24 hours ago, I left Chefchaouen, the Moroccan mountain city painted blue, to travel back to Egypt for my finals week. The bus took us back to our first Moroccan city, Casablanca, which we left after rapidly spending 2 days to step foot in Meknes, Fes, and Chefchaouen. Though we landed in Casa in the dark on May 1st, the cab ride back from the airport revealed at hyper-warp speed what we had always believed: the Arab World, North Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia share only broad the frameworks of Islam, Formal Arabic, and being formerly colonized states and otherwise are gloriously different. The infrastructure of Morocco amazed me after a semester of loving Egypt for her abandoned infrastructure from an age of investment long past that melts back into the ground. The roads were smooth highways organized by lanes that unknown reasons drivers actually abided by. Catching a train was nothing close to the sport it can be in Egypt. As much as I hate how Egyptians out of the kindness of their hearts will try to speak English with me and how perfuse it feels though it truly isn’t, English has barely taken root in Egypt compared to French’s hybrid development on the Moroccan tongue.
In two of the smaller cities we visited, Chefchaouen and Meknes, the older generation caught me by surprise. When I bought a lot of food from local stands in the old parts of the cities (Medina) determining the price become a sticky spot. Not because they were charging me anything but fair and inexpensive prices but because on three different instances the shopkeeper did not know Arabic numbers. A generation below first used French numerals, not just because I am a foreigner but seemly as a preference. However, when I asked to hear the number again in Arabic (as I speak just about as much French as Moulin Rouge teaches) they repeated in Arabic, cocking their head at the foreigner who by all standards should be speaking French not Arabic. I believe they must have been Amazighry (Moroccan Berbers) as many reject Arabic and refuse to speak it altogether, however I did not know this at the time. If I ever have the luck to go back to Morocco (in’shallah) I will definitely learn French numbers for myself as that is the norm. Yet, I am still so curious about this older generation of 60 and older. At the train station the older Moroccans in line ahead of me at the automated ticket machine requested help to work the machines. I don’t attribute this to techno-phobia as the helpful younger Moroccans were reading the screen’s options out to the older Moroccans, who stared in no particular direction, not trying at all to decipher the screen. I’m going to do some research, post-finals, so please ask me when I see you next. By my estimations it post likely revolves around education or access to eye-care and glasses, or a combination there of, but most likely the former.
Having gotten that question off my chest let me tell you how much Morocco felt like home, felt like California, well the hippie small agricultural and hippie town side of Southern California that I know (not LA). It was not just the great citrus and produce, and proximity to the ocean. It was the fresh air blowing in a cool night against the heat of sunny afternoon, the brilliant magenta sunsets (at the absurdly late hour of 9), and the transformative sky marked with dramatic clouds and free of smog and haze. A disclaimer is necessary: my senses nestled right at home in Morocco. Beyond everything reminding me of Ojai and California, breezes would sweep me back to summers in Alaska with my family. Don’t ask me how I can have found the smells of the Alaskan summer tundra in the streets of Morocco because I do not know. But I guess if in each breath we inhale one particle was exhaled in Julius Caesar’s dying breath, then my Alaskan air claims are not as far fetched.
I enjoyed Morocco and long to go back for a much longer stay, especially to learn their beautiful sh filled Arabic dialect but I am also so glad to be back in Egypt. I only wish I knew her before the revolution, so that I could understand the differences. Egyptians tell me what life was like, the old rhythm, the good and the bad, the stable and the oppressive, allowing me to adjust my lenses and take note of the differences. Yet, this is only a conduit experience. Seeing Morocco tripped a flood of questions about what Egypt was like, what she will become, and how what I saw in Morocco compares. The nearly five months I’ve spent in Egypt seem so small—Egypt is the land of the Pharos after all—and thus 10 days in Morocco was barely more than the length of time are eyes kept open in an eyestaring constant that always comes to a close too early with a desperate blink. My acknowledgement of time notwithstanding, the energy of the Moroccan people completely contrasted that of the Egyptians: the sh’bab (youth) are not menacing, tourists exist and what’s more are daily economic opportunities not rare creatures escaped from the zoo rampant on the streets provoking stares and the internal debate of going up to rescue, pet, capture, or taunt them.
My uncle taught me long ago one of the most interesting things to notice with new cultures and groups of people are whom they joke about, compare themselves to, and have stereotypes about. (Not that I ever want to perpetuate stereotypes but this question often reveals interesting kernels about the speaker’s identity and self-definition.) Since I am studying in Egypt and give that information away much more freely than my American citizenship, out of a desire to speak no English, paranoia and the shear fun of pretending to be Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, German…etc, a couple Moroccans emphatically dished the dirt on Egypt. The first words out, pace Egypt, were always positive “Egypt, the mother of us all” or “Egyptians, the best people.” However, the praise always turned around to reveal a conjoined twin “Egypt is the mother of us all…and Morocco is the father.” I also heard the infamous words spoken by every different native speaker of an Arabic dialect: our dialect is closer than all others to Formal Arabic because… I’ve been told to discredit, internally, these claims made by all (Levantine, Gulf, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan, Algerian, and Moroccan colloquial speakers) because thanks to extensive research many linguistics say no colloquial Arabic is more related to the Formal Arabic spoken by the Quarish tribe and standardized in the Qur’an than another one. The colloquial languages diverge at different points but do not stray further than another sister or brother dialect. This is not to say speakers understand different dialects with the same ease. Understanding different Arabic dialects depends greatly on how many Egyptian soap operas you’ve seen.
Moroccan cities made the demarcation of medina and new city clear, enveloping the medina in ancient walls. With the exception of the city of the dead in Cairo, which is a slum in a graveyard, Egyptian cities merge and flow between the ancient and the new sections of the city. The azhan (Egyptian pronunciation of the call to prayer) sounded softly across Morocco’s cities. Beautiful minarets still broke out across the city line (yes, I’m talking to you Zoe SL). I conclude with some more sights to behold. Now, go check your calendar, find when you are going to visit Morocco for yourself, and if your calendar takes issue with my promise you’ll find yourself in a lavender haze in Morocco, take a tip from our friends in 15th and 17th century Prague, and defenestrate it!