Week 3 in Morocco| July 26, 2011
Work has been primarily focused on my two main research projects. I was able to meet with one of our team members to discuss my juvenile justice research memo and together we came up with a list of areas for further research on the topic, which we hope to use as a part of the basis of a juvenile justice conference the ABA will be hosting in late August/ September timeframe.
Instead of talking about my work related duties this week, I wanted to discuss the protests that I’ve seen almost every day. The revolutionary tides that swept through Tunisia and Egypt have also had an influence in Morocco, a country which has been for a long time considered one of the most stable in the Arabic world. One of the main movements is called the February 20th Movement, due to its call for supporters to join to protest in Casablanca earlier this year on that date. The group’s main demands are constitutional reform, the dissolution of the current parliament and implementation of a transitional government, an independent judiciary, greater accountability of officials, greater recognition of the Berber language, and release of political prisoners. Despite their various demands, they remain supportive of the King’s role as monarch. The movement has been relatively successful considering the King’s approval to make changes to the constitution earlier this July, although there has been debate on whether substantive changes will really be made. Meanwhile, there are some groups that protest for the fall of the King, while still others come out in support of their monarch. There are also more specific rallies; often you will find groups of educated, unemployed Moroccans protesting in front of the Parliament for jobs.
I must admit that the first day I encountered a protest, I was initially fearful. After having seen how some of these protests turned into violent affairs in other North African countries, I wanted to make sure that I was never in the wrong place at the wrong time. Over time, however, you grow strangely accustomed to the protests. In my experience, the protests in Morocco have been extremely peaceful- although sometimes annoying when they block traffic.
This week, I was able to take Friday off to gain some cultural experience. And who better to gain this experience with than two of my best friends from William & Mary, Jacob Lubetkin and Amelia Vance. As they were studying abroad with the WM Madrid program, I convinced them to hop on over to Morocco for a long weekend.
After work on Thursday, I took the train to meet them in Casablanca. Unfortunately, I got off at the wrong train station (there are three stations in Casablanca). But since their plane was also running behind schedule, I decided to save a few extra Dirham and walk a few miles to the hotel. By the time I arrived, Jacob and Amelia’s plane was still delayed, so I figured that I would check-in for them so we would already have the room, etc. However, I was informed that I needed to present my passport. I assumed that this would be like Cambodia, where one person per hotel room needs to show their passport, and that Jacob’s or Amelia’s would suffice. Well, I was wrong. I tried everything I could think of and even had a photocopy of my passport on my computer that I was fortunate enough to have brought with me, but nothing worked. In the end, I had to go to the police station to have them write a letter saying that I was allowed to stay at the hotel. Fortunately, it all worked out and a few hours later, Jacob and Amelia had arrived. We went out to a lounge up on the 27th floor of a beautiful skyscraper to meet up with my 2 other musketeers (my US and Dutch intern friends). It had a breathtaking view of the city. Afterwards, we descended to the waterfront and went to another restaurant for dancing, where we all learned the Shakira “Waka Waka” dance.
The next morning we woke up early to take the 3.5 hr train ride to Marrakesh. Getting our tickets the day of, we ended up in 2nd class, which lacks AC. Fortunately the weather wasn’t too hot. One thing I’ve learned is that Moroccan trains, while nice, are fairly unreliable if you are running on a strict schedule. We waited on the train for over an hour without moving; and just as we were about to get off and try again the next day, it began to move. The train was so packed that we were unable to sit in the same section at first. But eventually, as people got off the train and a few spots opened up, we were able to sit together again. Once in the same car, a group of young Moroccans started playing chess and invited Jacob to play. Knowing Jacob’s amazing chess skills (because we play every Wednesday morning at The Grind on the WM undergrad campus), I warned the car that he was a pro. The Moroccan he was playing was also a champion from his school… and so the challenge began. The Moroccan won the first game, but Jacob came back to win the 2nd. Winning the 3rd game, Jacob won for Team America. Although long, it was one of the more fun train rides of my life.
Arriving in Marrakesh, you could immediately feel the temperature difference. Casablanca was fairly cold and dreary, but Marrakesh was bright, hot, and dry. Hungry from the train ride, we decided to go get some typical Friday couscous in the center of town. On the way we passed by the central market, Jemaa el Fna, and were promptly accosted by street vendors and men carrying various animals to have our pictures taken with. After a delicious lunch and Moroccan mint tea, we went on a quest to find the old 16th century palace ruins. We never found them, but were lead instead on an entirely different adventure. A young boy led us in the Jewish quarter of the city, where a man at a spice shop showed us all of the products he had for sale. Then, we were led to the Synagogue. Finally, we returned to the central market for some henna and shopping. We were so engaged bargaining that we lost track of time and practically missed the last train home to Casablanca.
It was a good thing that I had spent the last weekend in Casablanca because I knew exactly where to take my WM guests. On Saturday, I took them to Sqala for brunch and then we headed to a Hammam (Turkish bath), where we got massages, scrubs, and a seaweed wrap. Upon entering the bath, your clothes are taken away and you are led into the steam room. Fortunately, the men’s and women’s bath are separate. I don’t think I’ve seen as much nudity in my life. Over my time in Morocco, I have found it interesting that, although there is a very strict code of conduct prohibiting men from seeing too much of a woman’s body, female Moroccans are very comfortable with nudity among other women. Another example of this was when I went to try on clothes in the Rabat medina. I was led into a large changing room where everyone changes together and there are no individual stalls.
Jacob made use of his French in the Turkish bath and made a friend who then drove us over to the Mosque Hassan II. Hassan II is the only mosque in Morocco that non-Muslims are allowed to enter and is the 3rd biggest mosque in the world. It was built in the 1990s and was funded and initiated entirely by the people of Morocco. It is perhaps one of the most modern mosques in the world, complete with a retractable ceiling, and can hold 105,000 worshipers. I’ve included some pictures below, but I’ not sure that they do it justice. It you are ever in Morocco, seeing Hassan II should be a top priority.
From the mosque, we headed over to Café Le Sinatra for a light snack of pizza. I have been consistently amazed by the delicious pizzas in Morocco and so I insisted that Jacob and Amelia try it. Needless to say, they joined in with my love of Moroccan pizza. The café was on the waterfront looking out over the Atlantic and played a great selection of oldies that reminded me of my dad. When then headed over to Miami Beach for some swimming before returning to the hotel to get ready for Rick’s Café and the rest of the night out.
Sunday we took it easy and went to lunch together before they took a cab back to the airport to return to Madrid. Later that afternoon, I joined my two musketeers for a relaxing afternoon lounging on the beach with our Moroccan friends.