More than a century ago, my grandfather traveled around Morocco before moving from Sicily to the United States. He always loved to discover new places and meet new people. He visited several cities (I wish I remembered which ones), traveling between them by horse or donkey.
He talked glowingly about the food, the mint tea and the kind people. He once said that if he had not already made arrangements to board a ship to New York, I might have been a Moroccan.
Following in his footsteps, we’ve come to this friendly, beautiful country. Unlike him, we are traveling with a driver/guide. Unfamiliar as we are with the language and the culture, we thought it best to do that…plus it was a great deal.
Idir, who lives in Marakkesh but spends much of his time escorting tourists around Morocco, shook his head when I told him that my grandfather had seen this country 102 years ago. It is not the same place as 100 years ago. It isn’t even the same place it was 10 years ago, he said.
After spending just a couple of days in the country, I think I agree…and disagree.
Morocco is a vibrant modern country, with wide highways and wide avenues, high speed ferries and high speed trains. It is also a country of rich history. The medinas — literally old cities —are dark, noisy labyrinthine mixes of thousand-year-old dars, riads and shops, of craft shops and restaurants and of hundreds of kilometers of streets that I can easily reach across with my five foot wingspan.
In the medinas, I can easily picture my grandfather chatting with shopkeepers and sampling dates and olives. I can see him in the young men riding donkeys in the rural towns.
The more modern areas are more like European cities. Chic and modern, nothing like the Morocco of a century ago.
People we talked to say that Morocco is changing rapidly but that its respect for and close contact with its history will keep the people grounded. And, some say, King Mohammed VI is shepherding the county into modernity at a proper pace.
Regardless of how or why Morocco is moving into the future while celebrating its past, the people are friendly, welcoming and peaceful.