Main menu:

Site Search


Recent Posts

Similar Posts

Most Popular

Recent Comments



Seeing Morocco

Fez, September 9, 2009. Click image to see a larger version.

I think I’m “seeing Morocco” more now that I’ve stayed several weeks in one spot, with a friend’s family in one small corner of Fez, than I did in the early weeks when I was traveling all over the place, visiting large cities and isolated towns. “The more distance one covers, the less one sees” is a paradox—and so is what I’m saying now, that the crude particularities of a few people’s lives may say more about the general landscape of Morocco than all the documentaries, sociological studies, reportages and historical commentaries put together. Of course, I risk falling into what the pollsters call “sampling error” and drawing conclusions wildly out of sync with the whole; but despite the blinkered horizons of personal experience, I have the advantage of irreducibility: I know that what I’ve seen with my own eyes really does exist, while “the whole,” an illusion conjured up with words, may not.

So here are a few details I noticed today on my way to the café. In the steep spiral staircase that leads from my friend’s apartment to the street (the stairs, made of concrete, are of uneven height), a child was screaming. Last month this same child, or another, screamed for hours on end, piteously and implacably; but lately he’s been much calmer, so today was a reversion to the bad old days. At the bottom of the stairs I greeted a large-waisted matron, wrapped in a bundle of assorted fabrics, who was leaving her apartment with a tray of freshly kneaded dough on her way to the public oven. On the sidewalk outside I saw a tiny boy with a backpack one third his size, on his way home from school; a knot of customers outside a shop that sells basic staples (eggs, flour, oil, soap, bottled gas) and nothing more; and grains of wheat spread on a metal tray, left in a doorway to dry in the sun. Turning the corner I passed the same dusty yellow buildings I pass every morning (in Fez most buildings are a shade of ochre, just as in Marrakech they are a shade of rose) through a neighborhood that has nothing special about it, being neither a shantytown nor a district of villas—except that it’s home to an unusual number of car mechanics, most of them teenagers, working in primitive garages not one of which is equipped with a hydraulic lift, or any device more sophisticated than a welding torch. As I turned the last corner on my way to the café, threading my way up the alley past cars in various states of repair, an apprentice mechanic ran past me on an errand, taller than his age, gangly limbs flailing.

The café itself is the humblest in the neighborhood, with ten tables outside, another two or three in the dingy interior. Its clients are old and young men with nothing to do, petty officials reading newspapers, mechanics and vendors on their work break, and a couple of neighborhood eccentrics. At first this café depressed me because it seemed like a relic, a place stuck in time; but now I like it for the same reasons. Besides, summer is over and the paralyzing stupor of the sun has changed into something milder: a gentle nostalgia, perhaps, of the sort old men share when reflecting on the surrender of their youthful hopes. Such nostalgia may not have the dynamic ring of “democratic transition” or “sustainable development,” the slogans that are used to build the new Morocco; but it has the virtue of being authentic, and despite its sadness and regret, it is not without charm.


Comment from yahia
Time: October 10, 2009, 11:39

It’s not without charm to whom?

Comment from eatbees
Time: October 11, 2009, 14:50

Yahia, I’d venture to guess that the author of the piece is offering a personal opinion here ^^

Comment from Vago
Time: November 7, 2009, 12:15

Hi. Love your blog. Just wanted to let you know that I featured your blog a few days ago on so that more people can check it out.

Morocco blogs is still growing, but if you ever want to do a guest post there, I think it would be fantastic.

Thanks again for taking the time and effort to make a great blog.

All the best,


Comment from eatbees
Time: November 16, 2009, 08:55

Vago, thanks for the mention on your blog, and for letting me know about it. I checked it out, and your selections from here are well chosen! Sorry it took me so long to reply, but I just finished moving into a new apartment in Fez. Good luck to you on the Moroccoblogs project. Keep in touch!

Comment from morocco
Time: November 30, 2009, 13:17

nice blog.

All the best,

Write a comment