A Medina is basically a market place, traditionally the heart of a North African town. You can hear Arabic, French, Amazigh, and Spanish all being spoken as people barter over goods. Everything is sold from spices to rugs, goats, jewelery, clothing, food. It is easy to lose yourself and believe that you have been transported back a few hundred years.
Most Moroccans speak several languages. Arabic is the language of instruction in most schools, but French is also widely used (Morocco was a French protectorate in the early/mid 1900's). Some people in the south also speak Spanish. English, however, is fast becoming the language of choice, especially amongst the younger population. Finally, a third of the population speak Amazigh, a language which is far older than English. These are the people I referred to as Berbers in a previous post, which I have subsequently learned is not politically correct. There is also a Moroccan dialect of Arabic, called Darija, which is widely spoken at home.
As Americans we are at a distinct disadvantage compared to the rest of the world because of our monolinguistic environment. A Moroccan child, who grows up learning 3 or 4 very distinct languages will have language acquisition skills far superior to a typical American.
Although Moroccans speak Arabic, they do not generally consider themselves to be Arabs. The Koran is written in Arabic and is not supposed to be translated into other languages. Thus if you are a Muslim, and most Moroccans are, then you speak Arabic. However the Amzigh (aka Berbers) were here long before Islam arrived with Arab invaders.
The situation is somewhat analogous to the Spanish influence in Mexico. Most Mexicans are a mixture of Spanish blood and Indian blood, but they would never refer to themselves as "Spanish," they are simply Mexicans. Moroccans are an amalgamation of many influences, some of which go back thousands of years.
This is a picture of the west coast of North Africa. New York is somewhere on the other side of that ocean.
Today we traveled by bus from Rabat to Casablanca. Amazing scenery along the way, ocean on one side, on the other: irrigated farmland with traditional villages complete with donkey carts blocking the road. At one point the driver stopped the bus, turned off the engine, and got out to pray. All over the place people were stopping what they were doing to pray. Even a policeman directing traffic stopped directing and got out a prayer rug. I am not personally a religious person, but you have to admire that sort of devotion -- being willing to stop whatever mundane thing you are doing to take a spiritual timeout. It's kind of like texting is for Americans, only the opposite.
Yesterday was a day of travel (by “yesteday” I mean 9am Saturday to 2pm Sunday). One thing I like to do when traveling large distances is to take the opportunity to verify that we do in fact live on a sphere. We scoff at the naiveté of the flatlanders of 500 years ago, but the truth is that there is very little in our daily experience that proves, or even suggests, a spherical planet.
However, any significant travel in a North/South direction will result in an apparent rotation of the stars, which is clear evidence of the curvature of Earth. There is an 8° difference in latitude between Ithaca (42° North) and Rabat, Morocco (34° north). This is sufficient to be easily measured with a homemade sextant (ie. a protractor with a plumb-bob. Precalc students have had recent experience with this device!) The “height” of a star relative to the celestial equator is referred to as the declination. Any observed star will appear to change its declination by an angle equal to the change in latitude. I used Gemini, which is currently prominent, as a reference and measured before I left and when I arrived. I am happy to report that my results confirm Earth’s curvature.
By the way, the stars alone cannot easily measure East/West motion, since it cannot be distinguished from the changes caused by the rotation of the earth. Accurate East/West navigation was not really possible until the invention of the chronometer (clock), so that Earth’s rotation could be accurately discounted.
A Very Brief History of Morocco