African roots and oriental traditions of Morocco

African roots and oriental traditions of Morocco

After moving from France to Morocco, our guide Catherine had a long time to get used to the new country. “Why did I end up in Africa?” – she thought, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry and entering Tangier. Sixteen years later, Catherine recommends coming to Morocco if only to see a completely different world, with its own smells, colors and atmosphere. She told us how close it is from Africa to Europe, why a night in the Sahara is comparable to going into space and why Morocco is a country for slow travel.

Long live the king!

“Morocco is like a tree whose roots are rooted in African soil and whose leaves breathe European air,” said King Hassan II, the predecessor of the current ruler Mohammed VI. Morocco lives by tradition, but does not abandon modern technology. It is a kingdom ruled by the second longest reigning dynasty in world history after Japan. The King is adored in the country and quite deservedly so – Mohammed VI does for the poor what no one has done in Morocco before him. For example, he practically solved the problem of slums. If someone did not move into a modern apartment, it was only of his own free will. The next step of social transformation was education and health care. Every year Morocco becomes more democratic.

Women are honored and family comes first

Women’s rights are not discriminated against in Morocco, on the contrary. There are women in parliament, there are women ministers. In Marrakech, the new mayor is now a woman. In Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, there are many women in all kinds of professions. Many women’s cooperatives have sprung up, from handicrafts to argan oil production. If a woman wants a job, she will always find one. The question is whether she wants to work, because she has enough to do – children, family, home.

Berbers and the Berber Language

Berbers are a large ethnic group in northern Africa. They are many nationalities, very different in appearance even within the same country. In northern Morocco, many have fair skin and blue eyes, and their national costumes resemble Ukrainian or Belarusian. In the Sahara there are Tuaregs, dark-haired, thin, white-toothed. And they, too, are Berbers. There is a village of Berber Amazighs in the High Atlas Mountains. In Berber families it is customary to have many children, but things are difficult with education, despite the fact that it is compulsory. Often boys leave school before they have completed their education and go to trade in the markets. A few years ago, the Berber language was made official along with Arabic. It is mainly spoken in the central and northern parts of the country. Not all Moroccans understand Berber, also from the fact that different regions have different dialects. The Berber alphabet is not similar to Arabic or Latin. It is based on the ancient Libyan script, derived from the heavily modified Phoenician alphabet, and some letters are very similar to the Cyrillic alphabet.

Land of Crafts

Moroccans are great inventors of patterns, shapes, and color combinations. Different regions have different crafts. In one they paint paintings, in another they sculpt ceramics, and somewhere – fabrics, scarves, tablecloths. By the pattern of a rug you can tell where it was woven. Embroidery in each region is also different. And, of course, it’s all handmade. There are factories in Morocco, too, but it is still not a manufacturing country, but an artisan country. The state supports artisans. Their workshops are often opened in former caravanserais.

The sun rose – good, the sun set – also good.

Friendly and open-minded, the Moroccans live by the principle “the sun has risen – good, the sun has set – also good. If you’re on time – good, if you’re late – also good. Therefore, they are not very good at planning here. The Moroccans have their own sense of the passage of time: they say “I will be here soon,” but it is not clear when it will be soon. The word “no” in the country does not exist at all by definition. They agree with everything, but you never know when “yes” is “yes” and when “yes” is “no”.

Listen and do it your way

Moroccans will not adjust to anyone – they listen to everyone, but they do things their own way. Very polite, correct and attentive, but in their own way. I remember a funny story. Once I bought a beautiful knitted vest that turned out to be too big for me. I took it to get it cut, and when I came back, it turned out that the craftsman had done nothing. I asked why, and he said: “Maybe you changed your mind, why would I do that? I asked him to sew the vest a second time, he promised to do everything, but again did nothing. I explained again and showed him how to do it. I came back the third time, and he did it his way. I said, “Why did you do it that way? – “That’s better.” And so in everything. You don’t have to try to change the Moroccan’s mind, because he will do it his way anyway. You have to take it for granted.

The four Moroccan seasons

Morocco is a country of four seasons. And you can catch them almost simultaneously. For example, in December in Marrakech during the day about 24-26 degrees, but at night the temperature can drop by half and it will be very cool. The ski season is in full swing in Oukaymeden, 80km from Marrakech, around Fez and Michlifen. And a real winter, as it should be, with snow and Christmas trees. Sometimes the roads are even blocked because they are covered with snow. At the same time to the south, for example in Dakhlu will be quite hot summer and 28-30 degrees. So it turns out that in one day in Morocco, you can catch summer, fall, winter and spring.

Space in the desert

No matter how long the road to the desert is, to travel through Morocco and not visit the Sahara is an unfortunate omission. The first impression of it is incredible! Even the most vivid photos will not convey these cosmic landscapes. The sands do not begin immediately. First you pass a part of the stony desert, which is the dried out bottom of the ancient ocean Tethys. Then you drive into the desert and realize that there is no one there. Absolutely no one. The Sahara is like space. You feel it especially clearly at night, when the stars are low and it seems as if you can reach the sky with your hand. You lie on the carpet, lie down as a star and look into the abyss above your head. The desert is immense, the space is endless and the feeling of reconnection with the universe is very personal, akin to meditation.

Sandstorms and heavy rains

We once caught a sandstorm in the desert and I couldn’t sleep the entire night because I was afraid our tents would be blown away. It worked out, but since then I check the weather forecast for sandstorms every time I go out. Another time we didn’t make it to the campsite because of the heaviest of heavy rains. We stayed on one bank and couldn’t get to the other because a small stream had turned into a real river. We had to wait two nights for the water to clear. A wall of rain is very typical of Morocco. There is no such thing as a little drizzle and then it stops. You will never meet a Moroccan with an umbrella, because the rain is a blessing. Very often it rains at night, and in the morning the sun looks out and that’s it – as if a faucet had been shut off.

Couscous and tagine

Couscous is a traditional Moroccan dish, but not the main course, but rather a Friday dish when a large family gathers around one table. Another popular dish is tagine. In general, tagine is a massive ceramic pot, but so is called the dish that is cooked in it. Ingredients are placed in the tagine and stewed for a long time without adding broth. There are many variations of cooking: somewhere tajin with meat, somewhere – with fish, and somewhere – just vegetables. Every region has its own recipe. For example, tajin with fish is cooked on the coast. The best gastronomy, in my opinion, is in Fez. Everything in Morocco is delicious everywhere, but especially in Fez.

Tea rituals

Tea is a special ritual in Morocco. It is made in the same way, but it tastes different from region to region. And also depending on the season. Peppermint tea is mainly drunk in the summer, because mint tones up, and in winter – tea with verbena or other warming herbs. They always put a lot of sugar in the tea, so that the spoon stands up. Even if asked not to put sugar, the tea may still be sweetened because Moroccans simply have no idea how one can drink it without sugar.

Argan oil – both cosmetics and food

Morocco is the only country where argan oil is extracted. Argan oil has been tried in other countries, but the tree does not take root anywhere else. In Morocco, they are mainly grown in the Agadir and Essaouira area. The soil here is special – red earth, it has a lot of copper. Argan oil is used in cosmetology and cooking. Moreover, it is the same oil, just of different processing. For cosmetic purposes, the grains are not subjected to heat treatment, unlike in food, so the oil is given a nutty flavor.

Not just hiking trails

The main tourist destinations in Morocco are the coast of Agadir, Marrakech, Fez and, of course, Casablanca. But there is another country, no less distinctive and interesting, which many people just do not get to. For example, in the south in Ouarzazate, it seems that it is not Morocco at all. Even the landscapes there are different, some cosmic. In general, in Morocco you should not mix more than two or three cities at a time. This is a country for slow travel. Here you want to stop and breathe, to soak up these smells, colors and atmosphere in general.

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