Sidewalk, Street, Souk: It’s All the Same

TALIM Modern transport The Wall Street Journal tells us that some Americans suffer from "sidewalk rage," which sometimes triggers "intermittent explosive disorder."  Well, they better stay away from Morocco, or at least Moroccan cities.  Better to stretch out on some secluded beach in Agadir than get stressed out walking from A to B in downtown Tangier.

In the year that we've been here, we've seen a muddying of the distinction between space for vehicles (a.k.a. streets) and for people (sidewalks).

Even though I own a car, the logistics of getting said vehicle out of a public garage (Is the watchman going to be there?  Can I wake him up by yelling his name or banging on the door?  How many cars will he have to move before getting to mine?) mean that most of the time I just walk or take a taxi.  So I write this as a pedestrian who sometimes drives.

And here's the problem: the sidewalks are increasingly the domain of vendors ("the informal economy"), pushing the pedestrians onto the street, where they have to vie for space with yet more vendors and, oh yes, cars.  Road rage sufferers should also steer clear of Moroccan cities.

One of our employees recently lost a family member to the confusion in the street-sidewalk-souk continuum.  When large metal objects have to navigate confined spaces with fruits, vegetables, wristwatches, and people, something is going to break.

And good Boy Scout or Girl Scout training (look both ways before you cross the street) only partially prepares you for the streets here: you might also need to look down (nasty holes) and up (liquids from balconies).  And don't be fooled by the One Way street; those ubiquitous motorized carts (photo above) can save gas by silently coasting the wrong way down one way streets.

Writing in Jadaliyya, the e-zine of Georgetown University's Arab Studies Institue, Professor Anouar Boukhars of McDaniel College in Maryland sees an explanation for this all this congestion, this fawda:

The exponential growth of roadside carts in the last few months has become almost unbearable. No longer harassed by the police, street vendors have ventured into “the busiest spots”, occupying whole neighborhoods of streets and severely disrupting traffic and affecting struggling small businesses. The sprouting of illegally constructed structures in several cities, which threaten to reverse the government’s gains of the last few years in eradicating this phenomenon, is also cited by many of my interviewees as examples of growing lawlessness in the kingdom.

Lawlessness perhaps, but perhaps too a conscious effort to avoid confrontation as in the case of the Tunisian street vendor.  The question is: how do you get the vendors off the streets, once they've set up their wares?  This could be a habit that will stick.

My sense is that my car is going to stay for even longer periods in the garage (I'll save gas!).  But I am worried about breaking my shins – or worse – as I negotiate the no-man's land of Tangier's sidesouks and streetwalks.

Gerald Loftus

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