Sunday, 24 October 2010

Thoughts from the West (2nd part)

As I said before, there were a couple more of mind threads to talk about after the experience in Morocco.

The Arab-East connection
I realized that in order to have a cohesive vision of the European peoples one has to take into account all our neighbours, including North African.
I have a wide view of Europe as a cultural continuum to Asia, but the abyss between Spain and Morocco is wider than expected (probably because Iberian peoples rejected all things Moroccan centuries ago and have tried to counteract them since).

But on the other hand, I reckon that it will be difficult to understand many peoples of Asia ignoring the Arab-muslim influence on them.
Turkic and Persian ones, prominently, which are spread all along the Silk Route between Turkey and China, passing through Iran, that long-desired road filled with myths and echoes, and whose cultures along are the object of my attraction more than others.

I had deliberately chosen to ignore Arabs, and had in fact chosen not to go through any Arab country on my way back from the Far East (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, Emirates, Dubai, Syria, Libanon, Egypt, etc.), but from now on I will keep an eye on their culture.

Anyway, even Arabs are not Arabs, given that most people in Morocco are originally Berber-Amazigh (and a sizable population still speak the language), and elsewhere they come from other related ethnic-cultural groups that have been assimilated in different degrees, like Egyptians, Syriac and so.
It's as if we said that people in Italy, France, England, Spain, Ireland, Portugal etc. are all Latins, which it's partially true due to the Roman inspiration of the Western European countries, but one cannot leave aside the multiple local sources for these cultures in the shaping of their nowaday's psyche.

One other thing that struck me was that there are some traits of the Arab achitecture that are shared with the Chinese, Indian and Persian traditional ones (which accidentally all once belonged to the same Mongolian empire).
Seemingly, the ties between Middle East and Far East have proved stronger (trading routes, etc.) than the ones between Asia and Europe, and it arrives till Morocco somehow, this Far East influence, as if Magreb was just another piece of the Asian continent.
A side consecuence of the cohesiveness of the Arab world, probably (of which Europe lacks).

One last thought (two in fact) I had in mind has to do with the people that travel in Morocco.

My impression was that independent travellers there become mainstream package tourists, or maybe just that every tourist is downgraded to a backpacker there, or a self-fashioned version of a backpacker anyway.

There is no medium class, people can either choose between cheap hosting & transport or top-end (riads and so), and I don't mean that cheap hostels are crappy there, for many are clean and functional (Morocco depends greatly on tourism).
The thing is that many people go to Morocco looking for a bit of adventure just next door to Europe, and these same people would never travel on the cheap side in Europe if they can avoid it.

In the end, it was not so easy to get in contact with fellow travellers.
I felt quite apart from them, an outsider to both sides, I couldn't identify myself nor with the local population neither with the tourists.

Another thing yet, it's the fact that I have travelled through a country where I didn't understand a word of what people were saying.
I didn't bothered myself much in learning even the basics, but I could read some of the words (my Arabic script was rusty).
However, it felt uncomfortable that locals spoke to me in my native language, I felt exposed all the time, but Moroccans like to speak to everyone in their own languages.
I suppose they consider that mean travellers from Western countries despise their local language.

Not understading what people say in a foreign country misleads many travellers into thinking that natives are crazy and extremely different from them.
We tend to consider that people behave oddly when we don't understand their language and so don't have a clue of what they're saying in a social situation.
But that's only the way our mind works, we tend to associate the feelings of safety and normality with the social environment we know, and so our mind plays tricks on us when we don't understand what people say.
Try looking TV (especially advertisements) and turning the sound off, and you'll see people doing strange things you didn't realize before.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Thoughts from the West*

Back from Morocco I am and for the very first time touched by the realization of the big gap that, culturally and socially speaking, the strait of Gibraltar is, narrow in measure, though.

It has been my first piece of travelling outside Europe & USA, what it is commonly known as the Western World, despite differences that may be in the East and South of Europe (my beloved Balkans).

First of all, I feel my desires to the Asian trip greatly renewed, but at the same time deeper thoughts have rooted, ones that make me doubt about my own way of viewing the world.

I have always considered that I had a fairly neutral point of view (I'm not Christian, for instance) regarding some aspects of cultural identity, but now I feel ashamed of having let myself too much into the Western mainstream, whose main focus and pulling engine is of course USA.

I have been trying to develop a common European identity, but if I fail to understand the societies of our very Islam-Arab neighbours, I'm afraid that this effort is condemned to have no success at all in setting it apart from the American way of life.

I have been trying to understand the American criollos too, sure, and this obssesive tendence of Europeans to imitate them, creating a worldwide whirpool that actively seeks to achieve what the USA has, everywhere regardless of their own root cultures.

Sometimes I feel that we Basque people are just Western citizens playing to be indigenous people, but in the end we're just too deep into the civilization mud.

Anyway, I have had some adventures in this trip, but not big ones, and what disturbs me the most is seeing myself as just another mean rich westerner walking through the mazing streets of the Third World, given that what I really appreciate are people's cultures and not their economical status which I deem in no way related to their way of life, but to other socio-economical pressures and historical international affairs (post-colonialism).

How could we improve the welfare of people everywhere without spoiling the local culture, and getting people anywhere to know that every culture is equally worth, no one is better or worse solely based on its monetary achievements.

Talking about the US, it's customary actually that I meet US travellers anywhere I go, and needless to say, they're awesome individuals (maybe especially the ones that travel far and alone).
I met a guy from Florida, of Sardinian descent, and I told him about my plans in Asia, then he said 'wow, man, you should write a book'.
Even such an experienced traveller acknowledged that what I will have to say could be worth printing.

I had a couple of threads more to write here (about muslim culture and travellers in Morocco), but I choose to write them down on a next post.


After I wrote most of this on the bus from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate, I was conned and then food poisoned for more than one day, so the end of the trip was a bit more tricky, but fortunately I was restored just hours after the "con", and the TD "only" lasted some 24 hours, but anyway they're warnings of what I can expect in underdeveloped countries next year.

By the way, I finished reading the last book of Stephen King's Dark Tower saga, and once again I was taught that taking oneself too seriously can lead to disastrous consecuences.

* Morocco in Arabic is called Al-Maghrib, which means "the West".