This northern part of Morocco, however, was under Spanish rather than French control in the years before independence in the 1950s, and the Iberian influence is still evident. I was feeling slightly shaggy, so I took advantage of the opportunity in Asilah when I saw a barber shop
. I figured, "This shouldn't be too hard. I'll just do like I always did in Egypt and point to the clippers and say "Itnayn" (the Arabic word for two)." It turned out the barber spoke no English but this was one of several occasions through West Africa where I ended up conversing with someone in Spanish because it was the language we could best communicate in.
Our first two weeks in Morocco were during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, an important annual event in the Muslim world which can make travel a bit difficult for foreign travelers. One of the so-called "Five Pillars" of Islam requires that all able-bodied adult Muslims engage in a daily dawn to dusk fast during the month during which nothing is to pass through their lips. This makes for a lot of very grumpy people, particularly among the nicotine-addicted who also interpret the Koran's passages about not letting anything pass through ones lips during daylight hours to apply to cigarettes. In addition to moody people, however, most restaurants and stalls selling prepared food are closed during the day and the already religiously-proscribed alcohol is especially hard to come by.
Now that I am back in the Muslim world, I am again continually hearing the terms "Inshallah". The word translates roughly as "God willing" or "By the will of God" and is used in conversation whenever there is some level of uncertainty about whether or how an event will occur
. Examples of this are "The weather will be nice for your journey tomorrow, Inshallah"; "The bus will be there to pick you up at 8:00 in the morning, Inshallah"; and "I received a top grade on my exam, Inshallah". As I learned, though, while living and working in Egypt, "Inshallah" is not just a way of attributing events to God's will but an overall attitude towards life in places where life does not hold the same certainties it does for those of us in the affluent West. This more accepting attitude towards life contrasts with the western take charge way of thinking and can be either relaxing and enjoyable or stressful and infuriating. In Egypt I was often under the impression "Inshallah" was an out, a way of saying "maybe it will happen, maybe it won't" or "I'll get to it if I don't have higher priorities" to avoid taking responsibility if a desired outcome like a bus arriving on time did not happen. "This is not Inshallah. You have to make sure it happens," I kept finding myself saying to people I dealt with in Egypt.
Asilah, a small coastal town about 30 miles south of Tangier, was our first stop in Morocco for an afternoon of touring at our leisure and a night at a beachside campground. Asilah's medina (walled old city) of shimmering white houses with blue wooden doors and stone trim looks almost like a movie set, all sanitized and gentrified by wealthy second home owners from Morocco's larger cities and quite apart from the messy bustle of the nearby market streets outside the medina. Asilah was under Portuguese control for several hundred years during Portugal's golden age, so the architecture here was a somewhat different from other port towns where the western influence was Spanish or French.