Bou Inania Madrasa - Fez

As strange as it seems, our Arabic Program at EGE culminated weeks ago and since then we’ve been partying wildly on the beach, hot-boxing our empty classrooms and…I’m kidding. Please don’t arrest me at the airport. I’ve paid my Maroc Telecom bills off, I swear (more on that later).

In all seriousness, we’ve spent May attempting to put together semi-decent research proposals – in Arabic – on a social sciences topic that affects contemporary Morocco. Did I mention that it’s in Arabic? Sweet Jesus, the unrealistic word count was the bane of my existence. It may sound like an impressive feat, but realize it’s likely a research proposal at the language level of a three-year old. Maybe a precocious three-year old with an interest in migration, gender and security frameworks.

[Sidenote: While my Arabic has improved abroad, my non-existent French has become worse; if that’s even possible. Today I tried to ask a waiter if I could take-away the rest of my food. Instead of saying “à emporter” – meaning take-away – I pointed at my plate of cous cous and confidently said, “had bortable”. “This cellphone,” in Darija. I don’t know why it came out that way, but the waiter miraculously got what I was butchering  trying to say. Learning languages is fun. Don’t be discouraged by your mistakes. Roll with them and give the locals a laugh.]

Despite the mind-numbing task of editing that still lies ahead, effectively managing my time has allowed me to break up the work with two days spent on the beach. Surfing (read: face-planting wave after wave) and relaxing with my incredible friends has kept me somewhat sane. Just a 15-20 minute train ride away, the town of Skhirat and Bouznika both have beautiful, public beaches. We’ve also had a greater opportunity to explore Morocco before returning home, including what its capital has on offer. I’ve already had the chance to pop by Fes and Chefchaouen. For as much as I heard about high-crime in Fes to set my nerves on edge, I loved the city. We visited the medina with a tour guide on a cloudy Friday morning. While this meant that many stalls were closed, I found it relaxing and we had a chance to visit the famous madrasas (schools) without crowds, including al-Qarawiyyin. A famous school founded by a woman – Fatima Al-Fihria – it has since been converted into a mosque, although it’s religious and language schools remain open and widely acclaimed.

I also visited Tour Hassan and the Kasbah. Both are some of the first destinations most people see in Rabat. It took me almost a year and having an interested guest to finally go. Besides the guard on horseback whistling at us (YOU’RE ON THE CLOCK, YOU WRINKLED OLD TURD, DO YOUR DAMN JOB!), it was a really enjoyable experience.

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Art is also big right now, partially due to the ongoing, annual Mawazine Festival that invites global, regional and national artists to perform at venues around the city, at no cost to the general populace. While I haven’t attended any concerts yet, it’s been a big affair and a controversial one. While the global acts do encourage an exchange of ideas and values and put Morocco on the global stage, some insist that it goes against the conservative and religious elements of Moroccan society and take offense. Others find the festival distasteful because of the incredible amounts of money that go into booking the artists, preparing the venues for thousands of people and organizing increased security measures.

Friends who attended some of the regional artists – even at late hours – reported that the audience was wonderful and filled with mainly families and children. I think the roughness of the crowd really depends on the artist performing, and the venue. According to several friends, the crowds at many of the big name concerts were almost mob-like. My female friends were consistently groped, even though they were with male companions. Necklaces, phones and watches were yanked off and stolen. One of my friends had disgusting, racial slurs thrown at her multiple times throughout the crowd. Not really my idea of a good time.

Mawazine isn’t the only music scene to take Rabat by storm, though, and the other events have been far more soothing for the soul.

A rather famous, Lebanese alternative rock group toured Morocco and had a show in Rabat last month. With a kick ass vocalist who leaves you covered in goosebumps and a violinist with the arms of a god, cue half of our program crashing the performance of Mashrou’ Leila. It turned out to be one of the coolest events I’ve attended in Morocco.

Besides the heavenly music itself? The lead singer is openly gay. The images and film shown on the backdrop throughout the duration of the show featured mainly queer and trans individuals. Given that homosexuality is technically illegal here and usually heavily persecuted once it enters the public sphere, I was shocked. Over the moon and shocked.

Watching the crowd was an experience in and of itself. If I had to hazard a guess I would have said that a large portion of the audience was Moroccan. I can’t attest to how many present were and weren’t straight, but the audience at the front flew the colors and the crowd lost it. Photo courtesy of my friend Jamie, who was overwhelmed and tearing up at this point.

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I can’t speak for the gay community here in Morocco, but I would hazard a guess that this show was an important night for many. I’m thankful I got to see this aspect of Moroccan society, that’s often shrouded and relegated to the privacy of the home. This time it was out in public and unabashedly so, hopefully hinting at the transition towards a more open, tolerant policy that reflects all of Morocco and not just it’s more repressive, heteronormative parts.

May has been a whirlwind of activity and suddenly, I have a week and a half left. Where did the time go?