As I'm sure you can imagine, life in a society that was once a medieval kingdom is somewhat different from life in a modern developed country like America. For example, one of the first things I noticed upon arrival in Morocco was that there are pictures of the king everywhere. No matter the city or the place, be it in a store, a restaurant, or someone's home, positioned high on the wall in a beautifully adorned gold frame was a picture of King Hassan II. A favorite Moroccan icon, King Hassan II was adored by his subjects and much to the devastation of the nation he recently passed away.
Now his spirit lives on and reigns in his eldest son who succeeds him as the nation's leader. King Mohammed VI is held in the same high esteem and his subjects are hopeful that as a young leader he will bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to shape the Morocco of tomorrow. It seems that he might be just what Morocco needs for a fresh start at the turn of the century. At a recent inaugural speech the new king denounced the corruption in the parliament and vowed to work toward a new democratic state with election of parliament officials and better representation of the needs of the people. No matter how capable the king, no man is an island unto himself, and he can't do it alone.
So who are the others who make life in Morocco possible? Everyday folk like you and me of course and like us these people do a little of everything to make a dirham (the Moroccan dollar). There are professions of all kinds but unfortunately unemployment is one the greatest challenges faced by this developing nation, and there the cycle begins. If the people can't make money they can't afford to send their children to school. And if school is free by the time children reach a certain age they can be more helpful to the family if they do small work than if they spend all day in school. So they drop out of school, and begin working, pushing carts and hauling things, shining shoes, or selling cigarettes and other random items on the streets. Then there are the younger children that walk through the streets with their most pitiful faces on begging for small change or food.
I was reminded of an article Abeja wrote about street kids back when the team was in Zimbabwe. It talked about how these children, as innocent and helpless as they may look, are professional hustlers by the ages of five and six. I couldn't believe it until I saw for my own eyes three children hustling for money here in Tetuoan. I'd seen them walking in front of us down a side street, laughing, playing, chasing each other around and just being cute. Then as soon as we hit the main street they started walking slowly with their faces to the ground, their saddest expressions, rubbing their tummies and asking for change. They were pretty successful from what I could see, especially with the tourists whose hearts melted the moment they laid eyes on these precious babies. But had those tourists been keeping up with the Odyssey Worldtrek they would have learned from Abeja's article that giving the kids money is the worst thing you can do. It might provide a temporary solution to their needs but it only encourages them to continue hustling which is no way to live your life.
As I walked the streets wondering what solutions there were I noticed a sign for Artisant School so to learn more I went there to visit. In a small city called Bab el-Okla just outside Tetuoan I saw children in school but instead of learning geography and history they were learning specific trades. Some students learned wood carving, an old tradition of Moroccan design. Arabesque architecture is characterized by huge wooden doors intricately carved and etchings on the ceilings and along the walls that are similarly designed. It takes time, patience, and a good eye but if students start young by the time they reach their late teens they've perfected the craft.
Others were learning brass work, making ornately designed tea kettles and trays, lanterns, and other decorative souveniers from sheets of brass. The national beverage in Morocco is hot mint tea which has been nicknamed Berber whiskey because people drink it all day long, as if it were addictive. And no matter how poor the family a tea set is a definite necessity making brass works a very popular trade. One classroom, I guessed from the shoes drawn on the chalkboard, was a class on shoemaking, how cool! That's something I've never seen in any of my old classrooms.
Then finally in the last class I entered was a huge room filled with large wooden machines. Students stood behind the machines wrapping yarn around a loom learning how to weave rugs. All around the room hung beautiful rugs, perfect examples used for instruction with intricate design all done by hand. The Berbers who lived in the mountains, were craftsmen and women who became experts at their craft. One of these rugs for example, might take up to six months to weave by hand. They are so finely and tightly woven that if you set fire to it the fibers withstand the heat and won't burn! I saw it with my own eyes.
An entire village goes into debt to buy the supplies needed to weave a rug and when they sell one they all benefit from the profits. One of the instructors, an older Berber man, named Jonah was telling me that Berber families don't put their money in banks. They put their money in rugs. "What? You mean they keep their money hidden under rugs?" I asked. "No, no" he said smiling, "they invest in buying or making a rug and when they>need money they sell them", a nice income, as the large ones sell for about 5000 US dollars.
As I walked back to Tetuoan I felt better knowing that there are alternatives for the children I'd seen earlier. Even as a developing country Morocco has a great deal of potential, potential that King Mohammed VI will hopefully help to realize. And if each one remains committed to his or her own craft and talent this kingdom of people, faithful, skilled and talented, will continue to move forward in success.
If you want to learn more about the history of the Moroccan royal family, visit their site.
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Kavitha - This land is my land, this land is your land part II
Team - Adios Morocco! We had a ball!
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- She's Making a Difference
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