So many people come to Morocco and fall head over heels in love. I did. I came here and knew within days that I would be associated in some way with this country for a long time to come. I know many people have done the same. Maybe they were not lucky enough to find the exact right people and places and things to line up with their lives that would facilitate beautiful relationships and a move here to start a new life. But I don’t have to look farther than Facebook to find a whole lot of people that are head over heels in love with this place. My situation is not uncommon. I know a lot of women who have made Morocco home. I know a lot of women who would like to make Morocco home. So what is it about this place?
I have written before about the people. About the Berbers and the Berber culture. I have made no secret of my heart cracking wide open in this place. I came back to pursue not only a business but to continue on the path of knowing some beautiful people and keeping those people in my life. Close to my heart. But still, it’s this country that has made those people who they are. It’s the culture that has crafted what I hold most dear today. So for the past 8 months I have looked and listened and tried to work out what it is about the culture/place/people. What is that special quality? Specifically. Is it the moms and dads that have raised beautiful children? Is it the nomadic lifestyle? The tribal structure? The ancient languages and traditions and craftsmanship? Yes. It is many of those things. It is all of those things. But there is also a condition that exists in this country that allows you to SEE all that. To meet someone and within a few short weeks know that you are fused to that soul. There is a condition that exists that permits your heart to open up and take it all in.
It’s simple. It’s simplicity. It’s the condition the west strives to get back to. But never will. Facebook memes about it. Bloggers blog about it. Simplify. Less is more. Have less and be happy. It’s just simple. Morocco is simple in so may ways that simply allow us to see so much more than we are ever actually allowed to see in the west.
Allow me to illustrate.
I play this game with myself all the time. This is how x is done. Simple. And because of that here are all the things that don’t need to exist in support of the way WE do things in the west.
Traffic Circles: Morocco is riddled with traffic circles. There are rules. I see them clearly now but if you refer back to January in this blog you will know that it’s daunting at first. It occurred to me the other day, passing through a traffic circle at a critical turn in the road leading to several different destinations in the middle of NOWHERE, that the traffic circle is the simple answer to no traffic lights.
Traffic lights require installation, a charge, material, maintenance, repair, timing, settings. Traffic circles require a universal design. Done.
Roadside Comfort: Along the toll roads you will find service stations that are pretty advanced with clean toilets, lots of snacks, fast food service, a place to pray, full service gas stations. They are on one side of the road, so you access it from an overpass (like Dead Mans Flats Albertans). In populated Canada we have them on two sides of the road, because they are corporations – more stores = more revenue, more jobs, more managers, more stuff, more services, more growth. In many places in the interior of Morocco the service stations offer clean toilets, some chips and snacks, coffee and tagine. The farther in you go the simpler they become and the fewer there are. I’ve been on the road and driven HOURS without seeing anything more than a one horse town and some outdoor markets. And don’t even bother looking for a map in these places, because no. Just no.
Hotels: You can spend a lot of money for western luxury in Morocco. You are welcome to visit the Four Seasons (ha – shout out guys!) and you can find some pretty fancy riads with all the luxuries. In and around the cities. Especially in the northern cities where the wealthy live. But if you are heading out of the price range/market/city, you are going to find some really lovely, but really really basic accommodations. Here are some of the things that you will not find in most small guest houses in Morocco: towels (or any more than one hand towel), soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers, heat or lamps. You will find a clean room with a really comfortable bed, warm blankets and clean sheets. A nice shower. A western toilet. And maybe a belligerent donkey if you are lucky. Or a rooster or two. Or the ocean. They don’t have daily or weekly “shipments” to the loading dock where the storeman comes and does inventory and distributes stuff around the place. They don’t have lamps for your reading pleasure before bed. There is a light. Period. There is no heat because – retrofitting, distribution, utilities, maintenance, repairs and so on. No heat, just gorgeous thick blankets. Bring a jacket. You will be fine.
Food: If it needs to be handled it does not exist here. I bought vanilla extract in Canada because if you want vanilla here you get a stick of it. You can buy chickpeas, garlic and lemon but you can not buy hummus. And definitely not 18 different kinds of hummus produced by three different brands in its own refrigerated section. You can buy walnuts for next to nothing in the medina and they are shelled, but the “septum”(?) still remains, so you need to pick at them. Same with fish bones and chicken bones. Moroccans cook their food. They buy it, prepare it, and eat it together. With their hands. It is not packaged. It is not treated. It is real. And *gasp* you have to touch it and pay attention to it in order to consume it.
Restaurants: If you go fancy you will get a menu but in many places there are no menus. Because – translation, printing, changes, wear and tear. A chalkboard can be seen by all, or wait a minute – take a moment and talk to the server. Desert will be fruit in season, that comes from the local market when the owner goes there to buy it. No delivery trucks, refrigeration, orders and invoicing. No chefs and sous chefs and line cooks. Just the owner in the kitchen with a vegetable peeler. If you are in a Riad tell him at noon what you want and when you want it and dinner will be fresh and hot and delicious. And after diner they will do the dishes by hand because there are no dishwashers.
Marketing and Advertising: In Morocco you will occasionally find an enterprising westerner who has gone to the only printer in town and had a banner made to hang from a roof, weighted down by sand filled water bottles tied to the corners. Buildings have a bunch of sign plates announcing the occupants and fancier stores and shops have signage. The rest of the country – look inside and find out what’s there. If it’s filled with electronics it’s probably an electronics store. No signage needed, no one to install the signage, no naming of the business, name search, accountants and lawyers. Just a store and a man. And water bottles in their shipping plastic. And used water bottles filled with honey, olive oil, soap, Argan oil. No packaging, no labelling, no ingredients or calorie counts, no two official languages with the font precisely placed in the correct proportion. Just product and bottle.
The walls are free from advertising. There is no signage for the latest BMW or movie starring Jenna Elfman (really? THAT’s who came first to my mind? Darma?) The walls are blank. Or free for art. The sky is clear from signs. The roads are just roads. The table in your restaurant has only what you need to eat. The toilets have no little signs or electronic boards. The streets are clear of discarded flyers. There are no little daily Metro papers with upcoming events and ads and stories. If you want to do something in the cafe, talk to your neighbour. If you want to learn some local information, ask a local. While you are driving along the roads for hours you are not distracted. You have to see the nomads, and the caves, and landscape. There is nothing else to look at. At the beach there are no signs of warning limiting someone’s liability. There are no coupons to be clipped. Buses are buses. Taxis are blank cars. There is no meeting room where account managers meet to impress the boss by coming up with the last available surface on earth that can be wrapped or painted with some clever message to make people buy something they really don’t need.
It’s simple. There are no distractions. When you come here you have to speak to people. You have to have conversations. You have to look out the window and see the animals and the people. And when you do you will notice three men sitting on the side of the road in the middle nowhere, drinking tea together and laughing out loud. Because their boss isn’t standing over them with union demands, and work quotas, and performance discussions and human resources announcements and advancement opportunities. Because it’s simple. If you want to make a buck, you work. If you don’t work you don’t make a buck. If you want to buy a pot at the local store you have a choice of two locals store and three pots. No shopping malls, no Le Creuset to heat your vegetables, no Cuisinart lines to choose from. Just go – buy a pot – cook in it. And then sit with the people you love the most and have a conversation with them while you eat.
Because it’s truly simple. It’s real. All the stuff we have invented in the west has not cluttered up the place. My mind is free to look, to see, to talk, to discuss, to plan, to invent, to feel, to love, to be, to help, to learn. It’s simple. That’s why I love it so.