Morocco is a fascinating country. With a rich and diverse history, it is an eclectic mix of Berber (native), Christian, Jewish and Islamic cultures. From what I’ve seen, these different groups not only know how to live together in peace, but also know how to enjoy life! With a strong French influence (everyone here speaks Arabic and French), some of the cities feel more European than African. Afternoons seem to be spent in cafes, with an espresso and a good friend, just watching the world go by.
In my 10 days here, I’ve gotten a glimpse into everyday life for Moroccans. I’ve seen colourful and chaotic markets, families riding donkeys along the side of the road, and men languishing in the afternoon sun for hours, with a cup of mint tea and a cigarette. Of course smoking isn’t healthy, but in a lot of ways the Moroccans seem to be ahead of North Americans when it comes to overall wellbeing. A few things have stood out for me, and I’ll likely be implementing them in my own life once I’m back home.
Everyone speaks more than one language
As I mentioned, the vast majority of Moroccans speak both French and Arabic. On top of this, many speak English and/or another dialect from their hometown. While it has nothing to do with food, we all know that keeping your brain sharp is great for longevity! Not to mention expanding your horizons and learning new ideas. Having the chance to switch between German, French, and English on this trip reminded me how great it is to challenge your brain and learn something new! My French is fairly elementary, and having to think about what I wanted to say kept me on my toes. It also allowed me to make new connections with people that didn’t speak English, which is something I love doing. New friends and longevity? Count me in!
People take mealtime seriously
Ah, food. Like the French, Moroccans appreciate a good meal. They take the time to sit down, enjoy local ingredients, and they don’t overdo it on the portion sizes. If you've never tried Moroccan tagine, it's a healthy, flavourful dish that will leave you satisfied for hours.
I’ve seen almost no to go cups, and definitely no giant mugs. Coffee is consumed every day, but it’s in a small cup, and usually with good company. The many coffee shops here are full in the afternoons - often with couples sitting together facing the street so they can chat and people watch at the same time. If you’re not drinking coffee here, you’re probably drinking Moroccan mint tea. Between coffee, tea, and water, you’ve got your beverages covered. Coke is expensive (I’ve seen up to $5 USD/can!), and alcohol is rarely on the menu. Being a Muslim majority country, alcohol is difficult to come by, and expensive when available. You know I love a good glass of wine, but I think cutting back on alcohol overall is something I’ll be implementing in my own wellness routine.
The cities are mostly walkable
This is something I love about older cities - you can walk almost anywhere! Especially in Marrakech, you can see people walking, cycling, or riding donkeys to get around (seriously!). If not, it’s just a few dollars to get anywhere within the city by cab. The driving is pretty crazy here, so I would opt for cab or walking over renting/buying a car when visiting. Getting in over 10 000 steps per day has also helped me feel like I’m staying in shape, even though I’m going to the gym less while I’m here. It’s reminded me how much I love walking - and not underestimating what it can do for my health!
The Arabs have this awesome ritual called “hammam” - something I had never heard of until this trip. It’s basically an intense body scrub that exfoliates your skin and gets rid of dirt, grime, and dead skin cells. Apparently it’s common to do this twice a week, and it improves circulation, skin elasticity, and helps to relax the muscles and nerves. It’s usually accompanied by a hydrating steam and a massage, which further help you to relax and rejuvenate. It also serves to throw any body image issues you might have right out the window, since you’re scrubbed down by someone while wearing only disposable underwear. Yes, disposable underwear, and that’s it. At first, my insecurities started coming up - “what will she think?” “why am I only wearing disposable underwear?” “did I shave my legs this morning?” But I quickly realized that this was an ancient health ritual, and it was probably good for me to lie there and forget about my insecurities - and just enjoy the process. I quickly felt so relaxed that I completely let go of those thoughts and truly enjoyed the experience. It was totally unexpected, and totally what I needed to reconnect with myself! Definitely something I wasn’t anticipating in a Muslim country that is overall fairly conservative.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen and learned on this trip. Moroccans are an interesting, diverse mix of people who are quick to lend a helping hand or get to know you over tea. They take their time with food and conversation, and their rich history is alive and bustling in their winding streets and bustling markets. I highly recommend it for the adventurous, budget-conscious traveler who appreciates good food and good conversation.
Bon voyage, et bon appétit!