So... What exactly am I doing here?? / by George Bajalia

Tangier, Morocco



I tried not to eat meat, I really did. But after realizing that it was going to cause my hosts a bit of an issue with regards to cooking for me, a task which they would not let me relieve them of, I gave in and began with some chicken. Then I had a piece of pizza which, little did I know until the first bite, also had ground beef on it. Let’s just say that today (8/2/10), I am certainly feeling Montezuma’s revenge. But I should back up; how exactly did I end up in an apartment with my new friends Rachid and Akram, or wrestling on the shores of the Mediterranean, and then the shores of Atlantic? Or even climbing in a car with my newfound friends, only to pick up their friends in the car, two of whom were tightly veiled women who removed their veils as we got to the beach, revealing bikinis? Orientalism. This summer, I am engaged in a project to study how American and Western stereotypes of the Middle East/North Africa/Mediterranean Basin influence the identity performance of said peoples in their everyday lives. To do this, I am going to examine theatrical performance in Tangier, and basically ask the question, “How do Moroccans perform Morocco?”

To put this in a familiar vein, if some folks from New Orleans decide to produce Streetcar, what does it look like? Let’s say they are performing it in today’s post-Katrina world. The rest of the country, even the world, has a whole slew of stereotypes and opinions about New Orleans, not to mention feelings about Katrina. So, how do the people New Orleans these assumptions? Do they react against them? Do they use them to critique their situation, or their place in relation to other cities and people of the US? Maybe they have incorporated them and appropriated them into their work. The list goes on.

Now, let’s take it a step further. Let’s say that these people have been subjugated to 200 years of colonial regimes, and represented as backwards, excessive, deeply passionate, untrustworthy, and just generally bazaar (pun) to most of the world- or at least the world we, as Westerners, are exposed to. I just threw out a ton of loaded language, and that’s the situation we are in now. Now, we can say that as a globalized, politically correct world, we are beyond this, but then how come nearly every Morocccan I have had the pleasure to meet as a new friend has asked me the same question? What are American stereotypes of Morocco? What are American stereotypes of Muslims? Muslim women? And these are people from all walks and classes- illiterate and doctoral candidates. To me, this points to an underlying theme. Text circulation. Whenever I answer these questions, the reply always comes in the form of knowing laughter. They’ve seen these portrayals before. They’ve seen Casablanca, and can make comparisons to current Moroccan film. They have the paintings hanging in their museums, and the American news on their TVs and computers. Walking down to the Gran Socco, I walk past Café Aladdin, and Café Ali Baba, complete with Disney characters posted in the windows.

So what am I doing here? I’m trying to trace these circulations and figure out how they are used by Tanjawi (Tangier natives) in their daily lives, in their own identity performance. We’ll see how much this gets into actual performance in the masrah (theatre), b’salaamah for now!