If you’ve noticed that it’s been quiet around here the past few days, it’s because I’ve been in Casablanca, Morocco for a work trip and I haven’t had a very reliable internet connection (or, to be honest, much time to connect). It was my first time visiting Africa, and I found it to be a very eye-opening experience. Although Morocco has remained relatively stable in the past few years of turmoil in Arab countries, it is most definitely a developing nation.
I noticed a huge gap between displays of extreme wealth–most likely designed to attract tourists–and poverty. Our hosts for the work conference, a local business school, seemed eager to only show us the “best” of the city. Even though we specifically asked to see more traditional local sights, we were instead taken to a large, modern shopping center with a re-created souk, a very sanitized version of the traditional open-air marketplace. There may have been valid safety concerns that prompted their behavior, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was being patted on the head like a good little Western tourist.
But despite this glossing over of our visit, I still managed to enjoy some authentic Moroccan experiences which made me eager to see more. Some of my favorites:
– listening to the call to prayer at the Great Hassan II Mosque
– eating the freshest fruit I have ever tasted (the freshly-squeezed pineapple juice was unbelievable)
– being served hot, sweet mint tea in tiny cups
– feeling welcomed as everywhere people went out of their way to be helpful and hospitable–the phrase of choice being au grand plaisir (“it would be my pleasure”)
- the train station worker who grabbed my suitcase and started running to make sure I didn’t miss my train
- the taxi driver who offered me a cigarette and made sure I had filled out all my travel paperwork before arriving at the airport
- the student who devoted several hours to chauffeuring us around the city and answered all our many questions about local customs, Islam, and Moroccan life
I feel like I only got a small taste of what Morocco has to offer and teach, and I would love to go back someday and travel through more of the countryside, especially.