I just finished looking through my friend’s facebook photo album and it just reminded me of how different Morocco is from any African country. Its not like you see on commercials for “feed the children” with dozens of dark children crammed into a single-room schoolhouse, nor do I see elephants or zebras or camels for that matter on a daily or weekly basis. The plants are extremely similar to those found in San Diego and Temecula and the animals I see are mainly just stray cats.
North Africa is really very different from Sub-Saharan Africa (that is the international/political term) for a lot of reasons: historical influence, political situation, religion, (topical) geography… etc etc. I have mentioned before that I don’t really feel like I am in “Africa” proper, and I believe that other Westerners who would visit here feel the same way. In class we talked about the way that Moroccans perceive themselves. My professor said that if asked “what/who are you”, most would first reply “a Muslim.” This in itself sets the people apart from many African countries. We asked if people classify themselves according to ethnic groups, since Moroccans are made up of Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers) and “Black” Africans. Surprisingly the answer to this seems to be no–unlike Americans, who classify themselves in terms of race (many of us can’t even trace our lineage back to the person who came to America from “the old country,” it was so long ago) they classify themselves and each other in terms of religion. Since the country is mostly made up of the same religion things are relatively harmonious, but we have encountered many examples of Jews and Muslims coexisting here in Morocco for thousands of years, which is encouraging. Many peolpe consider Morocco an “Arab” country but it is extremely different from Syria, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, most people I have known that have come to Africa have come on a part of a mission trip or something. This puts them in among the poorest of the poor in order to serve by building buildings or digging wells. I am taking classes, which already puts me above a huge percentage of the Moroccan population, and am generally exposed to the “well off” Moroccans and it would seem, sheltered from the poor. However I have seen a shanty town. The buildings were made up of metal sheeting and scrap wood. The metal sheeting roofs were held on by large rocks. The ironic part is that these areas have electricity and the top of the shanty town is dotted with hundreds of satellite dishes. What is the condition of the poor when they have TVs and satellites?
How can this country, which hosts fully modern festivals like the one I attended last weekend and has roads clogged with cars daily, not to mention a largely bi- or tri-lingual population also be the poorest country in North Africa? It has a GDP of only $4000 per person (according to the CIA World Factbook) which places it #153 [out of 229] in the world!
It really is baffling to see the discrepancy between what one would expect to see and what one actually sees here. They aren’t rich, they aren’t poor. They aren’t Arab, nor African. Where am I?