Being in Morocco was fascinating. Of the places we’ve been in our lives, it’s definitely the furthest departure from what we think of as normal. We stayed in the medina of Fés which is the walled old town and one of the biggest, oldest active areas like it. There are over 1 million people living in the medina. It’s not just a tourist attraction, it’s a buzzing old city that we got to peek into for a few days.
There are hundreds of little “neighborhoods” in the medina each with a fountain for water, hammam (bath house), mosque, and community bakery. It is also home to the oldest university in the world which has now been converted to only teach the islamic faith.
Morocco is the first area we’ve ever been that isn’t historically predominantly Christian. The native Berbers were peacefully converted to Islam when the Arabs arrived I think around 800AD. To the visitor, some of the differences of being in an Islamic country are:
- Five times a day, at synchronized times based on the sun, every mosque has a man sing through a loud speaker notifying everyone it is time to pray
- The people are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and hospitable – every single person we met
- The definite majority of women wear lots of clothes, most of them covering everything but their face and some covering everything but their eyes
- Zero alcohol
There are lots of other differences, but those four seem to be most directly impacted by religion.
Based on conversations we had with locals some more interesting things:
- Unemployment is about 35% (wow!). There are lots of people wandering around aimlessly
- Main industries are tourism, fishing, architecture, mining phosphate, and exporting crafts
- Everyone speaks Arabic, most people speak French and lots of people speak Spanish and English too. It’s amazing how multi-lingual the country is
- The immigrants into the country are “African” as they call them meaning from further south and are dark skinned
- Moroccans look very middle eastern and so do the native Berbers, many of whom still live in the desert, hills, etc in tribes
I couldn’t help but think that it’s probably very similar conditions we’re fighting in in the Middle East: Arabic, mosques everywhere, densely packed houses in mazes of alleyways, multi-layered square houses with open courtyards, no windows, and used flat roofs. With the density and confusion in a medina like that it would be incredibly hard to find who you’re fighting and handle them. It is crazy to think about.
Oh, and the Moroccan food is unbelievable. Some of the best food we’ve had!
Visitting Morocco was an unbelievable experience. It was eye opening learning abut Islamic and eastern traditions, seeing a very poor economy up close, and experiencing over-the-top hospitality from every Moroccan we encountered.
The most important phrase to know as a white person in Morocco? “La shukraan” in Arabic or “No thank you” in English :)