A fascinating look at Morocco

society, travel

My friend Abeth, who is American with Egyptian heritage, recently spent many months teaching and traveling around Morocco, and with her permission, I’ve decided to share some of her observations with you.

As I’ve noted before here, everything you see (aside from quotes) on BLADAM is my own writing unless I note otherwise, and I do hope you don’t mind the occasional ‘guest columnists’ 🙂

And now… on with Abeth’s comments!

[…]
I’ve been writing bits and pieces of final updates in my head for a while now but have not been disciplined enough to sit down and get it out to where you all can share the joys of my contemplation. So, here I go. . .

I’ve had quite a few people ask me to tell them stories about Morocco. I’m not very good with the general question–my mind goes blank. Or I horribly share only the things that were difficult for me in living in such a different culture than what I’m used to. I don’t need to harp on that. You know the outdoorsy/active/independent woman that I am and suffice it to say that there wasn’t much outlet for my interests where I was living. But I learned through it (things that I’m still trying to digest and assimilate) and am quite glad that I did go. I had experiences overseas that I never would have had if I had stayed in my beloved SF [San Francisco] bay area. I’d like to share some of those with you now if you will so indulge me. . .

Commonplace experiences in Morocco which you don’t see everyday back in the States. . .

One of my last days in Casablanca I was walking home from the public pool on one of the main thoroughfares and was able to witness the king’s entourage come into town towards his palace. I even saw him waving from one of the dark Mercedes! And the woman beside me on the street blew him a kiss after he passed. Then, as most of the other cars had passed, she began to cross the street, to the consternation of one policeman standing nearby because he had not yet given us the signal. Instead of listening to him and getting back on the curb she argued with him (wish I could understand the arabic). Now, here in the States, we wouldn’t THINK of talking back to the police unless we wanted to get further into trouble. But that was a regular occurence there (when pulled over or told to do something, etc). And this woman won. A second police basically hushed his colleague and waved her on.

Basically, everything is up for discussion and debate. It’s funny to be back here where we don’t haggle prices, we just ACCEPT THE TAG. Now, I’m not a big haggler. It’s not my cup of tea. But I had so much fun watching my brother haggle in arabic when he came to visit or my roommate so smoothly and humorously make her price offer seem like the most reasonable thing in the world. I believe it is an art form, this ability to mentally price something and not yield to anything other than that ideal.

Oh, wait, you can’t debate having to eat TONS OF FOOD when you visit someone for a meal. The first course comes, a pastilla (chicken/nut/pastry thing that is sooo good) and I eat half and am full. But, that’s FAR from the end. Next comes a tagine, or two, or three (hearty meat/vegetable or fruit/oily dish). Maybe a salad or something. Bread thrown at you to help you eat these other dishes. And if you take the slightest break you will be happily commanded to “Eat, eat!” and probably have more pushed your way. Then maybe some fruit and cake or ice cream or some other sweet course. Don’t forget mint tea! Believe it or not, I never got sick of it. It’s a soothing ending to a big meal but could also be consumed any other time, like when shopping for carpet! My brother, Kameel, and I spent a long time–a couple hours, I believe–carpet shopping one day out in the desert and were treated to the mint tea hospitality. We walked out with some good deals after much haggling and just plain chatting over many cups of tea. . .

We drove through the mountains from there–some beautiful scenery. Needed a bathroom break (all the mint tea perhaps) so stopped at a little cafe in some Berber village where a beautiful rosy-cheeked teenage girl was manning the counter and keeping her brothers in check as well. She was a kick to talk to (well, Kameel had to translate for me as she didn’t speak French, just Berber and Arabic). She was convinced Kameel should change places with her–let her go back to CA and do his accounting job and he could stay and work in the fields in the mountains where the sun just never goes away (this seemed to irk her greatly). Now, the one thing I couldn’t figure out was how she worked out there in the very pointed heels she was wearing. ‘Twas a mystery to me. But, oh she had a lot to share about all the things she contemplated out there, and how much she wanted to be elsewhere. Unfortunately, we really couldn’t help her with her desire to escape. But we did have the chance to provide taxi service through the mountains for 4-5 others. . .

We picked up one man who sat stiffly in the back, clutching his belongings, dressed in traditional djalaba. He was quite serious and didn’t seem too interested in Kameel’s and my efforts to start a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The young woman we picked up, on the other hand, pretty much laughed at everything we said and did. She was helpful in trying to communicate with the stiff older gentleman, too. When Kameel asked him where we should drop him off and he didn’t respond right away, she shoved him and yelled it again in his ear. Now, we’re talking about a little woman about 5 ft. tall. She was small but spitfire. We introduced her to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and she was absolutely thrilled! “Give me a thousand of these!” she said emphatically in arabic. Ah, yes, another convert!!!

You surely get all kinds as you travel throughout the country (or even just in Casablanca). It’s really interesting when you see older mother-looking women dressed in traditional garb and covering the head, walking arm in arm (a typical walking position–even for men, holding hands is another option) with what looks like a daughter who is dressed in the latest hoochie-mama European skin tight fashion. So what is acceptable and what isn’t? That is something I still haven’t figured out.

I was told I couldn’t skate along this one street near the beach because I did “slalom,” the police explained. However, an entire 4-person family can ride on one moped with one helmet between them. A boy can grab onto the back of a big truck and hitch a ride, or maybe hold onto the edge while on a bike, whichever suits the fancy. The employees of Marjane (the equivalent of a supermarket/small Target) skate throughout the store to get their work done. Or, if you have problems getting your car out of a tight parking spot, you always have the option of getting about 4 men together and physically lifting the vehicle to scootch it a little bit to the right (yes, I witnessed this myself and couldn’t stop laughing after we finally got in the car and drove off). Only, Morocco. . . Merci, Maroc! C’etait super!

Where else can you witness a conversation occuring in the three languages at the same time? So, though I am not returning to Morocco, there is a piece of it in my heart forever. In particular are the wonderful children I had the privilege to teach this year (even as they taught me) and the amazing people who helped me get through a tough year of adjustment. There are sure incredible people (Moroccan and otherwise) to be found in Casa.

As for what I’m doing now, well I’m back in the SF bay area for the month of August. You can reach me on my Mom’s cell phone at [number] or at this e-mail address. My next step in September is to get my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certifcate through a month-long program in Greece, specifcally the island of Crete. Then, who knows? I will look for a teaching position, probably somewhere in Greece, but my options are open. . . wherever I am, I hope I’ll get to see some of you!

If you read all of this, I must thank you for indulging me. There is still a lot I’m in the process of digesting about my trip. I learned a lot about myself and life. And, as with evey mind-opening experience, I learned that I have a lot to learn. I send out my love to you, my fellow students in this school of life! Keep in touch. . .

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