Tag Archives: history

“Defining the Moroccan Experience” by Allison Brady

 

On my first day of our Arabic Fusha class, my wonderful Usteza (teacher) Khadija began the class with a question: What expectations had we brought about Morocco?  Apart from the linguistic difficulty of answering this in Arabic, my classmates and I struggled to list our own concrete expectations.  I could easily think of stereotypes I heard from those around me leading up to my departure; I spent most of my time reacting to others’ expectations of the Maghreb, and neglected to reflect on my own internalized biases. Despite my previous studies of the MENA region within my minor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and my carefully developed stock answers for all curious or worried about my choice of study abroad location, I had trouble answering more complex questions on what Morocco would be like.  After only two weeks here, I am learning every day why they are so difficult to answer.  The more time I spend in Morocco, I witness and experience more complications to any generalized answers.

For instance, many asked for a categorical definition of Morocco, geographically or economically.  Is it an African country, a Middle Eastern country, or “Western”?  Is it a “developing” country, or “1st World”?  I use quotations for particularly loaded terms here, but won’t be dissecting them in the short space of a blog post.  Instead, I’ll just try to illustrate a few of many moments of observation into how Morocco resists this kind of reduction.

Regarding the first question of regional affiliation, by language Morocco demonstrates its rich history as a crossroads of the African continent, the Middle East, and Europe.  When asked what languages people speak here, before arriving here I would say that most speak French and Arabic.  This expectation was misleading.  Most people that I have met have diverse degrees of proficiency in many languages.  First, almost everyone speaks Darija, the Moroccan Arabic—except many in or from the rural countryside (a significant portion of the overall population), who often only speak an Amazigh language (of which there are three main ones) local to their region.  Then, proficiency in a second and third language depends on schooling and family origins.  Many speak some Amazigh by function of family roots in a particular region.  Some go to private schools that teach only in French, others to schools that teach in Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic), or even others to more expensive schools that offer English.  In my own host household, everyone speaks Darija.  My mother knows Amazigh and a large amount of French, and both parents know Fusha.  My host siblings do not speak Fusha, but are fluent in French and speak English very well.  My host sister Zubida raps along to Maghrebi hiphop all day long, while Baba Muhamed plays the crooning Arabic melodies of Fairuz when cleaning, and Mama Karima often lounges to classic French music like Charles Aznavour and Joe Dassin.

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One of my favorite places to walk near my home is along the Rabat Marina.  It is always bustling with Moroccans enjoying the same beautiful walk with friends and family.  The marina strip follows the Bou Regreg river that opens into the Atlantic Ocean.  The fortified walls of the historic Kasbah (built in the 12th century and once home to the infamous Barbary pirate republic) rise above the river’s mouth, and it faces the sister city of Sale, which is the fastest growing city in Morocco and whose shoreline is full of construction of brand new buildings.  Right at the end of the marina, at the foot of the Kasbah’s hill, merry-go-rounds and bumper cars and assorted carnival rides run all afternoon.  I like to sit on the edge of the marina and watch the fishermen and ferries work on the old little blue rowboats of Morocco, while an occasional jetski zooms through the otherwise still waters.  These images illustrate common associations of “modernity” and “development,” rich history and constant change, which exist here not as contrasts in tension, but as natural parts of the daily life.

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These observations reveal only a fraction of what makes Moroccan society so rich, complex, and difficult to define.  The list of the common “expectation questions” I heard pre-arrival could go on: What do Moroccans wear? What are the roles of women in Morocco? How do Moroccans practice religion?  Already, I could reflect for many more pages on the many diverse experiences of daily life, identity, gender, clothing/dress, race, and religion which I have so far encountered.  It is widely accepted that the “American experience” depends so greatly on factors of identity, income, family, and location, and I am beginning to discover that the only universal factor to the “Moroccan experience” is layers of complexity.

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“Just Arrived” by Derek Denton

Well, it has finally happened: I have arrived in Morocco!

I actually arrived in Morocco three days earlier than expected. After three grueling flights, I spent those few days in a comfortable hotel in Casablanca, where I got my first taste of living in Northern Africa. The language barrier is radically different than what I expected: I was under the impression previously that French was a secondary language to accommodate tourists, but I found that it is the primary language among many Moroccans in ‘Casa.’ That being said, I had an interesting time ordering my first meals in the country. While I was expecting to be sampling the food to be an interesting way to taste the culture (pun intended), it did not occur to me until I started clearing my plate of just how different an experience this semester will be than anything I have done before.

After a hot day wandering and photographing Casablanca’s streets, I settled in at a cafe down the block from my hotel for what sounded like the most refreshing thing on the menu: a Moroccan salad. At the time I had no idea what was actually in a Moroccan salad, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I placed my order in the fragments of the French language I recollected from high school: “Je voudrais un Moroccan salad, sil-vous-plait,” and busied myself with calculating the Moroccan Dirham-American Dollar conversion rate, when my meal ended up on my table: a hot bowl of Moroccan soup. My waiter vanished before I could protest. Apparently, my waiter did not understand my request aside from the word “Moroccan.” Anyone traveling would expect some degree of culture shock, but this wasn’t the kind I anticipated! It occurred to me as I ate my “salad” that simple communication is going to be an unprecedented challenge this semester. Learning Moroccan Arabic evolved from an ambitious goal to a necessity in that moment.

The next time the food of Morocco influenced me was just today. This time I had the company of excellent translators including my professors to ensure I ordered the right thing. At a trendy traditional Moroccan restaurant, I had the opportunity to try a local delicacy: Tajine. It’s essentially a sizzling stew that is served using a variety of different meats, but more importantly an arsenal of different spices including turmeric, ginger, onion, pepper, paprika, and cinnamon. Accompanied by my dish that appealed to all five senses I was served a glass of Moroccan tea: a deep brew mixed with spearmint, peppermint, sage, and “tons of sugar.”

The lunch was not only kind to my stomach, but to my education. Indeed, I learned two things at the table today: first of all, I am going to have a lot of fun eating this semester and more importantly tasting Moroccan food is getting a chance to explore the roots of Moroccan history. During the Age of Exploration, European powers sent voyages across the globe to colonize land and by proxy discovered new foods and spices. Trying Moroccan food, with its wide array of seasonings and spices reminded me that the country sits at crossroads of colonial powers. It was an interesting experience to be eating and drinking from recipes that would have been created after risky trips worldwide to acquire their ingredients.

For instance, my dinner I had at the hotel in Casablanca was a prime example of where I could taste different regional influences on Morocco. I enjoyed a bowl of “Habarr wa gambaree,” a spicy bowl of red peppers, shell-in shrimp the size if my fingers, and calamari rings stuffed with smaller shrimps. These ingredients mark different cultural influences. The red peppers are a fruit of the New World, brought over by explorers who discovered it in hopes of selling it as a rare spice. Interestingly, it became a staple of Moroccan cuisine. The calamari, however, is an influence left over from the Spanish. The Spanish had a significant influence over the Maghreb region during the time of the Spanish Empire.

What’s most exciting is that these kind of trips are not going to be ending in the near future. Regardless of where I travel in this country, I plan to be sampling a wide array of Moroccan cuisine.

And of course, some photos!

The Entertaining Way to Serve Tea

This method of pouring is apparently so that air can catch the tea as it falls, creating delicious bubbles when it reaches the cup. I would probably just burn my hand.

 

The Traditional Moroccan Tables.

Certainly the most comfortable I have ever been at a restaurant. More importantly, these seats set the scene for my classmates and I as we tasted the legacy of the ancient spice trade.

Until next time,

-Eli

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“Making Morocco Home” by Sofia Deak

As Morocco feels more and more like home and my last few weeks here move much too quickly to an end, one thing has been nagging at the back of my mind. I did not become as close with Moroccans my age as I would have liked, and even though my 12-year-old host sister insists “But I am your friend, Sofia! That is all you need!” I still sometimes felt like I was missing out on an important part of my abroad experience.

Others on the program have had more luck in this department, having bonded with language partners or made connections through sports teams. However, just as I was getting accustomed to the idea that maybe I would not have it all, the weather changed: figuratively and literally.

Recently, Rabat has been warming up. The sun is bright and hot all day, and I pine for AC as I climb the four flights of spiral steps to my bedroom each evening. Luckily for us all, Rabat is right on the coast, and while I’ve spent a lot of free time this semester staring in awe at the impressive waves slamming into rocks along the shore, I never really thought about actually going in the water. On a whim, though, some friends from AMIDEAST and I decided to give surfing a try one hot weekend we all stayed in town instead of traveling.

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I grew up with the beach and am comfortable in the ocean, but I was still somewhat scared to try out surfing in Morocco. I had never been before, and the waves in Rabat are definitely intimidating! What if I was not able to understand the instructor? What if I got dragged out to see but my cries for help in Standard Arabic would not only be misunderstood, but would be laughed at? What if there were sharks?

Nevertheless, I put my (potentially absurd) fears aside and decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I was instantly hooked! I do not think I will ever be less amazed at the sight of the glistening, bright blue sea beneath me and the Rabat Oudaya, a 12th century Kasbah right on the water, zooming toward me as I surf in to the shore. Additionally, one of the beautiful things about Morocco is how cheap it is— a surf class here in Rabat is around $10 USD.

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Surfing has been the final piece for me in the puzzle of making Morocco “home.” The instructors recognize me, tease me, and tell me Morocco will miss me when I leave. The other students, from 7-year-old Moroccan girls (who are actually quite good at “shredding the knar”) to middle-aged-men trying out a new hobby (not unlike me), have become familiar faces and— dare I say it— friends to me here.

I try to surf once or twice a week despite my busy schedule of classes, English teaching, and exercising (I am running another 10K this weekend in El Jadida!). I do this because I love it, yes, but also because it just deepens the sense of camaraderie I have begun to experience here in Morocco, and makes me all the more aware of how much I have come to love this place and think of it as my own. I think when I look back on these unfairly quick, mesmerizing months, I will remember it in two ways. At the same time, Morocco has been fast, scary, and full of adrenaline, like trying to balance on a surfboard hurtling toward the sand; it has also been calming, deeply memorable; a moment stuck in time, like floating in the bright sea, laughing with a new friend, waiting for the next wave.

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Sofia Deak

“Rabat: City of…” by Elyse Desrochers

They say that every city has a personality. New York is loud, crass, the city that never sleeps. Paris is romantic, nostalgic, the city of lights and love. Humans breathe life into a city and the city emanates the life its people have given to it. So what’s the personality of Rabat, my city? This question doesn’t have one clear answer. From what I observed in Rabat, there are at least four different personalities that have evolved and molded together to form the city as I know today.

There’s Chellah, an ancient roman city. This sight is the first remnant of civilization in Rabat. While today Chellah lies in ruins and the government has converted it into a historical site, its history is that which marks the debut of permanent settlement in the Rabat area. Walking around Chellah in present day, it’s hard not to imagine that a woman, or a child, or a Roman soldier has also walked along the same path centuries ago.

Blog 5 Chellah - Deroschers, Elyse

What I think of next when I think of Rabat is the Kasbah of the Udayas and the old medina. The Kasbah is a walled city that sits along the Atlantic Ocean. It was built during one of the first dynasties of Morocco. Walking through the Kasbah, with its pristine white and sea blue houses and the sound of waves crashing in the distance, it’s impossible not to think of the place as a sort of refuge to the people living during the dynasty’s reign. Walled to protect its people from war, pirates, and conflict, the Kasbah represents a tumultuous period of Rabat’s history. Like the Kasbah, the old medina of Rabat is a walled city. Upon entry, every product imaginable is at your fingertips, as long as you’re willing to haggle for it. Soaps, perfumes, clothes, carpets, lighting fixtures, leather products, and artisan goods are available at the shops of the medina. Street food is always beings sold, and the smell of roasting chick peas and chestnuts fills the air. The old medina is the heart of every city in Morocco- the point from which the rest of the city grows. It represents the evolution of this century old city and Morocco’s uncanny ability to safeguard its culture and tradition as it evolves over time.

Blog 5 Kasbah of the Udayas - Elyse Deroschers

The Ville Nouvelle, or the new city is yet another part of Rabat that forms its personality. The Ville Nouvelle was built as a separate entity to the city by the French during colonization. It’s wide streets and terraces mark a change from the winding streets of the old medina, but it nevertheless has become a part of the city itself. The Ville Nouvelle reflects the values of a European city- shops with mannequins displayed in the windows and clothes being sold at fixed prices from European and American brands, cafes with large terraces ripe for people-watching. French is the language of menus and billboards. Walking around the Ville Nouvelle, it’s hard not to think about the impact of colonization on the country and the way in which it continues to impact the city during the postcolonial era.

The Ville Nouvelle was built as a separate entity from the medina of Rabat, destined to be a place exclusively for French citizens that came to live in Morocco during colonialization. However, since independence, Moroccans have reclaimed this neighborhood as their own and continue to expand the city around it. This reclamation of a place once built to exclude them is a huge part of how I see the personality of Rabat and other Moroccan cities. Morocco is place where cultures collide- African, Arab, Mediterranean, European. These identities express themselves in different parts of Rabat- Chellah, the Kasbah, the Old Medina, the Ville Nouvelle, and the growth of the city since independence. It’s the ability of Rabat to claim each of these identities as its own, to mold them and form them in its own way, that culminates in a multi-faceted Rabat personality.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Rabat, Regional Studies in French