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Morocco – Making a living

My Moroccan adventure has ended and I have been home in Denmark for just about a week now doing some reflecting on my journey and the experiences that I’ve had along the way. One thing is certain… the Moroccan culture is definitely very far from my own in Scandinavia and there have been a lot of things to get used to: Living standards, the way people socialize, the culinary experiences, just to name a few.

Like every other culture, Morocco too has both good and bad sides. One of the more unflattering has to me definitely been the marks left by tourism in particularly the bigger cities. And I haven’t even been in Marrakech. It does something to a place over the years when tourists begin to pour in and spend their money. The place will inevitably lose some of its innocence when getting a slice of the money cake, brought in by the tourists, slowly becomes a way of life for many. And it definitely is in Morocco, hence the opportunism I mentioned in an earlier blog post.

A tourist is in many ways regarded as opportunity in Morocco, and I have many times felt that your presence becomes a lot about your money. Not that this is a complete surprise because there are of course obvious and very good explanations for this, one of them being that this is a country where a lot of people really are trying to make the ends meet on a daily basis. Many people simply try to make a living, and tourism certainly plays a big part in this. But it does alter the authentic experience of the place and in worst cases turns it into a circus over time. And I’m sure that there are other places out there where it’s even worse than in Morocco. But I guess this is just a natural development. You can probably tell that I’m not a big fan of the hustle and bustle of tourist areas :-)

Many tourists come to Morocco to experience many different places along their trip, and so, many tend to only stay in big cities like Marrakesh, Fes and Meknes for 3-5 days at most. I guess this is a great way to get to experience the big diversity Morocco has to offer in a relatively short amount of time. Personally, and especially as a photographer, I’m more of a spending-long-time-in-few-places kind of person as my personal opinion is that it takes time to get beyond the circus. I stayed 9 days in Fes and 10 days in Meknes which was enough time for me to dig deep and seek out some Moroccan authenticity. I definitely found that there are valuable experiences to be had in the areas where the Moroccans themselves go to buy their daily necessities and live their daily lives without tourists. When you find yourself in these areas, with a genuine interest in getting to know the Moroccan mentality, chances are that you will be met with a more relaxed attitude as a foreigner. This is of course also the case when you visit smaller towns like Azrou in the Moroccan countryside.

I met a lot of different kind of people on my trip and I’m happy to say that there have definitely been some very good people among them too. As I mention above you will as a tourist, at some point, experience that some people see you as an opportunity, and this can eventually make it somewhat difficult to know who you can actually trust. But take your time in Morocco and you will also meet people that will reach out a welcoming hand to help you, or perhaps even invite you to their house, without asking anything in return. One of them is a guy named Hassan, as I have mentioned earlier. I met him on my 6th day in Fes – a day where I decided to take a closer look at the neighborhood around Fes El-Jdid. The name translates into “New Fes” because it’s only 700 years old making it much younger compared to the neighboring parts of the city to the east. I decided to start out in the tranquil surroundings of the Bou Jeloud Gardens. It wasn’t long before a friendly guy approached me, welcoming me to these gardens where he was working. His name was Hassan. He showed some interest in me and my purpose in Fes, asking me where I was from etc. We sat down for a moment to have a chat. I told him about my photography and that I was going to investigate Fes El-Jdid and the Jewish quarter, so when he offered to walk with me and show me these areas which he call home, I didn’t hesitate.

We had a very long walk that afternoon and on the way I met his son, his daughter and his wife. Long story short, I ended up having dinner at their house for four evenings straight. This was during the Ramadan in which time people typically eat at sundown and then later past midnight. Each evening, when we finished dinner at 7.30PM, Hassan took me to his favorite Café Rasha where he normally spends his evenings – a small place where men gather to have a coffee or a pot of mint tea and a chat about recent events in the company of friends. This was also where I met Rashid – Hassan’s best friend. Everybody knows everybody and before I left Morocco I had spend five evenings there, meaning that everybody, according to Hassan, apparently knew me too. In a place where it’s difficult to feel at home due to the cultural differences, this café at least made me feel a part of their world for a while. These were people who didn’t once ask me to buy anything. They didn’t care about my money; they didn’t care about my political point of views nor my religion. They just cared about friendships and having a good time. This is real Moroccan hospitality and one of Morocco’s particularly good sides. Hassan ensured me that I will always have a second home in Fes.

Below is a selection of photographs of people from Fes and Meknes who makes a living their own ways regardless of the presence of tourists.