Living in Morocco: an American experience
By Jess L. Norton
Morocco World News
Fez, February 11, 2012
When I came to Morocco it was to look for a teaching position and I vowed that I would remain if I found one and if I liked the life there. I came to Morocco and stayed for a month and delivered my resume to as many schools as I could find. No one called me. Time was running out and still I found nothing. Finally it was time for me to return to America. I had to leave the next morning to be in Casablanca in time to catch my plane. I sat and talked with my friends, I counted my money, I figured things as many ways as I could to see if I could survive without work for a while here so that I could continue to look for work. I decided to stay. It was difficult. I was gainfully employed at home. My life there was comfortable and quiet. I wanted something new and fresh though. I ignored my doubts and fears and seized on to the adventure of a permanent life in Morocco.
That same afternoon I delivered my resume to yet another school. The next afternoon the headmaster called me and asked me to come to see him on the following day. I assumed that I was going to a job interview but when I arrived, I was presented to my class. I stayed and I was rewarded. Since then I have been hired by another school to do some teaching and substitute teaching and I have also assembled a private class of my own. I have found that many people want to learn English and most of them prefer to learn it from an American and so I am in rather high demand. I am very lucky to have such an opportunity to live and work in Morocco.
What is life like here in Morocco? When I speak to people from home that is usually the first question they ask. It is of course much different than life at home. My apartment is situated in an area which is also used as a market so I am often awakened by fellows outside my door who are shouting in advertisement of their goods. (This surely is the first form of commercial advertisement). Contrary to what many might think, I have not yet seen a camel. I live in Fez which is quite a distance from the desert. I’ve seen no camels, no sand, no snake charmers or anything of the sort. The Morocco of American movies and actual Morocco do not always have so much in common.
What have I seen? Fez is a beautiful city which has broad avenues lined with palm and orange trees. The people are very friendly and very helpful here. Just a few doors down from my apartment is a little shop where I buy my milk, bread and other such things as I use on a daily basis. The gentleman who owns the shop is very kind. He knows that my Arabic isn’t the best and so he will not sell anything to me before he has taught me how to say its name in Arabic. If I am a dirham or two short of what I owe him, he still insists that I take my things and go. He always says, “Pay me tomorrow if God is willing”. Moroccan people are very friendly.
When I first arrived, I was walking to my lodgings with suitcases in hand and I was greeted in Arabic by several old women saying “Welcome, Welcome to Morocco”. I don’t know who they were, but it was obvious to them that I am a foreigner and that I had just arrived and so they wanted me to feel welcome here. Contrary to what some might think, there is certain diversity here in Morocco. Most people are Muslims but they are not all Muslims. There are also Christians and Jews here. Even among the Muslims one will find great diversity. I have seen women in short skirts, women wearing scarves to cover their hair, and women who are veiled and completely covered from head to foot. These people do not separate themselves. It is not uncommon to see a woman with a scarf or a veil walking and chatting with her friend whose head is uncovered. There is a great deal of tolerance between the people it seems. They are very ready to befriend someone even if they are not exactly like them.
One thing that I find interesting about Morocco is that it seems that there is a much smaller division between the city and the country life. Of course in America you would be shocked to see horses or donkeys in a large city but here it is very common. I came home from teaching one day to find a donkey and cart parked in front of my door and the door blocked with crates of tomatoes. It is nothing to walk down the street and find crates of rabbits and chickens for sale. I came out of the house one morning to find two geese tied to a post being offered for sale. There are many shops in almost every street that sell eggs. If you look into the shop, you will see cages of chickens inside. The eggs are fresh, right from the chicken in the shop to the customer. Many of these same shops will sell live chickens and sometimes rabbits and then butcher them while the customer waits.
When walking down the streets here you will see many different shops. You will find a butcher and baker in nearly every street. There are also little dry goods shops, hardware stores, furniture stores and everything you can imagine. They are all small but that generally have what one needs. If one would walk down the street and begin to count cafes, he would soon grow weary of his task. Every where one turns there is a cafe and there are nearly as many shoe shine men as there are cafes. If one needs a shoe shine, he has but to go to a cafe and enjoy a pot of tea.
It is very likely that before he finishes, a shoe shine man will come by and shine his shoes while he enjoys his tea. While sitting in the cafe you might see someone walk through with an armload of socks which he is trying to sell or perhaps some belts or other trinkets. These traveling salesmen are to be seen on most major streets here in Fez. They will sell kleenex to you or even a solitary cigarette if you prefer to buy them like that. This leads to the subject of buying and selling.
What do things cost in Morocco? If you go into one of the many clothing shops near my house you will very likely discover no price tags. There are no prices posted in the barber shop either. How do you know what to pay? It is a matter of bargaining. You must find what you like and then make the fellow an offer. You might stand and bargain with him for several minutes before you come to an agreement. If he knows you, he will give you a better deal. If you always patronize the same shops then they will take care of you and you are likely to get their best prices. This is a common part of everyday life.
We don’t bargain for everything. I buy a sandwich for 15 dirhams and it is always 15 dirhams. The mint I buy for tea costs 1 dirham every time I buy it. The bus always costs me 3 dirhams. But clothes are usually bargained for. Goods bought in the markets are usually bargained for also. If one does not like such a system he can of course go to Marjane, which is a large supermarket here in Fez. They post their prices and there is no haggling, but what fun is there in that? They are usually more expensive than the market prices.
So I came to Morocco and I stayed. I have been here over a year and I would not exchange the experience for anything. The culture here is beautiful. The food is wonderful. The people that I have known here are kind and good spirited. When I first decided to remain here I was nervous about losing my job and the comforts of home but I can easily say that the exchange was very beneficial to me. I lost a dull job which was taking me nowhere in order to live in beautiful Fez, Morocco and teach English. I have met so many wonderful people including Prince Charles of Wales. I have traveled a bit since I’ve come to Morocco but I know there are so many other beautiful things to see. I could not possibly leave until I have seen it all. Perhaps I will never leave.
Jess L. Norton is a contributor to Morocco World News.
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