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Why would you like to go back to El Jadida City?

By: Bobby Setzer

I have been asked several times, "Why would you want to visit Morocco?" Because it is about the closest, "exotic" country and has a great street life. What else did I find there? Read on ...

Why would you like to go back to El Jadida City?Morocco and the United States have a long history together. After the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Morocco was the first country to recognize the new nation. And they are currently alongside us in the forefront of the War on Terrorism, having recently arrested several members of an Al Caida cell there, including the leader, a Saudi Arabian married to a Moroccan woman. The individuals arrested are currently being questioned by both the Moroccan and American intelligence communities..

Morocco is a beautiful country, being located on the northwest tip of Africa, across the Straits of Gibraltar from Spain and Europe. It consists of a Mediterranean biosphere in the north, with a spine of high mountains (the Atlas) down the eastern part of the country, trailing away to the Sahara east and south of the mountains. The population has doubled in the past 30 years or so, to around 30 million as of 2000. Most of the population lives along the 500-mile Atlantic coast. The financial and business center of the country is Casablanca, a modern city of 4 or 5 million people.

I spent most of my time in El' Jadida, a small coastal city of 150,000 about 65 miles southwest of Casablanca. It is known in Morocco as a great place to escape the heat of the interior during the summer months, and you find a good many tourists there from Marrakech, Fes, and Meknes, all of which have Oklahoma-like summer temperatures. El' Jadida's temperatures during last half of June and the first half of July ranged from a high of 77 to 80 degrees in the afternoon to 65 or 68 degrees at night. The city has a three mile-long beach spreading east away from the old Portuguese City (now the medina). There is also a well-known beach at Sidi Bouzid, about 3 miles to the southwest.

CasablancaThe people of Morocco are mostly poor, but nearly all seem to have what they need, though not necessarily all that they might want. They do not always have running water in their homes, but there are always the nearby hammams, where for a dirham (about 10 cents), women can get a shower or bath most any time of the day until 11 p.m. or so. The men have separate hammams, and although I never visited one, I understand they are widely used by the Moroccans. At least, even when in crowds, I never smelled anyone. They seem to be fanatical about their personal hygiene and appearance. You almost never see anyone on the street who is not dressed in clean clothing unless they are working at a dirty job, whether it be in western-style clothes or the robes traditionally associated with the Near East.

I understand there is a modern supermarket in El' Jadida, though I never saw it. Instead, each evening between 5 and 6, it seemed that half the city would make their way on foot through downtown to the nearby market area. Some walk, some come by bus, some in their own cars, some by way of the "petit taxis" which are virtually everywhere in the city, and can be seen in droves on some of the busier streets. They are a different color in each city. Those in El' Jadida are all beige ($2 or less will take you virtually anywhere in the city), while in Casablanca, they are all red. The market area spreads out onto the nearby streets, where you will find clothing, scarves, shoes, bags, jewelry, make-up, etc., set up on tables and on the sidewalk. You will also find these same items in several little stores, but then there are the contiguous shops where you can buy vegetables (primarily tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, corn, turnips, squash, lentils, etc.) In another area, you find the meat shops dispensing beef, mutton, and chickens. In another area are the shops for the household goods--towels, dishes, pots, and such. Black African

Many, if not most, simply come to "promenade" with no intention of buying anything, but just to walk, see, and be seen. There are many sidewalk cafes, where men sit and sip their coffee, or the hot, sweet mint tea which I loved, and watch the passing parade. Young people of both sexes wear western (not cowboy) style clothing, but once married and with children, women tend to wear the traditional robes and head scarves. Middle-aged and older men also are mostly found in robes. Moroccans in general are a handsome people, with the olive skin typically associated with Italians, and dark hair, typically a bit kinky, or at least curly. The Berbers of the countryside and mountains tend to have fairer skin, and many have reddish hair and blue or green eyes. Perhaps 5% of the population is Black African, descended from the same slaves which populated much of the Americas. But they are black, undiluted by Arab or Berber blood, as they seem not to have mixed with the rest of the population.

The people are very friendly, and will frequently take the opportunity to talk with a foreigner. Almost no one speaks English, so these conversations always take place in French, or sometimes, Spanish. A Moroccan typically grows up speaking Maghribi Arabic in the home and is taught French in school as a business and cultural language. And as in any poor country, a foreigner can sometimes be overwhelmed by the offers made by various young men hustling one thing or another, typically guide services. It is sometimes easier to hire one of them as a guide if for no other reason than to have them fend off other would-be guides. $5 to $10 for a day is the usual going rate for such services. They will also bargain for you in the marketplace if, like me, you hate the process. You just have to be careful they are not in cahoots with the shopkeeper for a part of your purchase price.

While nominally Moslem, I didn't meet anyone who attended religious services in the mosques, or did the prescribed 5 daily prayers to Allah while facing Mecca. One "grand taxi" driver with whom I rode had prayer beads hanging from his rear-view mirror and a tape of Koran readings (I presume) playing. I also saw one man on a beach at nearby Azzemour praying on his prayer rug. But for the general population, when the muezzin's call for prayer 5 times daily went out from the minarets over the loud speakers, it was mostly ignored. That said, although not very religious, Moroccans are among the kindest, most gentle people I have ever encountered. Although you never see two or more Moroccans together but what they are engaged in a loud and animated conversation, only once did I see any hostility, and that was between two street vendors arguing over a space on the street. A very short man punched a tall man on the arm, and the tall man kicked the short man in return. Then it was over as suddenly as it had begun.

There is a university in the city, but that has created somewhat of a problem in that there are now a number of educated individuals with no jobs available which use their university education. They typical school provides nine years of education, then the individual goes to university, or more likely, to a school to learn barbering, taxi driving, or mechanics.

The city is surrounded on the north and west by the Atlantic, and on the east and south by small farms where much of the local produce is grown, including sheep, cattle, and chickens. Watermelons are also widely grown in the area, and are cheap and delicious. They tend to be meatier and less juicy, but sweeter, than watermelons grown in the Valliant area. I was particularly intrigued by those grown in square boxes, making the melons square for more compact shipping. Bananas are grown a hundred miles to the south, around Agadir, and are smaller and sweeter than those we typically find in our supermarkets which are grown in Central America.

Like southern Europeans, notably the Italians, Moroccan men will ogle young women, and make suggestive comments toward them. Unless a young woman knows the man well, or has been formally introduced, she will totally ignore both the man and his comments. I found this to be the case with most all Moroccans -- when being given a hard sell by a vendor, or other person hustling something, they will usually treat them as a piece of the landscape--that is, totally ignore them. I quickly adopted this trait.

I never encountered any hostility during my sojourn in the country, and in fact, just the opposite. However, the populace was in general unfamiliar with Americans, and most assumed I was French, until and unless I informed them otherwise. Even then, there was never a problem. Young girls, as well as boys, would sometimes come up to me on the beach promenade and start a conversation, typically asking me my name, where I was from, etc. They had never heard the name Bobby before, so I began telling them my name was Robert, with a French pronunciation. They knew and could say that name.

One interesting thing on the beach was that those in the water were not seen like in the U.S., scattered here and there. They would all be concentrated in one area, then strung out into the waves in almost one line 3 or 4 across, apparently buddy-like keeping an eye on their compares for safety purposes. Sunbathers would, like everywhere, be all over the beach. The beach was also where the young men played their soccer games, marking off a field and setting up their temporary goals.

Most Jadidans seem to live in 4- or 5-story apartment blocks. As can be imagined, with the rapid population increase, new apartment blocks are feverishly being built to keep up, I was told mostly by the French. The advance wave of young people born during the beginning of the baby boom there are now in their mid to late twenties, about the age at which most Moroccans marry. I did not see women with more than 2 or 3 children, so the baby boom is apparently losing some of its steam, and hopefully Morocco will be better able to cope with the smaller population grown rate in the future.

The old king, Hassan II, died three years ago, and his son, the new king, Mohammed VI has begun to institute more democratic reforms in the government. Despite having a democratically elected parliament, Morocco is still effectively run by the king and royal advisers based in his main palace in Rabat. The prime minister, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, and key ministers are directly appointed by the king, who is considered a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed.

At the end of my sojourn, I found it hard to leave this beautiful country, and the beautiful, spring-like weather I had enjoyed during my stay. Needless to say, I hope to return someday, hopefully speaking French a little better, and maybe even some "Marocain"






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