It’s difficult for me to name any specific expectations that I had about Morocco before I came here. However, one thing I did not expect to find was the fascinating amount of diversity-not because I assumed it didn’t exist, but because there doesn’t seem to be many accurate depictions of the intricate nuances of the culture. For the sake of brevity I will focus upon a few differences found between individuals in large cities and individuals from smaller towns and the countryside.
The weekend after my first week of classes involved a trip to Casablanca. After arriving early in the afternoon, we found a place to eat (we had chawarma, delicious as always) and made our way to the Morocco Mall right after. I don’t typically enjoy the crowds and bustle of malls, and was even more apprehensive about the presence of what I believe to be an icon of materialism in Morocco. Still, I enjoyed exploring the mall and appreciated the opportunity to simply walk around and practice Arabic with my language partners (AMIDEAST students have the opportunity to hang out with language partners, who help you with your Arabic while they practice their English). The mall had what almost every other mall has-endless amounts of stores and small booths where you can buy odds and ends, and even an arcade with rides for kids. However, the best parts were the huge fishtank (though not just a fishtank, I suppose, as it contained several small sharks), a souq where artisans could sell their traditional, handmade goods, and an outdoor fountain whose water jets were coordinated to music. The mall was huge and there was enough to see that we spent several hours walking around while the girls shopped for clothes. After finishing at the mall, we departed from the flashy lights and clean floors to the warm sunlight and grubby sidewalks. We made our way to see the small beach just five minutes walking from the mall. Not far off the shore was a small island named Sidi Abderrahman that people wandered to and from as it was low tide and therefore accessible. The little island of pretty houses seemed like an interesting place to check out, so my roommate Tom and I immediately suggested we cross over to it. We were met with some stiff opposition from our friends, however, and it took us a while to fully understand why. They explained that the place is evil because magic practice is highly common and that sacrifices to evil djinn take place. Through my talks with my Moroccan friends and some research for my Moroccan culture class, I’ve discovered that belief in magic and djinn are common to most Moroccans because they are explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an. However, beliefs in supernatural affairs outside of official Islam differ radically between urban and rural areas. For example, Moroccans in rural areas often make pilgrimages to saints, or holy people thought to have a direct connection to God, to receive healing. The Moroccans I’ve talked to from urban Rabat dismiss this practice because they believe people are praying to the saints, which contradicts the official Muslims practice of praying only to God. My friends attribute the difference of beliefs to a lack of education of rural Moroccans. While I’m obviously not in a position to analyze the validity of the connection between the two factors, the lack of education in rural areas is well documented. One major contributor to the lack of education is a scarcity of transportation. The time that children might spend walking several miles to the nearest school could be much better spent assisting their family at home with getting water from the well, cooking, and taking care of the animals.
Again, this aspect is just one of many unique snapshots of Moroccan culture. Other important aspects of the culture include the relations between Arabs and Amazigh (Berbers), influences of colonialism, and the political structure. Each of these warrants attention as separate subjects, and indeed, have been extensively written about already.