Fez - Trees gather on the hills, exuberantly green. Vines sprout in the fields, the olive trees grow on the mountains. This is a beautiful country, brimming with life and vigor. It bursts in the late spring sunlight, and the sun washes the ocean of Rabat as the train passes by. I love this country. I left America and a comfortable life to come here, to live among the orange blossoms.
Fez – Trees gather on the hills, exuberantly green. Vines sprout in the fields, the olive trees grow on the mountains. This is a beautiful country, brimming with life and vigor. It bursts in the late spring sunlight, and the sun washes the ocean of Rabat as the train passes by. I love this country. I left America and a comfortable life to come here, to live among the orange blossoms.
I love your languages, Morocco. When I came here last year, on a State Department language fellowship, I found Darija jarring. I had studied Fusha for three years, both at UCLA and at Harvard, painstakingly making my way through quawaid and jathr and ashkal and ishtiqaq. And then I come here, and what do I find? A language that had nothing to do with my beloved Fusha! Some weird, incomprehensible garble, some awful mixture of sound and grammar just on the very edge of understanding. But after six weeks of study, and incessant conversations with taxi drivers, fruit-stand men, teachers and new friends, I changed my mind. What other language, for instance, is so rich in exclamations, so full of just the right word for just the right moment? Bizaaf, iiya, fiye ju3, bisah?!
Your cities, each a country in itself, enchant me. Meknes, small and quiet, a very large village in its attitudes. Fez, big and dangerous and beautiful beyond words, where even the corner coffee shop is a work of art. Rabat, city of the sea, where women walk (mostly) un-harassed on the shores. Casa—Morocco’s Manhattan, big and wild and busy and unbound. Marrakech, mythic in its green and crimson loveliness, the seed of orientalist fantasies the world over.
As to your people…I can say that never in my life have I been given the same warmth, daily kindness, and neighborliness as I have received in Morocco. Even in Fez, which I was told is a dangerous place, I am known and greeted daily by every waiter in my local coffee shop; I am on neighborhood-gossip terms with the owners of the two hanouts on my street, and I never pass a neighbor without a labas-kulsheybixeyr-hamdullila exchange of greetings. This is in stark contrast with my life in America, where I lived on the same street for over a decade without knowing the names of my neighbors or exchanging greetings with them!
This is not to say that my feelings for Morocco are unblemished by disappointment and even some pain. For instance, I had one very jarring experience that left me with a lasting bitterness. I was in the Fez Medina in April, stressed in my preparations for the Passover holiday. As I rounded the corner to a friend’s house, five or six young Moroccan men began to yell obscenities at me, follow me, and attempt to grope me. I asked for help from an older man riding a horse, and he was kind enough to keep them away from me and walked with me to Bou Jeloud. As we walked together we spoke for a bit, and I asked him in my mix of Fusha and Darija, why I was being harassed. He told me “you are beautiful,” and then pointed to my Western-style clothing, as if implying that my jeans and (not tight, not revealing) T-shirt were an invitation for harassment. The acceptance, and even embrace of sexual harassment–particularly in the Fez Medina, for some odd reason—is one of the worst aspects of my life in Morocco. And to blame a woman’s dress or beauty for sexual harassment is an ugly argument, one that I hope will be widely rejected by Moroccan society in the future.
Still, Morocco, most days I love you. I think what I love most is that your past roots you, but does not chain you, and your future is bright. I love the age and grandeur and history that I have sensed in my journeys. The ancient mosques, the artistic traditions, the crenellated gates and the narrow medinas; they stand side by side with internet cafes, soccer stadiums, busy malls. I love that you are a country with your “firsts” still ahead of you: first forays into solar power, first major global seaport, first national debate team. There is a sense of possibility here, of growth and hope and endless horizons.
And endless horizons pass in front of me as the train clatters into Marrakesh. What did I do in my life that I am so lucky to be here, among these wonderful people, warmed in the glow of this peerless sun? I can only say Mashallah ‘3leykum, and be grateful for the happiness this country gives me.
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