September 11, 2019
I’m here. I arrived in Rabat last Wednesday, via Paris, via Atlanta, via New Orleans. Two people from the Fulbright office met me and a French instructor from Boston at the airport and took us into town. I put my bags down, rested, got a few things in order, and headed out for my first Moroccan experience, which came at the market.
Rabat, like many Moroccan cities, has an old walled quarter- the medina. Rabat’s medina walls are twenty feet or so, made of clay and stone. Perched on a hill overlooking the Bouregreg River and the Atlantic Ocean, it is quite a fortress that reminds me of the continuing importance of the sea in our lives.
Within the medina, I the first thing I encountered was the souk- the market, in which almost anything imaginable is for sale. You can buy used clothes, fabrics, stylish leather jackets, and cheap shoes. People walk through crowded streets, in and out of mosques, and past stalls with something to buy. There are breads, olives, and french pastries for sale, many not far away from carts selling meat pies. (I ate two.)
I spent the next few days dealing with a few logistics, and attending the Fulbright orientation. Short story, this is an incredible opportunity, there’s a little bureaucracy to deal with here and there, most things work pretty well in this country- but a few don’t, and Morocco is a safe place.
After that orientation the Fulbright crew headed to Meknes. Fulbright offers opportunities for people at many stages in their career, this mix emphasized that. The crew consisted of 4 scholars, a few grad-school aged researchers, and about a dozen post-college age English teachers, plus some administrators, spouses and other folks thrown in. Meknes is a fascinating city- a modern industrial and agricultural town with a rich heritage. There is an old walled Media, which like the one in Rabat a maze of streets, and bazaars selling almost everything imaginable.
The old administrative building has a large reservoir in front, which must of been an enormous sign of intellectual and physical power for an 1,000 year-old desert city. The interior of the old administrative building was palatial, filled with vast corridors, places to store grain, and wells to extract water.
The day ended with a trip to Volubilis- an ancient Roman town, in the Moroccan hills. As with many Roman ruins the most delightful parts were the province of the elite. (A pattern not missed in modernity.) The lucky residents had pools of water to bathe in, some heated from fires below. They could gaze at tiled floors depicting flowers, beautiful women, and gods and goddesses.
I returned to Rabat Sunday, and finalized my apartment. It’s a great spot neighborhood- close to the tram line, medina and river’s harbor. The apartment itself has a long, “salon” – two couches across from each other, a small balcony, and two bedrooms. Visitors are most definitely welcome.
After settling in, I headed out for a walk. First, through the medina again, and then out to the medina’s hillcrest, overlooking the Atlantic ocean.
Rabat’s Atlantic coast is rocky. Giant blocks of stone look out across the sea, and crumble in over the years as waves crash on them. This is common, and natural. Many of the worlds rocky shores are classified as erosional; they are rocky because pieces of them keep falling into the sea. But as the sea grows higher, it’s ability to erode these coasts increases. I wonder, what of the towns behind them?
Closer to the shore, the scene was both familiar and foreign. I am used to walking along the coast, and seeing people in a mixture of daily activities- surfers, retirees, kids hanging out, boats steaming up the river to deliver cargo. Along Rabat’s shore, there were men and women with long fishing poles stretching into the water. Were they simply fishing for fun, or was this essential food I wondered. A group with snorkel gear dunked in the water. Some people watched the ocean contemplatively, others in a more formal prayer. Along the sands closer to the river mouth men and women, boys and girls, played along the beach, some jumping in water. I saw signs for surf shops, expensive restaurants, and cheap eats. Out to sea, there four- maybe more- boats were out. Were they there for pleasure on this beautiful day, or out to catch fish as the tide turned? I did not know.
As I walked home, past the small harbor in the Bouregreg river, in and our of the medina, I wondered if this is part of what I came to, “discover,” here. That across this planet, so many worlds collide in the coast. The coast a place for food, for sun and solace, for work, and both for both business, and beauty. I’m not the first coastal scientist to think this- these are familiar themes to many of my colleagues in Louisiana and elsewhere.
But what happens when these peaceful collusions become strained. What happens with the defining characteristic, the sea, changes. Across the world, there are signs that the sea is changing. How fast is it changing, and what are we doing about that? That, my friends, is the subject of future writings.
I hope all are well, and I hope to hear from all of you.
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