Reflections on the meaning of human rights and the good life.
I arrived in in Fès, on May 12, 2023, and slowly made my way to Rabat to start my internship at the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) of the Kingdom of Morocco on May 15, 2023. It has been ten weeks already.
After 10 weeks, I feel that I have lived a little bit of life in this place: I have taken the bus, folded laundry, carried groceries, spoken to my neighbors, ordered mint tea more than twenty times at the same café, shared stories, jokes, and food with new colleagues and friends. When I return from a weekend trip to another region, I have a feeling of relief when I reach my street (see “my” street here on the left), as I let go of the state of awareness that being in a new place causes, and I do feel “at home”. I am lucky and grateful to have been allowed to feel this way.
Of course, it would be foolish and pretentious to say that I know what “life in Morocco” is, but I can say that it has made me reflect deeply on the meaning of human rights, of the pursuit of development, the way to lead a good life and the relationship between the three, which is highlighted uniquely by my experience here.
One of the most memorable aspects of my short slice of life in Morocco is that people mind each other’s business.
This of course can come with mingling and judgment, which can be very difficult to live with, especially if you do not conform, even in the smallest way, to societal expectations. On the other hand, it also means that, as you walk alone, you are never lonely. If you trip and fall, someone is likely to help you up. People greet each other, ask about each other’s family, and wish each other good things.
I was in a taxi, and an old lady wandered into the busy road. The taxi driver stopped the car in the middle of the road, blocking the way, went out, took the lady’s arm, and led her into the car. He drove her where she needed to go (for free) and saw that she was safe, before driving the rest of his customers. This was normal, he did not think he had done anything special or to be proud of. When I rented a car, every time I struggled to parallel park (read – most times), someone on the sidewalk would stop and give me signs and indications to help me out, with a smile. When you greet someone, they greet you back with a warm smile that extends to their eyes. When I stopped to let pedestrian cross, a lady sent me a kiss. I met a girl at the beach, we became friends, and she invited me to her home for Eid Al Adha, an important Muslim holiday for which “nobody should be left alone,” she said. I had the chance to share this important day with her family, and was given so much care and love. My co-intern says this is normal, and students who are alone always get invited into families around this time. When I spoke about it to my colleagues, they all said, “that’s what it is here, we love to share!” And they do.
The way people interact with genuine smiles or scowls, and help each other out makes you feel freer to help others as well. You exit indifference, take your headphones off, and start minding the people walking around you.
That also means that you get genuinely sad or hurt when someone is cruel to you with their eyes or words, because your feelings are involved, they are not stored away and protected by indifference or politeness. There are many difficulties in Moroccan society, and people do not always lead easy lives, but the general feeling is that, easy or hard, they live them together, they place family and a sense of open community ahead of individual profit or accumulation, and let this show in small, mundane actions in their daily lives.
Living this way, while interning in an institution that works for the promotion and protection of human rights reminded me of the loneliness and indifference in which many live. Human rights are often used as key or buzz words, and instrumentalized in international relations, or seen as a collection of treaties and agreements which are not always realized, but I have come to see their essence as lying in everyone living a dignified life.
I still have trouble explaining exactly what I am experiencing here and as I write these words, many voices raise in my head to contradict my barely forming idea, but I believe that the care people give each other in daily interactions here is a very strong daily expression of a respect for other people’s basic humanity which sometimes gets forgotten as we ignore each other utterly in many aspects of our lives in other places.