By Linda Harris
By Linda Harris
Barcelona – Sunday the 19th of February, marked the closing day of the 18th edition of Salon International de l’édition et du Livre (SIEL); the famous Casablanca Book Fair. I, along with thousands of others, was one of the lucky ones who had an opportunity to attend the busy fair.
The event took place at the Casablanca Fair Grounds at the l’Office des Foires et Expositions de Casablanca (OFEC) located in the heart of Casablanca, directly across the street from the astonishing Hassan II mosque.
The entrance fee to the fair was a meager 10 Dirhams for which one would get unlimited access for the day. The fair consisted of a small exhibition tent for educational institutions and press, and the great exhibition hall, which was set up for publishers and book vendors.
The fair had over 750 different vendors and representation from many nations, including the Emirates, France, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Spain, USA, England, Turkey and many more.
There were booths for media, radio, television and newspapers, as well as booths for Amnesty International and some smaller NGO’s.
The Saudi booth was, by far, the greater one. Heavily guarded, it was positioned dead center of the exhibition hall, gated off by decorative barriers, leaving only one entry open for visitors. After three attempts to get inside but being denied entry by the two men guarding the entry zone, I resigned myself to observing this booth from the outside. The book shelves were lined with art and great books on Islam and Arabic history. These shelves were only visited by men. Immediately to the left of the entry were a large children’s play and reading zone where all women were directed upon entry. The children’s play zone brimmed with dozens of happy children who were drawing, reading and playing with Lego.
Being a bibliophile, I was most delighted to see several booths with extraordinary leather bound collector’s book. They were, unfortunately, priced very high, with the very cheapest find starting at 700 Dirham, some cost as much as 3000 Dirham. That being said, they were extraordinary. These books were well over 50-200 years old and many were adorned with hand-painted illustrations. They primarily featured stories about events or prose in Moroccan history and would most assuredly be a must own for any self-respecting Moroccan collector. I found it difficult to leave such literary beauty behind.
The most impressive feature of the book fair was the many booths with children’s books. It seemed as if every other booth was a colorful collection of children’s books available in three languages and many themes. There were some Arabic themed books, but the vast majorities were western books in Arabic translation or western books in English and French. The festive booths attracted with books, flash cards, and reading games and the area around the displays brimmed with delighted children. Although, I would have liked to see a far greater selection of Arabic themed and Morocco relevant children’s books, I accepted that Moroccan children reading about blonde kids, purple dinosaurs, and life in the west, is better than Moroccan children not reading at all. There is little question that there is a great need for Moroccan children’s books – the selection was practically non-existent, but, for now, the kids of Morocco seemed quite content with what they have; books with colors, stories, and adventures.
Although the final visitors count has not yet come in, the 2012 fair reportedly saw a greater amount of visitors that in the previous 10 years. Despite the fact that the fair was well visited, there appeared to be little action around the many cash registers. Moroccans still have limited spending power in comparison to visitors at other Arab and Western book fairs, and in the past, the Moroccan book fair has not experienced good sales. Despite some selections of used books that started as low as 10 Dirham, most books were priced between 150 and 400 Dirhams; an amount that is not conducive to lavish spending for someone who sustains him or herself on an average Moroccan income.
There were representatives from many higher education publishers, incl Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Macmillan, Pearson Longman, McGraw Hill, and Penguin, to name a few. I went to several of the college text book publishers, visiting their booths with the hope of picking up some desired books at a reasonable price. This hope, however, soon fell flat, when I realized that the high Moroccan purchasing taxes are also applied to school-books; making the already overpriced books entirely outrageously expensive. As a former college educator and well knowing how hard it is for students in America to afford their college text books, I couldn’t help but wonder how college students make it in Morocco.
There were some things that could have been done better. The entrances were stocked with large piles of fair programs that were handed out by well-dressed attendants. There were programs for adults and program for children. Unfortunately, the programs were in Arabic, with no programs printed in neither French, English, nor Spanish. This struck me as odd and inconsistent with the intentions of an ‘international’ book fair. I struggled throughout the fair with finding the booths, understanding their content, and following the event schedule. Even the posters around the presentation halls were printed solely in Arabic, with no available translations. I missed, entirely, a presentation with a German author, because I wrongly translated the Arabic schedule. It struck me as odd and unaccommodating that the program for an international event would be only in one language.
That being said, overall, I came away pleased and feeling positive about the fair. The hundreds of excited school children left me in an upbeat mood and I felt good about Morocco’s future as a country of readers and a kingdom that can overcome its struggle with debilitating population illiteracy. Just as in the rest of the world, the kids at the fair were excited about the books and the adventures that were hidden inside those colorful pages. The men and women of the fair, of which I judged there to be a fairly equal amount, all seemed to enjoy browsing the books, and all across the fair there were people immersed in reading. As people excited the fair, many took pause to sit in the outside cafes to read or talk in the sun, while others walked to the waterfront by the grand mosque to sit along the seawall and read their new-found treasures.
Having a fair, such as the international fair, is a wonderful opportunity to network and educate on literacy needs and desires. More than a means for publishers and authors to display their work, it was a way for Moroccans to reinforce their desire and need to educate each other and grow a culture of reading. Moroccans are quick to beat themselves up, but on this one, they did it right. Fostering a country of readers is, without question, a path to strength and prosperity of all citizens of Morocco. The successful fair was a micro cosmos of hope for a new future; one that brings together the minds of all citizens, rich or poor, and lift them up into education and knowledge.
Linda Harris was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. After completing high-school, Ms Harris emigrated to the United States where she has lived since and continues to have a home. She has a BA in Psychology with minors in Religion and Philosophy, Magna cum Laude, from the University of North Florida. She also holds a MA in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics from the University of North Florida. Ms. Harris has worked as an Instructor and has taught Philosophy to students at Daytona State College, Florida for 3 years, as well as International Relations Theory at the University of Florida. She is currently working on her PhD in Philosophy, which involves data collection and research in Morocco. Her research includes ethics of gender, religion, and cultural identity in Morocco and in Moroccan immigrant communities. She currently resides in Spain. She Is Morocco World News correspondent in Spain.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.
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