Despite having spent nearly three weeks in North Africa, I often feel like I am in France because the pace of life and the layout of downtown Rabat is (unsurprisingly) very European with cafes lining the wide boulevards. This is, of course, juxtaposed by the narrowly packed streets of the Medina and the announcement of the Muslim call to prayer five times a day, which can be heard anywhere in the city.
The other night I was walking to dinner in the old medina and passed a man reciting the call to prayer into a walkie talkie. It must have been connected to a nearby loudspeaker because several seconds later his voice echoed over the entire neighborhood. But the commitment to prayer isn’t as strict as I expected. I have been in a taxi several times when the call to prayer has come over the radio, and the driver just recites it to himself in a whisper while driving. At the apartment, our host mother doesn’t even turn off the TV during evening prayer. She’ll cover herself in a simple white shawl and go to the next room for two minutes then come back and continue watching Turkish soap operas.
About a third of the women I have seen in downtown Rabat do not wear a hijab and choose to dress in more European styles. Similarly, plenty of Moroccans smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, but you won’t find wine or beer at most restaurants. To keep these observations in prespective, I remind myself that the behavior and customs in the prosperous neighborhood of Agdal are not representative of the country at large, or even the entire city of Rabat. For example, in the older neighborhood of L’Ocean I have not encountered nearly as many women as in Agdal, and those that I have passed were in more traditional styles of dress with long sleeves and head scarves.