Sunday, 7 October 2012

community architecture in Morocco

I have written previously that I have enjoyed the gentle hospitality of the Moroccan people. I've been thinking a bit more about it as we have been observing, asking questions and learning more about this enthralling place.

Of course, it is impossible to talk about Moroccan culture without reference to Islam. My comments below might appear clouded and romantic, but I am not inferring anything about  Islam in general, only connecting what I have observed with what we are learning.

Some who read this blog know I am a bit a design tragic, so I was fascinated to learn that the are five common elements in a village shaped by Islam. We have seen the out working of this in many situations now. They are:

  1. A mosque

  2. A school

  3. A bakery

  4. A hammam (public bathhouse)

  5. A public square

Imagine a scenario where once a week everyone (actually mostly the men) in a local community gathers. Friday prayers in the mosque offers this powerful community dynamic. Imagine that when you see people in the street, even though you might not have a personal friendship, you see them every Friday. Even when going to church was the norm many years ago in the West, denominationalism put paid to the same sense of community.

Imagine also, that for many families, bath time was a social and community event. This reality is so far from our normal 'developed' experience of life. Our typical urban lifestyles are chasms removed from community bathing and weekly town get togethers.

In Morocco today, in many traditional community, communal ovens are hubs of life. In the medina, it is not presumptuous, but considered normal to stick your head out your front door, and whoever happens to be wandering past, will unquestioningly drop off your kneaded bread or uncooked meat to the communal oven for collection later that day. Imagine that.

So my point is not to romanticise aspects of Islam. It is an observation that when the fundamental, unquestioned design of community living enhances people's inclination to treat one another as neighbours, then it is not surprising that people seem generous in their hospitality.

I conclude with an anecdote from yesterday. We are belting through the desert heat and drive through a small town, typical in its architecture. In fact, take out the satellite dishes and the cars and we are in the Old Testament. Our driver hits the brakes, and does a U-turn. Want some couscous he asks?

Crouched by the side of the road is a teenage boy and a middle aged woman. In front of them is a massive dish filed with couscous. Hamou winds down the window and engages another woman sitting on her front step nearby in conversation.

Next thing we are crouched around the dish, spoons in hand, savouring the most delicious couscous we have tasted, including chicken that was exploding with flavour. While we sat there, for no more than 5 minutes, at least another 4 people stopped and shared the plate - a passing motorcyclist, a student on a push bike and another woman who appeared from nearby. A few mouthfuls, polite matter of fact greetings, and they were gone.

Hamou explained that it is tradition that when a family is feeling thankful to God, they cook couscous and offer it to passers by as a gesture of reflected generosity. Nice.