I have heard the phrase “Moroccan Time” used repeatedly since I have been here, the idea that people might not always be completely punctual but that everything will get done in due time. However, my days at Amideast revolve around structured class periods, and I didn’t truly understand the meaning of this concept of relaxed time until I took a trip to Casablanca this weekend. In addition to being the economic center of the country, Casablanca also has the Hassan II Mosque. This famous mosque is the largest in Morocco, built by the previous king, and it is also one of the few that non-Muslims are permitted to enter. Therefore, even though I normally avoid tourist attractions in the interest of really discovering the country, this mosque necessitated a day trip.
The mosque’s minaret is already visible upon stepping out of the train station, and following this landmark to the mosque itself is remarkably easy. The immense beauty of the blue and white building, with its plentiful arches and elegant pillars, is striking from the first glance. It stands along the coastline and gazing up at the vast structure while waves crash onto the rocks behind you, there is no way not to feel awed.
Once we reached the entrance, after having spent a fair share of time gaping, we tried to read the sign and figure out what time tours of the mosque were. The signs were in Arabic, French, English, and Spanish. I am always impressed by the sheer number of languages present in Morocco, and this day proved linguistically to be no exception.
We waited until the time at which we thought the mosque tour was to begin, returned to the entrance, waited some more. There seemed to be no move to open the green rope gate leading to the ticket booth, so we nominated our best Arabic speaker and sent him to talk to the guard. The guard was extremely friendly and willing to speak with us, but assured us that we had gotten our timing wrong. However, as we were exiting, we came upon the main door to the museum, where a different guard informed us that it was open but that we had to buy tickets from the first place.
So back again we went, to talk to the first guard. He seemed skeptical, and insisted that we wait until later. When we protested, he listened patiently to us then went downstairs to talk to a third guard. We spent the next two hours walking back and forth between the mosque and the museum and chatting with multiple guards, none of whom either agreed on timing or seemed particularly rushed or worried. One discovery I have made throughout the past month, though it is not exclusive to Morocco, is the importance of being flexible. I have found it especially important to allow time to work past the language barrier that comes with trying to hold conversations in a language you are not fluent in and to genuinely engage with people whenever possible. In my experience, people are usually more than willing to work through miscommunications and to allow me time to struggle with the language, usually with me speaking in fusha (Modern Standard Arabic).
The first guard finally did let us buy museum tickets, but only after the man at the window finished eating his lunch. What the sign said was less important than the fact that the other man needed to eat. I was far from thrilled to be forced to wait even longer, when I hadn’t had my own lunch, however, in retrospect I very much appreciate the sentiment that accompanied this delay. The guard was looking out for his friend, putting human needs (ie hunger) over a precise schedule.
We did get to see the incredibly stunning mosque, alhumdillah, as well as the museum with its explanations of tiling and architecture, and both were worth the wait. Additionally, we had an insightful conversation with the museum guard, after laughing about our initial misunderstanding in timing. He explained Islamic architecture to us in great detail (all in Arabic!) and later helped us to get a fair price for a taxi. The day was a good insight into the different speeds and ways people operate. The guards were always more than willing to talk to us, and to help us figure out what to do, but they were simultaneously flexible about the timing of events. This laid-back, it-will-all-get-done approach of Morocco is one that I find I very much appreciate and am learning to adapt to in my daily life. However, in the future I will learn to best enjoy this approach by bringing some extra snacks along for the ride!