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Moroccan Life (Fall 2009 Article)

When I first found out I would be spending my fall semester
in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, I knew I would be headed
towards something completely different and practically unknown.
I was placing myself on the world’s poorest continent
in a country whose two spoken languages, French and Darija,
(Moroccan Arabic), were entirely beyond my comprehension.
Not to mention that much of the culture, customs and
societal norms I had grown up with my entire life would be
turned upside down. I prepared myself mentally and physically
to enter a world I had only briefly visited once before,
most of my knowledge being supplemented by textbooks
and professors.
My first few days were somewhat disorienting because it
seemed like time was non-existent. After the first week, I
moved in with my family and began my new life in Morocco.
I can’t truly say I experienced what is so infamously referred
to as “culture shock.” Naturally, certain aspects of my life
changed drastically. For instance, I was reacquainted with a
little thing called a curfew, something I had not experienced
since my second year in high school. Also, walking around
my own home in shorts was simply not an option despite the
oppressive Moroccan heat. However, I didn’t feel as if there
were any cultural norms I couldn’t handle, and the figurative
slap in the face I had been prepared for never really came.
I quickly adjusted to my life in Rabat. The winding streets
of the old medina, where I live, became less labyrinth-like. I
found myself using local phrases and greetings as opposed
to the classical Arabic I have studied for two years. I began
to have conversations with my “mother” about life and religion
while I washed the dishes and she began preparing the
next meal. I even began to find comfort in the Muezzin’s call
five times a day, signaling for all Muslims (nearly the entire
population) to pray.
Strangely enough, the aspects of Moroccan culture that
are usually thought to be so different from our own- the language,
religion, and social and gender dynamics- were not
the ones I found so shocking and surprising. Rather, I was
taken aback by Moroccans’ general attitude towards life
and the pace at which they live. Here, people live to live. In
America, it seems that everyone is always pushing towards
something; there is constantly some goal to be achieved.
It’s a fast-paced never-stop kind of lifestyle, one that can
frequently cause you to forget how to breathe and relax and
enjoy yourself. In Morocco, people wake up in the morning,
go to work or school and close down shop when it’s time to
come back home for lunch. It’s not a grab-and-go kind of
society- seconds, minutes, and often hours are not counted.
That isn’t to say that Moroccans are not hard working
people. On the contrary, they work long days both inside the
house and out, but that competitive mindset, so essential to
the American culture, is absent here.
People here live in the present as opposed to constantly
thinking about the future. For instance, it is rare to find a
well-stocked refrigerator in Morocco, because ingredients
are bought fresh each day from the sooks to cook the next
meal. They buy what is necessary for that moment rather
than hoarding large quantities of food for an unspecified
time. Talk about living sustainably! On my walk to school
each and every morning, I hear the clucking of chickens,
waiting to be killed and sold. I’m not saying this is a pleasant
part of my morning, but I do enjoy knowing that each and every
night, I’m eating lamb or beef or chicken that has been grown and sold locally, and that hasn’t caused environmental catastrophe in its production. A country such as Morocco may laugh at the notion of a Whole Foods or an organic foods section, but perhaps it is because the system of processing and distribution widely used in America is unheard of in the small streets of the medina.
Furthermore, I have found that is an incredibly
welcoming culture, one that could make any outsider
feel like a member of the family. Sweet mint tea, a
Moroccan staple, is offered at any chance, bringing people
together; this can mean inviting them into your home, or,
sometimes, into your heart. I have never in my life found it
so easy to make friends, whether it is in the market, a café,
or just walking down the street. Perhaps the most commonly
used phrase in Morocco is Asalaam ‘Alaykum, which literally
means peace be upon you. That alone speaks volumes.
By writing this, I don’t mean to compare my home country
and the country I currently call home, though that is what this
may seem. I am merely saying that we could learn a thing or
two from the way Moroccans live. I have personally found a
peace unlike any I have ever experienced back home, one
in which I am not perpetually stressed about one of the ten
thousand items on my agenda. I don’t want to say that life
is simpler here because that carries negative connotations,
but I think it is safe to say that there is a certain quality to life,
though conditions are infinitely more difficult, that keeps you
happy. Mashe Mushkil, they say, not a problem.
– Gillian Schreiber


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