It’s impossible to describe everything we’re seeing and hearing and smelling and tasting. Right now I’m sitting on my bed and I can see mom nodding off to sleep, hear the call of prayers blasting through the windows, rivaling the sound of the latest soap opera on the TV, smell food cooking for the next meal, which takes place around 11:30 during Ramadan, even though we just ate, and taste the “cafe noir” that they served me at the end of the last meal. They’ve figured out that I like my coffee black, the real black, so when Abdulmajid asked his granddaughter to fill up by glass with coffee, he clarified “sans sucre” so that I wouldn’t have to.
Today was way less intense than yesterday because we sort of had an idea of what to expect. We had to meet at the Thaqafat office at 10, so we got up at 8 to make sure we’d be ready to go whenever Abdulmajid could take us there. The Medina streets are so confusing, so for the first little while it helps to have someone show us the way. No one else eats breakfast, since it’s Ramadan, but our family prepared us some sweet mint tea with bread and soft cheese with jam because they don’t expect non-Muslims to fast with them. It’s a little bit awkward because we don’t want to eat in front of everyone who can’t eat, but he said it was fine and that it doesn’t bother him.
After breakfast we followed Abdulmajid out of the house and down through the maze of streets in the Medina. For some background, Medina translates to “town” and we are in the Old Medina, so old town. In Rabat, the Old Medina is what existed before the French took over in 1912. Parts of it date back to the eleventh century, but other parts are a bit more recent. “Recent” meaning somewhere between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, so recent may not be the right word after all. When the French arrived, it was pretty peaceful and the Medinas managed to stay in tact, while the French built around them creating “New Medinas” of “Ville Nouvelle”.
Abdulmajid led us through the Medina in the opposite way that we thought we should be going, and it turned out that it was! He thought that we were going to a different office, so we ended up on a bit of an adventure through parts of the Medina that we’d never seen before. We also got a glimpse of the Kasba, which is the oldest part of Rabat right next to this giant river that looks like the ocean and beach. There was also this crazy graveyard sloping down towards the water. I’ve never seen anything like it. The gravestones were basically stacked on top of each other, and crammed together all the way down this huge hill. We were talking to another volunteer about it later named Matt, and he said, “Maybe this is the American in me, but that’s just prime real estate. A graveyard seems like such a waste!”. Whether or not that’s true, it is quite an amazing sight to see all these thousands upon thousands upon thousands of gravestones overlooking this beautiful river.
We eventually made it to the Thaqafat office, after a bit of a scenic route. As Abdulmajid pointed out, we profited from the mistake since we got to see the beach. We met Karima and Fairouz at the office, who are two permanent volunteers with the organization, who got us all set up for our Morocco 101 session. Another volunteer named Emma arrived last night, so we met her at the office and had our little orientation with her today. She’s from Vancouver too, which is sip weird because the three of us are the only volunteers from Canada.
Rashid, another volunteer and the Vice President of Thaqafat, led us in our Morocco 101 lesson, going over some cultural and historical facts with us. Morocco is a bit crazy. In 1999, the current king, King Mohammed VI, came into power, and he’s led a number of reformation since then. He is very loved in the country, and I can see why. He married a commoner who grew up a couple of blocks from the Thaqafat office, and is apparently quite down to earth. Hard to know how down to earth, but people seem to like him. In 2003, he led a reformation for Women by modifying the family code. There is still some questionable content, but for the most part it’s a lot better than it was. Now women can get divorced, and are entitled to half the family’s money as well as the house, since she’s expected to take care of the kids. By Islamic law, a man can have up to four wives, but in Morocco a man must now have written permission from his first wife if he wants to marry another one. It’s better than before, for sure, but I can’t help imagining that if a man was determined to have more than one wife he could find ways to force his first wife to sign. So that’s still a little sketchy. It’s interesting because the Quaran says that a man can have four wives if he can treat them all equally, but that he will not be able to treat them equally, so there is a bit of discrepancy on what that actually means. Obviously, many men take that to mean they can have a bunch of wives, while women tend to interpret that differently. It all sounds so crazy coming from somewhere like Canada.
We also had a little talk about street harassment that was really interesting. It is really common here (don’t worry Grandma!) because men still view the street as their domain, even though women can go out now by themselves. Also, when women don’t dress modestly or according to Muslim law they are much more likely to be harassed. Islamic law says that women must cover everything except their hands and their faces, but if a man thinks his wife is particularly beautiful she must veil her face as well. Mom and I have only experienced very little harassment, like a few comments here and there, but I’ve definitely experienced way worse in Turkey and Greece and other countries like that. We’re also left alone quite a bit when we’re accompanied by Abdulmajid, which is often! He is very protective of us, and likes to make sure we know our way around and that we’re safe.
We also had a little meeting where we met all the other volunteers who are here in Rabat. I think there’s about nine of us in total. A 16-year-old Moroccan boy also came to speak with us. He has volunteered with Thaqafat for a year, which I guess is really rare in Morocco. People have a different view of volunteering, and it’s very uncommon. It was really cool hearing him talk!
Abdulmajid picked us up at 5, and walked us home. The market was ALIVE! The closer it gets to dinner the busier it gets. There was food everywhere and people everywhere. People here are very comfortable with what North Americans would call chaos. Abdulmajid actually referred to Morocco as calm earlier today, to which I had absolutely no response.
Since the day and night are so mixed up during Ramadan, mom and I had a bit of a nap, then went down at 7 for dinner. Again, it was incredible. We had muscles in our Tajine, spicy shrimp, this amazing shrimp soup, spicy little samosas, this special Ramadan cake, knob (Moroccan bread) and all sorts of things. It’s all so good and we’re instructed to “kuli, kuli, kuli!” which means “eat, eat, eat!” and I am so happy to oblige. Once again the Tv was blaring with the latest Moroccan soap opera. It’s crazy how intense the TV culture is. I haven’t seen the TV off yet. The TV they use in the main room actually sits on top of a different TV that I assume doesn’t work anymore. People don’t even necessarily watch it that intensely, but it’s always always on.
Right now Abdulmajid has gone to the Mosque, and then he’s going to come and get us to go buy a Moroccan cellphone for us at the request of the Thaqafat employees. So that will be fun! We actually see and experience way more at night, because that’s when the city is fed and alive!