Category Archives: American culture

Bluegrass, Moroccan-Style


Last week a few American friends and I attended a bluegrass concert at the Centre Culturel Sidi Belyout. A Moroccan bluegrass band had been touring Morocco with a couple of musicians from the states with thick but very charming southern American accents. This kind of event is put on for free by various American associations and the State Department in an effort to promote appreciation of American culture. (insert obvious and misinformed joke about the US’s lack of true culture, har har)

As much as I loved reminiscing about Fourth of July barbeques and basking in nostalgia with my American friends, here is what really blew my mind: a bluegrass take on a hugely popular Andalusian song. The lyrics–the refrain at least, which a friend taught me and which has been playing in loop in my head ever since–basically ask, “Why worry? God will take care of me.” This was a great choice for the finale. The audience, mostly Moroccans, sang along. The combination of American folk music and Moroccan (Andalusian) folk music was breathtakingly beautiful.

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Filed under American culture, cultural understanding, Moroccan music, Moroccan-American Studies, Uncategorized

Downtown Casa by night


Je me suis inspirée d’une vidéo du photographe québécois Dominic Boudreault, qui montre des images de villes nord-américaines, et j’ai voulu partager cette photo.

C’est une pose de 8 secondes prise par mon amie Jeannette. Le dernier soir de sa visite au Maroc, on s’est pris un verre en haut de la tour de l’Hotel Kenzi (une des tours du Twin Center). Du matin au soir, on peut commander un café, un verre, ou un repas hors prix histoire de profiter de la vue panoramique de la ville. (La bannière de Petit à Petit vient d’une photo que j’avais prise du haut de la tour Kenzi.) On trouve exactement la même combine en haut de la tour John Hancock à Chicago.

Il faut dire que si je m’intéresse aux différentes conceptions de l’urbanité autour du monde, je suis au fond une nord-américaine urbaine qui s’attache aux gratte-ciels et qui se retrouve émue face aux perspectives dramatiques des centrevilles verticaux.

I was inspired by the work of Quebecois motion photographer Dominic Boudreault‘s timelapse video of North American city skylines to post this picture.

It’s an 8-second exposure taken by a dear friend, Jeannette. On the last night of her visit to Morocco we had a drink at the top of the Kenzi Tower hotel (one of the towers of the Twin Center). Day or night, one can order extremely overpriced coffee, drinks, or even meals for the privilege of enjoying a panoramic view of the city. Exactly like the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock in Chicago. (The banner of Petit à Petit is from a picture I took from the Kenzi Tower restaurant.)

Although I love to explore different conceptions of “the city,” I am at heart a North-American urbanite with an emotional attachment to skyscrapers and the dramatic views of those dense, high-reaching skylines.

The video in question features amazing views of Montreal, Chicago, Toronto, and Québec.

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Filed under American culture, architecture, Canada, Casablanca, Chicago, urban life

Hope sells…electronics


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Doorway mixtape


Looks like someone appreciates ’90s hard rock and wants the world to know about it. (near Rond Point Mers Sultan)

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Good Americans, Bad Americans and the politics of representation


In the few days that I spent in Rabat this week, several Moroccans told me something that struck me as strange: Americans are good at languages, and they make an effort to learn about other cultures.

What??

We Americans typically start learning a foreign language only in high school, and we’re notoriously US-centric. Most Americans don’t have a passport and I’m pretty sure that almost none can place Morocco on a map. (I couldn’t until 2005, and maybe briefly in eighth grade when my French teacher had us memorize all the countries in the world.) This isn’t just due to our terrible lack of education in world geography. Morocco is obscure to most Americans.

Yet something I’ve found frustrating in a few MAMAS class discussions has been the presumption of the American perception of Morocco: Americans associate Morocco with terrorism. Americans think Moroccans are backward. Americans feel threatened by Moroccans. Etc.

The best example of this is our film class, which I thought might be really interesting until it actually started. We were given no theoretical basis, unless you count the professor’s personal, meandering opinions as theory. We were given only a loose framework for analyzing movies—something about considering the film as text, and not bringing in outside information.

Except that the entire class is built around the premise that “Hollywoodian” movies reproduce stereotyped images of the Maghreb. Not a bad starting point, of course, but hearing the same basic idea repeated over the course of a semester is like listening to a broken record that plays only the opening measures to a song. I keep waiting for the good stuff, but it never comes.

Babel, Hideous Kinky, The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Knew Too Much are all collapsed into one big mass of ‘Representation of Morocco by Hollywood’ as primitive, violent, mysterious, debauched, religiously extremist, etc. That last one is by far the most far-fetched, and a 99 percent projection of something that is just not in the films we looked at.

A lot of what I hear argued says more about Moroccan angst and insecurities than it does about Americans’ perception. Therefore any portrayal of rural poverty, for instance, which is a reality in Morocco, becomes in some minds an American commentary on Morocco as underdeveloped. Unhappy with the implied criticism, some dismiss the “message” as reflecting a political agenda. Things get really interesting when some people in class suggest that maybe there could be some truth to outsiders’ portrayal of Morocco–something which I think we can acknowledge while still reading texts with a critical eye.

Only rarely in this class do we ever move past simplifications and actually stretch our minds. The professor doesn’t encourage us to stray too far from his own theories, though. If we disagree with him, it only proves that we don’t get it. Ironically, he claims he wants to encourage students to think critically.

Do we have a problem of lack of awareness among Americans of the Arab world, the Muslim world, the Maghreb, and the difference between all of those? Absolutely. Are there negative images of Arabs and Muslims in movies? Yup. I don’t mean to say that American films don’t ever reproduce clichés about Morocco and “the Orient.” The book and film Reel Bad Arabs, for instance, document the production of clichés about Arabs in movies.

However can we analyze a bunch of different movies about Morocco, guided only by the vague assumption that the American public has a negative image of Morocco? Without any academic depth, we’re just fighting tired stereotypes with more tired stereotypes.

***Read comments for more discussion on representation***

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Filed under American culture, cultural understanding, Moroccan-American Studies

Thanks


I’m still buzzing with excitement from a weekend with friends to celebrate Thanksgiving and my birthday. I turned 26 last Monday, which is the day of the week worst suited to celebrating a birthday properly. So on Saturday Annemarie and Jacob came from Rabat to help me put together my funnest day in Casablanca so far.

I didn’t subject my guests to the practice of “giving thanks” publicly, although I consider it a great accomplishment to have gotten so many people to decorate my wall with drawings of turkeys.

When only a few Americans were left, late into the night, we had a Thanksgiving check-in.

Every day, Arabic speakers say “hamdulilah!”, thanks be to God, but on Thanksgiving we talk about being thankful. Just, you know, generally. Leave the details to those who want to give specific shout-outs, but Thanksgiving is a secular holiday.

I will tell you (the internet) what I told my friends when I took out the colored pencils and glue-on googly-eyes a few nights ago: “I know this is corny but…”

I’m thankful for my family and support system back home. I’m thankful that I can travel freely, even though I acknowledge that it’s unfair. Sometimes I can’t believe that the Rotary invested so much in me, but I’m thankful that they did. I’m thankful to have landed among such cool and engaged students at Ben M’Sik, and that they’ve accepted me as one of their own. I’m also thankful that they appreciate my sense of humor… I’m thankful for good Moroccan friends who make this year interesting, and also for good American friends for providing a small piece of home.

I am thankful for the internet.

Seriously, though.

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Filed under American culture, cultural understanding, اصهاب

COWBAY! Morocco, Western style


Those who aren’t familiar with Morocco might not be entertained by this past the two minute mark, but I highly recommend watching the whole thing, even if you can’t understand the dialogue. This sketch by Hassan El Fad mixes Western motifs, out of place bits of Moroccan culture and nonsensical cultural references. For instance, the characters who are supposed to be Native American are not only parodies to begin with since this is a Western-style sketch, but borrow from other “native” cultures–Australian aboriginal, at some point? The soundtrack mixes Western folk music with blues and other anachronistic American music.

It’s both an homage to American Westerns and a wink at Moroccan culture. Elhyani.net, a blog I’ve just found and have been enjoying recently, compared the Hassan El Fad style of comedy to Monty Python. Personally, this reminds me of Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor’s Blazing Saddles, a Western-style and funny-as-hell allegory on racial issues in the U.S. There’s something about shifting cultural context that is both hilarious and illuminating.

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Filed under American culture, cultural understanding, Moroccan Humor, Moroccan traditions, Moroccan-American Studies