I have an awful tendency, by the way, to write one sentence about something relatively interesting that has happened to me and then thirty sentences expounding on it with some pseudo-didactic philosophical rant on the meaning of life (which might actually be slightly interesting if I didn’t go into some stream of consciousness tirade and completely lose focus on the topic).

Anyway, I wanted to write something a little different to help create a more mental image of Morocco, though I can’t promise you that I won’t go off on some tangent about love or whatever.

So, here it is, the first of (maybe) many similar posts….

My Morocco Top Ten List, the Sefrou Edition (top ten of what, I’m not really sure – maybe experiences, maybe some things I noticed and liked; you’ll figure it out):

10.  G-Star Raw.  Every country, I suppose, has its own favorite clothing line.  The “fashionable” (or “preppy”) kids of my high school days loved their Abercrombie and Gap.  But here in Morocco, there’s no better way to say you’re a hip kid than to wear the latest G-Star Raw fashions.  G-Star, as I understand it, is a Dutch clothing company that’s pretty big in Europe, and appears – to me – to resemble urban, maybe even “skater” streetwear – lots of unnecessary pockets, patches, and metal… things… are attached to the clothing, and quite honestly, the clothing makes the kids look incredibly… European (I’m not sure if I mean that as a matter-of-fact or with a slight, cynical nudge).  At any rate, pretty much all clothing here (and this is an important point, especially if the next time you see me, I’m wearing “Armani” or “Louis Vuitton”) is knock-off and cheap.  That said, G-Star is something I have my eye on.  There’s just something lovely to how tacky it is, I guess.  I’ve already got a hand-me-down G-Star hoodie from one of my host brothers (Marwan), so let the collection begin.

Anyway, that’s how Moroccan youth dress.  I’d say older generations almost always have on a jellaba of some sort, if not a nice suit jacket or something swanky.  I won’t go into that right now, though.

9.  “Say No To Terror.” While in Sefrou, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to watch a lot of television.  I could go on for hours about that, and many of the channels I watch branch beyond Morocco and all over the Middle East and Africa (I have a special love for National Geographic Abu Dubai).   There are channels specific to Saudi Arabia and, of course, I get Al Jazeera and others.  There’s also American movie channels (one of which Fox owns) with Arabic subtitles.  I’ve yet to see a really good movie on those, but I have seen plenty of Noah Wyle’s wannabe Indiana Jones movies.  These Fox movies rarely paint a pretty or accurate picture of America.  It’s no surprise that people sometimes think the Peace Corps are American spies.

All that said, I came across a commercial the other day that shocked me, and I wanted to share it.  It’s kind of like “say no to drugs” commercials in the States… except it’s about terrorism.  Great messages, but the fact that someone felt the need to make these commercials says a lot about our world and the state that it’s in; it’s important I think, though, to get the message back home to people who might not realize that the world situation we face is not “America v. Islam” but the world v. extremism.  We’re in this fight together.

8.  Moroccan Pop.  I’m not going to make a comment on this one.  The music speaks for itself.  This is Don Bigg, the “king” of Moroccan rap with a well-known female musician here too.

7.  Words that stick.  I haven’t commented much on language yet, so I thought I would say a few words (no pun intended) about, well, some of my favorite words and phrases that I’ve learned and used so far in speaking Arabic.  I should mention briefly, though, that the kind of Arabic I am speaking is a dialect heavily influenced by French imperialism (don’t get me started on how much I hate France these days), so I probably couldn’t jump over to another country and easily communicate with other Arabic speakers, sadly.  Furthermore, the dialects of Arabic all over Morocco differ from region to region.  I actually found it easier to communicate in my new site the week I visited than I have while I’ve been in Sefrou.  Oh well, onto words and phrases:

“Shwya” is a pretty common word that seems to fit, well, every situation.  I’ve used it to mean everything from “a little bit” to describing how I feel (as if to say, “just okay” or “not great”).  “Bshwya” means “slowly” and “shwya bshwya” means “little by little.”  So, I am learning Arabic “shwya bshwya.”  Use that one a lot.

“Zwin(a)” and “Mzyan” are two other frequently used words.  “Zwin” seems to imply something is nice, pretty, or beautiful, whereas “mzyan” is equivalent to “excellent” or “great.”

“Enshallah” or “Insha Allah” to be more accurate, is one I use a lot.  It means “God-willing” but is used very frequently to basically say that you’re going to do something “hopefully” and soon.  At some point, I may write a full post on God phrases, because I like them so much.

Finally, there’s “kif kif” and “bhal bhal,” the latter of which sounds more like “palpal” when it’s pronounced (to me anyway).  The phrase means, “it’s the same,” and it’s a phrase I use a lot when a word is the same in Darija as it is in English.

I’ll share more later, but let’s keep it nice and easy for now.

6.  Like a Zelda Video Game.  Several weeks ago, I took a climb up the nearby mountain in Sefrou, and I posted a few of those pictures on my Flickr account.  During the hike there, we passed several small homes, lots of sheep, several chickens just walking around wherever, beautiful green hills with bushes, and then finally on to the brown, rocky incline that we would “summit” in the afternoon, which I now call Death Mountain.  Every time I saw a chicken, I just knew that if I picked it up and carried it around long enough, a swarm of chickens would surround and attack me to protect their kindred.  When I got to the top of the windy mountain, it hit me: “I am in northern Hyrule right now, and I am Link in search of the Princess Zelda.”  See for yourself:

If you actually watch all of that, you’re weird.

5. The Bakery & the Bees.  Every morning, we have a short coffee break, complete with bread (“chubz”), cheese, tea, coffee, and some kind of jam.  We always buy the bread fresh from a nearby bakery which is usually swarming with honey bees throughout the small shop.  I don’t know why, but this is one of my favorite things in the world.  Walking into the bakery, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the smell of honey and bread.  Maybe I just love it because I haven’t been stung yet, but as the Moroccan proverb says, “If you want honey, you have to be patient when the bee stings.”

4.  Moroccan traffic.  When I first got to this country – and really for the entire first month – I was scared to death of the traffic.  Taxis move quickly through streets full of people, and the larger trucks aren’t afraid to whiz by you just inches away from death.  I refused to walk by myself for the forty minute walk to my house, because I was nervous I would do something stupid and get hit, and let’s face it, the number one cause of death for Americans overseas is cars hitting pedestrians.

At any rate, it’s been a month, and I’m much more comfortable with it now.  How, you ask?  I walk like a Moroccan.  As a general rule, you have to keep in mind that pedestrians never have the right-of-way, but they all think that they do.  So, I usually just wait until a clump of people are crossing a round-about, and when they do, I cross with them.  I figure it’s less likely that a large group of people will get hit than it is that one person gets hit by himself.  That’s the strategy they tell you to use in Italy, actually: walk behind nuns, because people are less likely to hit a cluster of nuns than a tourist.  I’ve always been a fan of that advice.

I find it all rather humorous.

3.  Dream Shop.  Every day, on my walk to class, I pass the Dream Shop.  I discovered one night that it’s actually a barber shop, but I’m convinced that behind the barber shop, there’s a secret room leading to a group of people who are currently dreaming sweet (or awful) dreams.  In fact, I can’t help but think of the movie Inception every day I pass this lovely little shop.  In case you haven’t seen it, Inception is sort of the modern day retelling of Dante’s Inferno, except the main characters create dreams within dreams and “descend” into them like descending into Hades.  It makes you think.  On a stupid level.  I mean, maybe I’m not actually in Morocco right now, and this blog doesn’t really exist.  Maybe I’m just the figment of someone’s dream, or someone’s dream within a dream.   Think on that, suckers.

2.  Sunbathing on the Roof.  Many days, we study Darija on the roof of our “school” and just soak in the sun.  There has to be at least a twenty degree difference between the sun and the shade, and a thirty degree difference between inside and outside (those concrete houses are basically just refrigerators).  I think back to Scotland and how many times there I got depressed.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a for-real thing.  No joke.  When I stand in the sun here, it’s like I’m recharging my battery.  I just soak it in and smile.  Maybe this summer, when I’m scorching hot in the desert, I’ll have less nice things to say about that big yellow ball in the sky, but for now, I soak it in as much as I can before “the winter takes what the summer had to say.

1.  The Run-away Steamroller.  A few days ago, I was walking down the street, and to my surprise, there was a small, unmanned steamroller just strolling along all lonesome and eager to crush someone to death.  I wasn’t the only person surprised by this.  Everyone watched in a bit of shock, probably thinking, “That’s going to kill someone,” and then a man began to chase after the steamroller, caught up to it, and stopped it before it could flatten someone like a cartoon.

Five minutes later, I watched several small kids chase down a truck full of sheep, hop on the back and hold on for dear life.  One of them just held on while roller-blading on the street ala Marty McFly from Back to the Future.

Watching these two events in succession really got me thinking.  With the crazy traffic and the overwhelming opportunity for disaster, one would think that the country would just fall apart or turn to chaos at any moment.  Such is the nature of just about any developing country, I suspect, but Morocco is a lot like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons:

To be clear, I don’t think Morocco has “every disease known to man.”  But sometimes, I do think that, as a country or as a society, there are a lot of things that just shouldn’t work.  But they do work.  Everything seems to work in harmony, despite the expectations to the contrary.  Every problem I encounter, every moment lingering on the brink of potential disaster… it all just works out in the end.  And maybe that’s not just Morocco.  Maybe that’s… life.  It’s more evident here, perhaps, but it all works out some way or another.  Things just kind of come together at the last minute (and differently than one might have expected but together all the same).

That leads me to a final point of sorts.  I post good stuff on my blog.  I generally paint a pretty picture of Morocco, and that’s fitting, because Morocco is a beautiful place.  But I’m not sugarcoating.  There is stuff here that happens that makes this a beloved country crying out in need of help and the place is far from perfect or we wouldn’t even be here, right?

That said, I think I’m growing to have a different view of the world and to see something beautiful in the mundane or even in the downright “ugly.”  I think some people might come to Morocco, see a trashy street and want to go home disgusted.  Or for others, maybe the concept of the turkish toilet is just too off-putting.  But that’s not what I see when I walk down the street or use the turk.  I see those things as part of a much bigger picture.  I’ll explain what I mean with yet another movie reference.

There’s a scene in American Beauty (that’s a bit cheesy and cliché, but it sums up the whole movie and, in some ways, my view of the world) where one of the characters is described as weird because he finds something beautiful in recording video of a trash bag blowing around in the wind:

To most of us, a trash bag is just a trash bag.  It belongs in a dump.  It’s litter.  It doesn’t belong in beautiful places.  But the world and nature can take our “trash” and mold it into something beautiful.  Or, as is said in the movie, there is “an entire life behind things and…this incredibly benevolent force” that is always present and with us.  If we’re willing to remember and live that life and look for that benevolent force, trash is never just trash; bad is never really bad; and the things that hurt or scare us should not hurt or scare us anymore.

That’s Morocco (and the world) to me.  It’s all beautiful, even the stuff we don’t think is beautiful.  Think on that.

So much for avoiding the didactic philosophical rant, right?  Oh well, enough about that.

I have lots more to say, particularly about Eid El Kibir, the Islamic Festival that happened yesterday.  But I need more time to process what all happened.  I’ll try to get one final post up about that before I move to my site on Thanksgiving Day.  So, until next time – hope everyone is doing well.


  1. Another great post, Philip…even with the “pseudo-didactic philosophical rant.” It wouldn’t be you without a little (lot of) introspection. The videos were a nice addition but I was expecting to scroll down and see one of you speaking Arabic. Maybe next time?


    1. Let me learn a little more first so I can actually impress you. :) Maybe I’ll get something up for the class on the vlog once I settle into Outat. And glad you enjoyed the post.


  2. Did you slaughter that thing yourself? How’d it taste? :)

    Hey, if you want me to post the new Sufjan album somewhere for you, let me know!


    1. No, I didn’t slit its throat, but I did help skin it, and I got pretty bloody standing in the line of fire of the jugular one time. Within an hour of it being dead (or thirty minutes of no longer moving), I was eating the heart. Felt kinda like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves or something. So far, I’ve only tried intestines, heart, liver (wrapped in stomach lining), and then the regular meat off the thigh. The liver was actually kinda tasty if you didn’t think about what you were eating, but I could do without the intestines.

      I’ve yet to try the head. My family didn’t serve it (Hamdullah). Nor did they serve the balls. I have a fear that my host family in Outat is saving a set of testicles for me or something. Here’s to hoping that’s an unwarranted fear.

      I would love for you to post that. I have the new EP, but I don’t have the album yet. I’ve heard mixed reviews. Actually, somewhat more importantly, if you can post some “Ok Go,” that would be fantastic. I’ve been wanting that stuff on my Zune ever since I was in St. Louis. I should’ve grabbed it from you then.

      Waxxa. Safi.


  3. Yikes. Um, Peace Corps was not the path for me, it seems :) I don’t think that I could do intestines, etc. Hats off to you, bro.

    I’ll get the OKGO and Sufjan zipped and loaded somewhere for you. I really want to see OKGO in concert sometime.


  4. Dear Phillips,
    I am a Moroccan national living in the US. I came across your blog by accident, but I am going to bookmark it. Great, great posts. This one in particular made me chuckle more than once.


    1. Saadia — I’m so glad you came across this. I really, really want to know where I can meet up with and befriend Moroccan nationals when I return to the United States. Where are you located?


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