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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Ruminations from Rabat: Urban or rural?

Zaouiat Ahansal is pictured.

As evidenced in my last installment of “Ruminations from Rabat,” traveling has been a main priority of mine this semester.

I have been particularly committed to traveling within Morocco and experiencing all the rich cultural diversity the country has to offer.

I spent the first three weekends traveling to Tangier, a colorful wonderland;  Essaouira, an artsy beach town on the Atlantic coast; and lastly, Casablanca, the buzzing heart of Morocco.

I really loved Casablanca — I grew up in a big city, so I felt at home in the midst of such urban chaos. As the site of many economic development projects and a growing international community, I thought Casablanca epitomized modern Morocco. My roommate, however, disagreed. She thought Casablanca was too crowded and disorderly to see true Moroccan culture.

This began a heated debate about whether traveling to the city or the countryside is a better way to experience true culture.

The way I see it, if a country is a body, then a city is its heart; the source of its life. To be in a city is to experience the nerve center of politics, arts and culture. In a city, people congregate from every corner of the country, amalgamating all of its diversity into one small, densely populated urban area. A city is where you can feel the lingering past, experience present issues and predict future solutions. It is the embodiment of a country’s cultural identity.

My roommate, on the other hand, believes that rural areas and the countryside allow for a clearer view of true culture. She told me that the feelings of freedom and expansiveness allow people to build their own lives from the very earth underneath them. Culture is more visible this way; when you slow down and exist in harmony with your natural surroundings, you see how people live without outside influence and pressure.

“In a city, each person’s individual story is lost in rapid changes and constant movement, but in the country, you can see how people have lived for hundreds of years,” she said.

Last weekend, we had a mandatory trip with our program to a small village called Zaouiat Ahansal, situated in the Middle Atlas mountain range.

Visiting a remote rural village over six hours from Rabat is not something I would normally choose to do. But upon arriving, meeting the locals and engaging in the village’s unique culture, I felt the magic of the country.

We spent four days completely absorbed in the land. We learned that the village’s founder was sent by his Sufi mentor to build a religious school, or zawiya, in the mountains. His mentor told him to walk with his donkey and cat until the cat jumped off the donkey, and this was where he built the zawiya. Walking around the village today, you can still feel the influences of Sufism.

The people of Zaouiat Ahansal are Amazigh, indigenous North Africans. The land on which they live and work has been inhabited by their people for generations. It is their home. They have learned to harmoniously work with the beautiful terrain surrounding them. During our stay, we saw children playing soccer on the same land where their grandmothers would later harvest saffron.

In Zaouiat Ahansal, ironically, I realized my roommate was right. Cities do reflect the culture of a country, but if you travel to rural areas, you will experience the untouched roots of culture and tradition. This can deepen your appreciation of the country’s culture, just as going to Zaouiat Ahansal did for me.