would you like to go back to El Jadida City?
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 ...
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.
The 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
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
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"