Thursday, August 31, 2006
Aside from typing a few words into the computer, we never really got too far with it. It ran off those ancient floppies, which really were floppy, cardboard-thick and the length and width of a CD case.
After a day or two, the not-so-useful computer got shoved into a drawer. It was brought out every so often on the whim of someone becoming a computer whiz, only to be shoved back into the drawer when the whiz got tired of typing their name and pressing enter.
It would be another year before my father splurged on a new PC. The screen had an orange curser that flashed when we turned it on. "An IBM clone," he called it, sliding a floppy disk into the drive. "It comes with the latest version of MS DOS," he said, his voice filled with all the enthusiasm of a geek with a new toy. "And I copied a word processing program from work," he said, typing various commands with his two fingers. "Six hundred and forty kilobytes of RAM, I mean that's the best you can get these days," he said. "And a fifty megabyte hard drive."
The computer whirred and wheezed like an old man with emphysema, the big green light on the disk drive flashing as the disk spun inside.
Commodore pets with big green cursers on the screens were installed at school. The teachers seemed to be afraid of them, and most of the students weren't interested. Those that were, knew much more than the teachers.
The Coleco vision, with the game Donkey Kong was an early family purchase, and I spent hours in front of the TV moving the little ape around the screen.
The computer world surged forward year after year: faster, more colour, more graphics, more options, more memory, Windows 3.1, Nintendo, Sega, Laptops, the internet, palm PC's.
When I went to university, I had my first computer. A pentium, ninety megahurtz, eight megabyes of RAM, Windows 95.
When I graduated, it was obsolete, and I bought one five times as fast, with, gasp, MMX technology.
Today, it's hard to imagine a world without computers. It's there when I'm up in the morning, the first thing I do is turn it on. Even things we carry on us now are computers more powerful than my family's first clunky machine. Mobile phones, palm pilots, GPS systems, handheld video consoles, blackberries.
And it all started with someone manipulating ones and zeros, putting them into a bulky storage device. They constantly seek to make the storage device smaller and smaller, while manipulating the ones and zeros faster and faster.
Happy twenty fifth birthday PC.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I've said before that the Arabic language changes from country to country. Some Arabic authors write in their local dialects, such as Naguib Mahfouz. Others, and I would guess the majority of authors, write in classical Arabic. Unfortunately, their numbers are startlingly low, and most Arabs I know prefer reading in their second language, English, French, etc. The only Arabic book they read us usually the Koran.
This concerns me for a few reasons. Islamic faith, as I see it, is based on the acceptance of the Koran as a miracle, shown through its poetic genius. The weaker their society becomes in their ability to read, produce, and study literature, including poetry, the fewer people there are and the less ability they have to accept and prove that the Koran is indeed a miracle.
To some degree, this can be explained. Arabic is spoken in regional dialects, which have strayed to varying degrees from the Arabic spoken in the Koran. The result is somewhat like the Latin effect. A hundred years ago even, Latin was the educated language throughout Europe. Books were churned out in Latin. Within a decade or so, Latin seemed to all but fall off except to a select few people following the path of the church. Sure it is studied, but have you ever heard two people debating in Latin?
The Koran seems to have held the Arab World's languages closer together than Latin has. However there are significant differences, enough to stop people from understanding each other from one country to the next. A good example is how students who study classical Arabic in the West, come to Egypt and Morocco and get nowhere. My Egyptian is better understood here than my classical Arabic thanks to Egyptian television being dominant in the Arab world.
My point - Arabic writing and an Islamic conundrum: It's a dangerous thing when the interpretation of what people accept as divine truth (The Koran) is compromised by their diminishing ability to comprehend it.
At the age of 82, he was attacked outside his home by one such fear-driven man, a fundamentalist who was taught to disagree with Mahfouz's honest and liberal views of Egypt, God and Islam.
May his innovative, Nobel-prize writing which had been translated into dozens of languages, inspire future generations of young Egyptian and Arab authors.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
"I want," is another good example. "Ayiz," in Egypt, "Bdee," in Lebanon, and "Bgheet," in Morocco.
Then there are frustrating changes. Moroccan, for instance, has a lot of French words peppered into the language. For instance, I went into a shop to ask for a pen. "Bgeet wahid qalam," I said, I'd like one pen."
"Quoi?" the shop owner said.
"Wahid qalam," I said, refusing to speak with him in French.
"Shnu?" What? He asked.
"Qalam, qalam," I pointed to the rack of pens behind him.
"Ahh," he said. "Stylo."
Another miscommunication. In Egypt, orange, both the colour and the fruit, is said as bortuqal. A lemon, is pronounced Leemoon.
So I go to a Moroccan shop one day and ask for a kilo of oranges, "Wahid kilo bortuqal."
"Bortuqal, bortuqal." I point to the rack of oranges.
"Ah, leemoon," the vendor says.
"La, bortuqal," No, oranges. I roll my eyes as though he's an idiot.
He shakes his head and starts grabbing oranges, "Nam, nam." I said. "Yes, yes."
I pay and leave. At home, I explain to my wife, "I go to order oranges, bortuqal, and he tries to sell me lemons. What's wrong with these stupid vendors?"
"How do you say orange in Moroccan Arabic?" she asks.
"Bortuqal," I say.
"Nope," she laughs again. "Leemoon."
"What, then what the hell do you call a lemon?"
"Citron," she says.
Monday, August 28, 2006
The scary part is, both of these two front runners, IMO, are liabilities. In fact, I'm feeling a sense of American democratic leadership race deja vu.
A few years back, it was Kerry vs. Dean. The man who would take on GWB for the next presidential election. I liked Howard Dean. He said what needed to be said, that the Iraq war was a mistake. He had a platform to stand on, and that platform was to attack the incompetence of the Bush Administration.
But Kerry comes out of nowhere, gets sympathy for being a war hero, milks the war hero sentiment and gives a line just enough voters wanted to hear at the time in order to elect him. "Iraq was the right thing to do."
Kerry won, and the famous Dean Scream ensued. I don't blame Howard Dean for screaming. He saw his country going down the tubes. He forsaw what the short-sighted American voter couldn't, that Kerry shot himself in one foot as he squeezed the other into the door. He now had no angle to take Bush on for his biggest mistake, Iraq, which directly led to Bush's other major embarassments, fiscal irresponsibility, lies, faulty intelligence. Kerry failed to convince me he was better than Bush, which Peewee Herman could have done for goodness sakes. With one foot shot and the other in the door, Dick Cheney must have been waiting with his shotgun on the other side, for Kerry's other foot was shot, or perhaps his entire leg, leaving him without a leg to stand on and paving way for the Republicans to attack him for flip flopping. Bush must have been laughing, if not underhandedly helping finance Kerry, the easier of the two opponents to beat. Sorry about all the bad analagies, they were just too tempting.
Back to Canadian politics, and I see the same conundrum coming up again. The two front runners, like Kerry had done to the democrats, may succeed in reaching out and acquiring just enough votes to get them the Liberal leadership. In the end, they will fail to resonate with enough Canadian voters to win an election. The actual situation is much worse.
Ignatieff, the current front runner.
In some ways, the guy's a mirror image of Kerry. He actually supported the preemptive war in Iraq months prior to the invasion. While a celebrated acedemic with numerous accomplishments, this one fact, if spun properly by the current party in power, the Conservatives, I forsee potentially shattering Ignatieff's support base. Canadians don't like the Iraq war, it was something the Liberals got really really right. Are the hardcore Liberals likely to vote for an admitted supporter of the Iraq-war. If Iggy gets elected as leader of the Liberals, I predict the Conservatives will sail to a majority in the next election. Like Kerry, he's giving up a major route to attack current Prime Minister Stephen Harper for what I see as Harper's biggest weaknesses, ie. his closeness to Bush.
Bob Rae, the close-second at the moment.
Bob Rae is perhaps the only worse candidate, in my mind, than Ignatieff. While the man may be very clever, a Rhodes scholar, with a similar dossier of accomplishments to Ignatieff. Politically, he's suicide to lead the Liberals. Ontario is Canada's largest province population wise, and is where the Liberal party wins and loses elections. Conservatives have a stranglehold on the West of Canada at the moment, the Bloc Quebecois dominate Quebec. Here comes Bob Rae, the most unpopular premier in Ontario's history. If he leads the party, seats in the Liberal heartland will be lost on an unprecedented scale. If Rae is elected as Liberal leader, I forsee him sending the Liberal party into obscurity, perhaps with even less votes than the flailing NDP.
The rest of the dozen or more candidates are a mixed bag. Ken Dryden, a hall-of-fame goaltender and notable lawyer and business man is a notable canditate. Dion seems to be a popular choice as well, sorry but I haven't done my research yet. He hasn't been scrutinized as much as the other candidates.
I've been a tentative Liberal supporter for years.
The current party in power, led by Stephen Harper, isn't ideal, but is tolerable. He's a bit too cosy with the Bush administration. I have serious misgivings about his support of Israel especially in their recent invasion of Lebanon. I also see him awarding too many plush contracts to friendly companies at the expense of Canada's healthy economic surpluses.
The only speck of good news is, no matter what happens, George Bush won't be leading my country.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not an anti-American. I'm anti-Bush. The man has single-handedly turned the most beloved and respected country in the world into the most loathed. Not the best legacy to leave behind and one that will take decades of careful diplomacy to repair.
A not too distant second choice is in fact the Land Rover, Defender and Range Rover models, though definitely not the smaller SUV's like freelander. While Landies fall behind in the reliability category, they are solidly built vehicles and older models especially are known for easy maintenance. The classic Defender takes the lead for adaptability and options. Similar to Jeep TJ's, they are a joy to toy and tinker with with and have cool options like foldable windscreens and removable hard tops. One disadvantage is comfort. Although major improvements have come with newer models, Landies are traditionally designed as tough, no frills military type vehicles.
A not-too-distant third and lesser considered SUV option is the Nissan Patrol, or similar 4X4's. Similar in size and shape, they have an advantage over Land Rover for reliability. Parts are generally available throughout Africa, though a distant third to the LR and LC. Price wise, you get bang for your buck with the Patrol. Slightly more affordable than Cruisers, here in Morocco anyway, they are in the price range of Land Rovers and older models tend to have more perks like AC and comfortable seats.
My fourth option, and I know I'm stretching out on a limb here, is a Beach Buggy, prefferably with big tyres all around to increase clearance. Light weight bodies, easier than any other vehicle to work on, (and they will definitely need maintenance), based on widely available and little changing VW Beetle, they will be stressful, but very rewarding to take through Africa. The engines are tough, your biggest concern will probably be the wiring and nuts and bolts. Learning a thing or two about cars is nice, if not, a VW maintenance book and a list of parts to take can help get you through. Some more obscure parts you might want to bring along are: a brake hose; a couple brake nipples; a couple boot seals and the kit of oil seals including the safety pin to lock the rear brake drum bolt in place; a small box of different sized nuts and bolts and washers; a few metres of basic wire and a few wire heads; a tyre sealing kit and two levers to help remove the tubes; a spare accelerator cable. It's also a good idea to have a big wrench to take off the bolts which hold the rear brake drums in place.
The car to definitely not take are Jeeps. While certainly intrepid and tough, unless you are in a convoy with lots of spare parts, you aren't going to find much in Africa. In fact, for 4X4's, any brand aside from Toyota, Land Rover, and Nissan should probably not be considered. Mitsubishi seems to be making inroads of late, but are not of the same quality and toughness.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Rounding out the top five, is the only language I'm not comfortable speaking. Portuguese, which is spoken in Mozambique and Angola. Although I began studying Portuguese in Mozambique, I had to leave the country before I had any real grasp of the language.
Arabic, meanwhile, has numerous different dialects. I can converse in Egyptian, Lebanese, and Moroccan Arabic. Egyptian is the most widely understood.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
In Dark Star Safari, his tone can be summed up from his first page, and even sentence. "All news out of Africa is bad." He carries this negative outloook throughout the book, intriguing the reader by the same means popular talkshows do when showcasing the lives of disturbed people.
His anger and frustration with the African continent and nearly every aspect of African life comes through time and again. As does his disdain for charity workers through hostile run-ins with them, and even more so, in his reminiscing about the changes since his days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960's, when he worked hard to make a tiny improvement. His return shows disappointment after disappointment, and he leaves you with the feeling that helping Africa was and is a complete waste of time.
In contrast to my book. One of my strengths over Theroux is humour. Compared to Theroux's constant negativity, I mix the bad with the good and create stronger friendships and relationships with both locals and other travellers.
To me, most Africans I met had intriguing stories, and I managed to pull one or two out of them. I also tried to show more of Africa's beauty than Theroux, through portraying my wonderful experiences, as well as my awful ones.
Theroux tends to have interesting connections in Africa such as the president of Uganda, prisoners of war, and his old Peace Corps contacts.
Where as I get to know random people who could sometimes turn out an incredible story.
While I admire Theroux's flair for description, I feel as though he plays the negative reinforcement of Africa's woes card too much. The reader is left depressed and pessimistic about the continent. I try to balance the two entities, the good and the bad of Africa, often in a tongue in cheek manner to make the reader laugh at it's quirks.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Shoddy reporting. What the story fails to mention is the fact that my three midget friends are also vampires from a previous life who took over midget's bodies.
Armand, Luis, Angel, come meet my fellow blog friends. And a big hello to our honourable co-prophet in the Philippines. Our time for world domination is at hand. Rise, midgets rise. With the guidance of the chosen three, hand in hand with Dorothy, we shall lead you to Munchkin land, down the yellow brick road, and off to see the wizard.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Starting with the important stuff - the food!
The bastilla, a pie shaped dish, covered with philo dough on the outside and filled with seafood: shrimp, calamari and Chinese noodles was the first course. This was followed by an entire roasted lamb, which the ten people at our table dug into.
Josh, one of Siham's bosses, was also there with his wife, Suzanne. Suzanne is also pregnant and expecting a week or two after Siham.
A woman in her forties went straight for a oval shaped part of the lamb. Siham pointed at it, I recognized it immediately and made a face.
Noticing our brief bout attention, Suzanne turned her head to the offending morsil and asked, "What's that?"
A few murmers and stifled giggles ensued.
"Here try some," someone said to her husband, Josh.
He took a bite size piece of the crumbly white meat. With his mouth half full and chewing, he asked, "What is it?"
He was a good sport, he didn't spit it out. But the concerted, jaw-clenched expression as he squinted and swallowed was priceless.
The bride and groom, both in their twenties, were vibrant. The bride especially, her face cast in a permant smile of bright teeth which competed with the jewellery and inlay on the various dresses she changed into for sparkle.
There was hours of dancing after the meal, which, with the treble cranked, was probalby loud enough to cause hearing damage. Next time, I'm bringing ear plugs.
At one point, Siham nudged me, clenching her stomach with the other hand. "Our babies dancing."
"I said..." She pointed to her tummy and, using two fingers of her free hand, made a dancing motion on the table.
"Oh!" I smiled.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
cream butter, sugar and egg. add oatmeal
The meal can be followed by lively dancing and with bands playing and friends and family frolicking the night away.
On the other hand, they can be blatantly boring affairs, with only cookies and cakes and tea being served instead of real meals. The only excitement being the bride changing dresses every hour, leaving to a cacaphony of horns and drums, and returning the same way in a different dress, to sit with the groom on a raised couch surrounded by arranged flowers.
When you don't know anybody, it makes the whole affair that much duller.
The other downside is that they are non-alcoholic affairs. So if the wedding is extremely boring, you can't even have a few glasses of wine to take the edge off. Instead you just sit at your table, at worst in someones too-small yard or house where they cram as many tables as possible to fit, watching, waiting for something to happen. "Une autre biscuit monsieur?"
Meanwhile your sugar high from the tea and cookies is starting to make you feel as though someone punched you in the gut and you want to be sick.
I smile politely every time another person comes up to greet me and Siham.
"Enchante..." "Vous etes travaile avec Siham dans le Corps de Paix, ah bien..."
I'm hopeful that tonights affair will be more lively and fun. I'm told there is proper meals, so that's a good start already.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
You can't die a much more natural death than that of succumbing to old age. He has been lonely since losing my grandmother three years ago, and now can hopefully join her in eternal peace.
This could have meant two things. Either the second interviewer wouldn't want to step on his colleagues toes and make a different decision, or he would realise his colleague was incompetent and do what should have been done in the first place.
The interviewer was an older man, seemingly with seniority, and treated Siham with kindness and respect the moment the interview started. She described him as almost apologetic when he asked her personal questions, as opposed to aggressive accusatory like the previous interviewer. He read the cover letter I provided, and by the time the interview was over, he was angry.
"You should never have been rejected in the first place," he told Siham. "I'm putting your name on the computer so any time you come back for a visa, it's guaranteed."
He was also upset because he wanted to meet me. Yet he wasn't aware there was a rule which forbid husbands from entering the building, especially if it could help prove a potential case.
That's all there was from our end. I like to think the woman who'd treated Siham so badly was reprimanded.
In fact, several months later, I met an employee from the embassy who said that the immigration woman in question was no longer working there. He hinted that she'd left on bad terms, but didn't elaborate, or didn't know, I'm not sure which.
It gives me a sense of satisfaction believing that our case helped expose her. It was all written down in the cover letter that I worked hard to write subjectively, but designed to be proof that should be passed onto a superior. Proof that the woman had rejected Siham, whose exact same credentials had gotten her three visitors visas to Europe and a ten year multiple entry visa to America, yet her being married to a Canadian, something we once thought would guarantee her a visa, was in fact the woman's grounds for rejection.
I have no doubt, immigration officers have a tough job. It's a daily requirement for them to take people's money and tell them, "No, we don't want you in our country." And I agree with what they have to do, I don't want just anybody getting into Canada, I want the highly educated and the wealthy.
I know it might sound bad, or cruel, but inviting poor, lower income class people only puts them in a situation where they become angry. These same people dream about the West being a gold mine where they will become rich. But it doesn't happen that way for 99% of poor immigrants. They end up alienated and often turn to crime, or worse, are easy targets for fudamentalists who blame their failures on racism and encourage violence, or terrorism as retribution.
But there are also boundaries. By law spouses should be allowed to visit Canada. I also have an issue with the cost of spousal visas: more than one-thousand dollars for Siham to apply for residence. And probably another chunk when she wants to become a citizen. This causes unnecessary hardship on young married couples, most of which are already in an tight situation trying to save up for the expensive move across the sea and start a new life.
Monday, August 14, 2006
I wrote a cover letter for Siham, summing up what she returned to the embassy with. The cover letter was designed to convey the facts, without being rude or angry, to show that the previous woman didn't do her job and was incompetent.
I started with mentioning she was rejected, and she felt the reason for the rejection was that she was married to a Canadian citizen. This was followed by a list of documents we were providing, with stars beside documents we hadn't provided before. (An invitation from my father, his income tax statement, my personal bank statements, a personal letter of reccomendation from Siham's boss. Photocopies of our car ownership and our gym memberships.)
I designed the list to start with the most obvious reason Siham should have been accepted, that the exact same application, save for the marriage certificate, had been good enough for visas to America, and Europe - none of which had ever been abused or overstayed.
I followed this by the typical requirements for a visa: proof of a good income, letter of employment, etc.
And with that, Siham went back to the embassy to apply again.
To be continued.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
To add to this, for some reason Firefox kept going to a page that it archived, rather than going to the refreshed version. I opened my blog in explorer, and the new posts came up. The wierd thing is, even in the blog, when I clicked on "view blog" it went to the old page. Very disconcerting, perhaps a bug somewhere between Firefox and Blogspot.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
I'm lucky to have known all four of my grandparents well into my twenties, and now, at thirty, my remaining one is breathing his last breaths on this earth.
I have two stories that I want to share about him. A fiercely stubborn man with a short fuse, he was also gentle underneath and though he could raise his voice at the smallest thing, he never raised his hand.
The first story is from our cottage in Muskoka. Fresh northern air thick with the scent of pine and birch trees drifted across the lake. I swam and canoed around the small Island which our cottage was on. Across the wooden bridge, on the mainland, I ran along the pine-needle strewn paths playing hide and seek with cousins.
One summer's day my grandfather arrived unannounced and taught me my first lessons about women. Not with spoken words or lectures, but with the surprise visit, a dozen roses tucked under his arm and a sweeping kiss that left my grandmother smiling and giddy for the rest of the day.
Though he was stubborn and short fused, he knew his shortcomings and made efforts with such gestures to show that, deep down, he did in fact adore her.
My second story isn't so flattering, but is a cherished memory nonetheless. It happened when visiting them at their house in Port Perry. Grampa must have looked at me, a boy of about thirteen, and remembered his own story, because he decided to share it.
I sat on the couch in their living room, he was in his lazy-boy recliner.
Fed up with the monotony of daytime television, he clicked the TV off and said, "You know Danny, when I was your age, I quit school and became a full-time mechanic."
The sweet smell of Grandma's oatmeal cookies wafted from the kitchen and their washer and drier clunked and banged in hallway nearby.
He went on to tell me how he worked at a local garage and learned everything there was to know about cars. "Fixing cars is simple," he said. "You just had to take your time, narrow down the possibilities and find the problem. It's always logical."
He boasted about how he could always find the problem and knew engines inside and out.
Despite his meagre education, my grandfather became a very successful businessman, rising to upper management with General Motors. For me, this was his greatest accomplishment, yet I don't think he ever really talked about it as such.
Later that day, he took Grandma and I into downtown Port Perry for ice cream cones on the grassy lakeshore.
Later that same afternoon, we returned to the downtown parking lot and climbed into the hot car. Grampa tried to start the car, but the engine just rolled over and over until the battery became sluggish. Grampa frowned, scratched his head, popped the hood and climbed out to scan the motor.
"Maybe something to do with the fuel injection," he said. "These new cars don't have carburetors so they're a little hard to work with."
I had no clue what he was talking about. He went on, mentioning hoses and injectors and spark plugs, trying to narrow down the problem. Eventually, he said, "Well, since I don't have my tools, we'll just get the AA to come and tow it to the mechanics."
Later that afternoon, with Grampa muttering about the complicity of new fuel injection engines and still saying, "If only I had my tools with me..." The phone rang. Grandma answered and spoke for a minute before hanging up. "It was the mechanics," she shouted from the kitchen.
"What was the problem," Grampa shouted back. "Was it the fuel injectors?"
Grandma seemed reluctant to answer. She hesitated, and I heard her fiddling with pots and pans.
"Well, what was it damnit." His voice became terse and impatient.
"You ran out of gas."
My earliest memories of Grampa were perhaps like my young nephew Christopher thinks of me now. A mysterious close relative in some far away land - the Phillipines in his case. He mailed us tapes with hours of his low, gruff voice speaking about I don't remember what. We sent back tapes of our own. I was two or three years old when mom had me sing "Twinkle twinkle little star," to him and repeat things that she told me to say like, "Hi Grampa, happy berfday."
He had a thirst for knowledge and a love of gadgets and technology to match. Cameras, and later computers were two things in particular. He was one of the few people of the pre-baby-boom generation to own and spend hours in front of a computer screen.
He showed us slideshows; another adopted technology; in the carpeted loft of their house. I think he was impressed with the technology of projecting pictures from an expensive camera onto a screen. I've inherited his love for gadgets and fascination with the ever expanding world of technology - as well as his short fuse and to some extent, his confidence and ability to fix things.
Despite the silliness of the story where he ran out of gas, the message of finding the logical solution stuck and, during my journey, when broken down in the middle of the hot Sahara Desert, in a violent region with bandits and gun-wielding tribes, I used the simple logic to repair the car, time and again, and continue to safety.
Usually, the first thing I check is the gas guage.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Canada’s a Great Place to Live, but we’re not Allowed to Visit.
Sitting in front of my computer, working on a chapter about Ethiopia, my wife Siham called. “Hi honey, the boss says I can take the morning off and do the visa application.”
On a quiet residential street, we parked under a palm tree two houses down from where the Canadian flag flapped atop a blocky white building. Siham, with her documents tucked into a green folder, was let through the Canadian consulate’s big metal door. I wished her luck before the guard stopped me from following her and clanged the entrance shut.
For the next two hours, I tapped on the steering wheel, listening to the mix of Arabic and French music on the radio. When she finally stumbled out, she was distraught and seemed to be trying to restrain tears. I started the car and pulled off the side of the road.
“What happened?” I asked.
She managed to choke out a response as she climbed in. “The woman said she probably won’t issue me a visa. That there too many discrepancies?”
“That’s ridiculous, we have everything they asked for, what are you talking about?”
“She says my accounts showed three different pay rates.” Siham’s voice wavered. I tightened my fists on the steering wheel and continued onto a busy road.
“That can be explained,” I said, “you took a week unpaid leave so we could get married in
“There’s more,” Siham said. “The woman asked if we planned to live in
I gritted my teeth and gripped the steering wheel, stopping at a traffic light.
Siham’s voice started to crack. “She said it doesn’t make sense to apply for a visitor’s visa when we intend to live in
Siham’s eyes were filled with tears when I dropped her off at her office. “Don’t worry,” I said, “When she reviews the application, she’ll realise she made a mistake. We gave them everything they asked for. The same credentials got you two Spanish visitor's visas, a French one and the American one. You're married to a Canadian now, it should be guaranteed you can visit Canada.”
I returned home and sat down in front of my laptop, wishing I could believe my words. I felt helpless that some stamp wielding bureaucrat made her mind up the moment she saw my wife. It felt like we had been accused of lying and trying to cheat the system.
I think it’s important that my family knows my wife and better. They had only met her for a few brief and hectic days at our wedding three months earlier in June.
We returned at , Siham walked away from the door, her pace quick and irritated. “I was rejected," she said.
I felt violated, as though I’d just been conned by some guy on the street. My stomach was wrenched in anger and I kept pulling my hands away from the steering wheel to ball my fists. It wasn't a conman on the street though. It was a faceless bureaucrat behind a locked iron door with a little swinging window, like the one at the edge of the emerald city in the Wizard of Oz. In our scenario though, the little munchkin said, it will cost you one-hundred-and fifty dollars to apply for entrance. The moment he had the cash in his hand, he said, “Sorry, request denied!” and slammed the door in our face.
I went to the consulate the next morning and tried to query why my wife had been rejected. They wouldn’t let me through the door, so I went to the neighbouring Consular Services part of the embassy, where they told me to go back and deal with the immigration.
I couldn't understand it, was this woman blind or just plain stupid. Siham was the perfect candidate for a visa? The
To make things even more confusing, I’m told that if we were not married, there is a good chance Siham would have been accepted.
I can only assume that they think we are trying to sneak in through the back door and avoid the costly and time consuming process of a spousal visa application. We are not, but I can sympathise with people who might want to try. The visa application process, I’m told, can take up to two years. Meanwhile, families are separated, lives are shattered and the process inflicts hardship and suffering on those unfortunate enough to partake in it, like the woman we met outside the embassy who has a husband and two children in
Siham had all the right documents. They were in order when she went to the embassy. In every aspect I can think of, she is the perfect candidate to visit
Siham's answer, "Yes, some day, but not right now."
We live in
I feel many things right now, anger and helplessness are at the top of the list.
We paid $150 Canadian to do the multiple-entry application. Siham brought all the documents they wanted: An official translation of our marriage certificate; her bank statements to show she has a steady job; the application; pictures; her passport; a letter from her employer.
There was no second chance, there was no, “If you could provide us with these extra documents, then perhaps we can reconsider.” There was just the plain and simple form letter with one of the five boxes ticked. (Regulation 179) We don’t believe you have the intention to leave
Did the woman do any work? Did she think rejection from the moment Siham walked into her office? Did she take two seconds to flip through her passport and see where she’s been and that she can go to
Stupid me! I thought, the less paperwork the better. Stick to the essentials, give them what they ask for, be efficient and get approved. She’s married to a Canadian after all. It’s a done deal… Not!
What if questions ran through my head like one of those electric cafeteria signs. It made me angrier and angrier and I was at a loss to explain what I could only describe as sheer stupidity.
So who did I complain to?
A search led me to my family's local MP back in
So there’s nobody to go to for this incompetence.
Nobody could help me. My voice had been drowned out with the thousands of other people seething in frustration because some bureaucrat raised their mighty stamp, slammed it down and essentially stole their money.
The woman sitting behind the safety of the iron door can’t understand why we wanted to visit
Later that fateful day, Siham walked into my office crying. She said, “You’re father paid a fortune so your entire family could come over and see us get married. Now I can do nothing, nothing! I can’t even visit them!”
Before Siham left the interview, the woman told her to apply for a resident’s visa. “But I don’t want to live in
Will post the follow up later.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Sure, Bush isn't my favourite person and I disagree with, well, the majority of his foreign policy. But that doesn't make me want to murder American civilians. Sure, Israel is a thorn in the side of international peace, but that's a Palestinian problem. Besides, international terrorism in the past has only hurt their cause by increasing international resolve against those who partake in terrorism.
The majority of Palestinians are intelligent enough to realise that they need American help and sympathy to win their battle in the long term. There is also a significant element pushing for peace.
If the extremist elements within select Muslim societies are so intent on violent jihad and defending their Islamic brethren, perhaps they should go and defend the helpless Muslims of Darfur who are being slaughtered and displaced on a scale that makes American and Israeli campains seem like fairyland in comparison.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
That was my theory anyway. I mean, there are things we will need, and we definitely should start making a list. Bottles, diapers, blankets, etc. But big things can wait a little longer. Siham's not due for another four months!
Let me get something out. I'm cheap. Actually, I call it practical, Siham calls it cheap.
For example: One day, we were walking through a busy market and I saw lots of used strollers and prams for sale.
"Hey," I said, grabbing Siham's arm. "We can save money and buy a nice used pram."
She gave me a look as though it was reprehensable to even consider the idea, let alone say it out loud. "Yeah," she said, "very funny."
"What?" I said. "I'm serious."
"I'm not buying my baby used things."
So much for the clothes idea...
A few weeks later...
I'm surrounded by baby stuff. And baby stuff bought at an expensive baby store. I wasn't even there when she bought it (which is probably a good thing.) She just called me yesterday and said, "I'm going to buy the pram today."
And bam, here it is. But there's more - she also bought a baby bathtub, soft natural sponges, silk brushes, soothers, and more.
Not to mention the things we've collected over the last three months: matching Winnie the Pooh garbage pail, carpet and wallpaper; baby clothes; and a car seat to name but a few.
Siham thinks it's going to be a boy.
Just to be different, I'm guessing girl.
The Moroccan government claims to have smashed another terror network.
See link here
I love seeing these articles. It's a strike back at a sickness infesting most societies in the world today - a fanaticism which stresses violence as a means to strike back. At what? I'm not sure.
The current chapter I'm writing is about two opposite experiences I had when first travelling in the Middle East. A generous Muslim man who helped me, bought me lunch, and later lavished me with gifts, vs. fanatics who stole from my parked car and threatened to kill me the next day.
If these men are guilty of planning to kill people, possibly people I know here in Rabat, possibly me or my wife in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then I do hope they suffer. I know that's not the most humanitarian thing to say. But hey, I never claimed to be a bleeding heart liberal either.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Stopping short of adding misleading dirty sex words, or worse, putting naked pictures of myself up, this should be the next best thing.
Truth is, I don't know the answer.
I don't know when I'll be happy enough with my work to send it to an agent.
I don't know if an agent will think my story is good enough to make them money, because if they don't then I'll be back to rewriting this thing yet again.
To be honest, though, I think I'm getting close. I think I'm now good enough. I just have to get the entire 100,000 words consistent with that ability. I'm at about 60,000 now and, if my current trend keeps up, I'll knock out another 3000 more words per week.
Working on a book in several pieces doesn't exactly qualify me for the Nano, unfortunately. It's a contest where you have to write 50,000 words with little or no editing. Just write, write, write.
Sure, the stuff you write is complete bullocks, any first draft is. It's the accomplishment of writing a draft of a novel in a month that keeps people going.
Some November, I do hope to try it. There is a new spin, or perhaps an old spin I'm only becoming aware of now. Nanoblogmo.
You probably get the picture. In the past week, I don't know how many words I've written in my blog, but if I were to keep up at a slightly higher pace, perhaps a bit more, I could probably hammer out 50,000 words in a month. A neat way of doing a novel, or a story, or just blogging.
I gotta go, I have a chapter to edit!
Sunday, August 06, 2006
This photo was taken by Jeff Radke from Alberta. We travelled together through a one-thousand kilometre stretch of hellish roads from Central Mozambique to Northern Mozambique. This wasn't the worst of it, the stretches I hated the most were the corrugated roads, like a massive sheet of corduroy, which hammered the car to bits and made several bolts, wires, and even parts fall off the car.
This was the first bed of water in a series of more than fifty rivers, ponds and massive puddles that challenged the buggy that day. The muffler had fallen off and we roared our way through the forest.
Unfortunately, camping wasn't an option. During the twenty year civil war, ending in 1992, millions of landmines were strewn throughout the countryside, particularly near roads and railway lines. An old railway ran parallel with much of the road. Every so often a wrecked train car or a blown out tank could be seen off to the side of the road. We also came across a UN land mine clearing team, but didn't wave, afraid we might distract one of them into oblivion.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Year round good weather.
Cheap fruits and veg.
Cheap labour: maids, mechanics, etc.
Strong police presense
Women are usually very competent and hard working.
World class cuisine.
Palm tree lined streets
The pirated DVD markets - a dollar a movie!
Shopping in the Medina.
Great hiking in the mountains.
Medieval markets of Fes and Meknes
Beaches in Agadir, Essauira, Saidia.
Art in Safi.
Gas in Oujda
Tagines at the side of the road.*
Great fresh fruits that change with the seasons.
Roman ruins of Volubulus.
Finding goats testicles in tagines for sale at the side of the road.*
Men are often lazy and incompetent, yet think they are the opposite. (From a Candaian man's perspective.)
Expensive used cars, gas, clothes and luxury foods like breakfast cereals.
Paying bills is a pain in the ass. You have to go wait in various sweaty offices in the centre of town.
Traffic is dangerous. People repeatedly run red lights. My wife obtained a driver's license several years before I met her, yet it took me two months to teach her how to drive. She hadn't the slightest clue how to signal, change gears, use the hand brake, change lanes, park, etc. Yet she had a Moroccan driver's license.
Corruption is rife.
There are no parks or fields for kids to play. The luckiest neighbourhoods might have a dirt patch nearby with soccer posts erected. In most neighbourhoods they play on potholed streets.
Quality of early education changes with family income levels.
No democracy. It's a monarchy.
Palm tree lined streets are nice, but when they put the palm tree right in front of a traffic light, blocking it from view, it's fricking dangerous.
High import tax on foreign goods. Most household things, furniture, electronics, appliances, etc, are imported.
The supermarket alcohol shops - talk about depressing. Ragged, stinking, zombi-like men buying the cheapest, nastiest booze money can buy.
Bureaucracy and the waits that go with it.
Pedestrians who never learned to look both ways before crossing the street.
Dogs roaming the streets, lack of animal control.
If I needed brown sugar at the supermarket, I'd go pick some up. But in Morocco, it's not always that simple.
Brown sugar being one example. Usually supermarkets here stock brown sugar, however lately there seems to be none. For the last month, I've been going to the various supermarkets in Rabat, checking the sugar aisle, only to find that there isn't any, anywhere.
Okay, so maybe I'm a little spoiled. But then the same thing happened with normal sugar. Though only for a few days, none could be found anywhere.
Yet another problem you get used to is that any non-basic ingredient is impossible to find. It seems that each American cookbook recipe requires at least one impossible-to-find ingredient. Canned pumpkin filling, butterscotch chips, peanut butter, etc. Once in a while you do come across a surprise, like coconut milk or a box of toffifee.
I get frustrated when I go to cook something, and am missing key ingredients that can't be found anywhere.
Friday, August 04, 2006
I'm sorry to say, 99% of the travellers I met weren't interesting enough to mention. Readers don't want to know about Joe the Australian accountant who barbequed every other night at the Nairobi campsite. They don't care about Bill and Suzie, lawyers from America who were going on Safari in a game park.
On the other hand, I did write about a Spanish couple who'd just been shot at, their windscreen smashed by a bullet and their reserve tank punctured and leaking from another bullet. I only knew them for five minutes, but they were interesting!
Sorry to all the people I met and spent copious amounts of time with. It was fun, but doesn't make for good writin'.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Website photo link
This was before the Iraq war started, when George Bush started beating the war drum and scaring Americans with what proved to be false threats about Iraq's WMD.
It seems almost every day now that I read another story about a bombing, a terror attack on a mosque, a mass murder site discovery. You get desensitised to it. Like it's just another day in Iraq. Yet if anything like this happened in almost any other country, there would be ripples of shock and horror throughout the world. The one incident would take up weeks, if not months of headlines. But in Iraq, it's just the news of the hour.
Baghdad bomb hits shopping area
Blast hits Baghdad football game.
Gunmen kidnap 25 in Baghdad.
Day after day, there are spectacular terrorist attacks.
Yesterday, I found out that a friend of mine, a young, recently graduated student and aspiring diplomat, has been told his first placement is going to be in Baghdad. "A challenging and important diplomatic mission which could have repurcussions for years to come." Is how he put it.
I'm not quite sure what he's up against. To me, the terrorism seems inspired by nothing more than the intense desire to see America fail. Each time a bomb explodes in a packed market, officers are brutally executed or a mosque is targeted by grenade launchers, the country makes one step closer to anarchy. It's as though it's more important for these insurgents to turn Iraq into hell on earth than it is to see America withdraw with any sort of limited democratic achievement.
To my friend, it's going to be one tough road and I wish you the best of luck. Don't feel bad if you can't make headway in a situation spiralling into chaos. Don't try to make sense of it either, because it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
A dilemma: How does a writer from Canada, living in Morocco, and writing a novel mostly about Africa and the Middle East, which would probably sell best in Britain, go about getting published?
I think it should start by getting a competent agent, but which country. Canada seems like the practical place to start. We'll see where it goes from there.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Lebanon is the historic point where the Crusaders started crossing into Islamic territory. Where religions met and mingled and sometimes fought. Thus, there are Sunnis, Shiites, Catholics, Jews, Druze, other Christian sects and more. No one group has a majority.
Several Palestinian refugee camps dotted the southern province of Lebanon in the 1970's and before. With the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which became based in the Beirut, Lebanon became a breeding ground for their uprising. Naturally, some of the sects sympathised, others were neutral, yet others sided with Israel. When the PLO began their intifada, Lebanon's weak cross-religion alliances cracked. The military took different sides, split apart into militias, and Lebanon broke into all out civil war. Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting Muslims. It was a mess.
Then there were foreign forces, namely Syria, who wanted to arm sympathetic Lebanese factions and Palestinian forces to punish Israel. (Syria got creamed by Israel in the 1967 war.)
Anyway, a ceasefire was eventually declared in the nineties. Beiruit was rebuilt, the Paris of the Middle East was reborn. On my first night out in Beiruit there was a music festival. Revillers walked down the street, drinking, laughing. Beautiful women, and I mean stunning, wore stylettos matching their purses, and swaggered from bar to bar.
On weekends, I'd drive south, down to where small patches of beach were turned into chic bars with swimming pools and thousands of sun seekers sprawled out on towels. Loud dance music pumped over the speakers and eight dollar cocktails were sold at the shiny marble and mirror bars.
Lebanon was a party! Religious divides meant nothing when it came to having fun.
This current war bothers me for one reason. Most Lebanese want nothing to do with it. It's Hezbollah and their impossible to achieve ideology - destroy Isreal. Hezbollah started this current round of violence. Most certainly with the express consent, if not authorisation of, Syria and Iran.
But what neither they, nor Isreal who has counter attacked with incredible force seem to care about are the other 80% of Lebanese people who want nothing to do with this war. They are the ones I feel sorry for. It's not Israel or Hezbollah's forces I worry about beating each other to a pulp. It's the different factions of Lebanon's fractured society and their inclination toward all out civil war that scares me the most.
Wait a second...
The realisation hits me, not disappointing, well perhaps mildly in that it refrains me from some sort of preditor like sport, but in an accepting sort of way - Oh yeah, I'm married, I can't do that.
My dream shifts onto something else, sometimes looping into the same dilemma as the dreamworld has me come across some other pretty lil thing. What should I say? Where should we go? I'm single and free to... Wait a second...
Oh yeah, I'm married!