Morocco Then and Now (To Me) by Isabel Spence

I’ve reached the precipice of my time abroad with AMIDEAST and I find myself already growing nostalgic for this magical time I’ve had in Morocco. Now, I find myself trying to understand what it all means and how it has changed me and made me grow. I’ve happily lived, explored, and treasured Morocco for three months and now I have just one left with the wonderful friends I’ve made here before the program ends. The way I see Morocco has vastly changed since I first learned of my acceptance to AMIDEAST’s program last fall and my perceptions of this fascinating country has only continued to evolve as my time here lengthens.

My very first introduction to Morocco was through the movie Casablanca and I believe this is a similar kicking off point for many Americans and foreigners that don’t know a lot about Morocco or the region in general. Casablanca is a funny introduction to Moroccan culture. In the movie, there isn’t a whole lot of Morocco. As a matter of fact, the film was completely shot on a sound stage in California. The main characters are American, French, German or of other European descent. There are few Moroccan characters and for the most part they fade into the background as supporting characters and extras. The one thing that is particularly memorable in Casablanca is the exotic sights: the splendid cafes, lush palm trees, and bustling medinas seem to imbue a location foreign in the extreme… hot, steamy and totally a world apart from where the main characters originate from.

What is Morocco without its classic minarets?

What is Morocco without its classic minarets?

I saw this movie in my youth and always remembered Morocco (did I even know Casablanca was a city in Morocco? I couldn’t tell you) as an exotic local on the edge of Africa, straddling three very distinct regions: Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. As my interest in the Middle East grew and I began my Arabic language studies, I started to look more intensively about different areas I could study in to improve my Arabic. I started doing basic research on several options and it was at this point I stumbled upon the thought of Morocco and it supplanted itself into my mind, an itching grew that wanted almost constant scratching.

My free time was filled with reading about the history of Morocco, looking at pictures, asking friends what they thought of the country and reading travel blogs about the trips of explorers past. This country fascinated me: apparently so forward-thinking, a place where one could find mountains, oceans, and the old and new closely wedded. Morocco stirred the imagination as a place of the mingling of a plethora of countries and customs as well as representing a very specific type of government and religious system; one so different from all I was used to. I dreamed of the exoticism of Morocco and the majesty of its people and views. I had heard all the stereotypes: in Morocco you will drink mint tea, eat tajine and bread and couscous, ride a camel, struggle with the local dialect, be cat called by men, fall in love with Moroccan hospitality and witness some of the most beautiful sunsets of your life. (After all Morocco in Arabic literally means, Sunset.)

I never realized how close I would grow to Moroccans! Here I am in front of Rabat’s Parliament with my good friend, Walid.

I never realized how close I would grow to Moroccans! Here I am in front of Rabat’s Parliament with my good friend, Walid.

Arriving in Morocco, I found myself seeing things I never expected and picking up on treasures beyond the clichés I had so closely studied before coming here. Letting go of these pre-conceived notions has helped me enjoy myself the very most. I found myself enjoying treats I had never heard of before coming to Morocco; often skimped over delicacies such as R’fissa, a wonderful lentil and shredded bread dish, or Ghife, the super yummy breakfast bread that Moroccans serve on special occasions. I found myself loving Moroccan Mint Tea, as I expected, but just as often do I find myself happily slurping away at Nosnos a delicious coffee beverage that is truly Moroccan.  I was solely interested in the Arab side of Morocco when I first arrived yet quickly found myself gaining interest in the Amazigh peoples of Morocco and doing research on the side about them.

Typical view of Morocco in the north.

Typical view of Morocco in the north.

When breaking away from what is considered so traditionally Moroccan, I find myself learning more about this country and developing a more complete image of what Morocco is as a country. Geographically, Morocco isn’t just desert and mountains. There are beautiful long stretches of flatlands that are rich with agriculture. There are also extensive beaches along the coasts that are lovely. Sure, there are palm trees everywhere but once you head north it is not rare in the least to find pine trees.

Sure, somethings I knew I would be excited for and enjoy and yes I have enjoyed them. My trip to the hammam is all I dreamed it would be and I constantly find myself loving my continual use of the Arabic language I have acquired. The food is about how I thought it would be and I incessantly love to chat with Moroccans as they are highly social people. Overall, I have not changed my opinion on Morocco so much as feel that I am starting to see Morocco as a cohesive country and understand its splendor. I can only hope one day you too will get to explore Morocco’s alleyways, grab a tea or some nosnos with a Moroccan and get a sip of the Moroccan culture and collective soul.

Patterns and designs in Morocco are absolutely beautiful. I find myself constantly admiring the little touches one can find in Morocco.

Patterns and designs in Morocco are absolutely beautiful. I find myself constantly admiring the little touches one can find in Morocco.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Isabel Spence, Morocco, Rabat

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