-Where were you born?
Austin, Texas, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I am living with my daughter until September 2007 when she returns to NYC for graduate school.
-How long have you been living in Morocco?
We arrived September 2006, to Fez, Morocco and lived there until March when we moved to Rabat.
-What is your age?
I am fifty-seven years old.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Morocco?
My daughter graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, May 2006, as a Fulbright Scholar. It was her choice to conduct her year of research and study in Morocco. It was my choice to accompany her.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It was a bureaucratic pain to get a Residency Card. It took us three months of meticulous paperwork and weekly visits to the Police Station in Fez. I did not try for a working permit but my guess is that unless you are here to invest, it would be difficult.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I have medical insurance but it is actually better budgeting to pay out of pocket here. Morocco is a country with growing AIDS infection and not a sterling record of sterilization of medical tools, or the use of disposable needles. I suggest staying away from the dentist. I had a check-up before I came and I am going to the U.S. in October to have some work done. I also went to my doctor and had an overall checkup before I left. In spite of all that, I had a seizure and loss of consciousness due to a ten-year condition. My daughter took me to the Emergency Room at Clinique des Nations Unis where I saw the doctor on rotation within five minutes. He took a history, gave me something to help settle me so I could get some rest, and scheduled me for an MRI the next morning. The entire visit, medications included, was 300 dirhams (36 usd, 19 pounds). I have a background in critical care medicine so I have something to base my comparisons and opinions on, and I was quite satisfied with the care, disposable needles notwithstanding. The next morning I was taken in immediately for exam by Docteur A. Ouammou, neurosurgeon; and then the MRI, with contrast. Again I was very satisfied with the procedure; I have unfortunately had many of these. On Saturday we returned, had the MRI read, were given the films and CD. The total cost was 3070 dirhams (379 usd/186 pounds).
My point is that I think you should do both. The important insurance to acquire before coming is one that covers your airfare and whatever assistance you need to leave the country in case of an emergency better handled in the West. I have a background in medicine so I may be a bit more at home with medical problems; any procedure that does not involve blood or fluid exchange is my rule. But as far as a skinned knee, even a broken arm; I think you will be fine with the local care in Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech.
-How do you make your living in Morocco? Do you have any type of income generated?
I do not have a job here. I am continuing my studies online at an American University so it was necessary for me to have wireless broadband internet service which you can get here for a very reasonable cost, we pay around 300 dirhams/month (30 usd, 18 pounds). I am also a writer, so I submit manuscripts and blog over the Internet.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
The language here is Darjia, not standard Arabic. Most of the bureaucracy is conducted in French, and most of the shop owners speak French. There are few English speakers. You will find the Moroccans very multi-lingual. I do not speak either language and I get on well, as I am very good at facial expressions and body language. I do speak Spanish and there are some Spanish speakers about. I have picked up some basic Darjia and I am trying to find a French tutor. The difficulty is finding someone to teach it from the English.
I think both are true - I think you can get on well enough not speaking either of the local languages, but if you are going to stay for any time I think you should learn as much as you can. Whether French or Darjia depends on what you will be doing and where in the country you will be living.
I do think it is important and just good manners to observe local customs within reason. I wear the local dress (the djellaba) during the colder weather, as they are quite lovely. You can have them hand made at a very reasonable price and they are well suited to the weather. I have a lightweight djellaba I wear in the summer over shorts and a tank top when I go to the market or somewhere in my neighborhood, the Oudayas as it is mostly locals. When I go to the Agdal or Souissi side of Rabat I wear western dress as that is what is most common in those areas.
I do not wear the hijab (the scarves over the head and neck). I wear a hat almost always, as I am very light skinned. Another good reason to wear the djellaba is the fact it protects the skin.
Morocco is very versatile in fashion. You see all extremes and it is all tolerated well. I would not advise going to the areas outside the cities in shorts, or even skirts above the knee. Even in the cities, please keep your legs covered and as much as your arms as you are comfortable with covering.
I have written on my blog of the need for tourists and those of us who live here to ask always before taking a photograph. This is a Muslim country. Muslims have rules and beliefs about images. The children will always pose for you, and many of the adults will as well. Expect to pay for the privilege in Marrakech always, and sometimes in Rabat if they are in costume. Always ask!
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I may have a different answer on this after August when my daughter returns to the U.S. but for now I don't miss anyone as I have my family with me. There is so much to do here: the Sahara, Marrakech, the Medina of Fez, the romance of Casablanca, and the danger of Tangiers. We have been to two Moroccan weddings; several new friends have invited us to dinner in their homes. The people here are open and friendly, helpful and engaging. We attended the Sacred Music Festival in Fez in June where we saw Bono and the Queen of Jordan.
I have joined a fabulous gym both for physical and social reasons, and I am exploring the restaurants and social events in Souissi and Agdal. I have documented this in detail on my blog.
This week we are going to check out a riding stable someone has told me of, I hold out much hope for fun in that venue.
Todra Gorge offers some of the best rock climbing in the world. I went for a day trip there, again documented in my blog, and it is fantastic.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Yes, I am thinking I will stay here another eight or twelve months or so, then three to six months in America to finish up this present course of study, and I am thinking of going to Luxembourg or Northern India for a year after that.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Housing and investment here is a good opportunity. The Medina in Fez is in the process of rebuilding. There are quite a few investors from the West buying homes to live, or to turn them into Riads for renting. It is very affordable proposition. You can get a house in the Fez Medina for eight to twenty thousand dollars depending on the condition. Your best source of information there is David Amster. He runs the American Language School in Fez (ALIF) and is a prime player in the renovation of the Fez Medina. He has assisted several people in buying homes there.
In Rabat we live in the Oudaylas, which is on the ocean. It is actually a lower income area and the rent is very low in comparison to the West. We have a two-bedroom, two-story house with a good size roof terrace overlooking the river for 5000 dirhams/month (301 pounds, 600 usd). We pay for the Internet service, and any electricity that goes over a certain amount. I don't know what the status of buying is here. I do know there is also a market for the house to Riad conversion in Marrakech. I assume the cost is higher there as it is more touristy. A good source of information for that would be http://riadzany.blogspot.com (The View From Fez).
We choose to live in the Oudayas as it is a real neighborhood. I feel very safe here and have come to know my way about the Medina quite well. Even though my gym, salon, restaurants, and shopping are for the most part on the other side of town in Souissi or Agdal, I prefer to live here.
-What is the cost of living in Morocco?
Compared to the U.S. and Britain it is less, depending on your lifestyle. I belong to a gym that is rather expensive, but there are those for less. The cost of food is much less than in western countries, although you can still run up quite a bill at the local posh restaurants. I find no need for an automobile as the taxis are very cheap and the trains which are inexpensive as well get me to any other cites and the airport outside Casablanca. I hire a car when I need to transport something from Fez to Rabat. There are car services you car hire for just about any need.
Western clothing, indeed any western items (wine, chocolate, perfume, makeup) are expensive. It is difficult to find an abundance of items. For instance we bought my daughter a pair of running shoes in Fez and the shop had only that pair of shoes in that style. When in Souissi (the posh side of Rabat) last week in a shop at the Marjane Mall she found an adorable pair of dress shoes at a reasonable price but they only had two pair of the shoes, in the entire store, the size smaller than she and the size larger. On the other hand La Vie en Rose, the luxury lingerie shop, is always well stocked…
Marjane is a French chain of stores here that carries everything. It is a great place if you don’t speak the languages well because you can walk the aisles whereas in the Medina shops you have to tell them what you want because the merchandise is piled high behind them in very tiny shops. You can only see over the counter, you can’t go in.
Medical care is very inexpensive, but sterility is a crapshoot so don’t get anything done that crosses the skin-blood barrier. On the other hand you can have anything x-rayed, or have a sonogram, MRI, or CAT scan for an unbelievably low price and they will give you the films and a CD to take with you.
-What do you think about the Moroccans?
The Moroccan people have been lovely to me and to my daughter. We have made friends, we have been invited for lunch and dinner, we have attended weddings, and been for tea. Strangers are lovely and quickly become friends. Moroccans are a beautiful people physically and the children are even more so. I think the kind way in which I observe the children and the animals being treated in this poor country says something about the character of those who live here. The people are always willing to help you find your way, or find what you need. Hustlers abound, so keep that in mind and keep your sense of humor.
As in any society there has been some unsavory but not physical, leering from men, some uncomfortable run-ins with taxi drivers, and the occasional ill-mannered remark (“the hat is fine but a hijab would be better”), which are all notable for their rarity.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Morocco?
It is a slower, more relaxed way of life that moves to its own ancient rhythms. There is much to see and do that is exotic and fun. Royal Air Maroc is one of the most comfortable and reasonably priced airlines in the world today; they still serve food and it is good! It is a physically stunning country – the desert, the mountains, the sky, and old medinas are remarkable.
It is a poor country and the demarcation between rich and poor is all the more stark because of it. It takes longer to get anything done, especially if it involves the government. It is unbelievable difficult to get books in English.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Morocco?
Before coming to Morocco it is vital to read about the country and the people. I would advise some organization with people back home to send you medications, vitamins and books. Get started on your residency as soon as you arrive, as it will take a few months to go through.
Have all your dental check ups and any necessary work done before you come as there is a problem with sterile instruments, as in are they? Arrange to have your cleanings and check ups at home.
Please acquaint yourself with Islam. Read the Koran, it is a beautiful book.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Morocco?
The View From Fez: an informative site about what is going on in Fez. Where to shop, where to eat, what to do.
Cat in Rabat: another expat telling of her experiences of Morocco; some insightful views from a teacher.
Braveheart-does-the-Maghreb: the descriptions and observations of a western woman living in Morocco; information on shopping, tour sites, where to eat, workout, and buy flowers.
House in Fez: the website of David Armster that contains a wealth of information about housing and the Fez Medina