breakfast is different here, usually just toast or “biscotti” (forgive my poor Italian), compared to my habit of cooking eggs in the morning, especially omelettes. I make killer omelettes. The coffee is smaller than in Morocco but just as strong, and that’s a good thing for I truly was drinking far too much strong Moroccan coffee.  I didn't drink coffee for 15 years, as I developed a kind of allergy to it, but that seemed to vanish when I moved to Morocco in 2013.   Coffee in Morocco is basically French style espresso - diluted half by milk in a standard coffee cup, known locally as the “nous-nous” (nous means “half” in Arabic - so half and half).  It was not uncommon for me to drink 4 or 5 of those during the day in Morocco.  And that's a lot of caffeine.  So my eating and drinking habits are adjusting.

My last apartment in Morocco was on a hillside above a mosque and the Muezzin would start his daily chant around 5:30 am, which was prime REM dream sleeping time for me.  After 4 months of that, I was getting a little ragged around the edges, and didn't really know why. Felt an incredible need to sleep after I arrived here, and my hosts were very gracious in allowing me the space to do just that.  Its only now that I feel my sleep cycles have returned to normal. I do know that if I ever return to live in the Muslim world I will choose a location that is far away as possible from the 150 decibel minaret loudspeakers.  I cannot imagine Christians putting up with church bells at that hour so I don't know why Muslims put up with the pray calls at that hour.  But religions are often that way, things are supposed to be difficult as that spurs the cognitive dissonance of the rituals having some greater meaning than simply interfering with healthy sleep patterns. Perhaps it all stems from a more agrarian time when people went to bed earlier and rose with she sun.  But the practice seems a bit dated now. I will say that Moroccans were some of the most hospitable and friendly people I have ever met.  They truly do look after strangers and make them feel at home.  And that is a very good trait.

In Italy they have a phrase that roughly translates “You are just like a Moroccan”, what the phrase comes from is the Moroccan tendency to never close the terms of a contract but to keep changing the terms along the way, even when there is a written contract.  The most dangerous contract in Morocco is the "Moroccan favor" for while it seems just like a friendly help from a stranger, it always comes with strings, its never written down, and it is never paid off.  It is by far the most expensive contract you can engage in, and if you trade in it, you better have a good stock of your own "Moroccan favors" in the bag with that person.  Its unlikely that if you have not grown up in the culture that you will win at this game. Whenever possible pay upfront for services rendered, the Moroccan favor will bite you every time.

Morocco is probably the freest marketplace on earth, absolutely anything can be found in Morocco if you know the right person and a have the right price. But the caveat emptor, buyer beware, always applies.  Counterfeit knock off merchandise from China is common, and despite what designer labels would have you believe, much of it comes from the same factories that supply the high priced stores in Europe and America.  There is also a lot of cheap Chinese junk that breaks.  The massive import of Chinese made clothing can't be good for Moroccan clothing makers, as there is no way they can compete on price.

Moroccan police and security services were some of the kindest and most helpful police I have ever encountered.  There was a sense of freedom I felt in Morocco that I did not feel in the United States. The difference between living in a kingdom and a bank owned corporation posing as a democratically elected republic is in a kingdom the control is more honest and upfront.  Surprisingly this seems to make a kingdom a bit more circumspect as to what they do, than in a faceless "democratic" republic. Not that I think monarchies are the ideal situation, its just my observation from the last 15 months.

In the USA the ubiquitous use of zero tolerance policing, surveillance and video cameras, and the horrendous intrusive TSA contributes to the current oppressive atmosphere in the USA.  If Homeland Security could figure away to film your asshole they would.  A police state is expensive, even with high tech computers and software, and if there's one ray of hope for the USA is that they cannot long afford to continue what they are doing.  You don't realize how bad its become until you go to a European or Moroccan airport and realize they trust you more than your own government does.  I'd much rather go through a foreign countries airport security than fly domestically in the USA.   Its foolish to expect the government to protect from every risk, especially those risks that their own policies generate.

The biggest hassle of living in Morocco was dealing with properties.  Moroccans love to bargain and haggle.  Negotiation is the national sport and they are very very good at it.  There seems to be no standard way of doing anything when it comes to rentals or property purchases, and all the muslim prohibitions against theft seem to fly like doves from an empty apartment window when it comes properties.  Caveat Emptor is the only phrase to describe it.

If you decide to live in Morocco, and most people find a property through an agent (hence all the men sitting in cafes in Morocco - its a human Internet), make sure you pay the agent a flat fee for finding a property, otherwise he will take a fee from you and the landlord and depending on what the landlord offers he may or may not be working in your best interest.  The fact that you speak English and Moroccans use three languages will be used against you.  Your contract will likely be in Arabic, demand that it be in at least French, so  you can get that readily translated as to its terms.  Get the cleaning costs (entrance and exit), utility costs (paid directly or indirectly?) and monthly rent.  Some landlords will try to get a first and last months rent in a lease, and this is not standard in Morocco.  The only leverage a person has in Morocco of getting a property issue fixed is to withhold rent until it is fixed, so paying the last months rent in advance effectively takes away the only leverage you have to get an issue like hot water or plumbing fixed.  Also its a very good idea to get the actual Amendis utility account number for the power meter for your property, so when the bill comes you can verify you are paying electricity for your unit and not your landlord’s unit.   My friend Caleb had his landlord physically switch the wires in the power box, and got an enormous power bill for simply using a laptop computer in a rented garage that serves as his office in Morocco.  Americans are assumed to be wealthy and therefore to be gouged if at all possible.  Its up to you to make sure you are not.   The King of Morocco has issued very stiff warnings to Moroccans on TV last summer about taking advantage of Americans, so if things get too far out of hand you can always threaten to go to the police.  But that is seldom necessary. Its more a game they play than actual ill will towards you but its a far different way of doing property transactions than most Americans are accustomed to.  Having friends of either European or American origins is a great support network in Morocco, as they mostly like will have faced similar issues with property.

Italy on the other hand is a completely new culture for me.  My hosts are exceptional people and very warm and caring individuals. I am in the far north of Italy and in a beautiful location.   I have a loft in what looks something like a Swiss Chalet.  I heat with wood. There is about a foot and a half of snow outside and today is clear and sunny.   Even given the rural location, Internet connections are far faster than what I had in Morocco.

I am studying Italian and the language seems to be a bit easier than French as words are pretty much spelled the way they sound, once you learn the Italian way of spelling.  There doesn't seem to be as many homonyms in Italian as in the English language.  My hosts are fairly good at English so I am helping them refine their English as I pick up Italian words.   Italy is a land of many faces, I have never seen such a variety of facial features as I have seen in Italy. It must be an artists paradise for the variety of configurations the human face has here.  

I do feel more at home here, my ancestry is Celtic, and hence European so its a bit easier to blend in.   My blue eyes and snow white hair just screamed “non-Moroccan” in Morocco, usually I was mistaken for an Italian or a Spaniard.  Moroccans seemed generally relieved to learn I was American, and they are generally very friendly towards America.  They are also very pro-Obama, as he has shown a positive attitude towards the Muslim world, and he looks a lot like a Moroccan.   Moroccans don’t tend to see a lot of Americans, as Americans have slipped into a mindset of fear and built invisible walls around themselves since 9/11 fearing enemies that don't truly exist to them.  There are proxy wars going on in the middle east but they really have precious little to do with the average American and more to do with causing general chaos in the world, Zionist and radical muslim agendas (which are one in the same), and pushing the prices of fossil fuel commodities into volatile trading ranges where Wall Street types can make money off high frequency trading algorithms.  But all that is not working so well anymore as the energies of the planet change, and the energies of fear and greed are replaced by love and light.

I was able to get some warm clothes and boots here, and in my size. Moroccans tend to be much shorter people, and my stock of clothing is nearly worn out. What I cannot get locally I can easily get via UPS or one of the other shippers.  UPS and FEDEX were extremely expensive to use in Morocco and only serviced the largest cities in Morocco.  I am pretty well equipped to survive the winter months.   Thank you all who helped and especially thank you to the woman who sent me $100 just as I was exiting Morocco, it could not have come at a better moment.    I will be writing more about this experience in Italy as the weeks go on.   My hosts have asked for privacy as they wish to avoid many of the issues we had in Aouchtam of people arriving with unknown agendas and energies, so I will not be identifying where I am or who I am staying with.  And after what I saw last summer and fall I think that is a very wise request on their part.

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