Posted by: alcrabat | 16 April 2010


By: John McCarroll, 1st Year ALC Teacher

I have a strange relationship with Morocco. I recently realized that I’ve spent over a year of my life here, quite enjoyably and satisfactorily, without ever feeling at all at like I come close to belonging.  Clearly, physically, linguistically, and culturally, I’m not Moroccan, a reality that is constantly emphasized by nearly all of my interactions with Moroccans. This is not a bad thing, of course, it’s just exhausting being simultaneously the center of attention WHEREVER I go and at the same time having everyone I meet make it clear how foreign I am. (My favorite response so far- Being informed in Arabic that I need to learn Berber to make a storekeeper happy.)

To date, there are only two events that make me feel at home here, and only for a brief moment in time. The first of these events is a fight. Luckily, I live in the Medina, and fights happen a lot- good for me, not so great for the male population from ages 15-45. A fight can happen at any time, especially when it’s hot. Instantly, all eyes on the street are aimed unswervingly on the pugilistic spectacle unfolding, everyone rushes to capture the greatest of all free street drama. From the first threats to the contestants being dragged off by their friends (or rarely, the police), I am gloriously invisible. I can do whatever I want without the batting of an eye. For me, a fight is my best chance to explore the world on my terms. Even the noise of a fight several streets over is pure music to my nazarine ears –  at the first shouted curses in Arabic, the slap of flesh on flesh, or the histrionic moans of the losers, everyone finds an excuse to walk over and rubberneck, leaving me to shop for my vegetables in peace. I’ve come to look forwards to fights so much that I’m worried about the moral consequences of my bloodlust in regards to my actual human relationships here, yet all my moralizing vanishes in the face of my joy at anger, and my loss of elation whenever I see friends let bygones be bygones and cooler heads prevail.

However great the freedom from attention fights provide feels, being ignored is not the same as feeling like I belong. To accomplish this mammoth feat, there needs to be a disruption to the fabric of life that shocks all of the residents of the Medina, from the gawky American teachers, to the old ghreif-vendresses, out of their routines. While I’m sure a volcano, a plague of locusts, or even a quartet of mutated turtles would do nicely, my best luck has come from the occasional spectacle of a busload of Korean, Japanese, or Chinese tourists that venture into the Souks. Before you judge, let me explain- Medina dwellers treat Asian tourists in the exact same way I would treat a six-foot tall talking flamingo- a mixture of awe and surprise, coupled with a sure knowledge that the creature can not be in its own element. I’ve seen wizened grandmothers reach out and touch Korean babies in sheer wonderment, seemingly unable to believe that they are really in the presence of a being that ranks with the unicorn or Bigfoot himself in terms of mystery. Although I sympathize with the tourists, who are, almost always far more lost than I have ever been, I can’t help but relish their company. People who only walk slowly past me and look out the corner of their eyes when I speak my polite Frerabic stop and gather to hear Japanese teenagers try to buy babouches in broken English, with shopkeepers who only know one through ten, please and tanks.

When there are Asian tourists in the Medina, I am instantly an honorary Moroccan, one who has the strange gift of talking with the Asiatic invaders. My skills at leading tourists to the front gates, or to hotels, or even to a section of the Medina that sells things other than cows feet never fails to earn me a head nod or a thankful labess. Perhaps the greatest gift Asians have provided me isn’t thanks or accolades. Instead, it is just the pleasures of being in on a joke- like when I saw a seventeen year old Korean girl literally run screaming back to her bus after being confronted by a syringe-waving henna artist at the Hassan Tower.  The artist simply turned around, looked me in the eye, and shared a laugh with me, a brief flicker of human connection, albeit from an unlikely and terrified source, that reminded me, just why I decided to travel in the first place.



  1. John,

    You are ever the entertainer. Thank you for this excellent contribution. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re always an outsider. It’s magnified, of course, when you’re in the villages, not just in Morocco, but in nearly anyplace outside Europe and North America or Oceania. It can be a blessing and a curse, right? Anyway, you can enjoy relative anonymity when you go back home and are no longer on stage.

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