Communities and Transitions

July 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm 2 comments

We arrived safely in Aleppo yesterday, before I could write my last Morocco blog.

I’d been thinking about the definition and importance of communities for a while. My research is on collective identity. My friend Greg Gangi has talked about the need for community in order to create a sustainable society. I live in an “intentional community.” During my last few days in Morocco, I found myself musing about the connection between community and fear. (The first paragraph of Chris Hedges’ recent piece seemed to fit here.)

It seems that, in every Moroccan city, people leave their homes to take to the streets. They stroll, or talk, eat, attend performances–but it is striking to an American to see so many people simply out at night. I first noticed it in Marrakesh, of course, as huge numbers congregated on Jama al Fna, but that seemed such a unique place! We noticed it again in the desert city of Zagora, as people seemed to come from everywhere and walk toward the river, just to be out and among others. In Fez, we walked with Muhammad’s family along the boulevards in the center of the new city, people just walking to be out and together. In Rabat, the main street was the site of both a concert and huge numbers of people simply walking together, or sitting and drinking coffee together and watching other people walking together. In Casablanca, Katie and I were just out for a walk when we saw big groups gathering by the fountain in the square. They seemed just to be walking around the fountain, families or friends in groups. In Casablanca, as everywhere else, the large groups brought out the vendors, and people bought ice cream, popcorn, orange juice, pastries, grilled sausages, or fava beans and chickpeas sprinkled with salt and cumin. The fountain wasn’t even on for the first half hour we were there. The point seemed to be out in the evening, just to be out and among people.

At each stop, we mused on this outpouring of people into collective areas. In Chapel Hill we seem to do this intentionally three times a year: two officially sanctioned festivals and Halloween. In each case, we seem to be afraid of the appearance of huge groups of people, and make sure we have significant police presence. In the US in general, even in Kansas (my previous residence), people seem to be frightened to go out at night.

I found myself wondering about the possibilities of creating communities when we are frightened to collect informally, just to walk the streets together. And I wondered why people here seem so unafraid to be together informally, and what that implies. (Needless to say, I find it ironic that Americans warn me of the dangers of being in the Middle East; people in Morocco and Syria seem to feel safe enough to be out in crowds, while those doing the warning seem nervous even on their own streets.)

Our last day in Rabat, I found myself in the middle of a new effort to create international communities. Someone a couple of years ago created a web site for “couch surfing.” If you have a spare bed or a couch and would be willing to host travelers, you sign up. Those who have used the system post comments on the web site about their hosts/guests to discourage people who would abuse the system or endanger its participants. Some months ago, Katie tells me, the site’s founders began suggesting that local couch surfers meet. When we arrived in Rabat, Katie contacted one of the local hosts, who invited her to the first Rabat Couchsurfers Meeting, held at the park with the tomb of former rulers Muhammad V and Hassan II. I accompanied her to the event, partly because of my own anxiety. I was fascinated at this effort to create international communities.


After two days in Rabat, mostly spent walking through Sale, in gardens created by an eccentric Frenchman, and among “old stones” stretching from the Romans, through the medieval Muslims and into the present, we returned to Casablanca to the most friendly and helpful hotel staff ever. We found “Rick’s Café,” an effort to create the setting that Bogart might have presided over (they run the film nonstop in the lounge upstairs), and spent our last two days in Morocco walking (and walking and walking).

Our own community decreased in size. Ian flew back to the US to move into an apartment and begin the next semester. Katie bought a bus ticket to Madrid to start the next part of her adventure , and William and I flew off to Beirut. Thanks very much to Ian for his intermittent comments, and to both for letting me use their photos. I’ll miss them, their insights, and their humor enormously!

Entry filed under: Identity, Middle East, Morocco, Travel.

Fez Beirut to Aleppo

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marywinne  |  August 20, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Love reading your commentaries. Thinking about Americans being afraid of being out in groups or at night, here in Boston the streets are crowded at all times- and not just the tourist areas, but residential areas, too. May be the result of city crowding. No sense of fear here, but of course, I am not in the poverty areas where there is more apprehension.

    I am struck in Chapel Hill how scared people seem to be. I am often warned not to go places, walk places or be out at night (because I am a woman- and especially an “old” woman, I think). Perhaps because we watch too much TV “news,” which aims to entertain us with gouhlish events.

    Hope things are continuing to go well! I stillhave lots of catching up to do with your blog. So interesting.

  • 2. imadivich couchsurfing  |  October 7, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    really its a intersting work done by Shiled’s Family, Congratulation!!!!!
    member in Group Rabat-Sale OF Couchsurfing Morocco


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