A Fruitful Shake of the Trees in Rabat

Saturday, February 21, 2009 | Rabat, Morocco (map)

An apartment on Rue Oued Fes will be our new home in Rabat, Morocco's seaside capital.
Apartment hunting makes me miserable under any circumstances, but the process is especially depressing in a rain-soaked North African port in the depths of winter. But Jacqueline was entering the second phase of her research; our move from Fes to Rabat was approaching. So last month Jacqueline managed to drag me through a weekend of scouring the capital for housing.

Until then, I had never struggled to find housing abroad. But in Rabat, there was no language school to help me, and unfortunately no Craig’s List either.

In the Arab world, apartment rental is traditionally an informal process dominated by neighborhood brokers called simsaars. At their worst, simsaars are one part real estate agent and one part cockroach, and leech off every stage of the housing process. They post most of the rental ads in newspapers, on bulletin boards, and at maroc-annonces.com (something like a local version of

Man in the Street: Opinions of Obama from the Muslim World

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | Fes, Morocco (map)

Moroccans I have spoken with are hesitant to embrace Obama until they see real change first.
A big thanks to my friend Jeb (an old buddy from my days in Jordan) and his colleagues Matt and MDC over at Foreign Policy Watch for publishing my guest column "Obama and the Muslim World: Bridging the Gap When Words No Longer Work". In the early weeks of the Obama era, I examine Moroccans' views of the new American administration, and offer some insights into why the Muslim world may be hesitant to embrace the hope which Obama inspires in many Americans.

Check it out at FP Watch or below, and let me know your thoughts:

In Zemrude, A Revelation About Fes

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Fès, Morocco (map)

A hooded figure sweeps through Derb Serraj in Fes's old medina.
As I wrote in my previous post, street harassment has tainted my experience in Fes these last few months. But writing the place off as a pit of brutish, resentful street rats seems overly critical. After all, this is Fes—UNESCO World Heritage site, Morocco's self-styled "cultural capital", an imperial city with 1,200 years of history, and last but not least, Travel + Leisure magazine's number one pick for the "Best Romantic Getaways of 2009".

Fes?! A romantic getaway? At first that announcement bewildered me. Then I began to wonder, Why do I see this city so differently from this magazine's editors and lovestruck readers?

The gap between the Fes I find when I walk out my door, and that which a young honeymooning couple might encounter is at least partly in the attitude. As with any destination, Fes can to some extent be what you make of it. If you arrive expecting the city that the travel magazines and

Running the Gauntlet: Street Harassment in Fes

Monday, February 9, 2009 | Fès, Morocco (map)

The streets of Fes can be an unpleasant place if you enter them unprepared for what's coming your way.
The heckling began as soon as we arrived in Fes back in September. Faux guides came out of the woodwork, offering tours of the old medina's historical sites. When, in the course of exploring our new home, Jacqueline and I passed a group of young guys in the streets, they might whisper and snicker to each other furtively. Sometimes one might call out "Hellooooo! How are you!" or its French or Spanish equivalent.

After the tenth time in a single day, this pesky chatter could start to feel slightly annoying, but in general, living with it was easy. Smiling, I would either shrug it off or greet them back in Arabic. They never seemed to pursue the conversation much after that. And in truth, their bantering just blended in with the hubbub of the medina. In quaint, still-medieval Fes, what wasn't to love?

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If we had left after a week or two at most, as all the tourists do, that's where it would have ended.