I've been posted to Rabat, Morocco where I will be facility Manager for the embassy, staff housing, and several other Morocco buildings. Morocco is the historic home of the Barbary Pirates and the Arabian Nights. Desert, Atlantic Ocean, Carpets, Arabic, Constitutional Monarchy (King MOHAMMED VI), 53% literacy rate, fezzes, 72 year life expectancy. The embassy is about 50 years old, scheduled to be replaced in 2012, but I will be gone by then since the State Department policy is that all diplomatic personnel rotate every 2 years. We don't want any of our nationals to go "local".
Morocco was the first country to recognize the US after the Declaration of Independence. In the late 18th century, the Barbary pirates, generally harbored at fortified Rabat, were so successful that Britain and the rest of Europe agreed to pay tribute to them for the privilege of not having their ships hijacked. The US by that time had engaged in a healthy shipping trade with Europe, especially with Italy through the Mediterranean. But after the US declared independence from Britain, we lost our status as a British protectorate, and the Rabat pirates threatened to put US ships back on their hit list. In a deal that involved Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, France convinced Morocco's king to exempt the new country which was only possible if Morocco acknowledged the US as an independent nation. Another victory for piracy!
Rabat is on the Atlantic, about 300 kilometers South of Tangiers at Gibraltar, 200 kilometers North of Casablanca. It has a mild climate, comparable to San Diego. Round trip flights to Europe start at about $130. Morocco is 98% Muslim, generally regarded as the world's most liberal Muslim culture, whatever that means. Arabic is the official language, French is popular for business and tourism, and there is a Berber local dialect.
The King is definitely in charge, 3rd in line after his father and grandfather, who took the country back from the French in 1946. Mohammed VI is 45 years old, has been in charge since 1999. He has a law degree, a movie star wife and a prince and princess. His palace is in Rabat and it lives up to its purpose, an enormous complex in stucco, marble, and ceramic tile.
I am scheduled to land in Rabat about the first part of September, after 5 months of diplomatic training, security screenings, budget instruction, acronym memorization, French, terrorist precautions, embassy operations, and an armload of immunizations. The State Department training is incredible insight into a global operation that, by its nature, is not necessarily understandable, or even definable. Fortunately, I think, each embassy is relatively coherent. The Rabat embassy has about 50 Americans from 6 or 8 US departments, and a staff of about 150 local hires. I will oversee about 30 local maintenance guys including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, gardeners and janitors.
Washington is starting its long, hot, humid summer. Tourists crowd the public places. Politicians hightail it to wherever they go, except Cheney who's now a talker. Obama and Biden had lunch at a burger joint across the street from my apartment last week.