Maroc On in Meknes

As I skim my first few blog posts on my personal blog, I realize what an inadequate job I’ve done in describing how beautiful this country is. But then, I realize words will always be inadequate. Morocco is a place you have to experience yourself.

Saadian Tombs in Marrakech
The inside of the Saadian Tombs in Marrakech. They were absolutely stunning. The attention to detail in this country in incredible.

I mean, where do I start? The fact that I spent more than five hours today studying Arabic and by the end of it just had to giggle because I was exhausted and stunned that I was studying Arabic in North Africa? Or the fact that my host family is completely excellent? Or maybe just how completely beautiful this city is, and how it feels like I’m home in Meknes already?

I keep saying it’s the little things that make me realize I’m living here, so here’s a list of the best little things I’ve experienced.

1. “As-Salaam-Alaikum!”

In what other language do you greet someone by saying “Peace be with you?” I have used this phrase dozens of times in the last few days, and I think it’s absolutely wonderful. I can’t think of a better, truer way to sum up the people of Morocco with this phrase. Everyone I’ve met so far has been so sweet, and so charming. They just want to take you in, show you the way and make sure you’re well taken care of. My Arabic professor offered us all rides after class and reminded me to take my own toilet paper into bathrooms, and my Darija professor waited with us until a taxi came to take us home. How cute is that?

Being a journalism major, this really resonates with me because of the way Arabic people have been portrayed in western media Post-9/11. Arabic has become a scary language. It’s associated with the “bad guys,” or the “terrorists,” or what have you. But really, that just represents our misunderstanding of these people and this culture. I’ve felt nothing but welcome by everyone I’ve met so far. People wave at you in the streets, ask you how you’re doing, and say “As-Salaam-Alaikum” when they greet you. If six years of French has taught me anything, it’s that language and culture are strongly intertwined. Such a peaceful greeting could not exist in a violent culture. I think the people of North Africa and the Middle East truly just want peace to be with the people of the world.

Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech
The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. The Arabic language is deeply rooted in Islam, which is why even simple greetings have strong religious undertones.

The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. The Arabic language is deeply rooted in Islam, which is why even simple greetings have strong religious undertones.

2. “I’ll take you home to meet my mother, yes?”

We were told on the first day that Moroccan boys hit on you in the streets because the “bar culture” in Morocco isn’t as prevalent in the U.S. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s definitely true that the streets of Meknes are a “cat-and-mouse” game. That said, it isn’t scary or strange, it’s just a part of the culture here. Myself and a couple of friends were exploring the Old Medina last night when a man stopped me and said “Can I tell you one sentence? You’re beautiful.” And walked away. Of course he came back for a couple more sentences and gave me his phone number, but it was actually really sweet. I may or may not have found myself blushing afterward.

I think the best part is they all want to take you home to mom within the first ten minutes of conversation. We met a group of guys the other night, one of whom offered to take one of the gals home for couscous and to meet his family. If that happened in the U.S., it’d be a surefire way to lose a girl’s attention. But it’s just the norm here, and it’s actually lovely. It just shows how family oriented these people are. Sure it’s different, and no, I probably won’t be going home to eat couscous with anyone anytime soon, but the sentiment is still there.

3. “Yeah, you can get six people in a taxi.

Personal space doesn’t exist in Morocco, and nowhere is this more evident than in taxis. To get to school every morning we either walk or hop in a grand taxi, usually with five other people, plus the driver. I’m pretty sure these cars are made to fit five cozily, not seven tightly. It’s fun, though. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any traffic laws in Morocco, or street signs, really. Seven people in a car driving at speeds well past legal in the U.S., passing cars into oncoming traffic is more like a carnival ride than a trip to school. Not quite a yellow school bus…

I think it really speaks to that “lack of personal space” thing, though. Only in Morocco can you chatter with a local at 50 kph at a distance of about a decimeter from them. It’s pretty crazy, but part of the adventure.

4. “Do you want an orange?” “Is that a question?”

Heads up, I'm slightly obsessed with food. That's probably why I take a ridiculous amount of pictures of it.

I’ve found oranges rolling across the floor in our room. Occasionally, they show up in my purse without me realizing I put them there. My roommate has definitely woken up with oranges in her bed. They’re everywhere, they’re in season and they’re soooo delicious. I will never be able to eat oranges or orange juice in the U.S. again. There’s something about finding pips in your juice and knowing it was literally just squeezed that is absolutely wonderful.

Olives are my favorite food. Meknes is apparently the olive capitol of Morocco. I would come here.

It’s been like that with a couple of things. I never ate tomatoes before coming here. I never ate cilantro. I always ate olives, now I just eat more. Everything here tastes so fresh and tastes so much richer than it does in the U.S. And for about 5 dhs for a kilo of oranges, there’s no excuse not to get your daily dose of fruit.

Spice Market
Nothing tastes bland in Morocco. And seeing all these spice markets in Meknes? Well. It makes me really happy.

5. “This goes with the fruit bowl.” “OH. THANKS!”

We definitely stand out as Americans in Meknes, especially the blonds in our group. We’re definitely the minority here, whereas in Casablanca or Marrakech we might be able to get by relatively unnoticed. Here though, in a much smaller city with many more Moroccans, we stick out. It’s not unusual to hear “Welcome to Morocco” in the middle of the day. My roommate once left her purse in a taxi and the driver returned it to her in class. I don’t think there’s any way he could have done that without knowing we were the American students at our university. I actually really like it.

At the grocery store a few days ago, my roommate and I were picking up some of the essentials when a man showed up out of nowhere to hand us a component to a couple of fruit bowls we’d picked up. Talking about it later, we realized the same guy had been watching us the whole time in the store. I hope he didn’t think we were going to steal anything. I like to think they were just there in case we needed help. But I really think it shows how much we stand out in this city.

In short, Morocco has been amazing. I’ve only been here a week but I feel like this might be where I’m meant to be. Through the highs and the lows, I’ve completely fallen in love with Meknes.

Happy travels.

Katie Gillespie
Meknes, Morocco
Spring 2012

You can follow Katie’s other adventures on her personal blog

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