One step into the busy train station and a huge neon McDonald’s sign showed us a hint as to what Marrakesh would be: what happens when a poor Islamic country meets the glitter of Western marketing edicts. We passed hotel, pale exposed arms glaring in the sun, billboards. The transition from Fes, a city unmovable by the increase of the Western presence was a stark and shocking contrast to Marrakesh imprinted the question into my brain: is this the future?
Ironically and much to my delight our tour guide the next morning had similar thoughts. A tanned, wrinkled face hidden by the bill of a baseball hat greeted us in a harsh Germanic form of English. After ten minutes of the usual factoids that guides always spout off, I began to ask him about his life, about his opinion and insight, which was met by surprise and then the beginning of what some might call, ‘old man rants’ began. In his lifetime he has seen his city morph into what it is today. He questions the development of his city and is now very concerned about its future. In his seventy years he has seen the desert become a town, become a city, and become a tourist destination. He sees the bustling square of interwoven communities diminishing, fading slowly into a cold reproduction of what life once was.
The sudden financial influx from Western countries is creating a new situation in Morocco. How will Islamic principals and morals withstand the commercial demand for a European homogenous culture to allow for vacationers to feel at ease with the false veneer of what was once Morocco. Is this the new age of colonization? Forced to globalize, newer generations beginning to taste the prospects of what fast money can do with looking into their Frankenstein-esque reflection? While staring at my own reflection in the glass cabinet I paused as the age of the artifacts jumped at me: these were only 150 years old. How is it that in Africa, the Cradle of Humanity, is exhibiting such recent cultural artifacts? Is Morocco self-preserving itself in hopes of bringing in more touristic revenue? Pickling their own culture in exchange for a newer one, a more ‘modern’ one, my inner Anthropologist began to recognize this salvaging effort in disgust as our 70 year-old tour guide began another rant about what he sees wrong with the country’s evolution into the 21st century. With every click of a camera, every sun-burnt German tourist I saw, the more I began to resent my own touristic presence and prodded the tour guide with more questions that I knew would provoke more old man rants and a view of the un-fabricated, unpolished Morocco. In our first city of Tangier I saw my mother’s reaction to the Islamic world, and appropriately in our last I saw the Islamic reaction to the encroaching Western presence and the fear that naturally comes with being exposed to the unknown. Similar emotions were discovered on the other side– an uncomfortable uncertainty of what will happen to friends, family, the daily life as the West continues to pressure the development of this ancient, yet moveable society.
A get rich quick scheme amplified onto a single city. Originally, there were only 30 riads in Marrakesh and today there are 250 new ones destroying the historical significance of the real ones. Countries like Abu Dhabi are talking about making year-round snow and ski resorts in the close-by Atlas mountains, putting the water shortage into a whole new and unimaginable level. The gap between the extremely rich and the extremely poor is growing at an incredible rate. By the end of the tour my mind was spinning. Hours later as I was riding a scrawny camel through an abandoned lot across from a freeway with the hazy Atlas Mountains in the background the tour guides words kept running through my mind, “Our country is like pregnant woman– one is pregnant, but we don’t know what.”