Postcard from Morocco

Wednesday 23 April 2003, by Andrew ELKIN

It’s 5pm in the disco of a posh Ouarzazate hotel and an Irish film crew are wrapping up the last scene of a three-week shoot in Morocco. The Irish producer is extremely pleased: his small production has finished on time and under budget, thanks to the professionalism and efficiency of Ahmed "Jimmy" Abounouom’s company, Dune Films.

Jimmy’s Moroccan crew is also happy, since today they get their baraka: their paycheque. But it could be the last pay day for a while, so it is bittersweet. As this Irish production leaves, there are no others to follow. The ’situation’ in Iraq has caused several American productions to cancel or postpone shooting in Morocco. Insurance companies fear reprisals against American people and property in Arab countries, and refuse to back any productions here.

"It’s just like during the first Gulf War," Jimmy tells me. "When there is war, we stop working for six or 8 months. Then they come back. There is nothing we can do but wait."

Throughout Morocco this feeling is popular: helplessness tempered with patience. Though Morocco is almost as far from Iraq as it is from the US, Arab heritage binds the two peoples. "We’re not for Saddam. We’re with the Iraqi people." It’s a sentiment that tens of millions of people around the world have expressed, in one way or another, and then realised that there is nothing to do but wait, and hope.

Moroccans are hospitable, welcoming, genuinely excited to greet foreigners in the streets of their country, no matter where these visitors come from. It’s a major reason that the Moroccan tourism ministry’s goal of attracting 10 million tourists by 2010 could be attainable. But at a time like this, the tourists and other foreign interests stay away. And there is nothing they can do about it.

But hope springs eternal. Two hundred kilometres south of Ouarzazate, the caravan operators of Zagora are gathered around a few tables on a café terrasse. April and May are high season and while this year has been bad, it is not as bad as they expected. Hope and patience are not new virtues here. Even before the drought began eight years ago, Zagoris knew all about hard times. Despite an unemployment rate perpetually stuck at around 60 percent, they improved their lot, bit by bit.

Every year they welcome more tourists than ever before - a new kind of tourist that arrives independent of the package tours that show you Morocco from the inside of a bubble. The caravaniers take these visitors into the desert for a few days and give them an experience they cannot forget. They supply cultural awareness and a sense of stability that goes beyond what regime change can offer.

In this sense, Moroccans may have the healthiest approach to life, to business and to the war in Iraq: you do what you can, you wait, and you hope.

Andrew Elkin, Alternative Media intern in Morocco

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