Morocco's Lessons

It's 11:00am in Rabat on Monday January 7th, 2013 and I'm sitting on the terrace of our riad (guesthouse) while Asif is napping after an interrupted sleep last night. I'm enjoying the direct heat from the sun up above and the plus 18 forecast with solely sunny skies. We just enjoyed the best Moroccan breakfast we have ever had, topped with homemade yogurt in cute glass jars and fruit to take with us for the day ahead. We have 2 final days in Rabat before heading back to the reality that awaits us and we intend to enjoy every last minute.

I have been humbled over the past two weeks with the people we've met and the experiences we've had. In order to preserve these memories and to also keep me sane when facing troubled times back home, I wanted to blog about them and hopefully give others an insight into the beauty of traveling with an open mind.

A Quartet of Quran Reciters

We arrived back at our riad around 9:30pm last night and while getting ready for bed, we heard a quartet of men's voices reciting what sounded like the Quran. It was hard to fall asleep with the beautiful voices echoing around our rooftop room, so we lay awake listening and trying to grasp Arabic words we knew. We then came to realize that this group of men were indeed reciting from the Quran, but as a group of men rather than a single qari, which is what we are used to. Their voices were enchantingly beautiful...some men would jump in and emphasize certain words while the main reciter in a bass voice kept reciting non-stop. But the speed and beauty with which they recited was beautiful...they gave the Quran the due time and respect it deserves, rather than rattling through multiple chapters during a night of Taraweeh prayers. We stayed up until the concert was done and then fell asleep.

Moroccan Warmth

We can't forget all the people we have met over the past two week, Muslim and non-Muslim. Apart from our own circle of friends back home, I have never met such humble and open Muslims before. Thanks to the conservative nature of Calgary Muslim men, I am now scared to approach anyone who looks like they are religious...such as an Imam who dons a long beard, kulfi hat, and wears a long abaya. However, in Morocco, some of the warmest and most humble people have been such conservative looking people! Our cab driver yesterday in Marrakech fit this bill. Yet he engaged openly with both of us, and laughed to a point of crying when Asif told him he picked an orange from a tree and ate it, and was shocked at how sour it was. The driver wiped away tears of laughter at this story, stating that these oranges are not meant for eating. It was too funny. He warmly bid us bon voyage as we departed his cab. Another instance was in a mosque in Marrakech. I was waiting outside while Asif prayed when another conservative looking Muslim picked up Asif's shoes from the entrance and went back into the mosque. I told him in Arabic-French that my husband was praying inside and he smiled warmly at me, signalling that he had placed his shoes beside him. He put his hand to his heart and said "Mas-Salaama"as he walked away. I thanked him and stood there stunned. Wow, this would not happen in Calgary. And I can give many more examples of this down to earth humble manner that Morrocan Muslim men possess, but I think you get the idea.

Which leads me to say how friendly Muslims are to one another and complete strangers, regardless of what faith they belong to. We saw numerous examples of this over the past two weeks. I was carrying my suitcase down a flight of stairs at the Rabat train station when I lost my balance. My left hand flew out to my side (for some reason) and there happened to be a middle-age gentleman walking up the stairs at that moment. My hand grasped the sleeve of his arm and I was able to regain my balance and not plunge down 15 marble stairs, head first. He stopped to ask how I was and I thanked him (and God) for putting him there when I needed him. Also, on our train ride from Marrakech to Rabat yesterday, there was a Moroccan standing behind us, and he actually didn't look too well. I was going to ask him if he was ok when all of a sudden he fainted onto the floor of the train. A host of men rushed forward, one grabbing water from a lady and splashing it on his face and opening is mouth to trickle some in. The gentleman was sat on a seat and I actually asked around if anyone had any chocolate, since I had fainted in the past from low blood sugar. A women hauled out a bar of chocolate and gave him a piece while he sat and tried to prevent himself from falling asleep. Everyone around him was concerned about his wellbeing and continued to check on him for the duration of his train ride. Alhamdulillah he was OK and said he was just tired and hot. And a few hours before this, a little girl threw up in the aisle of the train carriage. A mom was trying to clean up and tend to her daughter when a stranger two rows back went up to her, grabbed the tissues from her, and cleaned up the mess on all fours. It was extremely humbling to see him do this. I have yet to see the same care and compassion in Calgary, let alone our own community.

The Abaya

And then there's the whole abaya issue we face in Calgary. Apparently, wearing the abaya (the long sleeved black robe donned by some Muslim women) in Calgary is equal to being religious, and abayas are only reserved for those women who wear the hijab. In Morocco, this is certainly not the case. Almost all women, regardless of wearing the hijab, wear the abaya...some out on the street, others at home. Some wear the hijab and some don't. And some who wear the hijab wear it on the streets, but not at work or elsewhere. And some who wear hijab dress Western and some who don't also do! There's such an eclectic mix of women here and you walk freely without being judged, it's incredible. The hijab is fluid, it's evolving, and for once I see women not tying it tightly around their choked necks...I actually see hair with the hijab and that's ok. I really think that Moroccan women understand that the hijab is not absolute. I may want to wear while on the streets and in the mosque, but at work, I may choose not to because I am comfortable around my coworkers. It's a beautiful thing and the best part about this is that outwardly looks are not equated with inner spirituality.

Speaking of abayas, I have seen very few women wear the colour black in Morocco. Muslims here are not afraid to wear colour. I see lemony lime abayas, neon fuschia and bold blue, and not to mention the orangest of oranges topped off with bold pink embroidery. THAT'S how abayas should be worn, people. But thanks to Saudi influence, we have a host of black smeared across our community. Who wants to pray wearing black, especially when you're supposed to be joyous and exalted towards Allah? I certainly don't feel that way when I wear such a gloomy colour. Yet the peer pressure of the Arab women in the community continues to force us to wear it. Well...not me anyway.

Love and Affection

Muslim married couples also show much love and affection towards one another. Even the simple act of holding hands in public is so common here...I rarely see that in Calgary among Muslims. Or when we've gone to eat lunch or drink tea, we see many couples taking time for one another. Some sit side by side and share laughter and stories, while others are engaged in debates which ultimately still end up in laughter. Men carry heavy shopping bags for women and look extremely attuned to the needs of their wives. They bargain at the market for the pair of shoes their wives want. It's amazing and beautiful. I am sure this beauty exists among married Muslim couples in Calgary, but I rarely see it. There's nothing wrong with appropriate displays of affection between husband and wife...let's drop the formal facade!

Simplicity is the Key

I'm not sure if it's traveling that does this, but I tend to simplify life when I'm abroad. All of a sudden, when and what I eat doesn't matter, I wear the same clothes 2 days in a row, food tastes amazingly better, and the sun feels warmer. It's part psychology no doubt, but also the fact that the West (and some of the East, of course) is quite materialistic based and focused on "getting ahead" that way. When I look back at some of the outfits I donned while abroad, I wondered if I'd ever wear those combinations back home...although there's no reason not to! Why am I so picky then?! Who gives a crap what I wear?! I need to remember this when I'm back home. And the fact is that fashion trends come and go, and Lululemon will always claim that they've invented better clothing for hot yoga. It's the way things go and how companies make you want more. I want to break that cycle and become immune to the bombardment of the capitalistic market back home. We don't need to own a home right away, I don't need the latest Pandora bracelet charm and I'd like to recycle my clothes for years to come, thank you very much. And for the cost of Seven jeans, I could easily buy seven pairs elsewhere! I must become immune!

Our Hospitable Hosts

We were blessed to have stayed at five different riads during our stay, and got to know them quite well during our time at each guest house. Hesham was our first friend in Rabat, then a French couple in Oualidia, another French couple in Essaouira, a not very hospitable guy Yusuf in Marrakech (I found most people here to be a little more rough around the edges), and Benoit, another French immigrant whose riad in Rabat we loved the most. They were all incredibly warm and helpful and tended to all of our needs without us even asking. We are glad we didn't stay at any hotels during our trip since it wouldn't even feel Moroccan at a hotel, as it's not as homey or hospitable. We'll miss the breakfasts outside in the sun and the Moroccan msemens (delicious flaky and chewy pancakes!), along with hot coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. The rooms were all uniquely Moroccan in their own way and have inspired me to want to duplicate this rustic yet contemporary flair for our own home.

So the point of all this? That if you can travel, then you should take every opportunity to do so! And not just to the popular touristy destinations (i.e. Hawaii, Mexico, other fun in the sun locations!)...go out of your comfort zone and look into unique cultural experiences where you don't speak the language! I truly think you learn a lot when your limits are tested a little and things are quite different than what you're used to. But don't get me wrong, we had our fair share of annoying market vendors bark at us to come to their stall or get angry at us when we talked away in disgust with the inflated price they were offering us. But then again, you laugh and learn and go with the flow.

We look forward to traveling in Morocco again, perhaps with our child(ren) (InshaAllah!).


  1. ur blog leaves me in tears of yearning for such a place other this north american capitalistic fascist racist materialistic cold-hearted unsympathetic celebrity-loving geoengineered culture-lacking uncaring unkind godless righteous-wannabes immoral alcoholic, ego-istic etc etc etc society. May God bless these beautiful countries and keep them pure and pristine. i am glad to hear what you experienced and especially your new outlook on consumerism...


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