Morocco has changed a tremendous amount since I left nine years ago – and so have I. The truth is, during my time in Morocco, I did most of what I wanted to do here with the exception of taking a road trip to the South of Morocco and Mauritania – but that’s not something I was going to do on this trip. This trip was about a few simple things – first of all – picking my daughter from where she has been enjoying the past month+ spending time with her Moroccan relatives so that she can join me on the rest of this trip around the world. Second, it was about connecting with people and places I’ve known before. Most of the people I was close with in Morocco have left in one way or another. Many of my favorite students from my time teaching here – they have moved on as well or we’ve lost contact because of my hate/need relationship with Facebook – I deleted the account that I knew most people on when the reality of the 2016 election became apparent (prior to Cambridge Analytica being revealed). I regret that move on my part, but feel like I made it for the right reasons.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting here. Spending time with my in-laws has never been something I enjoy. My language skills are too rudimentary to make it anything but work to share anything but the most basic information and to be honest, I’m 99% sure they wouldn’t want to hear about Bald Jesus, NFTs, the state of the Hawaii Tourism Industry, the fundamental issues with capitalist exploitation, or anything else that has meaning to me. They would smile, feed me, be kind, and listen – but the bottom line is they are kind Muslim people in a smallish town in the Atlas Mountains and short of writing an ethnography about them – there really isn’t much for us to connect with.
I connected with my friend Jessica. She’s amazing. She’s made her life’s work bringing attention to the artisans of Sefrou and Fez, empowering women, making life better for as many as she can reach – and learning how to live in Morocco as a tall, white, Welsh woman. I did catch her at a busy time but we found some time to catch up over dinner and she brought me along to spend the day with a joint project of American and Moroccan anthropology students as they learn about the public market days in Sefrou – which was really cool.
The rest of the time, I’ve been walking, thinking, and discovering that more and more of the people I knew when I was here – have left the country. I’ve also been discovering the changes that have taken place in Morocco. Women have become much more liberated here – though still lack many of the basic freedoms we take for granted in the west. There have been a lot of small observations that have surprised me.
- There are a lot more people who speak English than there used to be.
- There are many more of what I would call ‘Western’ style stores for groceries etc than there used to be. Places where you can get a basket or cart. This doesn’t appear to have decreased the number of hanuts (small family operated sundry shops operated out of closets or sheds) but it must have impacted them.
- Access to manufactured electronics like laptops, big screen televisions, washing machines, and other stuff we take for granted is far more widespread
- There are a lot more privately held cars than before
- There are Western style clothing stores, restaurants, malls, and more in far greater numbers than previously.
So what does all this mean? I’m not entirely sure – but I’ve drawn a couple of conclusions from it all (which may well be wrong)
- Access to American culture through television in particular (Netflix?) is far more widespread than it was – on phones, computers, and maybe even on cable networks but the last I don’t know about for sure.. I would venture to say that this is a big part of the reason there are so many more English speakers (with American accents) and also that this is a big driver for the consumer goods, fashions, and foods seen through popular media.
- Morocco has an exploding middle class. I would guess that more people have been raised out of poverty here in the past decade than in any country besides China. I’m not at all sure what the basis for this economic growth is. I’m seeing that the space that was once occupied by the Moroccan elites is increasingly occupied by the Moroccan middle classes – but I have no idea where the elites are now. Whereas before, simply being an American residing in Morocco gave me access to them – I think that this is no longer the case. The Moroccan elites are now with the other global elite.
- Morocco may be setting itself up for success or possibly for a big crisis. The middle classes don’t go back down to poverty without a fight and bread will not buy them off when things go wrong (which they hopefully won’t).
- The question of gas and energy consumption is also a big one. All those cars need gas. Morocco is an Arabic country but without big oil reserves. I do remember reading that Morocco is now the leader in Africa in terms of solar energy production. Morocco still imports 90% of it’s energy through oil and gas. That’s a big problem. The country’s energy bill doubled over the period of March to April and while figures haven’t been released, it is likely that it has doubled (at least) again. I spoke to more than one taxi driver who said that they simply cannot make a living with fuel costs. It’s no stretch to guess that all those cars with single drivers in them now have increased the needed capacity for gas and oil. The world is seeing how this played out in Sri Lanka – but Morocco is a different country with a robust agriculture and phosphates economy that might make the difference. Morocco imports a lot of grain too, however, and that amount has gone up by 25% over the past year – the cost of that needs to also be figured with grain import prices that have more than doubled.
- Moroccans are still far too dependent on 1) tourism as an economic driver and on 2) remittances from Moroccans living abroad who send money back home. Both of these will likely suffer due to rising inflation world wide – and the ongoing issues with travel in general in the post covid world.
So what are my conclusions from my nearly two weeks of walking and talking and drinking coffee and not doing much?
- Morocco is undergoing a cultural revolution as secular Western ideas undermine the foundations of Islamic doctrine and culture. Can Morocco follow the same sort of zigzag path that Indonesia did to achieve this without massive physical conflict? I don’t know. Turkey was well on that path before reverting – I hope Morocco doesn’t follow that playbook.
- There is a growing divide between classes. Huge gaps between the elites – the middle class – the poor. As long as the middle class are empowered and growing, this could bode well for the cultural revision mentioned above.
- Energy and food security are a big big big red flag. As long as the middle class is growing and empowered, things will keep progressing here.
So, that’s kind of what I’ve been occupying my thoughts with. Also – here are a few pictures I’ve taken along the way.