For all of July and August, Morocco is suspended in a state of slumber. All but its most essential physiological functions have been frozen for the summer months. Parliament is on summer recess, and universities have been deserted. Libraries, institutions, and foundations have closed their doors; magazines have stopped their presses (tying us over to September with a single summer-issue), and even some stores and restaurants have boarded up their premises for a few weeks. The streets of Rabat are empty: because no one is actually from here, the city’s population spends its vacation elsewhere.
In Holland, this is called ‘komkommertijd’ – cucumber time. It is a period when the going is so slow, and so little happens, that there is nothing more interesting to discuss than this summer vegetable, itself devoid of much substance. All big decisions are suspended until fall, newspapers publish stories of petty theft, rescued dogs, small acts of charity – items that would never make the news at any other time of year – and people spend their evenings at outdoor cafés, cooling down over refreshing drinks and easy banter. I’ve always liked the word and the imagery it conjures up – though it doesn’t quite seem to grasp the essence of a Moroccan summer. The lack of substance is certainly there, but whereas cucumbers connote something juicy and refreshing, the summer months here don’t quite answer to that image…
At the NIMAR, too, we’re working at half-capacity. There are only three of us who haven’t taken the month of August off, and we work with muted strength amidst painters and cleaners busy renovating the institute.* Apart from some interviewing activity, I myself have little more than cucumbers to write about. I spend my workdays browsing online academic journals in search of literature to assign the students that we’ll be hosting here this fall. Other than that I’ve been lazily reading books, watching the occasional movie, going for runs, cooling down with refreshing cold showers… and waiting for my couch to arrive.
It was July 21st that I went to Mobilia (a Moroccan version of Ikea, if you will) and placed an order for this couch. I had wanted something small and simple: no patterned fabrics, no frills – something the average selection of Moroccan furniture seems to have difficulty meeting, sometimes. I was so excited when I found a picture of a sofa that corresponded to my wishes on the Mobilia website, that a visit to their store in Agdal was one of the first actions I took after receiving my grant money. I was helped by a friendly staff member who took my order, money, and contact information, and presented me in return with a receipt of purchase, along with an estimate for the delivery date: August 5th.
On August fourth, I received a call. The couch had only just been delivered to the depot in Casablanca, it was reported. The delivery to my apartment would have to be delayed for a few days. Was Saturday alright? Of course, I answered, mashi mushkil (no problem). I could wait another few days.
When, by Saturday afternoon, the couch still had not arrived, I myself placed a call to the store to inquire about my couch. The staff member – the same who had sold me the couch – seemed surprised. It still hadn’t arrived? That’s too bad, he lamented. He couldn’t imagine what could have happened, I was on the schedule for the day. However, deliveries were actually done for the day, so the couch would now be delivered on Monday.
Monday came and went with no more than a repeat of the same conversation I had on Saturday. The staff member now told me that the delivery people had stopped by my house and called my phone, but no one had answered. I responded that my phone reported no missed calls, and the staff member apologized once again, with the promise that my couch would, for sure, be delivered on Tuesday. I was getting frustrated. I hadn’t worried, up until this moment – all other deliveries (my fridge, my dining room table, the small side tables that I had made) had gone so smoothly that I had had faith in this delivery, too. But I found it increasingly hard to believe that I’d ever have a couch.
I took pre-emptive action on Tuesday, and called ahead in the morning to ask for a time-estimate. Told to be home at one PM, I hung around in my living room, waiting for the doorbell to ring. When, by two, I still had no couch, I called again – and was now told the couch would be there at 3.30. A few phone calls and hours (but no couch) later, I called once more and asked for an explanation. The staff member had no idea what might have happened. The delivery men should have dropped off the sofa, he said. He apologized profusely for my lack of couch, and promised he’d come and deliver the item in person, tomorrow at one.
On Wednesday afternoon, he did actually come in person, as promised – but sans couch. Highly apologetically, he explained that by some gross oversight, the couch delivered to the depot in Casablanca was the wrong color. Instead of the white I had ordered, this sofa was bright red. He was so sorry, he kept repeating; he had no idea what may have gone wrong. It clearly said ‘white’ on the order form, he lamented while showing me his copy, a finger underlining the word in question. It was going to take another ten days to order a new couch, he then anxiously announced; there was no other way.
I sighed, and couldn’t help but laugh a little. The story had become too farcical to still be frustrating, and I felt sorry for this apologetic man. “Ten days?” I declared; “mashi mushkil…”
* Despite the state of suspended animation in which the country’s public sphere finds itself, there is some buzzing activity of preparation for the coming year. Aside from the NIMAR, multiple other projects of renovation and construction seem to be going on around town.