7th day of the hunger strike

Here’s an article that Human Rights Watch published about the political prisoners:

Please keep them, and all other political prisoners, in your heart, in your thoughts and in your prayers.

Thank you, and peace,



6th day of the hunger strike

I post this in solidarity with 5 Moroccan political prisoners.  Two years ago, they were arrested by Moroccan authorities, held without bail, put through a farce of a trial, and now are going through another charade called an appeal.  The history of the case is too much for me to go into right now.  Officially they are being accused of a kind of guilt by association to a man named Belliraj, who may or may not have been a double agent working for both Moroccan and Belgian security.  The true reality?  It’s hard to know, the case is complex.  I think they are being punished not for any alleged crimes, but for pointing out certain flagrant flaws in the electoral system in Morocco, among other things.

The political prisoners are desperate, they have not been given a fair trial, and no one is listening.  As a last resort, they have started an open hunger strike, as of Monday March 22nd.  That means that they have been without food for six days, as of this posting.  They need to the world to hear them, to pay attention, to give their case some consideration.

The following was sent to me by someone dear to my heart, who is very close to prisoners’ plight.  She has attended much of the first trial, and now is attending the appeals trial.  What she recounts to me is nothing but a joke.  She tells me stories of interpreters not actually interpreting correctly, of an unruly courtroom where the judge has little power, of documents being falsified and everyone just turning a blind eye to them, and so much more.

I shudder to think of ever being a position where I was at the mercy of this legal system.

Here is her testimony:

“17 of the 34 detainees in the Belliraj case, including the 5 remaining political detainees* have been on an open hunger strike since last Monday.  Their demands are not that they be released or declared innocent.  What they’re asking for is a chance at a fair trial.  The appeals process thus far has been an even bigger joke than the trial.  Every single one of the defense’s requests is turned down.  We’re not talking about big things like providing evidence or witnesses, we’re not even there yet.  We’re still at the stage of requestion translations, little things.

I don’t know if you heard the bombshell that was dropped a few weeks into the appeal.  Apparently the people who drafted up the official document with the sentences were so distraught they forgot to put “In the Name of His Majesty…. ” in the header, therebye, legally speaking, rendering the whole thing invalid. This could have slid unnoticed. But then, the document (now the defense all has copies of the original) was later falsified, ok let’s say rectified, with the King’s name on it. The defense now has both copies, proving flagrant falsification of documents.

The judge decided to disregard the whole thing.

This is one of the very small example of the violations of the right to a fair trial.

This is in addition to everything that preceded, including arrest and search without identification or warrants, torture, falsification of signed “confessions” (the detainees were made to sign 20 to 30 of what was supposed to be copies of the original, a 20 page document itself , without being given the chance to read through them.  The contect was later changed and attached to the signed page).

Last Thursday, the defense team for the political detainees withdrew as a protest, and with it several other lawyers for the other prisoners.  Yesterday Belliraj’s lawyer announced his withdrawal too.

With all this, the judge is continuing the trial as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on.  The trial was postponed form last Wednesday till Monday. The prisoners will be on their 8th day without food, one of them has already been taken to the hospital, there’s no defense team… but the trial goes on.

Check out yesterday’s Al Massae for the story on Belliraj’s lawyer, and for a poignant interview with one of the detainees’ daughter, Soumya Moatassim.

Right now there’s urgency because these people are on a hunger strike, open, ongoing until something happens. I don’t know what will happen first.  Will one of them die before something changes? I feel that no one’s paying attention.  The world has to know.  It’s crucial right now for Morocco to be seen as a model in terms of human rights. It needs to live up to what it wants as an image.

(*Mohamed Najibi, the 6th of the political detainees was released after he finished his 2 year sentence, but he’s still attending the appeals hearings, terrified that the judge will reverse the sentence and send him back to jail.)”

Could you be a Moroccan 2nd grader?

Do you have what it takes to make it in a 2nd grade classroom in Morocco?

Let’s start with something nice and easy.  French grammar!  French is what the language teaching experts call a moderately inflected language.  An inflected language is a language where the endings of the words change, depending on their position in the sentence.  I don’t speak Latin, but I understand that Latin is a highly inflected language.  You could tell just from looking at the word whether it’s a subject, and object, or something else.

In French conjugation the endings change for each personal pronoun.  I’m trying to make it simple, I really am.  Ok, so here is an example.  The page on the right, below, is about conjugating the verb “avoir” (to be) in the future.  The words in black are the verb.  See how it’s different for the pronouns je, tu, il….?   Compare that with English conjugation.  I’ll have, you’ll have, she’ll have,…. they’re all the same.  In this battle of easiness, English wins hands down.

Now, remember, all this is very important if you’re a 7 year old Moroccan kid, so pay real close attention.  You will be studying French grammar for the next 10 years or so.

And now, a change of tempo, let’s go to French reading!  Here is the text we are reading today.  It’s about some talking animals who vote to elect their leader.  Bizarre concepts here!

Ok kids, it’s noon, time to go home for lunch.  See you at 2 o’clock!

Good afternoon, or should I say masaa el khair, since we are studying Arabic this afternoon.

Remember how this morning, we said French is an inflected language?  Good.  Because Arabic is a super duper inflected language.  In Arabic, there are 15 personal pronouns.  Yes, we have the standard I, you, she, he….we also have you two females, you group of males, you group of females…Arabic has different pronouns for masculine and feminine, and in addition to singular and plural, there is also dual (for addressing two people).  And each one of these personal pronouns has a different conjugation.  So let’s get right to it.  Here is the verb “kataba” (to write), please conjugate it for each of the 15 different pronouns.

Ok, maybe that’s just too easy.  Fine, let’s just go to reading.  Today we will read about Lalla Tamoula, a good woman who teaches her neighbors how to sew, card wool, and weave rugs.

Oh, I hear the bell ring.  Is it 5 o’clock already?  Wow, time flies when you’re studying grammar.

Don’t forget your homework kids.  I want you to memorize the first three sentences of our French text, for auto-dictation tomorrow.  Also, don’t forget the math worksheet, science lessons, and poems I asked you to memorize.

See you tomorrow, and every other school day till you’re 18!

Hello spring!

Sometimes, the sublime and the mundane live side by side.  Or one right above the other…

The Marrakesh sky has been resplendently cloudy.  It reminds me of bled rajli, my husband’s home in New Mexico. Clouds mean rain, and rain means life…

In this era of climate change, do April showers still bring May flowers?  That seems like such a quaint notion in this topsy turvy weather.  Is the weather wierdly unpredictable where you live?  Last week felt like winter, yesterday was springish, and today is hot as summer.  I’d better enjoy these while I can:

Redistributing wealth

One of the 5 pillars of Islam is called zakat.  It means purification, and what it refers to is purifying one’s excess wealth by giving away a portion of it.  How it works is that if someone has money (or another asset) that they haven’t used in a year, then that person gives away 2.5% of the unused money.  It doesn’t apply to money that you spend and make back over the year, only to savings that are untouched.

The idea is that is you haven’t used it in a year, then you probably don’t need it, so why not pass a little of it on to someone who might be desperate for it.  This purifying the remaining wealth, and it also helps to purify the heart from greed.  Instead of hoarding money and earning interest on it, you let go.  Zakat and interest are polar opposites.  From the outside, it might look like zakat penalizes people for saving, while interest rewards.  However, in the spiritual sense, it’s quite the opposite.   Giving is the real treasure, the lasting joy, while wealth that is accrued through interest is seen as  stagnant and lifeless, devoid of blessing since it is acquired off of someone else’s labor.

Zakat is similar to the Christian principle of tithing.  Although in Islam, the money is not given to a central religious institution, but rather it is donated directly to those who need it the most.  And since Morocco doesn’t have a government welfare system, this kind of private aid is the only assistance most poor people get.  Zakat is not considered charity, but an obligation.  Anything given above and beyond that is then considered charity.

Now, 2.5% doesn’t sound like a lot.  But sometimes, it doesn’t take a lot to drastically change someone’s life.

For the past few years, I’ve been an occasional conduit for the distribution of zakat, from a group of Swiss muslims who I’m sure prefer to remain anonymous.  So I’ve gotten to see how this money has a life-changing impact on some people.

These are some of the cases:

Malika, 40 years old, had been quietly suffering from uterine cysts for about a year and a half.  She would bleed about 1 week out of 2.  When she finally told me, we immediately scheduled a doctor’s visit.  It turned out that one of the cysts was embedded in her uterus, and that she would need a partial hysterectomy.  It was a major thing, her first surgery, very scary.  But thanks to the zakat money, she was able to get have it at the best clinic in Marrakesh.  It probably saved her life, I think that if she hadn’t of had that operation, she was literally going to slowly bleed to death.  After she recovered from the operation, she looked so healthy, much younger and more radiant.  It only took 11,000 dirhams to give her a new life.

Or the case of Nezha, who I wrote about before.  This year, she moved into her new room.  She needed to pay her rent for the year up front.  It’s a kind of lease here in Morocco, where you pay a deposit, plus a year’s rent, and in exchange, the rent is much lower than usual.  Her rent for that room was going to be 375 dirhams a month, which is 45 USD or about 35 Euros (or 4,500 dirhams = 550 USD = 400 Euros for the year).  Now there is just no way that Nezha would ever be able to save that much money, since she lives on around 30-50 dirhams a day.  Just impossible.  So, what a relief that this money just materialized from somewhere!  Nezha just cried and cried when I told her it would be taken care of.  Rent was the hardest thing for her, the biggest challenge.  And now, she has just a little more breathing space.  She can manage the rest, I don’t know how, but in some miraculous way, she can provide for her 3 children.

Another case that is still in progress is Fatiha.  She’s a 38 year old young woman, who works as a maid.  When she was a toddler, she had an accident where she was kicked by a cow.  The result: one of her eyes was permanently damaged.  She can see very poorly out of it, and it’s not in the right place, you see mostly the white of her eye.  Now I don’t know what it’s like to be a poor, disfigured, woman in Morocco, but I can imagine that it’s a huge burden to carry.  Fatiha though, amazingly, always has a smile on her face.  I know that her appearance deeply troubles her, that she has to deal with constant stares and pity and all kinds of reactions.  With her disfigurement, she’s never been anyone’s marriage prospect.  And now as her youth is fading, she may never know what it’s like to simply be normal, to be looked at as just another young woman.  Finally I decided to help her pursue it.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of everyone getting coordinated. For Fatiha, who is illiterate, going to the doctor and understanding medical talk are very intimidating.  So we went together.  We were told it could be fixed, two operations would be needed.  Each of them would cost 7,000 dirhams (1,000 USD, 600 Euros).  I think for Fatiha that even reaching this stage of dealing with it is extremely exciting.  Finally, a few months ago, she had the first operation.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a huge success.  Although the eye is definitely more centered, it’s still far from normal.  The wonderfully relieving thing is that, the money is there to pursue this further, to fix it, by God’s will.  It’s such a small amount of money to fix the problem that has defined her for her whole life.

There have been other cases too, but you get the idea.  I say to anyone in the West or even in Morocco who has a little extra money, you CAN make a HUGE difference.  You can save a life, you can change a life, and you can make someone so incredibly happy.  People here in Morocco, and in so much of the world, are living day to day with unspeakable pain, in a horrifying state of need.  In my daily life, I see so many of them, infirmity is everywhere, hunger is everywhere.  Marrakesh, yes it’s beautiful playground for the rich, but if you can see through the smoke and mirrors, it’s an open wound.  I turn my head because I just can’t bear it.  It wearies me.  I want to just keep dealing with my own life and lists of things to do.   But then I look again, because every life is worth considering, and we are all the same.

A life…examined…sort of

When it’s a day like this…and I am looking at this…

…I ask myself, seriously, why don’t I live here?…  Oh, of course, there are lots of rational responses, they have to do with troublesome details like…commute time…our family’s vastly different schedules…my dependence on town luxuries, like electricity…(my intense fear of change)…

…but in my heart of hearts (the fearless one), I sit on the patio of this blessed stone house…

…watching the olive trees dance with the wind…and my children (they’ve turned back into wood dwelling elves and no one has seen them since)…

…and someone appears with this…and I look up and say…thank you…