An ambitious Australian couple renovates a crumbling Moroccan house.
Tired of what they saw as the soulless homogeneity of their native Brisbane, Australian newspaper editor Clarke and her husband Sandy became entranced by the exotic prospect of securing a spacious home with a garden in Fez. Early in their spiritual search for domestic nirvana, they encountered the ominous Arabic term inshallah, “God willing,” the true implications of which manifested themselves only later. Everything in Morocco, the couple discovered, proceeded at a tortoise-like pace, as though everyone was waiting for the hand of God to intervene in even the smallest transaction. In a city barely grazed by Western-style development—many Fez residents lived without running water—Clarke and her husband pursued the uphill task of hiring dependable, efficient local contractors to rebuild the long-neglected ancient abode they purchased. Professional obligations in Australia led them to set a time limit of five months on the process, a deadline that adds a mild “race against time” element to a narrative unsurprisingly short on drama—though the microscopic detailing of the home-rebuilding process will undoubtedly appeal to participants in the current renovation craze. The Australians’ demanding Western conception of efficient work standards rubbed against the ingrained deliberateness of Moroccan contractors and laborers, some of them decidedly shifty. The constant haggling over material costs and workers’ hourly pay occasionally brought the normally patient author to the brink of scrapping the whole project in frustration. Continent-hopping Clarke had neighborly intentions, but she and her husband remained slightly aloof from a hyper-religious Muslim society still skeptical of encroaching westernization. Nonetheless, she offers some incidental but valuable cultural insights into Morocco’s social history and post-millennial life.
Offers rueful proof that successfully joining an authentic Middle Eastern culture requires more than writing checks and giving orders.