In the summer of 2019, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of months studying in Morocco, along my educational path to earning my MBA from George Washington University. Before my trip there, I had spent several months studying in Europe, based primarily in Germany and Sweden, but my travels had me in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK as well. While my European travels had me cover more areas and countries, my time in Morocco presented me with the most diverse experience I had encountered. While in Morocco, I didn’t travel to any neighboring countries, as the US State Department had travel warnings or advisories for them all. This gave me the unique opportunity to travel throughout the country and absorb all there was to learn and experience in the country. Why do I bring this up? Simply because the peace deal between Morocco and Israel should come as no surprise. I was surprised to learn that relations between the two countries were not already normalized.
As a white guy who had never been to the African Continent, the prospect of traveling to Morocco initially scared me. Originally I had applied and was accepted to the same program in Singapore. Due to a last-minute change in the program, it was not going to comply with the GWU requirements, placing me just 7 credits short of graduating. As an alternative, ESSEC ( École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales, the French school I was attending) offered a similar program in Morocco, a change that was both challenging and intimidating. Why? Because in Singapore, most people spoke English and the country was extremely well-developed. To be honest, at the time, Morocco seemed like a cheap knock-off runner-up, to the experience I was looking for in Singapore. Begrudgingly, I accepted the offer as it meant I would graduate at the end of the program. I could do anything for 8 weeks! What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the country, almost immediately.
Morocco, which is located in the northwestern portion of the African continent and sits just miles from the southern tip of Spain, is an interesting place. First, it is extremely diverse as a former French and Spanish Protectorate, having both the cultural and linguistic influences in the country. Moroccans speak a derivative of Arabic called Darija, which can best be described as a mashup of French, Spanish and Arabic. Their culture, though heavily steeped in Islamic traditions, has a lot of more culturally progressive traits from their close relationship with Western Europe. For instance, women are not required to wear a head covering, and religious participation is not required. That doesn’t mean that it goes as far as the free exercise of religion, however — Judaism is the only other religion recognized by the Moroccan government besides Sunni Islam.
Morocco has been in a de facto state of war with Algeria for a long while, with small skirmishes occurring from time to time. Morocco built a border fence with the country along with another border berm along the border with Western Sahara, an area of Southern Morocco that is disputed.
Of course, when I traveled there, I had read numerous nightmare stories about the treatment that certain foreigners had experienced while traveling in Morocco. I also traveled directly to Morocco after spending nearly a month in Sweden, so I was definitely in for a culture shock. Due to some complications, I was not able to fly into Rabat-Sale, where I was going to be staying during my time in Morocco, so I flew into Fes and then took the train to Rabat. Getting from the airport to the train station in Fes, I was apparently ripped off by my taxi driver, who demanded nearly his entire day’s take for a few mile drive. As a result of my ignorance, I paid him and made my way to wait for my train. Frankly, I was terrified. I was alone in a completely foreign country, where I didn’t speak any of the languages spoken and felt like I was on the defensive constantly. I finally felt like I could relax when I sat in my seat on the train, knowing my landlord in Sale was going to be picking me up from the train station.
On the train, a young man sat across from me and kept attempting to make eye contact with me. After a few awkward moments, he spoke up asking “Are you American?” I really didn’t want to get into an argument the first conversation I had in Morocco, so I quietly said yes, and continued to look out the window. Fascinated with American culture, he had question after question, and pretty soon, we had been talking for an hour. I began asking questions about where I should go and what I should see while I was in Morocco. Pretty soon, all 5 of the passengers in our tiny train compartment began contributing to the conversation, either through broken English or using my initial conversation companion as a translator. I was given a list of sights to visit, restaurants to eat at, and experiences to absorb.
Once in Sale, my landlord picked me up from the train station as planned to take me to my beautiful apartment just blocks from the ocean. As a result of perception, people believe Morocco is a hot country, and it can be, at certain times and in certain places, however, by and large, the country is very mild in temperature. Most of the country’s population lives within a few miles of the coast, which keeps the climate similar to that of San Diego.
Over the next several weeks, I grew to love the country. The people of Morocco are amazing and generous. Of course, as with anywhere, there are always jerks, but my experience in the country was a beautiful one. Morocco has come to the defense of Jews numerous times throughout their storied history, all the way back to the Spanish Inquisition, when Muslims and Jews were driven from Spain. During World War II, Morocco’s King protected Jews from the Axis powers, giving Jews a safe harbor. As stated before, Judaism is one of the two state-allowed religions in Morocco. Never once during my time in Morocco, did I ever encounter any prejudice regarding religion or nationality.
Morocco’s “normalizing” relations with Israel is but a formality at this point. There has been no vitriol and no hatred from the country and their leadership has been very open over the course of the last decade. Morocco is a beautiful and friendly country, with a history of being accepting of other cultures for years. If you ever have the chance to visit, I would absolutely recommend you do.
Below are some pictures from my time in Morocco.