Moroccans are either native speakers of either Darija – the Moroccan dialect of Arabic – and/or an Amazigh language, of which there are 4-5 main groupings. I have been learning Darija for about a year now. Darija is an incredibly flexible language: an average speaker mixes in elements of French and classical Arabic with ease and almost without thinking can incorporate elements from other languages, adapting them to the Darija grammatical structure. Although most Moroccans who have attended school can speak and understand classical Arabic and often French, neither is the mother tongue of any Moroccan, as they are not typically spoken in the home.
I studied foreign languages and linguistics and Darija is the 6th or 7th foreign language that I have attempted to learn. Theory and practice suggest that societies only need names (words) for concepts which are known to that society. With its close social and linguistic contact with French and Arabic, Darija is full of loan words, ie words which are borrowed from another language. A bus is a ‘tobus’ (from the French ‘autobus’), a car a ‘tomobil’ and a seat in either is a ‘blasa’ (from French ‘place’ – Darija doesn’t have a ‘p’ sound). However, I am always fascinated by words in one language which don’t have a direct translation in other languages, because this suggests that for one reason or another, a simple one-word expression has not been developed. One such word in Darija is “fawaj”.
“Fawaj” does not simply translate into English; it’s a verb which means something like ‘to undertake a different activity in order to take one’s mind off the daily grind or one’s problems’. We might translate it with “to let one’s hair down”, “to get a change of scenery” or “to chill out” but none of those alone captures the concept. Ironically, many Europeans come to Morocco to “fawaj” and when they see what seems like most of the population sitting in cafes, watching the world go by, they might think that Moroccans are the number one experts at it.
Moroccans might not be stressed by the same things as we Europeans, but beneath their relaxed coffee drinking exterior, they do feel the pressure occasionally. Many of the top causes of stress in developed countries, for example, are job-related: we don’t like our job, our boss, our colleagues or the commute, or we may feel unfulfilled, over-stretched or under-rated. With 9% official unemployment in Morocco, those people sitting in cafes may not be kicking back by choice. A 2010 study found that moving house was the fourth most common cause of stress for Britons (the top three were all job-related). Many Moroccans don’t have much choice in where they live – they live either in the multi-generational family home, adding their spouse and kids to it – or they are forced to move to cities to work, where they often live in multiple occupancy dwellings with limited amenities.
As in western countries, money worries and expectations – those of ourselves, of family, of partners or of bosses and colleagues – can cause also stress. In Moroccan society, religious, cultural and family expectations can place pressures on people that are invisible but ever-present. These are frequently what Moroccans seek to escape: they may go on a trip or visit a relative in another city to “fawaj”, to relieve the tension and distract themselves. This is especially true in a small city like Essaouira where everyone knows your business. Swiris (natives of Essaouira) frequently run away to the bright lights of Marrakech to let their hair down away from the prying eyes and nosy neighbours back home.
So, when you visit Morocco to escape the stress of your daily life, spare a thought for the locals. Their problems and stresses may not be the same as ours, but they are real enough and they can’t necessarily take a holiday abroad to “fawaj”. However, by taking a leaf out of their book, by seeking distraction in simple activities such as sitting on a café terrace and watching the world go by or walking along the beach, we might also get to know this foreign concept.