Day 2: better. My body seriously hurts after lugging my behemoth of a bag from hotel in Casablanca to train to hotel in Rabat – and I have a serious bruise on my left arm to show for it – but after that it picked up. The familiarity of the city calmed me a little. I know my way around here and so I feel less alone, if that makes sense – it means I can move around without getting lost, the imaginary walls don’t close in that tightly. So I went out today, and I got everything done that I wanted to: found the school (so that I won’t have to search for it tomorrow, when I have my luggage in tow again), bought myself a map of the city, and got a SIM card and minutes, which means I am reachable again. I noticed the last two days how much of a security blanket (or a lifeline?) my phone really is to me. Despite my huge amount of luggage I’ve been empty somehow, like I’d forgotten something.
The school is located in the medina, on the north end close to the Kasbah that looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and the Bouregreg river. The school posts a map on its website, but I’d never been able before to find the appropriate entrance to the medina.* Today I had a taxi take me there, and once I’d found that, everything else was easy. Two turns down narrow medina lanes that were lined with women begging. This might be a misperception, but I have the sense that there are more beggars on the street than I had ever seen here before, and I wonder if it has anything to do with Ramadan. It is, after all, supposed to be a month of charity and compassion. The whole point of fasting, if I understand correctly, is to become aware of the plight of those who are less fortunate in life.
The school, in any case, was closed, but there it was, not hard to find at all. Incidentally, the taxi driver who drove me there asked for my nationality and proceeded to tell me that he had lived in the Netherlands, long ago. He spoke an impressive amount of Dutch and told me all about his time there – he even had a picture in his glove compartment of him with two very Dutch-looking men, clearly taken some time in the seventies. His brother, he told me, still lives in Holland; he is married to a Dutch woman and his children also all married Dutch people. It’s a beautiful country, he told me, and raved about all aspects of its society. He never went back because it was ‘too difficult’. I didn’t ask (seemed too sensitive a question), but wondered what he might have meant by that. Did he mean politically? Was he referring to the draught of tolerance that plagues the Netherlands these days? It is by no means easy for Moroccans in Holland. It never has been, but the situation has polarized in recent years. Or maybe his reasons were different, simpler – financial, family obligations, something like that. I did think that he presented a remarkably positive example of the guest-worker program in the Netherlands.** He told me that he and a few others had been part of a ‘Moroccan club’ that had organized Dutch lessons a few hours a week – something that was not systematically encouraged (in fact, it was discouraged – because these migrants were going back home, anyway) or subsidized by the Dutch government for a long time. And the fact that his brother married a Dutch woman, and is old enough now to have grand children. This means he married a non-Moroccan at a time when this was a huge, huge exception – it still is. It must have been difficult. But this – the fact that there are men like this, who have experienced life in Holland in this way – is a positive sign. It makes me think that everything will work out, in terms of integration. And it makes me think: this is so ultimately what I want to focus on. Moroccans in the Netherlands, issues of change, hybrid identities. But before I can really research that, I need to know much more about their home culture. Which brings me back to my research here…
*The ‘medina’ refers to the medieval part of any Moroccan town, and is surrounded by walls/ramparts that have a series of portals to the city. It is characterized by narrow, winding alleys that all look alike and together form more of a maze than a city plan, complete with dead ends and lanes that go in circles. This means that you have to know your way around, or be content with getting lost. ‘Medina’ is the Arabic word for ‘city’. It’s a recognizable part of every Moroccan town because the French, when they colonized the country, left them in tact and simply built their own cities alongside the old Moroccan ones. Every Moroccan city therefore consists of a medieval quarter surrounded by ramparts, and a newer part in Southern-European style with wide boulevards and whitewashed apartment buildings.
**During the 1960s and 70s, the Dutch economic boom compelled the government to recruit labor forces from abroad. Pretty soon after implementing the program, the Netherlands established contracts with Morocco and Turkey, who became the primary source of migration to the Netherlands in the decades to follow. Guest-workers were initially supposed to return to their home country, but many did not. Second-generation Moroccans (the children of these guest-workers, who were born in the Netherlands) struggle to define themselves, and figure at the center of political debate about minority integration.