Saturday, 23 February 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

It seems to be a busy time at the moment with frequent bookgroup meetings, made all the more so because I am two different groups.

Last week we discussed Khaled Hosseini's latest book - A thousand splendid suns. It was mostly about two Afghan women and their families, who ended up both being the wife of the same man. Although enemies to begin with, one ended up giving her life for the other and her child. It is set against Afghanistan's turbulent past of the last 30 or so years and how that has impacted on women in that country.

Having recently also read Kite Runner, his first book, I did prefer Kite Runner possibly because it had more of a story and more "action". I also found the middle section of A thousand splendid suns to be quite slow and just a continual parade of violence against the women. However it did clearly portray many of the problems women faced and still face in this country. On one occasion the two women tried to escape by catching a bus out of Kabul, but of course you had to have a man accompanying you. So they asked to join a man and his family for the bus trip, paying him for the assistance but as they went to get on the bus he told the police. So instead of getting away they ended up in a police station before returning to a more ugly home situation. The book also highlighted the problems women faced to go out, having to be fully covered, not being able to go to school and gain an education and the problems of multiple wives.

Much of this related to life in Morocco, especially since a number of members are married to Moroccans who came from families with multiple wives. It was interesting to hear though that in these situations the wives didn't get on with each other, which was similar to what the book portrayed initially. The long-term Moroccan residents also agreed that here in Morocco, the women have been covering up more and more over the last few years. Not because it is enforced, generally not as a politically expression but more as an expression of their faith, their life and individualism. It is common to see a group of girls walking done the street, some with scarves on and some without. Some people felt that in some workplaces there is presently pressure put on workers to dress more traditionally, more conservatively by at least wearing a headscarf if not the hijab. Interesting thoughts!

There was also much discussion about the life of women in Morocco compared to the life of the women portrayed in the book. Here it was felt that out in the country life was probably similar with women expected to do all the cooking, cleaning, looking after the children plus here they tend to the crops as well. However in the towns life is changing with more women working outside the home but are things really changing? Will they change? Will the men let things change? Most educated men now only have one wife so that is a change already.

We all thought this book would also make a good film. I look forward to seeing the film of Kite Runner as a friend saw it soon after reading the book and said it stuck quite well to the story in the book. It may be in the medina already but I haven't been there recently to see.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Off again: Essaouira

Just had a four day weekend, so what else could I do but go off exploring. Actually it was more of a weekend of R & R & R & R. Reading, writing, resting and relaxation, plus some exploring and good food. I headed south to the coastal town of Essaouira, which I had not visited since I was here in 2000 on holidays. The old part of town inside fortified walls is very attractively painted sky blue and white, although it looked like it could do with a good paint compared to the last time I was there.

However the biggest change was the increase in the number of tourists (seemed to be lots of French), more restaurants and cafes, lots more accommodation places and lots of souvenir shops and art galleries. Hard to believe that there was only a couple of accommodation places in the medina when I was there in 2000. Things certainly have changed. Rugs for sale, leather goods for sale, metalwork for sale plus lots of products made from the Tuya wood. I did have a look at the Argan oil products that were sold in a few shops. Argan oil is good for you both in cooking and for use on the skin. It comes from the nut of a fruit from the very slow-growing Argan tree that is found on the dry hillsides around Essaouira and Agadir. It has a nutty flavour when used in cooking, where I have used it in salad dressings.

What is there to do in Essaouira? Not a lot. Even less if shopping is not of interest. Wander the alleys and find interesting photographs, scaling the ramparts, which at sunset gives a nice view across the sea to the Ile de Mogador, visit the still active fishing harbour. Here the building of boats can be seen, or fishermen unloading their catch. The bright blue boats also make a great photo. Then some of the catch can be sampled at one of the fish stalls, where you pick your fish from the selection, it is then grilled for you and served with salad. A fresh tasty meal that doesn't cost much, depending on what you choose.

It is a great place to relax in, especially if you can find a nice hotel or riad with a sunny rooftop terrace. Most do have them. Where to stay? Avoid Riad Nakhla, as even though I had faxed my credit card details as requested and confirmed by booking, they said they hadn't received it and palmed me off to another place, Dar Marhaba. I had a nice room there, large and light, but a shored bathroom and the terrace was small. I somehow think it might be another 8 years before I go back again.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

London vs Rabat

Having just got back to Rabat after a few days in London, there were just a few noticeable differences.
1. Spending time wandering around bookshops, looking at books and even buying a few, is one of the highlights. I even managed to find a Moroccan recipe book in English, and it didn't cost much either. My favourite is Stanford's Travel Bookshop in Covent Garden. It just makes me wish I had a fortune to buy many of the wonderful books there (and a much larger luggage allowance!!).
2. Understanding what everyone around me was saying, well mostly. Not having to think when reading the menus. Ah!! Then there was reading the papers, a novelty I don't get here in Morocco where the only English-language paper is the International Herald Tribune, which doesn't inspire me.
3. Speaking of menus, dining out at an Indian restaurant. Special because there is none here in Rabat, and the trip to Casa just to visit a restaurant could only be justified on a very special occasion. Chicken Tika Masala, mmm I can still remember its creamy texture and spicy flavour.
4. Organised traffic. pedestrians that only cross when the cars are stopped by a red light except for one crazy woman I saw outside Hammersmith Station who almost got herself run over by walking out, waving her arms wildly, into the fast-moving traffic.
5. A hot English breakfast, with fried bacon and fried mushrooms, two hard to get foods here. Plus crunchy Granny Smith apples. It really is the simple things that make life great.
6. But best of all were my Aussie finds. I managed to not only get a jar of Vegemite but also a large can of Milo. It is strange, but when I don't have them, I crave them, even though normally I don't eat a lot of either. Unfortunately I didn't manage to find Violet Crumbles. I will have to wait until my nephews bring some over for me.