A Moroccan stop sign
An afternoon tour through the ancient Roman ruins (AD 40) and Merenid necropolis of Chellah (built in the 14th century by the Merenid sultan Abou al-Hassan) reminded me just how much history and change has passed through Morocco.
Here are some photos of the ancient city of Sala Colonia and Chella:
The overgrown ancient city is filled with towers and crumbling defensive walls that once protected the powerful Merenid sultan:
Per Lonely Planet Morocco (9th edition), “Making out the structures takes a bit of imagination, but the mystery is part of the magic of this place”.
Now the towers and trees are home to the hordes of migrating storks which are in the process of mating in the spring (I was wondering what that loud, obnoxious sound was! Apparently they clack their bills in order to attract a mate). That was almost as impressive a sight as the ruins!:
Note in this picture there are three levels of nests!
Up close and personal with a stork:
Here is a photo of the remains of a beautiful Islamic complex (note the colors are green and white, the sacred colors of Islam):
The gorgeous, lush Moroccan countryside and farmland offers the visitor a glimpse of what the countryside is like:
Today Morocco remains a country full of complexity and contradictions. It’s rich cultural heritage starting with the Amazigh (Morocco’s “free people” or natives also known as the Berbers) then subsequent invasions by the Romans, the Arabs, the Spanish and the French (Morocco gained independence only in 1956) have made it the complex, mystical place that it is today.
As a bridge between both the Western and Arab worlds, Morocco is loaded with complexity and contradictions. While it is an Islamic kingdom with over 99% of the population being Muslim, Morocco is widely regarded as one of the most modern, liberal-thinking Islamic countries in the Arab and North African world. Traditions remain sacred in Morocco yet some are changing, especially with the younger generation. Veils can be seen worn by young and old women side-by-side other women wearing their hair down freely and uncovered. Praying is done five times a day, yet if it is missed, that is accepted as long as it is made up over the course of the day. Restaurants, cafes and discos are opening among the main city centers while the majestic medinas and world-famous souqs remain the main shopping area of town.
As many people would like to believe, camels cannot be seen walking down the street (like in India!) but are seen in the sahara desert. And, believe it or not, goats can be seen in the trees (in Agadir, goats climb the trees to eat the Argan nuts which is passed through the goats feces and made into the world famous Argan oil. This is a fact!).
Thus times are changing for Morocco as it advances towards modernization and globalization. Yet with these unprecedented changes, tensions arise in a deeply traditional and highly religious society. Morocco has not been untouched by the recent wave of revolutions touching it’s Middle Eastern and North African neighbors. Although King Mohammed VI has implemented some dramatic changes in Morocco (most notably in regards to social, economic, and political laws), Morocco is still a constitutional democracy in which power filters down from the throne. In 2007, only one out of three Moroccans bothered to vote thus there is some discontent and disillusionment with the government despite the King’s high level of respect and regard among his people. Protests and strikes are a daily occurrence in Morocco. I witnessed them every single day during my stay. Yet, the main difference is that the protests and demonstrations are peaceful. They are well-organized, with hand-out flyers, brightly colored t-shirts, sectioned off streets and an ample supply of police. This is the Morocco that may very well be able to make headways and change for the people and their future. It will be very interesting to see how everything plays out in Morocco. Only time will tell what path it will follow.
Like many nations around the world, Morocco has been significantly effected by the global recession and its economy is slowly picking up. Tourism plays a huge role in Morocco’s economy and Morocco was fortunate to pick up the tourists from its neighbors such as Tunisia and Egypt after the uprisings in each country. However, the recent bombing on April 28th of a trendy cafe in the tourist haven Marrakech which killed 15 people, will most likely have negative repercussions on Morocco’s tourism industry. Terrorism has not really been as huge of an issue in Morocco as it has in other Arab and African countries. There have been two terrorist attacks both in Casablanca since 9/11 (one in 2003 which targeted hotels and restaurants that killed 45 people, and another one in 2007 which occurred outside the U.S. Consulate General and the private American Language Center). Other than that, Morocco has remained relatively safe and even with the recent attacks, I still feel that Morocco is very safe, perhaps even safer than my own country.
Of course there are still concerns that the safety of Morocco may change and become unstable. One issue involves Morocco’s growing population of youth. In a country of 34 million people, 30% of the population is under 15. That could lead to an increase in problems with unemployment (Morocco already has a high level of unemployment, especially among the youth and newly college-degreed), strains on the educational system, and the desire for young, technologically-savvy (yes, they all have access to the internet and satellite TV) to start demanding more freedoms and more opportunities in which the government is not providing. Morocco is plagued by massive social injustices and a large gap continues to grow between the rich and the bare-bones poor. If the King can implement changes soon then perhaps this young, volatile population will be satisfied. If not, well then we know what could happen down the road.
Now that I’ve been back at home in the States for a little over a week, I’ve had some time to reflect on Morocco. I must say that I was completely surprised and taken aback by what a wonderful, amazing country Morocco is and what warm, generous, kind-hearted people the Moroccans are. I was welcomed with open-arms and accepted into their culture and world. Throughout my stay, I always felt safe and never once felt threatened. I realized that part of this feeling of security has to do with the Moroccan culture and spirituality. The Islam religion places God at the top of their lives and everything falls down after that. Violence is rare. Stealing not as common. And, capitalism is not important which was a refreshing concept given how materialistic and consumeristic American society and culture has become.
By going in to Morocco with the “third eye” approach, I was able to experience all the wonders and joys of a phenomenal culture and religion. I am truly thankful that on our first day at CCS Home Base in Rabat, Mohammed, the Country Director, told us some words of wisdom. He said, “the experience in Morocco should teach us how different we are yet to remember that nothing is right or wrong. Just different”. Thus in order to have a successful volunteer experience in Morocco, you have to remember to keep an open-mind and heart. This will help you learn about Morocco and share our culture with them.
Mohammed is 100% correct. My stay in Morocco further confirmed my view that there are a lot of misperceptions about the Islamic religion and that part of the world. Not all Muslims are a bunch of terrorists! In fact, only a very small few are terrorists and if these people are terrorists, are they truly Muslims? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Prophet Mohammed does not condone violence. Killing another human being is against the Qur’an. Thus terrorists (many, by the way, are illiterate and cannot even read the actual Qur’an) are not even following the Muslim religion.
I think as Americans we have to rethink our viewpoints and perceptions on the Islamic world and take it for all the wonderful things it has to offer. It is only by traveling and learning about the world, we can make ourselves better as well. I feel extremely blessed to have been one of the 800 people who have volunteered with CCS Morocco since it’s opening in 2007. Now my hope is that someday I’ll be able to go back…