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Morocco: myths debunked and facts confirmed

By Erin Geneve

Morocco World News

Rabat, June 9, 2013

As any traveler to a strange new land, I had my pre-conceptions and ideas about what Morocco would be like before arriving, especially as I had never met anyone from Morocco prior to arrival. I had scant and unreliable information on what to expect. After completing the first month of my internship at the Voice of the Amazighe Woman, arranged by  the Moroccan Center for Arabic Studies, I can say that a few of my pre-conceptions were accurate, and some plainly were untrue.

I had heard that Morocco is considered one of the friendliest countries in the world. I don’t know who the authority is on this or how it is measured. But as a person who has traveled to over 20 different countries, I’d personally upgrade Morocco to number one. Anyway, my pre-conception that Morocco would be a friendly place, is certainly true.

I have received more invitations, facebook friend requests and new numbers in my first month here than I would probably get in six months home in Canada. This doesn’t even begin to cover the many hugs and kisses, un-solicited help with directions and well wishes I get on a seemingly daily basis.

Another notion I had about Morocco was that I should expect to be well fed. Like the first idea I had about Morocco being friendly-this was an understatement. Since I’ve gotten here, I have never ceased to be amazed by how much food I am served, and fully expected to eat.

A few weeks after my arrival, I was invited to a neighbor house for tea. After arriving, I took a seat with three others and observed the huge arrangement of appetizers on the table. I felt a little underdressed as it looked by the amount of food put out that “Come by for tea” must have meant that there would actually be a party of about a  dozen people. When I asked my host if she was expecting others, I was utterly shocked when she smiled and said “no, this is just for the four of us.”

There were also a few things I expected about Morocco that turned out to be more or less untrue. I had always pictured Morocco, as a Kingdom, with an overwhelmingly Muslim population and the official language as Arabic to be culturally the same as other Arab States. Although I hear Arabic spoken more often than anything else, I’d have to say that Morocco has a distinct culture of its own, with some notable differences from what I have observed among Arabs.

The handshakes, smiles and easy interactions between women and men are quite different from those I have observed among Arabs, and there is a very noticeable absence of headscarves here, especially in Rabat. I also hear French spoken just as much as Arabic. The influence of the Amazighe culture can also be seen here, especially in the very colorful jilbabs so many women wear, the music people listen to and the lively dancing.

Moroccan food also, is not similar to Arabic food. I have not had hummus, a falafel or baklava since I arrived. Nor have I had Arabic coffee. Not that I’m complaining, Moroccan cuisine is just as delicious as it is unique. Besides, I have discovered something amazing here, Moroccan tea. Especially with mint, it is delicious and also revives your energy just as well as coffee. Essentially, I have noticed that although Moroccans share a language and religion with their Arab counterparts, they have a very distinct culture. Something I have felt privileged to experience. Morocco is something truly unique. Not exactly African, and not exactly Arab either.

The local interpretation of Islam as well seems to be liberal in a special way. People here are certainly Muslims, proud to be and they observe their religion. I do not however detect an attitude of fanaticism or of disdain toward me as a non-Muslim. Quite to the contrary, people are curious about me, and are very proud to educate me about the Moroccan Jewish community and Morocco’s history of accepting them as fellow adherents of a monotheistic faith. This is a different attitude than I was expecting.

Luckily, I will get to stay another 2 months, and I’m sure I will learn much more about Morocco throughout this time. Even after I return home, I’ll be looking forward to my next visit, Insha allah.

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