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.

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