- Morocco is mostly Berber
- Berbers are (mostly) Muslim
- Arabs are (mostly) Muslim
- Berbers are NOT Arabs
- Morocco is mostly Berber
- Berbers are (mostly) Muslim
- Arabs are (mostly) Muslim
- Berbers are NOT Arabs
So I find myself needing to get focused on a project of sorts. Or at least to get organized around something. Other than building a website I mean. That of course is my top priority. (Income is always top of the list.) But I need balance and so I am going to start reading and writing more about a topic that is very close to my heart : Berbers.
You see, I am not Berber. I am Canadian. A privileged white hockey loving Canadian from an upper middle class background who went to private school, university AND college. Twice. I once spent many years living in 4 star hotels and flying around on someone else’s dime, eating gourmet meals and sucking back cocktails that never got billed to me. I was, and still am, very cool with that. But as I have grown older and less employed, I have come to realize that I don’t need a lot of the things I once thought were essential. I’m really cool living in a developing country with a Hello Kitty waste basket and mismatched furniture. (short term at least).
But when I arrived in Morocco completely ignorant of what I would find here I came to know some really lovely people and learned more about the culture and history of this place, and I became hooked. I became fascinated with a way of life that is completely and utterly opposite to what I grew up with. And I continue to gobble up this culture as I live among it. I am not spending my time trying to meet other English speaking people, searching for ham and trying to find things that are just like home. I am spending my time with and among Berbers, I am watching news from the region and listening to the politics of this place.
I feel very much like I want to use my voice to talk more about these people and to share what I am learning with a wider audience. Not only is the Berber culture interesting because of its extraordinary history, the way this society treats women, their values, beliefs and practices but also their modern society. Women’s issues are a whole line of study, not only in how women were considered historically but also their struggles in modern culture. The struggles of Moroccan Berbers in an Arab dominant society is fascinating as well. I am just scratching the surface. It will take a lot of time to dig down and really turn things around to better understand and communicate it to anyone who is interested.
Now, before I get started, I need to make some things clear. There are things that I am an expert in, and there are things I am NOT an expert in. And there is a broad chasm in between those two poles. So when I say I am going to share some information about Berbers, you need to know that is it anecdotal and from my humble perspective. So let’s evaluate what my perspective might look like.
Things I am an EXPERT in :
– making pretty much any person I meet smile, if not laugh, and better yet, belly laugh
– sleeping in
– spending money
– finding the most expensive item in any store or gallery within 15 seconds of arriving on the scene
– cracking myself up
– forming an opinion and sharing said opinion
Things I am INTERESTED in :
– women’s issues
Things I am DISTINCTLY NOT an expert in:
– intense research
– women’s issues
– Arabic culture and issues
So as we move forward, please understand that I am not setting out to write a tome on the history of Berbers with footnotes and hours of research that might eventually be considered the leading authority on the subject. No. I am merely sharing my observations so that you and I can all become more familiar with this fascinating people; so that we can understand their struggles and triumphs as well as their place in the world.
And when I say I am not good at in depth research I mean, not.at.all. There is a Berber woman I have met a few times and whom I ADORE. This is how our conversations go:
“Salam” “Salam” Kiss kiss. Berber is spoken, I look at someone with English skills and say …”What?”, a translation is offered. I smile, nod and offer a thumbs up in response.
So – you know. We don’t get much of a chance to dig deep on personal perspective.
It does not mean there is any less respect. It just means that I might need to learn some Berber sooner rather than later.
As I write this post, France24 news has run a report on Morocco’s anti-jihadist strategy, and they even through in a leader piece on some regression of women’s rights in modern society. Exactly some of the topics that are top of my mind. Things I want to share with you. So stand by while I collect myself, and join me again for more information.
Yesterday was March 25. The day my mother died. The 8th anniversary of her passing. And it is with full disclosure that I will tell you I completely forgot. Never crossed my mind. To be honest, I don’t really even know what month it is, and I certainly don’t know the day of the week, because I don’t yet have that kind of structure in my day to day.
But as the universe does – there came a reminder. At some point in the evening I suddenly thought – “wow, this day turned to shit in a hurry.” Then I saw a comment that my sister posted on Facebook and I thought “Oh damn it. Am I a bad person?”. I went to Google Calendar and turned on the notifications again because who the hell knows what else I’m missing. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to everyone I know in case I screwed that up too.
So today I am obviously reflective. I have always noticed, based on the passing of about 80% of my immediate family, that there are two very distinct memory paths to go down. There is the remembrance of the person. Their love for you, their relationship to you, the time they said or did something, their look, their smell, their smile. And there is the circumstance of their passing. The details. I find that anniversaries always bring back the details for me and I don’t really love those.
With my mom I remember standing in my kitchen in Calgary when she went into the hospital and thinking the word “catastrophic”. It was a term that suddenly took on personal meaning. I remember sitting in the lobby restaurant at the Fairmont Waterfront talking to my sister. The server coming towards me wondering what the hell had just happened, the nice lady behind the desk to whom I said – “call my friend in Banff, she’ll tell us what we need to do”.
I remember the little boy of about 6 who approached me earlier that afternoon in Vancouver, put a gold confetti star in my hand and said “You look like you need this.”
There are a bunch of other memories like that. I have to push those aside. I have spent my morning on that path and this afternoon I am resolved to go down the other path. The memories of who she was. The beautiful woman sitting at the kitchen table folding cardboard into the smallest possible shape so they could reduce recycling. The woman who taught me how to travel with grace and patience. The woman who stood beside her husband through 63 year of marriage and the loss of two sons, muttering “OH BILL” 13 times an hour. The woman who knew EVERYTHING there was to know about every person in a 5 mile radius.
The woman who stood, holding open the back door, with a smile on her face, watching me leave, every single time I went back to wherever I was going. Today, I will gather up those memories and cherish them.
Now to bring this back to Morocco because some of you are probably thinking this is a wild tangent, let me add this.
I’ve hosted my fair share of funerals, and been to far too many. (Only ONE of them had presents. Just sayin’). I honestly think the North American practice of having visiting hours at the funeral home for a few blocks of time prior to the burial is archaic, ridiculous, painful, hard on the family, and tiring as hell. I don’t like it, never have, never will. Trying to explain it to people from other countries elicits a face of “huh?” Yah. Exactly.
In Morocco (dare I say Islam? I assume. I apologize if I am incorrect), the dead are buried pretty much immediately. Often before sundown of that very day. I think I have covered the practice in this blog before. And then they let 40 days go by. After 40 days they all come together for the celebration and remembrance of that persons life. Wow. 40 days for the immediate family to get their proverbial shit in a group and start the healing process. 40 days to have some peace and quiet and hide under the covers. How nice is that?
When I die, give yourselves 40 days, then have one hell of a good party for me.
While I am certain that there are more culturally enlightening things I could be writing about as I immerse myself in this foreign place, I find myself thinking some completely unrelated (to each other) thoughts. All of these thoughts are things that I think in Morocco, because I’m here. And I know some of you like stuff like this – the day to day workings of a weirdo expat. So I will share.
1 – Moroccan men of a certain age, university age, 18-21 let’s say – they all cut a very similar silhouette. Not unlike North America, where certain demographics all dress the same. Think Canada Goose jacket, skinny jeans (substitute yoga pants), knee high leather boots. The Canadian female winter uniform. So these young men all look the same. ALL OF THEM. They have skinny jeans, tight in the ankle, hands in the pockets, bomber jacket of some sort, ankle height trainers, and thick black hair on setting #2 all around the sides and back with a big pouf on top. All of them. I could pick a young Moroccan man out of a line up every single time. Also, I have come to notice that nomads from the desert – the Deep South – they all have a very specific look. But it’s a physical look. I can’t explain it. Let’s just say this……WOW. I need to spend more time in the desert.
2 – The Moroccan method of cooking, as I have experienced it in my home, creates very few dishes. I love it. I really love it. Mostly because it is my job to do the dishes, because I am not completely qualified to cook just yet. And its really lovely serving a meal in the same dish in which it was cooked (tagine), and for my guests to use their hands to eat it. No plates, no cutlery. Just a cutting board, a knife, a tagine, and my spoon. That’s it. I love it. I am always so pleased after a meal to have such an easy time cleaning up.
3 – I love oranges. That’s all.
4 – All hail Amazon. I love Amazon. I am meeting my friend Suzanne in April and I need some things from home that she can bring with her. Instead of her having to go and collect the things and find what I need and then worry about how much I owe her and did she get the right things…..no. I go to Amazon.ca, order what I want and have it sent in one tidy package to her door step. Honestly. So easy. AND I get the tiny rush that comes with doing a little online shopping.
5 – When I feel like I need a break from being an expat all I have to do is stay indoors for a few days. Take short trips outside to see my friends at the local grocery for oranges. Come back. Watch some Grey’s Anatomy and Ellen online. It’s nice. Just like home but without my baby Daisy. (Tear).
6 – I’m very very comfortable here. I noticed tonight when I walked home from J’maa El Fna square along the exact same route we had walked in October. Remember that crazy road crossing Laura? The one that brings all manner of vehicle off the main road into three different branches along with people walking and taxis and carts selling prickly pear? We walked that way home tonight and it was as crazy as ever. Tourists, buses, people going this way and that. Dark. Rough sidewalks. Scooters. Honking. It was madness. And it didn’t even phase me. I know what I can edit out and what I must pay attention to. I did’t feel at all overwhelmed. The first few times in October I was sure I was going to die on that corner. Now I cross against the light no problem. “Close your eyes and Yallah”. My new favourite saying.
So here it is the middle of another week in Morocco and I find myself in Chefcahouen, a gorgeous little mountain paradise south of Tanger and north of most of Morocco. I’ve been here before and I am certain I will be here again, In’shallah. It’s just such a lovely place on earth. I am enjoying this little trip with my friend Jennifer who lives in Casa, and teaches at an American school. They have a week off so she and her roommate Rebecca decided to make this journey and I decided I should join them. Because, why not?
So before leaving to Casa on Sunday afternoon, by train for 3 hours, in First Class, for 200 dh (or $27 Cdn), I had an interesting mission to complete. I was invited to join an English speaking club in Marrakech. “Uh, you already know how to speak English.” Yah, I know. But I don’t know any Moroccan women so settle down. I asked to stand in as the English speaker by a fellow ex-pat, Kate, who was not able to attend Sunday’s meeting. It’s a group that gets together once a week and they have discussions in English in order to improve their skills. They are all Moroccan women. One is a Professor who teaches Business Strategy and Marketing, another an Engineer who did her Masters in Montreal, and two others work in Agriculture. Lovely women. Intellectuals all of them. Interested in just simply discussing things that are of interest and improving English. We talked about Moroccan cultural views of different things, security and freedom of speech, Canadian French and English politics, and how to affect change in a country that needs to raise consumer awareness for ethical business practices and the environment. It was lovely. We lasted two hours and I look forward to returning to them again.
So the next day we headed out the three of us and spent a night in Moulay Idriss. I had been there before on my trip in October and I had been there just a few weeks ago when I was on my investigative / photo taking exploration. It’s is a beautiful town on a hilltop. A sacred place settled by a Moulay. It’s very relaxing. We stayed at a new to me place – Dar Zerhoune, which is run by an English speaking expat that we did not meet and two not so much English speaking girls who managed the food, tea, and cleaning. Lovely. The only other guests were a family of 4 from Holland who had chosen to spend 3 nights there. Bless them. There is not enough to do in town for three nights so it’s nice that they like board games and reading. We were there for just a night, and it has been snowing and raining and cold this week so we spend most of the evening huddled in the common room with the doors closed against the cold. My room was booked after the other two so I was on my own and it was a gorgeous room. I loved it there. Now I have two great places to stay in Moulay Idriss if anyone is looking for recommendations.
Next day we got up, toured Volubilis which is a nearby site of Roman ruins. Interesting place. Then we headed off to find Chefchaouen. It was a long drive but manageable. As we were toodling down the road marvelling at the farmers plotting their fields by donkey, we came across some orange groves. Then some orange sellers. Then I said suddenly, “Uh, if there are orange sellers here, and the orange trees are RIGHT there, I think we should stop.” And stop we did. I bought 2 kilos of oranges for 12 dh, or about 10 oranges for $1.25 Cdn. (Who are these people that keep saying Morocco is SO expensive? I am baffled by the places they are going. It’s very strange.) Hopped back in the car and peeled some oranges. Quite possibly the freshest oranges I have ever had. And by that I mean – juicy. OMG I needed a shower after peeling them. The little membrane around the pulp had yet to form so the juice just ran out all over the place. Impossible to break into smaller sections so I had to put a big piece in my mouth and then there was so much juice it sprayed all over the place. Dripping fresh orange juice everywhere. And I was laughing. Because – WOW. So yesterday we ate about 28,000 oranges and it was delicious.
Then we relaxed in Chefcahouen. It is lovely. We had two supremely early nights as Rebecca was not feeling well but we also had some really successful shopping and a wonderful meal at a gorgeous pizza place.
We headed back to Casablanca in one straight shot, with Jen driving. The roads outside Chefchaouen where in pieces. I mean literally in pieces. There has been some flooding recently and I can not overestimate the depth and number of the potholes. There are no road crews out. No pilons. The drive was hard. Driving in Morocco is hard in general – the obstacles make the twisty roads all the more interesting. But Jen did an absolutely heroic job and we made it safely home.
It’s been another lovely Moroccan adventure. A quiet respite from the big city. I have to say, Marrakech is lovely but it is a city and you do need to get out of it often. I love it, and I have SO much more exploring to do here and so much more to get in place and establish, but the country of Morocco is what has my heart, so travelling around is the best thing I can think of to keep busy. Not sure what the next trip will be but I think it will involve the coast. Pretty sure.
I was once told that I was too impatient. I needed to know the end and the middle all at the same time and that I would be better served if I let things unfold organically. And because this advice came to me at a time when my life was spinning off its axis, I took it to heart and it has become one of my guiding principles. Just wait….listen…..let things unfold. You will know when you know, In’shallah, when the time is right all will be revealed.
And so I look back over the last month or so, in particular this past week and I see things that I didn’t see before. I have experienced a shift. It always happens when you go away from a place and come back. This going away, when you are new to a place, is always a critical time. I realize that when I go back to Canada in the summer there will be a shift and when I return to Marrakech in September, another shift will occur. But last week I packed my bag, boarded a train and left, only to return anew to my home. And on reflection it was definitely enough to create a shift in my perspective.
Here’s the context. I went to Casablanca by train and met my friend Jennifer who is teaching at an American school on a 2 year contract. She lives on site now (I had visited her off site apartment in October), and she has been here since last September. We packed a graciously borrowed car, and her roommate Rebecca (also Canadian), and headed to Moulay Idriss and Chefchaouen. I had been to both places last October and Moulay Idriss again as recently as a few weeks ago. I was along for the adventure and the company. We went to those places. We saw some things. We stayed in new-to-me places. And we returned. In the process I also saw a great deal more of Casablanca than I had previously.
Here is what I have learned / come to realize:
So now I’m back in Marrakech. Back home. In my house. I’m planning the next few days, the next week, some next steps in business. I am starting to really understand a lot more about where I am and what I can expect. I am more confident.
And I am starting to put some strategies in place to manage this place in the long term. Not like a person who came here for a long trip, but like a resident. I’m starting to think like someone who lives here. Someone who needs to retreat into a little Western-ness once in awhile, even if that means not leaving the house and just watching Ellen all day.
And that is pretty cool.
Oh, and I do have a love affair going on with this country. Not just being an expat and living abroad, but living here. In Morocco. I am closer to becoming a Marrakshia every day. (A female from Marrakech). And the more I see here, the more I love here. I made a good choice.