Thanks For Your Concern, But We’re Planting Trees

Tree planting Last Sunday's demonstrations in several Moroccan cities, Tangier included, went smoothly.  The protest marches themselves, that is – not the immediate aftermath.

In a region marked by violent government repression of civil protest, no less a critical observer than Human Rights Watch lauded the Moroccan authorities for their restraint: "Morocco's calm response to protests today should be the rule, not the exception for tolerating peaceful dissent," said HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson.

The word "maturity" has been used more than once in analysis of recent events in Morocco.  First, on the part of the young Facebook organizers of the protest, who at one point appeared to call for their cancellation, fearing that they would be manipulated by various ideological extremes.  "Maturity" in the Government reaction, which was muted and non-violent.  One Moroccan political scientist, Mohammed Tozy, said that there will be a "before-and-after February 20."

What didn't go so well was the rampage of soccer hooligan-style looting and arson that swept across some cities, Tangier included.  Friends of TALIM – in Tangier, in the US and elsewhere – have expressed their concern about the Legation and its occupants.

We're fine, thank you, with the Legation's rooftop Minzah Room offering a vantage point over the smoke from burning cars and shops wafting across the city last Sunday night.  The looters rushed by the Legation on Rue d'Amérique, seen carrying stolen flat screen TVs and cases of beer.  More on that later.

Police officials stopped by the next day to assure us that they were looking out for us.  Their presence may be so discreet as to be invisible, but we appreciate the concern.  The US Embassy security officer phoned us too, a nice gesture.

Though we are okay, we feel for the employees and small businesses and the families dependent on the modest salaries that now are in danger.

We have heard reports that the police, thanks to surveillance camera tapes on some of the very banks looted or vandalized, performed a targeted roundup in the wee hours of Monday morning.  We further heard that the expeditious trials have led to stiff sentences.  As one wise man said, "look for trouble, and it will find you."  Reap what you sow.

Work began almost immediately to repair the damage, and the word on the street is that His Majesty Mohammed VI is footing the bill.  That regal gesture is something that will be remembered, just like his covering burial expenses for tragic highway accident victims or help to families in other catastrophic occurrences.

With all this going on, we decided to plant some trees.

The Legation's courtyard has had trees before; former Tangier Consul General Harland Eastman, who, with the help of US Marines, Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, and concerned individuals helped restore the historic site from years of neglect remembers having to chop down towering cypress trees that probably threatened to overwhelm the structure.  But that was in the 1970s.

In 1932, the garden was more sedate.  "Four slender cypresses which the gentle breeze seems never to stir from immobility" was the description of the Legation garden by Honor Bigelow in the Foreign Service Journal.  They hadn't become feral yet, but let's say that we're not planting cypress trees again.

We're planting orange trees instead, four of them, Islamic garden style, as this lovely courtyard has also had in the past.  As in our Jewish friends' recent Tu Bishvat feast, we are celebrating spring before it really arrives, planting (we hope) at the most propitious time.

This garden renovation is thanks to a number of people.  Gloria Kirby, longtime Tangier American Legation benefactor, graciously offered to buy us the trees and get them to the medina.  We had a beautiful day in the nursery and lunch afterwards along the sea.  No burning tires or broken banks there.

Offshore, so to speak, we benefitted from expert advice from American landscape architect Bibi Gaston, who has strong Tangier credentials too.  Finally, an old colleague from London's Regent's Park, Winfield House head gardener Stephen Crisp provided useful input for a garden that he has not yet visited.  Thanks to all.

These four orange trees are still little spindly things, saplings that, we hope, will outlive our time in these historic grounds.  That's a long term investment in Morocco, only fitting in a place that was donated to the United States by the Sultan in 1821.

These Legation walls have witnessed far worse than the recent unrest: bubonic plague, Barbary pirates, gunboat diplomacy, wartime occupation… all that is in the past, part of the legacy of more than two centuries of close relations between Morocco and the United States.  A legacy which also includes one of the oldest treaties in force, one of the first countries to host Peace Corps, and a long list of mutually-beneficial initiatives.

Repair the broken glass, plant a few trees, and move on. There's too much to do, in Morocco and at the Legation, to dwell on February 20.

Gerald Loftus

2 thoughts on “Thanks For Your Concern, But We’re Planting Trees”

  1. Last night a friend asked me if Morocco was headed for the same kind of intense, even violent turmoil as we’ve seen in Egypt and Libya. I replied No. So I’m very grateful to read this long account of events by an immediate observer. Bravo to the good people of Tangiers! and TALIM.

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