Casablanca explodes with activity. One after another, motorbikes and bicycles weave through traffic and pass our car with the grace and agility of snakes moving through tall grass. We maneuver our way around several cars straddling the imaginary line that separates the lanes on the highway. “How are you finding Casablanca, Marissa?” asks Noureddine, our interpreter, as he puts his car into another gear. He drives forward and doesn’t flinch as another person pulls in front of us, leaving only a whisper of air between the two cars. “So far so good!” I over-exclaim while reassuringly pushing my seat belt into its lock.
Like any big city, Casablanca is on the move. When I first arrived I felt like I had to hit the ground running, and faster than usual to keep up with its pace. The geographic bridge between Europe and Subsaharan Africa, globalism and multiculturalism define Moroccan society. Walking the streets, I overhear conversations between residents that flow from French to Arabic and sometimes English with ease. I see women in traditional hajibs and kaftans check their cell phones for messages and a stylish young man light a cigarette as he leans against a centuries-old wall. It’s easy to see how the country earned its nickname, the global crossroads.
Some traffic began building on these roads about two years ago. Civil unrest triggered a social movement that called for reformations in the constitution. Some people call the movement The Arab Spring. Here it’s more often referred to as The Democratic Spring. I, myself, am traveling these roads as a part of a legislative fellows program wherein nonprofit professionals from Chicago meet professionals from NGOs in its sister city, Casablanca. Personally, I’m looking to find out more about the correlation between new media and social movements like The Democratic Spring. I’m also curious about the different ways people here are using technology to fulfill their missions (and perhaps, give them a little advice on how they could).
The changes brought on by this movement are now beginning to take really take root. Because of passionate people working hard to create a better society, nonprofits across the country are finding it easier to fulfill their missions without breaking laws. After visiting several NGOs in Morocco with missions ranging from empowering women, rights for the disabled, and urban agriculture, I’ve found that these organizations have grown by leaps and bounds in a short amount of time, but there’s still much to be done.
And so, the city and country continue to move – towards cultural and political change.
I’m happy to be along for the ride.
To be continued…
The Professional Fellows Program for Egypt and Morocco is funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, and implemented by Citizen Bridges International, a nonprofit in Chicago, and its partner organizations, El Sadat Association in Cairo, Egypt and IDMAJ in Casablanca, Morocco.
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