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A Moroccan Revolution?

While in Morocco, I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquitous pictures of the king adorning the walls of every home, restaurant, and often shop we visited. It reminded me a lot of a trip to the Gambia I had made during spring break the previous year, at which point I had still been in the midst of a semester abroad in Senegal. The streets of Banjul, the capital, were lined with posters and street art proclaiming the greatness of Yahya Jammeh – their president for the last sixteen (almost seventeen) years. And while most Gambians I spoke with maintained that Jammeh had done great things for their nation, this didn’t align with all that I read or observed in my time there.

In light of the revolutions rocking the Arab world over the past few months, I found myself wondering what Morocco’s position was in all this tumultuous activity. Is he really the beloved leader he appears to be judging his omnipresence in the cities we visited, or is this merely the façade of dictatorial (or monarchical, as the case may be) power?

The fact is that the present King of Morocco, Mohamed VI looks downright benevolent in relation to his father, Hassan II, whose 38 years in power were marked by harsh crackdowns on unions, intellectuals, Marxists, political enemies, and rebellious soldiers. In his own right, Mohamed VI has made a number of reforms in his 12 years of power, including improving women’s rights and allowing limited forms of political protest. Of course, today it seems that those limited forms of protest – which did not allow for direct criticism of the monarchy – are not enough for many Moroccans.

We knew prior to our trip, of course, that things were not entirely calm in the region. Five people died on February 20th in the northern city of al-Hoceima when a Bank of America was burned in protest. But given our imminent departure for Spain and the consequent barrier of my linguistic incompetency in the Spanish language, I didn’t know much about what was going on in Morocco upon our arrival in Tetuán. As it happens, a lot was.

In a March 9 speech, King Mohamed VI announced major changes to the constitution which would enhance judicial independence and create a more concrete separation of powers in the Moroccan state. On the following day he established a commission charged with proposing changes to the constitution by June, which would be followed up on in September. The King’s concessions are eerily reminiscent of those of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak just days before he left office, who, too, promised Egyptians constitutional reform.

King Mohamad VI March 9 Speech

King Mohamed’s concessions have not silenced his protestors. Just this past Sunday saw 37,000 protestors in the streets of Moroccan cities nationwide. Reda Oulamine, a 38-year-old lawyer, said succinctly: “We want the king to reign, but not rule. Why can’t we have a constitutional monarchy like England or Spain?” But Mohamed VI again echoed Mubarak with his talk of not ceding to demagoguery and improvisation in response to last Sunday’s protest.

If the February 20 protests sparked this entire would-be Moroccan revolution, then why, three weeks later, did we see nothing of it in our Moroccan visit? Portraits of the king still adorned shops from Tetuán to Tangier, and there was no talk of revolution from Mohamad or his father at the hotel. Is this simply because it is not our battle to fight, or because the hotel believed that tourists are meant to enjoy themselves in a politically neutral climate? Whatever the case, it feels a bit surreal to say that I was in Morocco after the protests started, yet I neither saw nor heard any protest.

http://english.aljazeera.net/video/africa/2011/04/201142512013759717.html

Sources used:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2052901,00.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/inspired-by-egypt-thousands-protest-on-moroccan-streets-2220643.html

http://english.aljazeera.net/video/africa/2011/04/201142512013759717.html

http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haber&ArticleID=70130

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110424/wl_africa_afp/moroccopoliticsunrest

Call to Prayer

One of my favorite and most moving Moroccan moments took place on the rooftop of the Hotel Dahlia shortly after our arrival.  Amidst the confusion of room allocations, a few of us escaped to the roof with a glass of tea in hand.  We waited eagerly, marveling at the sight of the dramatic mountains and white rooftops as the sun slowly slipped away, for our first taste of the ritual call to prayer.  After witnessing one of the most gorgeous sunsets ever, the call came, broadcasted live from loudspeakers on the hundreds of minarets that surrounded us.   The call to prayer is an essential part of the day in predominately Muslim countries; it takes one out of the events of everyday life and reminds one to take a moment for reflection and prayer.  It is a beautiful, haunting sound.

Sunni and Shi’a Muslims debate over the origins and the wording of the call to prayer.  Shi’a believe that it was instituted by the prophet Mohammed himself, while Sunnis believe that the words came to one of Mohammed’s followers in a dream.  In any case the message of the call is the same; the words, known as adhan, remind the listener that God is the one and only God.  Observers are supposed to mouth the words of the adhan as the muezzin recites it.  It was fascinating to observe the differing reactions of people on the street during the times that the call was broadcasted.  Some stopped what they were doing immediately and prayer mats appeared out of nowhere, while others continued on their daily lives without spiritual disruption.

The call to prayer brings religion into the public consciousness in Muslim countries.  This reminder of the shared faith of the state and Muslim community facilitates the feeling of unity of the people who observe Islam despite the individuality of the daily prayer.  This sense of the collective spirit of all people participating in the tradition serves to solidify solidarity within the community.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adhan

http://sistani.org/local.php?modules=nav&nid=2&bid=59&pid=2947

Courtesy of Carlos Hernandez

Courtesy of Carlos Hernandez

Morocco has long been the leader amongst nations in the Middle East when it comes to religious tolerance—and for good reason. The presence of Christians and Jews dates back several centuries, even though their numbers have fluctuated over time. The 1492 expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain led to an influx of followers of these faiths into Morocco, while the legacy of colonialism contributed a sizable number of Christians as well. As it stands today, there are an estimated 25,000 Christian expatriates concentrated in Rabat and Casablanca, and some 6,000 Jewish Moroccan nationals throughout the country. While these numbers pale in comparison to the multitudes of (largely Sunni) muslims, the fact is that, for the most part, each of these communities has lived in peaceful coexistence with the others for quite some time.

Islam is, of course, the official state religion. However, the constitution provides the legal framework for religious tolerance; it is clearly stated in Article 220 of the Penal Code that attempts to stop the practice of religion or the attendance of services is punishable by 3 to 6 months in prison and a 115 to 575 Dirham fine ($10 to $50). While not the harshest of conceivable penalties, this law formalizes religious tolerance. In addition, the government monitors the activities of Islamic groups and of mosques to ensure that they do not overstep their bounds and promote politically or religiously volatile activities. In practice, what this all means is that open worship is tolerated, but proselytizing is restricted, if not outright forbidden. The government does provide such things as tax benefits, land and building grants, and subsidies to facilitate and encourage the practice of the three major religions. The state officially sponsors the study of Islam in public schools, as well as Jewish studies in Jewish schools. All three faiths also have private educational institutions that function largely without impediments.

Successive kings have made additional efforts to display support for Christianity and Judaism through their actions; important religious figures from each faith have on numerous occasions been invited to the royal palace. The government has also sponsored interfaith events, such as the “Fez Festival of Sacred Music,” as well as panels on interfaith relations, in the hopes of encouraging tolerance and edification. An event was held at the Catholic Cathedral in Rabat to remember the victims of the Atocha bombings, with widespread attendance by government officials and people of the three major faiths. Also interesting to note is the fact that Morocco is the only country with a museum of Jewish history. The museum was opened in 1997 in Casablanca and displays traditionally Jewish-Moroccan ethnographic items.

With regards to restrictions on religious practice, they are generally few and far between. Proselytizing is perhaps the most widely regulated practice; there have been incidents of Christian missionaries being expelled from the country, on the grounds that their behavior is dangerous and detrimental to the social fabric of the nation. There is a somewhat blurry line in such cases between tolerance and fear of greater social instability. Increasingly, though, those who choose to convert from Islam to other religions have come to be tolerated, though they often face a significant social stigma. Additionally, while Bibles can be sold, they must not be in Arabic, which seems to be a curious requirement. One other point of interest is the fact that the Shiite organization Al Ghadir has had the least success of all religious organizations in obtaining official recognition. This can probably be attributed to Morocco being a heavily Sunni nation.

Thus, what can be seen is a picture of a nation that has long been far ahead of its neighbors in the realm of religious tolerance, which is quite astounding for such a religiously-charged and conflict-prone region. It serves as model for its neighbors, and it is of little surprise that Moroccans feel so proud about being so far ahead of the curve.

Jewish Museum in Casablanca

Sacré-Coeur Cathedral in Casablanca

Sources:

http://www.yacout.info/Religious-Freedom-in-Morocco-smothered-or-flourishing_a578.html

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/relmorocco04.html

Once again, when thinking about a possible topic for my last blog post, I caught myself juxtaposing some of the thoughts that sprouted after my first-hand experiences in Spain and the impressions I had grown up with as part of a half-Spanish family in Venezuela. When I think about my childhood, I can very clearly recall the never-ending sermons my grandfather and uncles used to tell about the role of a man in the family and the larger societal context – all of which contributed to the creation and maintenance of the image of the heterosexual macho ibérico. The possibility of a homosexual Spanish man was never in that picture, and was instead replaced by intense waves of sexist remarks, hairy chests and the promotion of “manly” activities. Today Spain provides one of the highest degrees of liberty in the world for its LGBTQ community, although this has not always been the case.

Homosexuality in Spain has not had a uniform treatment and has historically adapted to the prevailing ideas and conditions of different time periods. From Roman sexuality (in which the sexual act and power relations were most important) to the modern concept of homosexuality, there have been many changes and significant developments. Historically, one of the biggest obstacles sprouted from the influence of Christian ideology, that brought about the identification of sodomy as an act of State treason and punishable with death by fire.

La Chueca, in Madrid, is one of the world’s most iconic gay neighborhoods, known for its welcoming “heterofriendly” atmosphere.

The turning point of this trend was marked by the Enlightenment movement, during which individual freedoms began to be recognized and concluded with the elimination of the “crime of sodomy” from the Spanish Criminal Code in 1822. The fight towards acceptance of homosexuality, difficult and slow, was interrupted by the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship, which introduced a fierce campaign against the so-called violetas. After the dictatorship the trend towards acceptance continued, although homophobia is still a powerful force in Spanish society. Since 2005, Spain is one of the ten countries around the world that has legalized same-sex marriage and possesses some of the most progressive legal structures regarding issues affecting the LGBTQ community, such as adoption and the amendment of legal gender status. A 2006 survey showed that 66 percent of Spaniards support same-sex marriage and 43 percent recognize same-sex couple’s right to adopt.

Most recently, the Spanish LGBTQ culture has transcended borders with film directors like Pedro Almodóvar and events like the Europride in Madrid. The visibility of homosexuals has reached several layers of society that were strictly inaccessible before, like the army and the Civil Guard. In other sectors however, like the soccer world, there is still a way to go.

Cited sources:

Acereda, Alberto. Una historia de la homosexualidad en España. La División Azul: Madrid, 2005.

“Spain Offers Legal Marriage”. Buddybuddy.com. Retrieved 20 April 2011.

“Spanish lawmakers approve bill to let transsexuals change gender without surgery”. Advocate.com. Retrieved 20 April 2011.

Nolton, Rick. “Represión homosexual en el franquismo”. Islaternura.com. Retrieved 20 April 2011.

Sometime in between rolling my suitcase through the rocky Medina streets and taking in the sidewalks overtaken by makeshift stores and the commanding presence of only men in the outer parts of the cafes, I realized that I was in Morocco. The friendly smiles and curious glances and the unsure “holas” and the confident “hellos” greeted us at each corner as we walked – like a spectacle – towards our hotel. However, out of all the interesting interactions that took place, the one that resonates that most with me was one involving a young man.  He spotted Tanay (mostly her afro) and I, and approached us with an incredibly warm and inviting smile and said, “Hey sisters,  … How is Obama doing? … Yes we can, that is what Obama has teach us … Yes we can!” Within that interaction three of my identities came to the surface, first my womanhood, then my blackness and consequently my “Americanness.” In many ways this man’s statements served as a precursory for the different ways in which people reacted to the intersection of my various identities while.

On our day out on the town with Mohammed, he took us to a store neatly hidden in the rush of the medina. While in the store, searching the for the perfect tea glass, two women gently caught my attention and through exaggerated gestures which I soon translated into “Sweetheart, make sure you tuck in you camera strap, your items is not safe out in the open,” I can imagine that the last part of their unspoken  statements ended were a light reprimand “You need to be more careful.” This full blown conversation without words, was remarkable not only because of our ability to communicate in a way in which spoken language was not engaged, but rather in the spirit of the gesture and what it meant to be halfway around the world and to have someone treat me like their little sister. So, in that sense, the term sister adopted a different new and meaning with in the global context or me.

Throughout the trip, various aspects of my identity were highlighted, in many different ways, which have made me critically rethink the meanings of particular words and figures in a global context. In Morocco the word ‘sister’ took on a new connotation for me depending on who said it and my various interactions with Moroccan women made me think about sister in terms of a wider sisterhood. Also, President Obama took on a whole new meaning in the global context, especially as one of the most common responses to our presence as Americans who were Black was some comment about Obama. My understanding of the word sister in relation to my racial identity and the various instances in which Obama was the only reference point for some people to place me in both my blackness and “Americanness.”

We had returned to our home stay in Tetouan to find sobering images of Libyans standing vigil in Tripoli plastered across Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s leading English-speaking news network. While waiting for the U.N. delegates to deliberate, one of us began to flip through the channels in search of more information. Instead, we were introduced to MTV Arabia. I was immediately intrigued by Moroccan television’s Western leanings, more specifically MTV’s integration into Arab programming, and curious as to the degree to which Arab music has retained autonomy from or been influenced by Western musical fads.

MTV Arabia was launched in Dubai in November of 2007. Its target audience is the Arab world’s 190 million young adults under the age of 25, a community that accounts for an estimated 50% of the region’s total population. The network is backed by MTV Networks International and Dubai-based media titan, the Arab Media Group. Mainstays of the network include American MTV sensation, “Cribs,” as well as a re-mastered “Pimp My Ride” alternately titled “Trick It Out.”

MTV Arabia’s inauguration took place in the capital of the United Arab Emirates to considerable fanfare. During the ceremony, the vice chairman of MTV Networks proposed that music, and via music, MTV Arabia, had the potential to transcend both politics and damning stereotypes in a region typified by conflict and disfigured by prejudice:  “This part of the world has been associated with stresses and tensions… the one thing music can do is act as a unifying cultural force across regions.” Regrettably, this idealism was undermined moments later by American rapper Ludacris’s admission that he loved Dubai for its “buildings, food and women.” In spite of Ludacris’s remark, Arab Media Group forged ahead, promising that MTV’s 60th channel would be socially progressive, with advertisements encouraging education and combating unemployment. The channel then proceeded to assert its ambitions to integrate regional artists into the global market, a development that redeems integrating yet another Americanized media outlet into the daily life of Middle Eastern youths.

The dichotomy between America’s hyper-sexualized media culture and the Middle East’s attempt to interpret that media culture for its own audiences permeates MTV Arabia, and on a larger scale, the Middle East’s formidable youth culture. The commodification of Western Media in Arab markets threatens to expunge Middle Eastern media culture in the process. While these two cultures are undeniably at odds, Middle Eastern hip-hop has stepped up to the plate, acting as a diplomatic ambassador well on its way to reconciling the two.

Mehdi by K Libre

During our stay in Tetouan, I spent a considerable amount of time exchanging music with Mohammad Bakhali. He informed me that a highly original underground hip-hop scene is taking root across the Middle East. This recent musical renaissance can be perhaps attributed to the region’s tradition of lyrical poetry and hip-hop’s cathartic function as a platform of expression for disenfranchised groups to communicate social grievances. Currently, the ratio of international to regional music on MTV Arabia is roughly 60:40. I hope that within the next five years, this wave of Middle Eastern musical creativity in the genre of hip hop will improve the ratio in favor of Arab produced music, preserving the musical culture of one of the most sonically diverse regions in the world.

Yalla!

The Playlist:

1. Lalla Mannana Menana by Fnaire

2. Ya Deniya by H-Kayne

3. Skizo by Bigg

4. http://www.myspace.com/hellmkane/music

Further Watching:

1. I Love Hip Hop in Morocco, Documentary Trailer

2. CNN & Hip Hop in Morocco

Sources:

http://themedium.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/mtv-sans-frontieres/

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D02E4D8113BF93AA25752C1A9619C8B63

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/25/for-the-moment-mtv-arabia/

http://www.bookofjoe.com/2007/11/mtv-arabia-laun.html

http://www.ilovehiphopinmorocco.com/

Que parla català?

Spain’s regional diversity would not be complete without the linguistic differences. The most striking linguistic difference we came across in Spain was that between Spanish/Castilian and Catalan spoken in Barcelona and Girona. This difference reflects cultural and political divergence among regions. With linguistic identification comes regional solidarity, and in some cases in Catalonia, defiance of Spanish identity over regional identity. For instance, bullfighting is outlawed in Catalonia but not in Spain as a whole. This comes in part from the political structure of Spain – several autonomous regions that comprise a nation.

Catalan is spoken in Catalonia, Spain as well as Andorra, parts of France, the Italian city of Alghero on Sardinia, Valencia, and part of Aragon. Within Catalan, there are differences in the dialect between eastern and western speakers. Catalan developed from Vulgar Latin, as other Romance languages did. As a language, Catalan survived Visigoth, Moorish, and Frankish influence and invasion, resisting assimilation into any one of these linguistic traditions.[1] In Catalonia, Catalan is used in the education system at all levels and is recognized in the 1998 law on language policy in Catalonia, as well as the autonomy statute and 1978 Constitution.[2] In the Resolution of the European Parliament on Languages in the Community and the Situation of Catalan, Catalan is recognized as a European language with a history and tradition of over a thousand years and as an official language.[3] Further, the resolution stipulates “the inclusion of Catalan in the programmes set up by the Commission for learning European languages” among other stipulations of inclusion in the European Community official documents of Catalan translations.[4]

We had the opportunity to travel through Spain beginning in Barcelona and thus beginning our linguistic travels with Catalan. Noting the differences in public places, the influence of Catalan was apparent. The linguistic differences in public places in terms of second languages and translations were also notable. Menus in restaurants in Barcelona sometimes only had Catalan and Spanish as opposed to Spanish, English, French, and German on many menus in Madrid and further south in Spain. There was also a Basque restaurant we happened upon that had Catalan and Basque menus. Thus the linguistic needs differed from region to region as to what translations were assumed to be needed as well as the local language. The layers of regional identity can be observed in the languages present in public spaces, and the legal framework for official languages represents a victory for this regional identity.


[1] http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Catalan/Catalan.html

[2] http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Catalan/Catalan.html

[3] “Resolution of the European Parliament A3-169/90, December 11, 1990, on Languages in the Community and the Situation of Catalan” <http://www.caib.es/conselleries/educacio/dgpoling/user/catalaeuropa/angles/angles10.pdf>

[4] “Resolution of the European Parliament A3-169/90, December 11, 1990, on Languages in the Community and the Situation of Catalan” <http://www.caib.es/conselleries/educacio/dgpoling/user/catalaeuropa/angles/angles10.pdf>

photo credit: http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Catalan/index.html

Professor Woods’s trip to Casa Arabe was one of the highlights of my entire trip. Casa Arabe, an Arab cultural center in Madrid, was much more progressive than traditional cultural centers in the United States. It completely challenged my preconceived beliefs of the role that cultural centers should serve in the community. The majority of cultural centers I have experienced in the United States tend to focus on recreational activities, after school care programs, community organizing and limited education initiatives for one specific cultural community. However, Casa Arabe taught Spaniards about the culture of marginalized immigrants from North African and Middle-Eastern countries, rather than offering direct resources to these disadvantaged populations.

The Casa Arabe argues that having resources for Spaniards to learn more about Muslim culture through language and art for free helps create a more culturally sensitive environment for immigrants. Although this is true, the organization fails to acknowledge how Spain has an economic interest in educating more of their citizens about Arab culture. By educating more people about Islamic culture and teaching Arabic, Spain increases the amount of citizens who can participate in trade with the Middle-Eastern countries.

The ideology of Casa Arabe is very progressive, especially for an organization that is funded completely by the government. However, this cultural center predominantly caters to the interest of an intellectually elite class of people in Spain, and does not directly assist immigrants with their integration. If Spain was more interested in having a greater impact on marginalized immigrants from Middle-Eastern and North Africa countries, they should fund more initiatives that directly impact these marginalized groups. An example of this type of project was the Roma center we visited in Madrid.

On our trip through Spain and Morocco many students often sought out locations in various cities that could be seen as less touristy. However, as a temporary visitor, an “outsider,” it was impossible for any of us to gain access to an “authentic” experience. Since we couldn’t live an “authentic” experience, many students, including myself at times, viewed scenery as a way to access and understand the “authenticity” of a space.

While riding on the bus from Tetuan to Tangiers a classmate of mine looked outside the window and highlighted the beauty of an abandoned building sitting near the bottom of a hill. Although the scenery made up of mountain ranges, valleys and farms was indeed beautiful, I often wonder if I’m allowed to think or articulate my appreciation for the sight. Despite the aesthetics that can be subjectively interpreted as beauty, it is important to remember that an abandoned building is a symbol of poverty, and there are real social implications of that building no longer functioning. With our tourist gaze, we forget about the family, the life, the function this building may have served before it was forced to be deserted. By referring to these sites of desertion as beauty, we allow ourselves to ignore real-life problems associated with that abandoned building, and also the way in which western society impacted the devastation of that space. The privilege that comes along with the ability to wear the tourist gaze includes allowing oneself to be “detached” from the real-life implications of the aesthetics we may enjoy.

The term beauty is oftentimes used to describe difference or “authenticity.” While in Morocco, I was often stopped and told by men that I was beautiful. Likewise, in Spain, many people would yell “negrita” (sorry if I spelled it wrong) when they’d see me across the street. Although in some ways I was glorified for my difference, more often people interpreted this difference as beauty, similarly to the way tourist use the words “authentic” and “beauty” interchangeably.

Tangier, Morocco. Approximately 18:30 Spanish time. Medina:

Immediately upon entering the medina (literally meaning town, medinas are a section of a Moroccan city in which goods are sold. Specific characteristics include narrow, winding streets, booths on either side of the path, and relentless salesmen) we were swarmed by men trying to sell us this things.  One man tried to sell a shiny rock filled with crystals, another had watches. I had a good time bartering with a t-shirt salesman in particular.

“15 euro! 15 euro! Good price!” exclaimed the man, shoving a trio of slightly faded t shirts, each portraying a classic tourist-trap icons (camels, plam trees, ‘Tangier’ written in bright Arabic-like font, ‘I <3 Tangier’, etc) into my face. With no Durham in my pocket and only about 2 euros worth of change I had no intention of buying the shirts, however I decided to humor the man and have a little fun. “Too much,” I said, “too much.” Now I that I appeared interested, the man would stop at nothing to sell. “Ok, what is your price?” “1 euro,” I said smiling.

The man was not impressed, but responded good naturedly. “You make joke? This is not a joke. 15 euro, good price. 1 euro…” The man scoffed and pointed at my sweatshirt, “what is a good price for this? I’ll give you 1 euro! That is a joke.” I laughed and told the man I respectfully decline his offer and would take my business elsewhere. As I walked away, I could hear the man saying “1 euro he says, 1 euro! A joke!” As appalled as the man appeared at my suggestion however, he continued to accost me every time I came out of a store into the street of the medina, each time lowering his price from 8, to 6, to 5, and finally to 4 euros, all the while appearing insulted that I kept my price at a steady 1 euro.

Bartering for t-shirts in tangiers.

This encounter was my first experience with the bartering culture of the Moroccan medina, however it would not be my last. In one store, a man tried to sell me a package of 6 ‘authentic’ Moroccan tea cups for 20 euro. I ‘managed’ to buy just one cup for 1.5 Euro, which I was very proud of, until I went to another store where a man was selling the whole package for 50 durham, or .70 euros each. Ironically, I tried to barter at that store as well – going off my previous strategy of offering next to nothing for the item – and the man got so offended he told me told leave his store. As I was leaving, a classmate came in and tried to buy the same cups, asking the man how much they were. “For you? 50 durham. For him? 70!!” The man gestured angrily at me.  However, it was all in good fun as we both smiled and told each other to have a nice day.

Moroccan tea cups

By the end of our visit to Tangier, it became clear that incessant bartering was part of the culture in the Moroccan medinas, and the methods of selling products was instilled at a young age. As we were leaving the medina, a young boy – 10 or 11 years old – approached us with a fist full of tiny toy camels. “3 euro! Good price!” He said. The kid had all of the lingo down, and in the end proved more savvy than the adults we had just bartered with. He managed to unload all of his camels, trading us for a mix of umbrellas – which would make him a killing the next time it rained – and euros. Needless to say, the boy, though young, was already a highly skilled salesman.

Bartering in the Tangier medina was a fun and interesting experience. Though I may have angered some of the salesmen, all of the back-and-forth was in good fun and I got to test out my skills as a bargain shopper, interact with some locals, and get a feel for the culture of Morocco and gain 1st person perspective on the daily flow of money and goods in the Moroccan medina.

Tanger, Morocco. 18:30 Spanish time. Medina:

One afternoon on our trip, a small group of us went on a tour of Tangier. After our tour, we went to a medina. A Medina is a market section of a Moroccan city that consists of narrow, winding streets, and people selling goods on either side of the path. The competition for sales is fierce, and the salesmen relentless.

Immediately upon entering the medina, we were swarmed by men trying to sell us this. One man tried to sell a shiny rock filled with crystals, another, watches. I had a good time bartering with a t-shirt salesman in particular.

“15 euro! 15 euro! Good price!” exclaimed a man, shoving a trio of slightly faded t shirts, each portraying a classic tourist-trap icons (camels, plam trees, ‘Tangier’ written in bright Arabic-like font, ‘I <3 Tangier’, etc) into my face. With no Durhim in my pocket and only about 2 euros worth of change I had no intention of buying the shirts, however I decided to humor the man and have a little fun. “Too much,” I said, “too much.” Now I that I appeared interested, the man would stop at nothing to sell. “Ok, what is your price?” “1 euro,” I said smiling.

The man was not impressed. “You make joke? This is not a joke. 15 euro, good price. 1 euro…” The man scoffed and pointed at my sweatshirt, “what is a good price for this? I’ll give you 1 euro! That is a joke.” I laughed and told the man I respectfully decline his offer and would take my business elsewhere. As I walked away, I could hear the man saying “1 euro he says, 1 euro! A joke!” As appalled as the man appeared at my suggestion however, he continued to accost me every time I came out of a store into the street of the medina, each time lowering his price from 8, to 6, to 5, and finally to 4 euros, all the while appearing insulted that I kept my price at a steady 1 euro.

This encounter was my first experience with the bartering culture of the Moroccan medina, however it would not be my last. In one store, a man tried to sell me a package of 6 ‘authentic’ Moroccan tea cups for 20 euro. I ‘managed’ to buy just one cup for 1.5 Euro, which I was proud of, until I went to another store where a man was selling the whole package for 50 durham, or .70 euros each. Ironically, I tried to barter at that store – going off my previous strategy of offering next to nothing for the item – and the man got so offended he told me told leave his store. As I was leaving, a classmate came in and tried to buy the same cups, asking the man how much they were. “For you? 50 durham. For him? 70!!” The man gestured angrily at me.

By the end of our visit to Tangier, it became clear that incessant bartering was part of the culture in the Moroccan medinas, and the methods of selling products was instilled at a young age. As we were leaving the medina, a young boy – 10 or 11 years old – approached us with a fist full of tiny toy camels. “3 euro! Good price!” He said. The kid had all of the lingo down, and in the end proved more savvy than the adults we had just bartered with. He managed to unload all of his camels, trading us for a mix of umbrellas, which would make him a killing the next time it rained, and euros. The boy, though young, was a highly skilled salesman.

Especially when selling to tourists, this is a good business model – make the starting price absurdly high, and then go down from there. The tourists have no idea what the actual price is and will be more likely to think they got some great deal because of their bartering skill – when in reality the item was still probably way over priced. I remember after one trip through a medina in Tetuan, I heard people discussing what they bought: “I got this bag for 35 euro, down from 90!” “I bought these shoes for 10 euro, down from 30!” etc. It was weird to think that, even though the selling price was probably way more than the actual price, we were still happy with the purchases, thinking we got a spectacular deal. However, that being said, the stuff was probably much cheaper than you could find it in the States.

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