I have now officially set foot on three continents of seven: Morocco, the furthermost northeastern country of Africa, is an absolutely beautiful place, with people as diverse as the landscape. Morocco seemed like a logical choice because after more than 120 years of French colonial influence, the French language is still very present (and very often more useful than English). The population of Morocco is of mostly Arab and Berber descent, the Berbers being the indigenous people of north Africa; Moroccan Arabic dialect is spoken there, as well as several different Berber dialects. I found that Arabic tended to dominate within the large cities (and urban hubs like Casablanca and Marrakech are well on their way to being full-fledged modern and cosmopolitan cities), while the mountains and rural areas are still very much the stuff of indigenous and often nomadic peoples.
To travel in an Arabic-speaking country was a radically new and different experience for me. First of all, the very fact that the script is completely different means that one’s chances of understanding basic sign-age have dropped to zero. It is one thing to be in Spain or France: sure, the language is different, but at least you can read the words. Secondly, it is remarkably humbling (yet again) to not understand at all the conversations that are going on around you. Traveling in a country like Morocco, where I don’t understand the customs, the prices, the bus routes etc., I am quite literally at the mercy of my host or my taxi driver or the guy working behind the counter at a restaurant.
Aside from the language differences, Morocco was a crash course in such useful things as haggling, the navigation of ridiculously chaotic traffic, and even a bit of cooking. 1. Haggling—Somebody tells you a price for something, be it food at an open-air market, a room for the night, a taxi ride, or a pair of babouches in a souk, cut the price in thirds and let that be a starting point. And when you get tired of haggling, just walk away… in my experience, once a vendor sees you turn and walk, he calls you right back, “okay, okay, thirty dirhams”. There is a sense of controlled chaos in Morocco as well: there are lane markers painted on the streets, but not once did I see them obeyed, where there should have been two lanes of traffic there were four and a half. And it’s not just cars either. Businessmen on motorcycles, middle-aged Muslim men driving taxis, girls on mopeds with their hijab’s fluttering, a kid with a washing machine balanced on his bicycle, and his little brother holding on behind, old Berbers with their donkeys and carts—if it has wheels it’s in traffic, all noisily passing and merging and crossing traffic to the chagrin and annoyed horn-honking of the others. I swear to you, in Marrakech I saw an old woman in a wheelchair roll out onto Boulevard Mohammed V and merge into traffic. And crossing the street as a pedestrian is part art, part science, and part balls-to-the-wall recklessness. There are no crosswalks. You can stand on that curb for as long as you want, and nobody is going to stop for you, give you a little two-fingered wave and wait patiently as you cross the street. No one. You gotta walk into that traffic, and pray somebody stops for you, and they usually did. (However, this habit of walking into oncoming traffic has been somewhat hazardous since coming back to France…)
more to come