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Morocco: Past and Present

Sep 4

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9/4/2010 2:11 PM  RssIcon

Morocco: Past and Present By Easter Khaw

The air in Morocco is crisp and clean. I feel like I hadn't breathed before I stepped foot on this continent. This is my first foray overseas, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but Morocco -- so steeped in history and tradition, change and modernization -- thrills me beyond my wildest dreams. After hours in the air, I hardly feel prepared for an extended drive, but the company is pleasant and the scenes are mesmerizing. I'm particularly enthralled by the buildings that pepper the sides of the highway. Some have obviously withstood the test of time; others have only just begun construction. In my cookie cutter streets with my cookie cutter houses, I'd never seen such an array of vibrant hues, the houses accentuated by the wind-drying, multi-colored attire of their inhabitants. 
 
The nearest restaurant is a short walk away and right on the beach. I see a prominent display of a painting of a Western man preparing for a day of surfing. From my balcony seat, I overlook the waves lapping on the shore and the children laughing as they run about. Scarved and veiled women whisper secrets to each other as they carefully step amongst the rocks. I order something off the menu -- it's in French, which I have very little hope of decoding -- but I'm pleased to discover that despite the language barriers, the waiter brings me a wonderfully sweet honeyed crepe. He seems to forgive my lack of understanding. My courage and curiosity have been rewarded, and I happily dig into my my dessert-turned-dinner as bees take to polishing off my canned soda. Delicious.
 
Once the meal ends, nothing stands between me and the wide, blue ocean. The wind has been softly beckoning me for some time. I find myself awed by the harmonious meeting of rocks, sand, and water, and I try to keep myself from blinking so that I can preserve the image -- the feel of the breeze wafts over the sea as the sun sets in the distance, sending off one last burst of light over the waters as it settles in for the night. The beautiful tranquility brings quiet to my soul.
 
I find myself traveling again -- this time, by train. Miles of Moroccan landscape pass by in moments as I stare fixated out of my window. The land teems with life and color, but the ultimate destination lies in the heart of Fes -- in the medina. I know it is a city in miniature; despite the introduction of some modern technologies, the culture within the medina has remained largely unchanged for centuries. Built to be resistant to invading armies, the city streets loop and narrow, twist and turn so that outsiders have little hope of navigating the maze. 
 
I have heard so many stories, I can hardly believe that such a larger than life place can truly exist. Yet suddenly I stand just outside the sometime-blue, sometime-green arched entrance of what has become, to me, almost myth. We have arrived somewhat early and the medina still blinks sleep out of its eyes. A dozen or more people and a handful of cats mill around just inside, but, given the wide entryway and large foyer, I almost begin to doubt the stories of the city's complexity. However the depth of the medina, only just visible from my vantage point, quickly douses the doubt. 
 
The tour guide, a scholarly young man with a lighthearted nature, reminds us once more to stay close; he jokes that, if any from our party were to lose the way, the lost party need only stay in place and would no doubt be located in a year or two. I struggle to keep up, determined not to lose sight of my guide, as we weave through the cobbled streets, past the dwellings and neighborhoods where some locals spend their entire lives. It seems to me to be a nearly endless maze of markets, each with its own specialty. I enter worlds of leather, fabrics, scarves, metal, bread and meat, every world seemingly independent of the other planets orbiting just around the corner. 
 
We are obviously foreign to this time-locked city, but no one seems perturbed by our presence. They have learned to deal with the influx of outsiders and despite our minimal cultural and linguistic knowledge, sales take place and bargains are made. Every now and again, I catch a glimpse of what life must be like entirely within the walls of the medina. Small school-aged children demonstrate their knowledge of and insight into the Qur’an. Young and old men ply their trades as their ancestors no doubt did in generations past. The devout worship and gather in the plentiful mosques. Ordinary citizens -- extraordinary in my eyes -- go about their daily lives oblivious to any intrusion made by the present
 
In Morocco, past and present are present together; it is a multifarious land, at once a relic and an indication of changing times, steeped in personal heritage and pervaded by the outside world. Only in such a place could such diversity coexist in such fascinating harmony.


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