Finding Culture in Morocco

One naturally would assume, upon reading a blog post title “Finding Culture in Morocco,” that we mean it in the sense of our quest to discover and explore…Moroccan culture. Indeed, as our collection of posts since last July shows, usually that is our focus which has met happily with success as we have settled into our lives here. Yet, in all our moves through Virginia to Ohio to Louisiana to Arizona, we both always felt a need to balance the enjoyment we found in adjusting to new circumstances with some measure of familiarity. Culture shock can impact more strongly, even critically so, when new surroundings seem so completely foreign that you lose your sense of you. Our school, George Washington Academy, does a superb job orienting new faculty and administrators to GWA, to Casablanca, to Morocco, and to this blend of passion and pitfalls when adjusting to new surroundings overseas. Our COO, Danielle, created an orientation program that is especially good at launching GWA newbies toward success in their new lives here. As a result, our move to Casablanca and to GWA has enriched our lives – including that of our teenage daughter, Charlotte – with the warm and welcoming people of Morocco, fantastic food, centuries of interesting history to explore hands-on, the spiritual beauty of the daily call to prayer, a tolerance of the open practice of other religions in a Muslim land, diverse climates and topography across the country, the freshest and juiciest produce we have ever enjoyed, and no shortage of animal encounters on a daily basis (from donkeys in the streets to dogs and cats that roam freely to sheep grazing in pastures to chickens that slip through our school gate and stroll around within the campus walls. (By the way, teacher friends, we are currently searching for teachers for the 2017-2018 school year. Check us out at http://www.gwa.ac.ma, and apply at http://www.gwa.ac.ma/HR.)

Despite our individual and collective family happiness with our lives here, at times we still yearn for things that we have enjoyed in other places we have lived and traveled. For example, we love going to the symphony, the theater, museums, a foodie-friendly fine dining restaurant, and such. When we told people a year ago that our next step in life’s journey would take us to Morocco, we encountered a variety of responses. “Say hello to Princess Grace for me.” No, that is Monaco on the French Mediterranean, not Morocco on the northwest corner of Africa. “Aren’t you afraid to go to a Middle East country?” Um, Morocco is a continent away from the Persian Gulf. The native Arabic dialect, Darija, is a mix of Arabic, French, Spanish, and sub-Saharan African languages like Louisiana’s Creole is a mix of French, Native American, and African languages. When we told people that Morocco is a very western-friendly country, some cautioned that we could not really know that until we arrived to experience it. Well, we arrived and experienced it, and it is a western-friendly country. Folks here may have a hang up about France – perhaps having to do with that colonialism thing – but America has been A+ on people’s lists. King Mohammed VI has pushed English instruction and fostered good relations with the U.S. for business and other interactions. Families able to travel mark New York, DC, and Florida as key destination spots. Students looking to go to school overseas consider American university options highly. The U.S. Department of State rates Morocco as one of the safer places for Americans to travel and live, as opposed to concerns that have developed about locations in Europe traditionally considered safe spots. Even in the current international political climate, we find less concern about backlash against America in Morocco than we do about whether Moroccan students wanting to go to college in America will be allowed to do so.

All that said, while we did our regular shopping today in the souks to get fresh produce, ground beef that went through the grinder on the spot for us, and freshly made kibi to bring home for dinner tonight, we also enjoyed a rather “western” weekend. Yesterday we drove Charlotte to Chile’s (yes, Casablanca has a Chile’s, as well as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and more) to meet up with people for a birthday lunch for a couple of their friends, then we circled back later to shuttle three of them over to the Morocco Mall to hang out for a while. With Charlotte deeply ensconced in teenage social life, we headed back home to get ready for an evening outing of our own. Our friends Abdellah and Najet, who after adopting us last Fall then joined us with their kids for the Thanksgiving dinner covered in a earlier blog post, invited us to their home for dinner and then to a concert by L’Orchestre Philharmique du Maroq (the Morocco Philharmonic Orchestra) in a beautiful 80 year old concert hall in downtown Casablanca. With its ornate finishings, the French Protectorate era concert hall could have been a concert hall in Paris or London or New York. Eighty-five year old Abdellah, an opera lover, told us of his first time coming to this venue at age 18 when he heard Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Last night’s Philharmonic concert featured Mozart as well, along with Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Paganini, and Ysaye, and featured several guest violin soloists from Germany, France, and the U.S. Following last night’s classical music fix, to add to our Moroccan western binge we decided on a whim after our shopping today to lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Ristorante Italiano. (Yes, we could not resist an Italian restaurant named Italian Restaurant in Italian.) The food was spectacular, the atmosphere superb, and the service spot on. Audrey had a burrata anti-pasta and gamberi e zucchine risotto. Brian had a perfectly al dente fresh-made linguini alla bolognese, followed by a pollo scallopini in salsa dI senape with rice and mushrooms sautéed in thyme. The only thing that did not remind us of eating a “fine dining” meal in Rome or back in the States: the check that beat what such a meal would cost elsewhere by at least half! As we spoiled ourselves further with a terrific tiramisu, we considered the merits of bringing our next visitors back for a good Italian meal after giving them a solid introduction to Moroccan culture and life.

Both with last night’s concert and today’s lunch, we reveled in a bit of western culture high brow fun. We love living in Morocco, and part of loving living here is that we can straddle western and Moroccan cultures as we wish. We do not know how many years we will stay in Morocco, nor how much “western” we will retain over time, but for now we find ourselves quite comfortable as Americans living here with an appreciation for our new home and its provision to us of enough other comforts to feel not too far from our old home.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

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