Friday, May 28, 2010


Lately I’ve been thinking about what the big differences are between Morocco and home. As I’ll be headed back to the US soon, I’ve started to imagine what reverse culture shock I’ll have when I get home. One of the big differences that I experience everyday is the street culture. I do a lot of walking here and am constantly bothered by the noisy diesel motorcycles (the most common kind are old Peugeot motorcycles that you have to pedal to get started or to go up hill), the honking cars, motorists’ lack of regard for pedestrians, and endless construction that forces one to change one’s route almost on a weekly basis. Rabat is undergoing a citywide transformation and the construction projects are everywhere. From one day to the next entire street corners are uplifted, sidewalks are closed, and whole sections of the street are forced to give way to the power of the jackhammer. This is done with no official warning to motorists. Plus, it seems that focus is on beginning as many projects as possible, with the goal of finishing put on the sidelines. The only project I’ve seen finished was the bike path and sidewalk on a main strip leading to the old medina. It came out quite nice. There is a special lane for bikes, and lots of fancy pedestrian crossing signs. However, most of the projects, including the sub Kasbah tunnel and Salé-Rabat tramline don’t look like they’ll be finished for years. It’s wonderful that Rabat is undergoing such a huge transformation but I just think that instead of gradually re-doing the whole city at once, small patches should have been started and completed instead.

The picture that I’ve attached to this post is of a bridge that helps people cross the tram line construction on foot. You can’t tell from this angle but with my injured back, this was really quite scary to descend. I laugh when I encounter things like this. It’s so incredible to experience street crossings in California and then this. At the same time, it was nice that an effort was even made to help people cross the tramline construction. This is Africa after all.

Traffic here is ten times crazier than Mexico City traffic. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve closed my eyes thinking my taxi was going to be involved in a crash. The good thing about all of the construction here is that the traffic gets so bad that people really aren’t able to build up any speed in the city. So, any crash usually ends up being quite minor. When something does happen, the drivers get so upset. I’ve seen so much frustration and anger on the part of the drivers here. It’s not only among motorists that I observe those sentiments, however. I find many of the young men here to get angry from such minor incidents. More fights than I’ve ever seen have broken out during this year’s annual music festival. I can’t help but blame the rampant sexual repression for the frustration and anger I see among men here. That, coupled with a culture that doesn’t practice much sport (in my part of the city it’s rare to see people running along the coast for example) creates a lot of pent up energy within the male population. Fighting and harassing women is the obvious effect.

The way people drive here is what you would expect of a place that has few road signs, no marked lanes, and no uniform standards for intersections. There is on intersection near where I work that requires people who want to go straight (continue on the street they were on), to turn off of the street, wait at an intersection, and turn back onto the street.

About two months ago I saw something I would never, in a million years, see in the US. There was a red light at a busy intersection when I saw a man got out of his car (he was driving) and walk to the driver of the car stopped behind him. My first thought was, “wow, there is going to be a huge argument in the middle of the street. The driver must be really pissed off if he chose to get out of his car to say or do whatever he needed to. Well, it turns out that my assumption was completely wrong. The man had gotten out of his car so he could properly greet his friend in the car behind him. A few days ago I saw this happen on a smaller street. These moments, in my opinion, are the exact opposite of what one would experience in the US. If traffic laws were to even allow such behavior, it wouldn’t matter because Americans, for the most part, are pretty cold when it comes to greeting people we know. In Morocco, people always stop and take the time so greet someone on the street. Often the exchange involves both people talking at once (otherwise it would take nearly too long for both parties to get their salutations in). It’s really funny to hear an entire conversation of people responding to questions at the same time that they’re hearing the questions. I imagine they conversations sound similar to this,
S: “Hello Khadija, how are you? That’s so great to hear. How are your husband, and your children? And your mother in-law, is she feeling better now? Oh I’m doing just fine. My family is all well, thanks to Allah.”
K: “Oh hi Samah, how are you doing? Are you doing well? Thanks to Allah, I’m doing well. And my children, they’re doing well just as I hope that you’re family is doing well. I heard the good news about your eldest son. It’s wonderful news. I’ll see you soon. Peace be with you.”

(This exchange, as I mentioned, would be held simultaneously). I’ve tried to include a recording of this which happens outside of my window all of the time.

The final thing I would like to mention is honking. Here in Morocco, honking serves quite a different purpose than it does in the US. If you’re at a stoplight in the US and you hear honking, usually it means that you’re not paying attention and that the people behind you have finally grown impatient. Stoplights here, like any street signage, are understandably very low budget (Again I remind you that this is Africa). At most major intersections in Rabat, you’ll have one stoplight right on the corner. Unlike in the US where they’re hung in the middle of the intersection and visible by all, in Rabat they’re only visible to the 2nd or 3rd car in line. So, when you hear honking in an intersection, it’s more of an audio version of the green light. People don’t honk here because they’re impatient; they honk because the guy who is first or second in line at the light clearly won’t know it’s turned green otherwise.

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