Saturday, December 02, 2006

Travel Writing about Morocco - Part 12


Every now and then you come across a tourist who, after one negative experience, can't seem to tune in to Morocco. For them, the rest of their trip is coloured by a first impression.

One such is Bernard Wasow, Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, who has a mild grumble about almost everything. He seems unaware of the huge numbers of tourists visiting the country or that because of the growth in tourism the country is actually facing a bed shortage. He also, remarkably, has a shot at the fact that Western tastes are not pandered to in the manner to which he is accustomed. One ends up feeling a little sorry for Bernard, or maybe he gets his kicks out of complaining. On the other hand he quotes a very dubious piece of research from the Pew Research Center - so he may be carrying some very conservative political baggage.

You can make up your own mind - here is a piece he wrote for the Boston Globe.

Morocco is one of those countries that never seem able to fully realize their potential. Traveling about the country, Bernard Wasowfound Morocco to be wonderful and stimulating — as well as frustrating and exhausting. He argues that the very traits that tend to annoy tourists have much to do with holding back Morocco’s own economic success.

It is not supposed to be raining early in May at Morocco’s border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

But it is pouring, as we drag our bags to the final gate — only to be sent back again to get additional stamps in our passports. The right office is easy to find: cars full of European tourists pack the road in front of it like a parking lot.

Virtually every gregarious Moroccan one meets — and there are many — has his eye on the dollar.
We try to submit our passports, but fall back in the free-for-all, with people aggressively pushing toward the functionary on the inside.


The French move with special vigor, with the result that the less forceful tourists — two Americans, six Japanese and the young man from England who is studying at a madrassah in Marakesh — only arrive at the window after an hour, when the crowd has thinned.


Stamps applied, my wife and I finally walk into Morocco, following Hakim — the Englishman — who is haggling with the driver for a “grand taxi” to take the three of us to Tetouan, where we will catch the bus to Fez.

In some ways, the border is a microcosm of Morocco. There are officials everywhere, chatting among themselves and walking back and forth between offices.

Each small wave of tourists learns about the official procedures by trial and error. Some young Moroccan men volunteer to help, but beware: Once engaged, they are hard to disengage.

With its wonderful mountains, beaches, cities, crafts and cuisine, Morocco should be a far stronger magnet for tourists than it currently is.
There are many offices — but all the border-crossing action seems to be squeezed into one small office, where work proceeds at a leisurely pace.

Morocco is an exceptionally beautiful country, especially during springtime, when fields are bright with wild flowers. The old walled cities with their intricate narrow streets offer a wonderful array of traditional crafts. And evenings are unforgettable.

It seems that everyone in town saunters through the streets, under flocks of swooping swallows, pausing for a leisurely glass of hot sweet mint tea at one of the innumerable teahouses.

Travel between cities by train or bus is cheap and usually comfortable and reliable.

With tens of thousands of Moroccans living and working in Europe — especially in France and Spain — there is a substantial flow of cultural information into the country.
Resistance to foreign ideas and people, and intolerance of homosexuality have been found to be strong predictors of technological backwardness.
There is also a considerable flow of remittances of money, amounting to more than $3 billion per year — or about 10% of Morocco’s GDP.

Yet Morocco is only plodding along economically, with a standard of living comparable to that in Jamaica or Sri Lanka. Income per person is growing modestly, increasing by only about 30% between 1980 and 2000.

That is less than the 50% average increase in income-per-capita in Europe over the same period. In other words, the wealth gap between Europe and Morocco — already substantial — is growing.

Under-appreciated assets

With its wonderful mountains, beaches, cities, crafts and cuisine, Morocco should be a far stronger magnet for tourists than it currently is.

Culturally, there seems to be relatively little consciousness of European tastes outside Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier, although, of course, there are first class hotels and restaurants in many places.

Self-defeating sentiments

The aggressiveness of the ubiquitous “guides” who offer their services to tourists — and the unhelpful officials, too — are not what one might expect in a population that is as close to Europe and as widely traveled as that of Morocco.

Morocco is an exceptionally beautiful country — especially during springtime, when fields are bright with wild flowers.

It may be that cultural pride and residual hostility to colonialism stand in the way of some sound business practices.

Indeed, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that in Egypt and Jordan, cultural cousins of Morocco, the local population is more averse to change than people in almost all other developing regions surveyed.

Attitudes favor existing social and economic arrangements and distrust forces for change — particularly those that have foreign or non-traditional roots.

Splendid memories

As many splendid memories as I carry away from Morocco, I look back on our visit with mixed emotions. It is exhausting to be a tourist in Morocco. The civil — but unhelpful —functionaries at the border represent the officialdom the tourist encounters.

And virtually every gregarious Moroccan one meets — and there are many — has his eye on the dollar. This makes tourists distrustful and unfriendly, spoiling personal interactions.

Not for everyone

To the ancient monuments — 2,000 year old Roman ruins, 1,000-year-old Arab and Berber kasbahs — add colonial and modern architectural gems, as well as the natural beauty of towering mountains, green agricultural plains and the Sahara, which we did not visit.

Clearly, Morocco is a country that should be swarming with visitors. But it is not. And as much as we enjoyed our visit, we will be selective in recommending Morocco to our friends.

Earlier Travel Writing stories:


Travel Writing Eleven.
Travel ten.
Travel nine
Travel writing eight
Travel writing Seven
Travel Writing Six
Travel Writing Five
Travel Writing Four
Travel Writing Three
Travel Writing Two
Travel Writing One



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8 comments:

patrick said...

''Indeed, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that in Egypt and Jordan, cultural cousins of Morocco, the local population is more averse to change than people in almost all other developing regions surveyed.''

Why should the local population change for tourists? If I went on holiday to the States I would not expect Americans to change for my benefit.
I wonder why some people go abroad on holiday as they expect everything to be just like home.

David said...

Exactly! Well said, Parick, and thanks Samir and the gang for sharing this (shallow) piece of stuff. It is always good to recognize the sneering class and heap a little on them.

This gentleman traveler ( I am sure he is such) needs to get a life, and realize that very few tourists see Morocco like this. It is such a condescending, patronizing load of rubbish - the kind of thing you would expect from some brat-pack teen - not a so called senior citizen!

Next time he travels, he should open his eyes, his mind and have a real experience.

Martha said...

"Resistance to foreign ideas and people, and intolerance of homosexuality have been found to be strong predictors of technological backwardness."

Oh yes? And where did the "gentleman" as David called him, get this homophobic piece of garbage? Next to the Islamophobic undertone in the writers story, it takes the cake.

I am surprised that anyone published such uninformed and biased writing. Such people give us Americans a bad name. Shame, Bernard, shame.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Morocco ISN'T for everyone, but in summary this is what he said:

"As many splendid memories as I carry away from Morocco, I look back on our visit with mixed emotions."

And who can't say that about anyplace they may have been?

What I don't get is why you are all so up in arms and defensive about this piece? Morocco is not your country and Moroccans don't need you to defend them or their country.

Talk about patronizing!

Liosliath said...

I don't know how the Japanese population feels about homosexuality, but I think that even though it's a country that showed some of the MOST "...resistance to foreign ideas and people," one can hardly describe it as "technologically backward."

I respect Bernard's opinion, but some of his statements are ludicrous. And that's not getting "up in arms", Anonymous, it's simply pointing out poorly written and obviously biased writing.

Nordeen said...

It is sad that the writer didn't get to see Morocco.

One other thing - sorry about your anonymous poster - I recognise his style. He pops up from time to time and can only knock things. He's a self-opinionated little twat!

Nordeen said...

One other thing "anonymous" - Morocco is our country. You should visit sometime.

Andra said...

I must admit that I haven't been to Morocco yet (I am planning to and that's why I'm reading this) but I have been to Egypt and Tunisia and most of what Bernard said about Morocco could describe aspects of these other countries too.
I don't mean to be patronizing about anything, but I really think that when visiting a place it is right to build an opinion based on your beliefs and not just the general clichés that seem to claim that you have to have only good words about everything or else you're narrow minded or even a racist.
The perfect example is the constant bargaining and the certainty that the shopkeeper will try to make you pay the highest price possible. I know that this is an ancient tradition in all Arabic countries but it is true that it can be exhausting for tourists and even a reason to avoid these countries on vacation. I believe that it would be for their own benefit if they tried to adapt a little to their customers' ways as any businessman in the world usually does.
As I said, this was one example, but frankly I could talk for hours about other things that I find unpleasant in Maghreb.
Of course that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy discovering these cultures with their qualities and flaws.

Finally, I want to add that nothing and nobody is perfect and maybe being a bit more open minded about outside criticism is not that bad after all.