Monday, February 24, 2014

Cafes

                                                                       Cafe Opheon, Oujda
The men huddled around the small cafe tables all have a sameness about them. Without exception, they hold either a cell phone or a cigarette in their hands; sometimes both. Their clothes are mostly dark, their haircuts could have come from the same barber. They either hunch over the table in conspiratorial conversation or slouch in their seats with a studied insouciance. Everyone who walks into the cafe is given the once-over; especially the women.

Most of the women head upstairs to the non-smoking section and none of them enter alone. I often find myself the only woman on the ground floor and even though the ground floor is often quite smoky, I resist going up to 'the women's section' because I never have cared for the idea of women in one room, men in another. I care little for the speculative glances from the men throughout the cafe as I take my seat, pull out my computer, and mind my own business. I have been in Morocco too long to care what these men might be postulating.

The waiters are kind and solicitous. I have bought this attentiveness with my frequent visits and generous tips. I work just a few blocks away and this cafe has become my go-to place for late lunches, a sweet with coffee before work and planning time for my lessons. In Fes, it was Cafe Jawhara, here it is Cafe Opheon. To me they are interchangeable yet necessary to my sense of well-being. Everyone who lives in Morocco needs a cafe in which to hang out because that's how most of one's leisure time is spent ... hanging out in a cafe.

                                                                       Jawhara Cafe, Fes
An incredible number of cafes populate the city and new establishments as well as renovated cafes seem to spring up every week. Like the patrons, the new cafes have a sameness about them. This year white is in vogue; white tables, chairs, walls, awnings and dish ware. I wonder what that is all about. The menus are invariably the same so every cafe becomes a choice between location, staff and -- to some extent -- the customer base. Otherwise there is no difference. Prices are the same, too -- 11 dirham for a coffee and small bottle of Sidi Ali (which the label on the plastic bottle tells you is safe for babies). That's comforting.

Cafe Opheon is frequented by college students so more women than usual visit. You can find most of them sitting upstairs with the exception of the bolder young women who arrive in pairs and smoke while they play games on their cell phones with the volume turned all the way up. Electronic noises emanate from their tables as they hold their cigarettes in their manicured hands and flip their hair every 30 seconds or so. It is rare for women who sit downstairs to wear a head scarf; most wear very fashionable clothes, are expertly made up and sport great-looking boots. They are really very stylish and highly visible. I take comfort in their presence as I sip my coffee and play Words With Friends on my tablet.

                                      
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